Category Archives: Public Transportation

Public Transit Cuts Inflicting Real Pain on Clevelanders

Just wanted to share this excellent documentary about the difficulties faced by Clevelanders who are reliant on public transit. Riders are currently bracing for more service cuts and fare increases, thanks in part to a woeful lack of state support.

This video was produced by The Fixers, a group of artists that are trying to tell the “real story” of Cleveland ahead of the press deluge that will accompany the RNC this summer.

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A Leading Expert Shares his Vision for a Transit Friendly Northeast Ohio

This post was written by Jason Segedy, head of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study — Akron’s metropolitan planning organization. It was originally published at his blog Notes from the Underground.

Marc Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake was kind enough to ask me to share my views on the future of public transit in Northeast Ohio with him.

Because I think it such an important topic, I’d like to share some of the same thoughts here at Notes from the Underground.

Q: Do we need a big, transformative vision for transit in Northeast Ohio, or do we manage the best we can within our current realities and chip away at needs as they arise?

I think we need a little bit of both:

I think we do need a big-picture vision for transit, both at the metro-by-metro (Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown) level, but also at the regional (12 county level).

The key elements of the big-picture vision should involve the following: a) how can we improve cross-county express service between our core cities and our job centers – this should include express bus in the short term and commuter rail in the longer term; b) how can we improve cross-county local service for shorter trips (i.e. going from Bedford to Macedonia); c) how can we make transferring/transitioning from one RTA to the other as seamless, easy, and convenient as possible; and d) how can we improve the sharing of services (and service) between RTAs so that their county sales tax based sources of revenue are not such an impediment to providing service across county lines.

I think we also need a finely-grained, locally-oriented, service-oriented approach to transit fundamentals that is geared toward improving service, attracting “choice” ridership, and improving public transit’s image in the region.

I would argue that most of these things are not very expensive monetarily, but they do involve a lot of time, energy, creativity, and hard work.

The kind of things that I have in mind would involve the RTAs focusing even more on things like improving rider safety (mostly perception of safety); ease-of-use (using smart phone technology to give real-time travel information and for electronic fare payment); improving transit waiting environments; improving walkability and bikability to transit stops; and working more closely with local governments and private developers to improve signage, wayfinding, and to institute transit-friendly urban design.

In Greater Akron, 90% of transit passengers earn less than $20,000 per year, and our level of “choice” (non-transit dependent) riders is extremely low.  A focus on these fundamentals wouldn’t necessarily lead to a sea-change in choice ridership, but it would certainly help a lot, and it would have the equally important benefit of improving service for existing passengers.

Q: What does a bold vision for transit in Northeast Ohio look like?

I covered the “bold vision” a little bit in the first part of my answer to question #1, but I’ll elaborate a little bit more on two issues I didn’t directly address.

I think a bold vision entails two things:

First, the recognition, realization, and internalization of the fact that the county lines don’t matter to potential transit passengers.  Therefore, each RTA should be operated and administered with this fact in mind, and conduct its business accordingly.

There are lots of trips between Bedford and Macedonia and between Twinsburg and Solon, for example.  Who is serving these?  Conversely, express connections between core cities and job centers are not very good.  There are good reasons for this (fiscal, administrative, etc.) but we have to do better.

I think that the state needs to get involved in funding inter-city transit service (Canton-Akron; Akron-Cleveland, etc.) and that a transit counterpart to the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) should be created that would provide general revenue funding for this.

Second, the vision entails the recognition that land use, economic development, and transportation policy at the state, regional, and local level is generally geared toward undermining the efficacy of transit in nearly every way.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if we were just talking about free-market competition between one mode of travel versus another, but it is a lot more than that.  Our current way of doing business in Northeast Ohio has negative ramifications on the natural environment and the built environment; it wastes energy, wastes money, leads to greater inequality, leads to more disinvestment and abandonment in our core cities, and it costs taxpayers far too much.

I blog about this issue in much greater detail here, but suffice it to say that if we continue with the land use, economic development, transportation status quo, we will never ever have a viable public transportation system.  Period.

From a public policy standpoint, we have to quit encouraging people and businesses to spread out from our core cities and inner suburbs.  It’s impossible to have a cost-effective, robust, competitive, and useful public transportation system serve a region that is built at a semi-rural population density, and that is essentially what we have in Northeast Ohio – a semi-rural region, from a built-environment standpoint.

Brooklyn, New York, for example, is roughly the same land area as the City of Akron, and it has 11 times more people.  And we’re talking two “central cities” here.  I’m not advocating that we build at New York style population densities, but we must recognize that when we get below the population density of an Akron, or Cleveland, or Cleveland Heights, or Cuyahoga Falls, it becomes virtually impossible to make transit work, especially when you don’t have significant traffic congestion or parking costs – and we don’t.

So we need to learn to reinvest in our core cities and inner suburbs – by building new higher-density housing, and encouraging business development and job creation in these places.

Ohio’s statewide transportation policy and investment decisions are a huge impediment to public transit, in this respect.  I think we are fooling ourselves if we think that we can do things like spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to widen I-271, widen I-77, and build the Opportunity Corridor, and simultaneously make transit more attractive and viable.  It can’t be done.  State transportation decisions seriously undermine efforts to reinvest in transit and in transit-friendly places.  We have to stop doing it.

