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Will transit get a fair shake in Turnpike deal

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/25/13 @ 1:00pm

When it comes to the defining moments for Northeast Ohio’s future, it doesn’t get any bigger than how our leaders are planning to divvy up the $1 billion in Turnpike bonds. Do they plan to build a future that acknowledges recent population gains in downtown Cleveland, or to plan the next world-class bus rapid transit line to connect the influx of city residents with a boomlet of companies moving in from the suburbs?

Cleveland Innerbelt Bridge<br />Expect a $1.5 billion pricetag for two Innerbelt Bridges.Uptown<br />Cleveland's Uptown Phase II is under construction on the Euclid Corridor. Images: GCBL

What percentage of the $1 billion from the Turnpike bonds will build a stronger, more connected and less car dependent city? Currently, it looks like the lion’s share of that $1 billion will get soaked up to build Opportunity Corridor, an urban highway extension that would get $215 million, $340 million to build the second Innerbelt Bridge, $37 million for widening I-77 in the Innerbelt and another $48 million to widen I-77 from the Innerbelt to Rt. 82, the governor suggested this week.

Do elected leaders from Cleveland, Akron and inner-ring suburbs agree that the pitches for Turnpike bond money will be spread equitably among all of their residents, and meet rising demand for more walkable urbanism?

Who else beside the small non-profits and chorus of citizen activists are asking to prioritize fixing the roads we have and building transit connections between dense clusters of residents and jobs? Are their voices being heard and getting representation?

It starts with our leaders acknowledging that, suddenly, walkable urban neighborhoods are in great demand. If demographers are right, trends point to significant growth in demand for developing inward. Taking these generational trends seriously and beginning to leverage the private sector's interest in rebuilding the economy translates to planning for a lower carbon but higher quality of life.

It will take significant coalescing of regional interests to align the billions spent in transportation on new priorities. To support a sustainable development agenda that meets the demand for housing and commercial development activity within the neighborhoods showing strong signs of recovery like Ohio City, Detroit-Shoreway, Tremont, Old Brooklyn, and in pre-war suburbs which are favored for their architecture and urban form.

On the east side, the astonishing development of University Circle in to a neighborhood has the most to win or lose in the proposed Opportunity Corridor highway expansion. What this road means in practical terms to the land use of University Circle is, make way for another 20,000 or so parking spots. Does University Circle have a goal to increase its residential base, and how will the Opportunity Corridor impact its live-work aspirations? Would you rather live in a neighborhood that has a highway running straight through it, or would you choose to live there if you could walk or ride a streetcar to work?

How much more high value development and what reduction in carbon emissions would a 3-mile (the length of Opportunity Corridor) streetcar or bus rapid transit line produce when compared to a six-lane limited access roadway? Why are these very questions no longer being asked at the highest of levels of government and by the private sector? The intermediaries are the big non-profit developers and chambers of commerce in Cleveland. They help set the agenda, and currently, there is less push to fill a market gap for more walkable urbanism. There is no call for another Euclid Corridor type of project.

RTA Executive Director Joe Calabrese expressed his belief that "Transit can drive Northeast Ohio to a more vibrant, prosperous future" over the weekend.

The PD's Steve Litt captured the choice succinctly: "If you build a city for cars, you’re going to have sprawling, low-density development with lots of pavement. If you build for transit, you’ll have compact, walkable, environmentally sustainable urban areas that are more efficient and productive economically."

How deep does this sentiment run among leaders when faced with the prospect of investing $1 billion. Do they need more compelling reasons than supporting an influx and preference for urban living?

RTA cannot do it alone; it needs partners with pull and access to funds like the Turnpike bonds. It will take more high ranking officials with the gumption to ask, how much of the $1 billion will go to fund transit, bike and pedestrian projects?

ODOT’s powerful TRAC committee will vote on the projects that will get priority this week. It looks like the same old same old big ticket, car only projects are being proposed. A few projects, like the conversion of the West Shoreway in to a boulevard, are being considered for $35 million of Turnpike funds. The document for the project has blank spaces for multi-modal (i.e. bike, pedestrian, and transit) elements.

Politicans are elected to represent the least empowered, and with transportation pots of funding that means asking for a transformative public transit project or two. Another BRT line, more transit oriented developments like the Ohio City District and funding more than 5 miles per year of bike lanes in the city of Cleveland -- within the $1 billion that will otherwise get spent on new or wider highways.

How you can make your voice heard:

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The Built Environment
5 years ago

Finally, a media outlet that mentions the effect the Op. Corridor will have on the living environment in University Circle. But it's not just 20,000 more parking spots; it will also eventually have to include a raft of road-widening projects within the neighborhood, degrading the experience for everyone. BTW, wasn't the Chester extension the Op. Corridor of its day? How'd that work out for providing opportunity along that corridor?

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