2014 marks the 17th anniversary of Car-free in Cleveland. In celebration, we looked for people living car free or “car lite” in Northeast Ohio. We asked them, what makes it possible to live with or without a car—what do they need in order to do this?
(feel free to share your car free in CLE story in the comments section below).
“We specifically chose our ‘forever house’ based on its location and proximity to the Rapid, Shaker Square and Larchmere,” says Shaker Heights resident, Katharyne Starinsky. “For us, our house location is what drives our ability to accomplish our one-car lifestyle.”
The fixed guideway of the Rapid is a valuable asset that they take advantage of. Her husband, Tom Starinsky, Associate Director of Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation, commutes downtown on the Blue Line, which also functions as the family wagon.
“Even pre-school was given consideration,” says Katharyne, who takes the train to work herself at Shaker Heights City Hall. “We were focused on living in a neighborhood where the kids could walk to school. They will walk to every grade except 7 and 8. Their schools have also been located on the Blue Line.”
For Evan Wachs and Elizabeth Emery, choosing to build a house in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood (with a one-car garage where a Prius is parked for long stretches of time) is an expression of their love of biking—for transportation or to enjoy the city. A telecommuter in the IT field, Evan, 50, spends as much time as he can on a bike, entering cycle cross competitions or taking pleasure rides that circumnavigate Lake Erie. He once biked to see a movie at the Cedar-Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights and emerged to find a blizzard had covered everything in a foot of snow. He rode home, but, was he worried? “No, why? The silence was amazing,” he recalls.
When I ask, what does he need to live car lite in Cleveland, his answer is also a refreshing change of pace.
“Personally, I need nothing more from Greater Cleveland,” Wachs, raised in Cleveland Heights and who staunchly opposes carrying a cell phone, says. “I just ride my bike and I find cycling around the area to be no problem at all.”
“I appreciate and enjoy all the recent cycling improvements," he adds, "so I guess all I can say is, please make sure the existing cycling infrastructure is well maintained before adding anything new. My greatest fear cycling-wise is the region over extends itself and we end up with a bunch of trashy bike paths, un-marked bike lanes, and deteriorating bike racks.”
Art of the steel
Emery, an artist whose sculpture has appeared in exhibitions at William Busta Gallery and MOCA, was also a competitive cyclist for years and rides her vintage English roadster all around town, including to her studio-house in the Clark-Metro area.
She would like to see more attention paid during driver’s education to bringing the Share the Road message to life.
“The difference I see in Cleveland versus other places is a lack of awareness of cyclists here,” says the Philly native. “This town is so car centric, and, as a cyclist, I often feel invisible.”
More “how to” education—like the course offered by League of American Cyclists-certified trainers (the Cleveland area has ten certified instructors)—would help lay the foundation for safer conditions, Emery says.
“It would cover how to ride, how to stay aware of cyclists, and what it's like to ride a bike even if you never plan to do so.”
Movers and Shakers
Austin McGuan, a lawyer at silver-level Bicycle Friendly Business, Squire Patton Boggs, and his wife, Cassandra Haddock, a lawyer at Key Bank, call Shaker Heights home for similar reasons to the Starinskys—transit access to downtown where they both work, and because he prefers to bike in. McGuan credits biking in his youth around an east side suburb where a grid pattern to the streets made it feel safe and yet connected.
“When it came time for my wife and I to identity the community that we wanted to buy a home in, we knew that this destination had to have a similar walkable-and-bikeable design,” he said. “We chose a community that was not only close enough to work that I could easily bike downtown but also one that has a single-seat (does not require a transfer) and frequent service for the days on which I could not bike.
"The convenience of this public transportation has also had an unexpected benefit, as it allows me to get a bike ride to work in on those days when it's nice in the morning but rainy in the evening”
(RTA allows bikes on the train and provides racks on all of its buses.)
When asked about what Northeast Ohio can do to encourage more people to try living car-lite, McGuan, who is active with cycling advocacy group, Bike Shaker, says creating more walkable communities is the key.
“We need to move beyond this notion that the existence of sidewalks makes a community walkable and give meaning to that term,” he says. “A walkable (or, more precisely, pedestrian-friendly) community not only has destinations within walking distance but also has provided thoughtful consideration to making it easy to walk to destinations.”
In particular, McGuan doesn’t care for new intersection designs that don’t have pedestrian crosswalks at all four corners. “It’s a common design flaw that works against a community's walkability and making walking to a destination a more enticing alternative to getting in the car.”
He would like to see more places encourage active forms of transportation like his employer does sponsoring The Bike Rack on E. 4th (under the sponsorship all of the firm's employees get free shower and bike storage access there). Ideally, employers would pool their resources into a form of transportation management association and offer discounted transit passes.
The doctor's in (transit)
Encouraging transit use is also on the mind of University Hospital Sustainability Director, Dr. Aparna Bole. Bole lives in the Shaker Square neighborhood with her husband and two daughters and commutes to the University Hospital main campus on the RTA #48 bus. A pediatrician, Bole does double duty working on UH’s sustainability programs after seeing patients in the morning. She would like to promote the fact that UH subsidizes transit passes—10% off for each year until it is free at 10 years of employment. She has fought to secure a parking spot for those UH employees who choose a multi-modal commute that combines riding a bike, taking transit and driving.
The Portland native is still surprised at the classist attitude that Clevelanders share about transit.
“One time I was on the bus taking my daughter to the doctor when a man asked me why my employer didn’t Provide a Ride,” she recalls. “It’s a pervasive issue here. I lived in Boston and New York, and a lot of people drive there, but the train is not seen as substandard way of getting around. We need to elevate transit as a cultural choice.”