Q: If Northeast Ohio had a new, large infusion of capital funds, what investment(s) in transit would you like to see?

I’d like to see most of these funds go to the “transit fundamentals” that I identified above.  I think doing 1000 small things really well, is so much more important than doing one or two large, high-visibility projects.

As much as I am a supporter of (eventually) establishing a passenger rail system, I think it would be foolish to build a commuter rail system without getting the transit fundamentals right (not just the transit “service” fundamentals, but – even more importantly – the land use, economic development, and statewide transportation investment fundamentals).

From the neighborhood, to the local government, to the region, to the state, leaders (elected and otherwise) need to understand the holistic nature of how highway expansion and also non-transportation related decisions can negatively impact the viability of public transit.

The challenge for sustainability advocates is to advance and articulate a vision for land use and economic development in the region that everyday people can understand and support, which will create the conditions where big capital transit projects can actually succeed and thrive.

If we try to avoid this political reality simply for the symbolic sake of saying that we built a large capital transit project (like commuter rail) without doing the due diligence to set it up for success, we will set transit back even further, when it fails to attract sufficient ridership, and the taxpaying public justifiably responds with “I told you sos”.


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Walkable Lakewood, Ohio — a Model for Healthy Transportation

Just a reminder that we still have a lot of really great, really urban places in the rust belt. Here’s a nice feature about eminently walkable Lakewood, Ohio — an inner ring suburb of Cleveland where people prefer to get around on foot and bike.

These kinds of places are rare, in part because of the lousy zoning rules that mandate suburban sprawl we’ve adopted across the U.S. Even Lakewood is guilty of these kinds of sins. Someone told me recently that the city requires houses to have garages.


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Baltimore's Waterfront to Get Yet More Parking

Fancy office towers, hotels, museums, and tourist attractions line the contours of Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay harborfront. So too, do massive parking garages and interstate-sized roadways that feed them. What does the future hold? According to a new plan, still more parking.

waterfront parking garage

One of several waterfront parking garages at Baltimore's harbor. All photos by author

Like much of America, Baltimore waterfront development since the age of cars has been designed for the age of cars. That looks likely to continue as the waterfront grows.

The Greater Baltimore Committee and Waterfront Partnership hired architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross to prepare Inner Harbor 2.0, an overarching new plan for reinvigorating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.

The Director of Landscape Architecture for Ayers Saint Gross, Jonathon Ceci, said about a parcel of harborfront currently covered by beach volleyball courts, “The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?”

How does Ceci plan to create “a magnet for urban activity”? Apparently, with parking garages. The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan recommends a $20 million garage on this waterfront site at a public cost of $12-14 million.

Baltimoreans should question the line of thinking that big garages are the best magnets for urban activity. Big garages and wide roads go hand in hand. They create the “island effect” that Mr. Ceci wants to eliminate.

Baltimore’s near waterfront has more high-rise parking spaces than high-rise residential units with waterfront views. There are at least 6 waterfront parking garages, and at least 14 large parking garages within one block of the waterfront. At least 9 parking garages rise to between 7 and 12 stories tall. The waterfront has around 4,500 parking spaces already planned or under construction: 4,000 at the Horseshoe casino and about 500 at Rash field.

Meanwhile, the one-way street pairs adjacent to the harbor have 10 lanes of through traffic, while at many times, cars cannot make it through a light in one cycle. Baltimore has used these streets for 180-mile per hour races.

What Baltimore’s waterfront has gained by attracting tens of thousands of cars it might have lost by being unfriendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, urban livability, and more local populations. Walkers can enjoy a promenade ringing the water, but to venture inland, they have to cross many lanes of unfriendly traffic. These physical road barriers separate the water from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and may limit economic development from more easily sweeping inland.

A family racing to safety at Baltimore's Harbor

Ironically, all the car infrastructure may not make car driving easy. Supersized roads and garages contribute to congestion that can offset cars’ theoretical time-saving advantages. Driving across town and up and down garages sometimes is slower than walking and bicycling. The business case for more parking erodes if corresponding congestion leads to traffic jams and stress.

Lombard Street

Rush hour traffic near Baltimore's Inner Harbor

By adding four high frequency Charm City Circulator bus routes, Baltimore has made progress. It can do much more to shift the balance.

Here are some additional ideas to consider near the waterfront:

  • Create an app that directs cars to affordable satellite parking spaces.
  • Create a tax on new parking garages and dedicate the revenue to non-automotive transportation.
  • Let developers choose to pay into an alternative transportation fund instead of building parking as required by zoning.
  • Encourage parking at outlying transit stations that serve downtown.
  • Re-introduce and enforce bus-only lanes downtown.
  • Create peripheral park & ride lots with frequently departing shuttles servicing downtown, similar to the way airport shuttles work.
  • Create iconic Inner Harbor bus shelters.
  • Operate Camden Line trains on weekends for special events and Orioles games.
  • Ask the Orioles to reward fans for not bringing a car.
  • Create a discounted MTA family pass.
  • Ask downtown employers to create financial incentives for employees to not bring a car.
  • Build Pratt Street and Key Highway cycletracks to support bicyclists and bikeshare.
  • Add Charm City Circulator routes to South Baltimore, Canton, the Casino parking garage, and new park & ride locations.
  • Make sure the east-west Red Line moves forward.

