For the past year and a half, I have been working with other sustainable transportation advocates in their respective University Circle workplaces to convene a Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC). Our mission is to “Improve community health, reduce carbon emissions, and mitigate traffic congestion by increasing the use of sustainable, multi-modal transportation options and establishing a ‘park once’ district.” With 45,000 employees packed into a two square mile area, the stakes of getting this mission right are high.
The STAC has taken on the role of working group on matters related to “transportation demand management” (TDM) a wonky term for improving the walk and bike ability, transit connectivity and, in my opinion, the ability of University Circle to thrive into the future under intense pressure from employment growth and a sudden, surging residential, entertainment and retail district.
It’s well known that University Circle is Cleveland’s second largest employment center, but its residential growth is under appreciated. Seven hundred housing units have been added in the last 10 years, and 700 more are in the works in the next three years.
One of the first tasks of the STAC was a commuter survey. It yielded 4,200 responses from 16 of the major employers. While non-scientific, the survey revealed a number of key trends.
Among the findings, the Cleveland and Shaker Heights areas, being adjacent to University Circle, still boast the highest density of Circle employees living within their borders. The next ring of suburbs, Lakewood, Lyndhurst, Mayfield and Pepper Pike form the second densest area of Circle employees. But, keeping pace with those “bedroom communities" is 44106, University Circle (and the very western tip of Cleveland Heights).
And it is exactly that density, in addition to proximity, that corresponds to higher rates of alternatives to driving, namely, transit, biking and walking. The data bears this out: Proximity impacts on drive alone rates. Again, for the survey population, drive alone rates are 21% lower for employees living within five miles of the Circle, and lower by more than half for those living in the 44106 ZIP code. Those in the survey living in 44106 walk approximately 30 times more than their cohort of Circle employees. Again this underscores the walkability of University Circle, with land uses proximate enough to encourage walking as a viable mode of transportation.
It has led to an increase in investments — In pedestrian infrastructure — to address some of the more problematic intersections within the district. UCI won more than $350,000 in grants to be spent on improving crosswalks, traffic signals, bike infrastructure and more green spaces.
The data supports the decision to expand the CircleLink, the free shuttle buses (you may have seen emblazoned with a dinosaur). The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Case and others have continued to support the expansion of The BlueLink. The line started serving Little Italy with stops at the Little Italy RedLine Rapid Station, last year. And just last week, the BlueLink expanded its service again to the Coventry Road district in Cleveland Heights. Every half hour on the hour, the BlueLink connects the museums and Wade Oval institutions with popular destinations for students, employees and visitors. Free for anyone to use, the link to the new schedule and route is available at the University Circle, Inc. site.
The BlueLink expansion is a pilot running through May that will test the ideas behind a “park once” district. So, if you find yourself on Coventry Road or Little Italy and get the urge to visit one of Cleveland’s great museums, leave the car and hop on the BlueLink shuttle for free door to door service.
For CircleLink regulars, real-time bus arrival information is available by downloading the TransLoc app to your mobile device.