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Best and worst moments of 2015

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/30/15 @ 12:00pm

It was a tumultuous year. There was plenty to cheer (the Lake Erie wind farm, the Ohio Supreme Court stormwater case, for example) and reasons to jeer (the Ohio renewable energy freeze, the “backwards” bike lane in Cleveland). Check out our list: See what did and didn’t make your top moments in sustainability. And let’s think about how we can do even better next year...

<br />Hundreds of Akronites had a dinner party on a near deserted highway that runs through the city in an effort to reimagine what it could be. Image: Jason Segedy.

It’s time to give cheers and jeers to the best and worst moments in sustainable Northeast Ohio for 2015.

The Good

  • Lake Erie in the wind—It was quite a year for the Lake Erie wind farm. When other wind projects hit the skids, a pilot project to build five turbines off the coast of Cleveland moved from back to frontrunner in the hunt for a big federal grant. Then, efforts of regional group, LEEDCo, paid off with an agreement with a European offshore wind company who promises to develop the technology in Cleveland for making renewable energy by 2018.
  • The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s stormwater management program, agreeing that the Sewer District has the authority to charge customers for how much impervious surface they build on their property. After all, stormwater runnoff affects everyone with its costly impacts to rivers and Lake Erie, our most precious natural resource.
  • Embedded within walkable, urban places, such as Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights or Tremont in Cleveland, is the DNA for living a low-carbon life. We took a sample of nine Cleveland areas, and looked at how they performed. The results? Some areas of Cleveland are greener than Portland, Oregon.
  • Cleveland and Cuyahoga County inked a contract with CycleHop/SoBi to build a regionwide bike share system, starting in May 2016. We had some thoughts on making it equitable and successful.
  • Cleveland announced it would update its zoning so that urbanity and walkable places are the norm rather than the exception.
  • University Circle got serious about its boom Uptown. The major institutions put a plan in motion that will thread the needle on rapid growth and aspirations for creating vibrant, walkable places.
  • A plan for Cleveland’s first protected bike lane—to go on Lorain Avenue—passed an important test by winning city of Cleveland approval. Now comes the interesting part—gathering the collective will and $16 million to build it.
  • Akron took strides to improve its attractiveness with an impressive pop up bike lane/street improvement project in its North Hill area. Led by a nimble effort from its transportation agency, AMATs, Akron even has an eye opening plan to remove a near empty urban highway.
  • Young, tech savvy Clevelanders took the making of RTA’s real-time transit app into their own hands. Civic hackers with Open Cleveland, working on their own dime and with internationally respected company, Transit App, launched a powerful new platform on mobile devices for transit riders.
  • With the Midway, Cleveland has the most ambitious protected bike lane system in the country sitting on the drawing board. NOACA approved a grant to prove its feasibility.
  • A local climate mitigation effort, The Cleveland Climate Action Fund, re-launched and started to seed neighborhood greening with micro funding.
  • Cleveland’s sustainability efforts started to bear fruit as the city reported it shed 823 metric tons of carbon emissions in a two-year span.
  • The growing interest in transportation alternatives in 2015 also prompted new discussions about the need for larger policy changes to help Northeast Ohioans shift transportation modes. GCBL's David Beach worked with advisory committees of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to help the agency think about future goals for expanding rates of transit and bike use. With 87% of the region's commuters now driving alone every day, different funding priorities will be needed to create a more balanced, multi-modal transportation system.

The Bad

  • Ohio backtracked on the progress made in creating a marketplace for renewable energy by freezing its mandate for utilities to provide 12.5% of their power from renewables by 2025. Ohio became the first state to turn a deaf ear to pleas from industry and consumer groups who were making progress in spurring a market for clean energy. While the legislature seems poised to permanently freeze the renewable energy targets, Governor Kasich has promised to veto a permanent freeze.
  • Cleveland decided to gamble on a $331 million urban freeway, the Opportunity Corridor, even as the rest of the country has taken its foot off of the gas pedal. National dignitaries repeatedly warned Cleveland and the suburbs that a highway could end up being an empty gesture when compared to other economic development ideas.
  • Two major institutions—the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Fund for Our Economic Future—issued separate but no less revealing reports on just how much Northeast Ohio’s sprawl is limiting job access for residents in the urbanized area.
  • Sprawl costs go beyond jobs access. A new study showed how they include four times greater risk of dying in a car crash for Geauga County residents. Cars require a market subsidy of six parking spots per vehicle in low-density areas (the same amount of space as an apartment). The report includes never-before-seen details on the costs of sprawl.
  • Greater Cleveland RTA announced that it will raise fares and cut bus service. This on the heels of service cuts from the east side suburbs to downtown Cleveland. As wages stagnate and Cleveland slowly climbs out of the recession, a stronger public transit system will be needed to support the region's recovery.
  • Cleveland produced a round of head scratching and consternation when its traffic engineers decided to paint buffered bike lanes in reverse of how a consensus of national, urban street designers said they can do the most good.
  • Ohio ignored its own Statewide Transit Needs Assessment Study—which found $64 million of unmet projects and service—in a bill that had only a $1 million increase for transit (before cutting even that modest increase in the final budget).
  • Cleveland spoke out against the mounting costs of dredging 200,000 cubic yards of silt from upstream development and farming practices in the Cuyahoga River watershed. Will it spark a more holistic approach to watershed management?

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