Marc Lefkowitz | 11/05/13 @ 1:00pm
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is expected to coast to an easy reelection today. Jackson supporters tout his strength in balancing the budget during tough economic times. His Progressive constituents, a small but growing group, are hopeful that the mayor will lay out an aggressive sustainability agenda this term. It’s time for the soon-to-be three-term incumbent to finally stretch his wings and unleash the energy of the young residents starting to flock into the city.
A small but perceptible inflow of young residents favor innovation and collaboration and crowdsourced solutions to old problems over the inertia of old think. Old think is passive and placating. Examples of old think in Cleveland? Failing to connect a big funding stream like transportation to develop in ways that are more walkable.
Cities concentrate choices so that all of life’s needs are within reach. When work, church, parks and shops are so close that you can walk, then less transportation is needed. People are happier.
If Cleveland hopes to compete with other mid-size cities it will start rethinking the goals for billions in transportation that flow into its coffers as a way to create vibrancy in urbanity. Look what Cincinnati is doing with its streetcar and its progressive ideas on zoning and parking as an example of how to seize opportunity and bend it to your will as a city.
Is Cleveland allowing itself to be shaped by larger forces like the Ohio Department of Transportation? The latest example is ODOT dangling $220 million in front of the city for a road that essentially will make life easier for suburban commuters to University Circle. The city has been frustratingly silent on its vision for reusing industrial brownfields in Opportunity Corridor. Does it see a place for a residential rebirth and strengthening historic assets like its three Rapid lines that bisect the area?
The mayor’s chief, Valerie McCall, chairs the most powerful transportation agencies in the region in NOACA and RTA. With those powers come tremendous responsibility to shape the city to be less transportation dependent and more vibrant and walkable. McCall and the mayor could do this by managing the demand for transportation. Why couldn't Cleveland take ODOT money and use it to build complete streets for people?
We hope this next term the city shows more of an interest in shaping transportation investments that provide equity or work toward its big sustainability goals. Does the city's Climate Action Plan (CAP), for example, influence the decisions that McCall makes? Cleveland has committed with its CAP to reducing its carbon emissions 50% by 2030. A high leverage opportunity to start down this path is to set a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
Reducing VMT should be the metric by which all transportation projects get funded. If that means it will bolster NOACA executive director Grace Gallucci’s fix-it-first policy, or bring some clarity and purpose to the city’s complete streets law, then all the better for people, planet and prosperity’s sake.
On this election day, we revisit our “Ten things the next mayor can do to advance sustainability” post.