Marc Lefkowitz | 09/16/10 @ 9:00am
Deep concern was in the air at the 2019 Transportation work group meeting last week. The group (aka Sustainable Transportation Action Team or STAT) consists of a core of champions, activists and nonprofit leaders who, for years, have expressed new ideas for the region and rolled up their sleeves to provide better transportation options.
On the eve of the 2010 summit, the STAT group expressed frustration that the city has not engaged them in meaningful discussion about the issues and projects they've promoted during the year. For example, when the group organized the Access for All campaign and engaged the public and elected officials in a well-organized discussion of what Cleveland needs to make its streets safer and more comfortable for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities, they were rebuffed by Mayor Jackson (although they spoke to his Chief of Staff). Consequently, they expressed concern that the city has ceded its voice around transportation issues to ODOT and its stale way of thinking.
On the accomplishment side of the ledger, the group celebrated, in the words of ClevelandBikes Kevin Cronin, "the community hearing a lot more about these issues." In particular, the group raised the profile and grabbed a ton of media attention for its effort to design complete access into the Innerbelt Bridge.
But the group is seeking a higher level of engagement with the mayor's office, and unless it starts getting an audience, it's considering dropping out of the 2019 initiative all together.
"What's the most effective thing we can be doing?" said Gund Foundation program officer, John Mitterholzer. "Keep doing what we're doing. We are supportive of the idea of 2019 (as the celebration of a turning point in the city's fortunes because of sustainability), but we cannot move this agenda forward with official city support."
The group's other leaders echoed Mitterholzer's sentiments.
"I've shared my concerns with the city about how the work groups are not connected to the process," said Mike Neundorfer, president of a firm in Willoughby that produces smoke stack scrubber technologies. Neundorfer is an avid cyclist, and has volunteered hundreds of hours this year leading the STAT group meetings and advocating for a multi-use path on the bridge. He also repeatedly sought meetings with the mayor to discuss the nuances of the bridge issue. "The mayoral side isn't working, but all of these issues are still critical. The idea of being sustainable by 2019 is a great goal."
A small minority held that the 2010 summit is another opportunity to define the group's role and the role of the summit in promulgating change at the city.
"Let's go in there with an honest conversation about, what is our role?" said Cronin. "Are we simply doing research or do we expect to have more input? Are we squandering the energy and drive in this room? I don't see anything magical about the 2019 program. But, we derived from 2019, so we have an opportunity to create an identity and awareness of the need for (sustainable) transportation."
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The group rounded out with an update of its projects. Jim Sheehan, director, Ohio City Bike Co-Op noted that many cities and states are embracing legislation that calls for "Complete Streets" which simply means making them safe and comfortable for all users. Sheehan recounted a conversation with Cleveland Councilman Brian Cummins, a co-sponsor of Complete Streets legislation which has been stalled at the city. Cummins was looking for existing legislative language – and Sheehan was directed to share the ordinance adopted by Columbus and Dayton. In the case of the state's capital, the ordinance among other things calls for the city to rewrite their design manuals to encompass the safety of all users.
Complete Streets legislation and a draft Memorandum of Understanding between the city of Cleveland, ODOT and NOACA has stalled in part, said Brad Chase of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute, because "it's too tied to cycling. We need to show it's a broader movement that includes people pushing babies in strollers and joggers." A party at Progressive Field this Friday evening for sustainable transportation should help convince the mayor and naysayers that Complete Streets in Cleveland isn't just for a small band of users. "We'll celebrate what's already happened, the good things that are planned and get people together to celebrate and generate some energy."