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Improving local transit

In our automobile culture, transit gets little respect, but it's a vital part of a healthy, sustainable city. In Northeast Ohio, cities haven't come close to realizing the promise of transit - especially at a time of rising gasoline costs when people need affordable transportation choices.

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In 2012, focus groups on transportation led by Natural Resources Defense Council, 70 ordinary Clevelanders across the political spectrum expressed frustration with being ‘stuck’ with one choice—of commute time or using anything but a car. Respondents included Republican women and Democratic men with no self-described bike advocates. Universally they said public transit, if it was convenient, would be a welcome addition to their community. They were ‘shocked’, NRDC said, when they found out that Ohio spends only 1% of its transportation budget on transit. They assumed the state invested at least 10-15% on transit.

Well-designed density leads to ‘vibrant’ communities and more ‘convenient’ transit—two ideas that score well here. The focus groups revealed words that produce positive and negative feelings.

  • “Vibrant” is good because it implies a safe place with a lot of activity.
  • "Transit-oriented development" was seen as too bureaucratic.
  • "Walkable" scored low since most assumed they lived in a place where they can walk.
  • When talking about transit, "safety" scored high. Safety translated to personal security.
  • “Freedom”—from cars and traffic—didn’t score high with the Cleveland groups, since they equate cars to freedom of movement.
  • “Oil dependence” was not compelling (perhaps, like "Climate Change," it hit too close or too far from to home).

These 'choice transit riders' would opt for a train, not a bus which many saw as "dirty" and the option of last resort.

More transit they see as a good investment, sometimes for the selfish reason of taking more traffic off the road.

Conclusions

Rising support for transit indicates a shift in attitude, and an opportunity to address the gap between state and local transportation investments and public interest in well-funded transit service in metropolitan regions like Northeast Ohio.

Action steps

The Ohio state legislature is in the midst of debating Governor Kasich's proposed $6.1 billion budget for transportation. Unfortunately, the budget is heavily tilted towards road funding, with a little more than 1 percent slated for public transportation. This is disappointing considering that roughly 9 percent of Ohio households have no vehicle, according to Census figures. Moreover, vehicle-miles-traveled is down in Ohio and across the country -- and this downward trend is likely to continue as our aging Baby Boomers drive less and fewer Millennials are even bothering to get a driver's license. Yet transit ridership continues to grow to the highest levels since 1957.

Fortunately, Ohioans for Transportation Choice, led by Policy Matters, testified at the Ohio House Transportation Subcommittee in February, 2013 that "Ohio needs a 21st century transportation system made up not only of roads and highways but also a complete network of affordable, accessible, and environmentally-friendly transportation options, including public transit, passenger and freight rail, streetcars, hybrid buses, electric vehicles, and walk-able, bike-able streets."

The House committee members went on to "grill" ODOT about their low funding priority for transit even though Ohio's transit ridership is 12th in the nation, Gongwer News Service reported.

Here some talking points from Ohioans for Transportation Choice:

  • Transit is a job creator Transit creates roughly 20% more jobs, including more local and permanent jobs, than road building (Source: http://www.transact.org/library/decoder/jobs_decoder.pdf)
  • Reduce foreign and domestic oilOhioans send $20 billion out of state or 5% of the state gross domestic product on the purchase of (98%) imported fuel. More transportation choice reduces petroleum use and keeps more money in the state. That’s money that can be spent locally.
  • Fair allocation for transit and Complete Streets: In 2000, 8.6% of Ohioans were without cars. Today, 9% of Ohioans don’t have cars. The number of carless rises to 35% in Cleveland. $270 million would serve all of Ohioans who are carless. $75 million is only a fraction of the amount needed.
  • Between 2006 and 2010, only 1.16% of Ohio’s transportation budget went towards funding bike/ped projects, yet statewide nearly 2.3% of the population bike or walk to work (Source: 2012 Alliance for Biking and Walking Benchmarking Report).
  • A dedicated state funding source would help ensure those who bike and walk in our state get their fair share. It would help ensure our transportation system works for neighborhoods and communities as opposed to tearing them apart.
  • Transit helps Ohio manufacturers:
 Ohio has a large supply chain of manufacturers producing goods for transit. To see a profile of Transit manufacturing in Ohio.
  • Ohio lags behind other Midwestern states in supporting transit Natural Resources Defense Council ranks Ohio 47th in nation for commitment to transit (See last column of table). On a per capita basis, Ohio invests 94 cents per person as compared to our neighboring states of like population of: Michigan - $19.90 per capita on transit Illinois - $45.50 Pennsylvania - $96.98. The average of these three states ($45.22) is 48 times the Ohio per capita amount. AASHTO report - latest available information on transit funding by state.

Also, Ohio Department of Transportation is currently gathering public input for how the state invests in transportation, including transit and biking. Log on here to add your ideas.

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