Baltimore’s waterfront must be accessible to people who own cars. However, with more affordable, safe, and convenient alternatives, some drivers would be happy to visit the city’s downtown waterfront, while leaving the car outside of the city center.

Jeff La Noue

Similar version of article cross-posted on Comeback City


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"Bikenomics" – An Instant Classic for Planners and Bicycling Advocates


Certain books become a classic in their field of study because of their comprehensive nature (i.e. The City in History). Others do from their advocacy and groundbreaking nature (i.e. Silent Spring).  In the case of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, both of these reasons apply. Author Elly Blue has written “the” definitive book on bicycle planning that clearly identifies the societal, physical, environmental, and economic benefits of bicycling, while also completely debunking the myths, fables, urban legends, half-truths, and outright lies spread by naysayers and automotive apologists.

Facts are funny things. They tend to get in the way of spurious and superfluous arguments. In Bikenomics, Ms. Blue lays down the gauntlet with factual truths about bicycling and how a vibrant cycling culture can go a long way to curing many of our nation’s ills. If one could quote the entire book in a blogpost, I would.  There are so many quotable gems contained within this publication, that I could fill gigabytes of pages with them. But alas, you should read the book, so I have only provided a few of them at the end of this post.

Believe me when I say this is a book that every planning professional must read and own. It will single-handedly serve as your go-to resource on the benefits of bicycle planning in your community. Kudos to Ms. Blue providing all of us with a fantastic source of information. Enjoy!

Here are a sampling of quotes from the book:

“People who ride bicycles also pay taxes, which means they often pay more into the road system than they cost it. By one estimate, a carfree cyclist would overpay by an average of $250 a year — a few dollars more than the amount that the average driver underpays.” (page 13)

“As it turns out, gas taxes have paid for about 70% of the construction and maintenance costs of the Interstate system to date, with that percentage going down with each passing year. Local roads fare worse when it comes user funding. If you take the nation’s road system as a whole, only 51% of its cost over the years has come from direct user fees.” (page 39)

“When you brush away the rhetoric, though, even the fanciest bikeways are a screaming bargain. For the cost of one freeway interchange, you can completely transform your city and immeasurably improve the wealth, health, and happiness of its citizens.”  (page 49)

“Large road projects are often funded in a down economy because they create jobs. But roads are actually the least job-intensive of any transportation investment. Bikeways are the most, creating more jobs per million dollars spent than roads-this is because there are so few materials involved and most of the budget goes to workers.” (page 51)

“Bikes may not be able to solve our health care crisis singlehanded…But bicycling is one of the rare areas where people can directly and concretely address our own health and the health of our community, and quickly see big results. In this light, bicycling for transportation isn’t so much a lifestyle choice as it’s a form of civic action.” (page 61)

“Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars’ – Donald Shoup.” (page 89)

“In the US, 99% of trips by car end up in a free spot [parking spot]. The value of that land—and to a lesser extent, the costs of paving, sweeping, policing, and maintaining it—makes [parking one of the largest subsides going.” (page 90)

“In a car-oriented world, old age becomes a disability for many, long before it might in a more walkable neighborhood. The more car-reliant your daily life, the lower the threshold becomes for frailness, injury, or failing eyesight to be experienced as outright disabling.” (page 104)

– Rick Brown

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Ten Lessons from Boulder, Colorado


View of Boulder from the Flatiron Mountains - photo by author

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for Rust Belt communities from the lovely city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have unique attributes.

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten. Many of these are remarkably similar to the ten lessons from European industrial cities published earlier this month.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.

– Rick Brown

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Ten Lessons from European Industrial Cities

Dublin - Soure:

I’ve had the distinct privilege and honor of visiting the great cities of Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; and Manchester, England over the past four years. All three of these industrial revolution-era urban centers can provide America’s Rust Belt with valuable insights about overcoming past malaise and degradation to chart a new economic paradigm. Here are ten lessons I have learned from visiting them and observing what makes all three so vibrant:

  • Cities can be reborn again and again, as long as they are not abandoned.
  • Discarding and demolishing a city’s physical history or its cultural legacy leave little from which to build a strong foundation for the future.
  • Plan and design every project with pedestrians, cyclists, and transit in mind.
  • Mixed uses are a great catalyst for rejuvenation, especially when residential uses are a part of the equation.
  • Density is imperative, provided it remains at a human scale.
  • Focus precious transportation resources on public transit, particularly modes such as commuter rail and light rail.
  • Government participation is critical – the private and non-profit sectors have a role, but they cannot do it all.
  • Art and cultural vibe – both traditional and trendsetting – are tremendously important.
  • Remain open to bold and possibly contentious new ideas, designs, and/or methods for accomplishing goals.
  • Accentuate the positive, but be sure to also address the negative.

– Rick Brown

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