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NOACA Promises Reforms

9 October 2012 No Comment

As our faithful readers are well aware, Rust Wire has been very critical of Cleveland’s regional planning agency, NOACA, namely because we — and by that I mean editor Angie Schmitt, the person writing this — think(s) the agency has played a critical role in the sprawl that has devastated greater Cleveland’s urban areas. We don’t think anyone at NOACA is a terrible person, per say. We just thought — and again by we, I mean me — that they are just terribly old-fashioned, in the sense that they see their first cause as fighting congestion and building highways.

That isn’t that unusual for old-school transportation agencies, but it is really insidious in a shrinking region like ours. Because “fighting congestion,” generally means widening highways — not improving transit or active transportation — and that makes it possible for people to live in insane places like Richfield and commute to Cleveland pretty easily. Since our regional population has shrank by 7 percent since the 1970s, expanding our living space to include rural tracts 20+ miles from the city hasn’t exactly been the smartest use of resources and has drained the region’s urban areas of people and vitality, to the extent that our core city has become an internationally renowned poster child for abandonment.

In more progressive metros like Portland and Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, planners have begun to recognize the errors made in previous decades and have been working to expand transit, to help build efficient, equitable communities. I guess it’s not surprising that greater Cleveland would be a little behind the curve in this respect, but we were trying to make a point, namely we can’t afford to do the same things that have propelled our decades-long decline.

Anyway, eventually we got the attention of the folks at NOACA — particularly our post 30 Reasons Why NOACA Sucks (which is reprinted at the bottom of this post). But we are happy to report things are changing at NOACA. They just hired a new director, a woman named Grace Gallucci, who has a background in transit from a more-progressive city called Chicago.

A lot of folks in the sustainability world have been looking forward to the retirement of former director Howard Maier for a long time. And I, for one, was pretty pleased to hear they hired a woman, with a transit background, from a bigger city. So I guess I have to credit him for that.

Anyway, Grace reached out to us at Rust Wire and she seems committed to reforming the agency with respect to some of our complaints. She has already gotten the agency on Facebook and Twitter (NOACA’s shunning of which was one of our biggest complaints).

Grace impressed us with her humility and ambition. As a result, we have agreed to take down 30 Reasons Why NOACA Sucks (we have moved to to a “private” post, which means we can reactivate it again at any time). But it will no longer appear as the number two item when you Google NOACA. We are replacing it with this post, because we have faith that it is a new day at Cleveland’s regional planning agency.

Grace is just one person, and she reports to a board of directors, which has at times been very politicized and parochial. But we think strong, forward-thinking leadership can help make this agency something the whole region can be proud of (even its website, which is undergoing redesign right now).

So for posterity, the post below. Also, Rust Wire would like to take a moment to congratulate ourselves and our readers for drawing attention to this important regional government agency’s shortcomings and helping initiate a dialogue between some regional leaders and some less well represented factions of our community.

-A.S.

 

Original Post: 30 Reasons why NOACA Sucks

#1. They are incapable of maintaining a respectable website.
#2. They can’t even hire a new executive director.
#3. They call their bike/ped planner the “multimodal” planner because it makes them so uncomfortable to think of transportation in terms of moving people rather than vehicles.
#4. Their board is controlled by exurban political officials who put the interests of their communities over the interests of the region.
#5. The Avon interchange.
#6. Their leading employees are all white men who live in the suburbs.
#7. They have no public outreach strategy other than posting unintelligible PDFs on their lousy website.
#8. Jimmy Dimora was a board member for years, and when he was arrested they almost honored him for his service.
#9. They spend most of their money in the exurbs and let the city’s roads crumble.
#10. The average age of its board and staff combined is 54 (probably).
#11. They almost never hire graduates of the local planning school, even though their director teaches there.
#12. They actually paid someone a salary to promote their Ride Share program that no one has heard of.
#13. During the summer, they pay an intern to drive everyday to Avon to be sure there aren’t any “bottlenecks” on the highways, but the very street where they are headquartered in Cleveland is a mess from a traffic perspective.
#14. They have barely any black people on their board or staff although the region has a very significant African-American population.
#15. Every year they ask cyclists to volunteer for a big “count day” event and then they don’t build them any new infrastructure as thanks.
#16. They have a bicycle advisory board as well but they still never build any bike infrastructure.
#17. All the smart younger people who work there leave because they are so beaten down and miserable after a year or two.
#18. They hold their meetings during the middle of the day so that no one except for insiders can attend.
#19. Almost no one from the region knows who they are or what they do.
#20. Cleveland and the entire region have been declining for decades and they have not responded in any meaningful way.
#21. Out of some 50 employees, only one does any bike or pedestrian planning and that is considered an entry level position (translation: not important).
#22. They prefer to hire engineers over planners, a practice that not only disadvantages women, but has the effect of narrowly focusing efforts on factors like car capacity at the expense of larger community impacts.
#23. They refuse to consider the land use implications of planning decisions and as a result perpetuate sprawl and inequality.
#24. Their transit planning is uninspired and minimal.
#25. Last year they spent an untold number of staff hours developing a 50-page “public involvement policy” that contained not one mention of social media.
#26. They have invested billions of dollars in a massive highway widening campaign to “fight congestion” but it has done little more than lengthen commutes and entrench car dependency.
#27. Every interchange they have added over the last few decades has produced a Walmart and killed 82 local businesses.
#28. They once fielded a softball team of employees named after their pejorative nickname NO ACTION.
#29. They spend all their “air quality” money building really expensive traffic signal coordination systems that have almost no effect on air pollution.
#30. When a bunch on cyclists took time out of their busy schedules to speak before the board to call for bike lanes and sidewalks on the Innerbelt bridge, the board and staff refused to even respond to their comments.

-A.S.