Cleveland’s Blue Line Rapid is featured in a new report, “Livable Transit Corridors: Methods, Metrics, and Strategies” from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Academy of Sciences, a highly respected research facility.
Cleveland's Blue Line is a national example of a suburban commuter corridor that offers high-speed transit between low-density residential and an employment center (downtown). The report offers a method to improve “livability”—defined as opening access to opportunity and improving quality of life.
Their analysis of the Blue Line shows that, for the most part, access is limited to those able to drive to it. Except for Shaker Square and downtown, the Blue Line is missing employment options.
“Employment opportunities are rare along this corridor between its terminus at Van Aken Center and Shaker Square, as is pedestrian- or transit-based access to cultural destinations, health care, and major retailers.”
Limited service outside of rush hour is a big drawback. As is the lack of development at station sites. The line is most valuable to one type of customer—a Shaker resident who works downtown.
“The relative lack of these opportunities within this Suburban Commuter Corridor is mitigated by the access to a higher diversity of opportunities available to corridor residents in the CBD. But, transit service is generally limited to commute hours, and the travel time between outlying stations and the CBD is high.”
The Blue Line is a type of “Emerging” corridor where auto-dominated travel patterns and low-density development prevail.
If Shaker and Cleveland were interested in altering the landscape, the report offers suggestions. A vision for something else must involve outreach to multiple groups in the corridor. If “scenario planning” is employed, it has to reach a large and diverse set of stakeholders.
“Sixty percent of all projects that concluded with the selection of a preferred scenario failed to involve the public in this critical decision,” they write. “The planners’ agenda is subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) working to frame the problems and script the solutions in the form of value-laden scenarios.”
The report points to Minneapolis where many hands touched its Corridors of Opportunity. It shaped the successful light-rail corridor that connects low-to-moderate income neighborhoods and downtown.
“Corridors of Opportunity emphasizes whole system approaches to organizing land use and transportation.”
The elements of success include identifying infrastructure needs and redevelopment sites five years before opening a new line, including those that will be in place on opening day and at milestone years. Station area plans should be specific; Funding sources should be clearly delineated. Metropolitan Planning Organizations have filled a gap in technical assistance, offering grants to develop transit-oriented development plans. Again, Minneapolis-St. Paul MPO, Met Council, is a model for its TOD grants to promote moderate- to high-density development and affordable housing near transit.