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Strategies to help University Circle avoid parking crisis

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/05/12 @ 11:45am  |  Posted in Transportation choices

"What cities should do about traffic congestion" is the latest cover story from the Congress for New Urbanism. Cleveland's biggest traffic snarl is usually on the highways to the suburbs during rush hour (which also grinds downtown traffic to a halt on E. 9th Street and Ontario).

The exception is University Circle-a large district where gridlock seems to be worsening with every year. As billions in new development flow in, car traffic has become an unmanaged mess.

Traffic Demand Management (TDM) could help University Circle become a more efficient place, partly by reducing the number of single-occupant car trips. CNU cites the book, Sustainable Transportation Planning, which says traffic demand strategies are "often far more cost-effective" than widening roads or building more parking garages.

With the already-car-clogged University Circle area expected to add up to 10,000 jobs in the next decade, one wonders where the new workers will park and how they will commute in and out of the area. The current parking solution seems to be more big garages. In recent times, the Cleveland Clinic built its 4,000-space garage costing $170 million ($42,500 per space!).

But what if University Circle institutions started encouraging their employees to bike to work? Many employees live within easy bike commuting distance in Cleveland or the surrounding Heights communities. If University Circle institutions worked with these communities and invested a portion of their parking budgets on bike facilities, the area could have a world-class bike system that could be maintained year-round. It could be a win-win strategy - reduced congestion and parking costs, healthier employees (this should be a health promotion program for the hospitals), and a more vibrant University Circle environment that accommodates new growth. See our vision for this, the Circle-Heights Bike Network.

One example from the article that may apply to Case is the subsidized transit pass. Cleveland State University offers its students a "U-Pass", or unlimited RTA rides, for less than $20 a semester. Questions can be worked out, like, does RTA have the capacity to connect students in the transit "commute shed" of Case (since it eliminated its Heights community circulator and the #9 bus on Mayfield is perennially filled during the morning rush)?

Biking has the capacity to replace car trips in the Circle. The book suggests (University Circle) institutions examine whether development standards should require bicycle storage, showers and lockers.

American Planning Association's "Bicycle Facility Planning Report" recommends that offices allocate 10% of the number of car parking spots as bike facility space.

Another TDM solution that would apply to University Circle: Parking cash-out programs. Under these, employers who offer free or reduced price parking to their employees are required to offer a transportation fringe benefit of equal value to employees who use modes other than driving alone to get to work. Cities like Santa Monica, CA require parking cash-outs, and enforce them by requiring proof of compliance with the parking cash-out provision before it will issue an occupancy permit.

(As an aside, my employer, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, has a parking cash out program. It helps free up paid parking spaces for more revenue. A resource for companies interested in parking cash out is the new IRS tax credit for bike commuting and transit. Also, the city of Cleveland's ordinance requiring parking lot operators to install bike parking-in order to get a renewed operating permit-is another good local example of TDM)

Congress for New Urbanism recommends that districts like University Circle form a Transportation Management Association to set goals and oversee the program.

"To get the most out of TDM, a city should enact a TDM ordinance that requires employers in the designated area to become members of a Transportation Management Association.

A comprehensive set of TDM strategies can cut parking demand and traffic by more than 15 percent-sufficient to eliminate even the worst traffic congestion.

Part of the aim of TDM is to prevent parking from occupying a large portion of a city's (or a district's) land area. Once demand for parking diminishes, existing parking lots can be converted to buildings containing businesses, residences…the city can become livelier, more self-sustaining, and more beautiful."

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