Peace, Justice and Tamir Rice

I had to roll my eyes at Plain Dealer Editorial Board’s response to the grand jury’s failure to bring charges against police officers in the Tamir Rice case: “Tamir Rice Protests Must Be Peaceful.”

For starters, the whole premise that powerless people, frustrated with the system to the point of boiling over, would be consulting the editorial board of the Plain Dealer before they act is laughable. The Plain Dealer Editorial Board is a super powerful organization in this town, in my opinion. But come on, there are limits.

It’s not clear exactly who this editorial is addressed to, or if they are just articulating a worry. Which, to be fair, it seems like a legitimate worry (rioting), given what has transpired in this city over the past year or so. (Although overall protests have been peaceful, and even then some 70 people were arrested on trumped up charges and many held for 72 hours, but that is an aside.)

What really bothers me is the whole premise here — this calling for peaceful protests after the state-supported killing of an unarmed boy — misses the point so entirely. This refrain has been extremely common though in Cleveland. We heard the same thing in the Brelo trial (“137 shots case”) just a few months ago.

And of course I don’t want protests to be violent. No one wants that. But the idea that the response to this case must be upstanding, while the events that preceded it so clearly were not, I’m just having a hard time understanding why so many people find that argument to be so seductive. It’s like they’re issuing a reminder: the rules apply to protesters, but not to police officers. And while that, quite frankly, may be true, it is nevertheless a complete load of bullshit.

This whole habit of prematurely condemning protesters for not being peaceful in response to state-sanctioned injustice and violence, in this case against a 12-year-old boy, is exactly the type of double-standard that this whole case is, at its core, about.

The Plain Dealer Editorial Board really ought to understand that justice is a necessary precursor to peace. The whole justice system, in theory anyway, helps safeguard a peaceful society, by providing a fair and impartial check on violence and other anti-social behavior. For example, let’s say someone steals your jewelry in absence of a justice system in which to seek recourse. What options do you have? Well, you can forget about it. Or you can try to seize it back and punish the perpetrator, through violent or coercive means.

In a civil society, however, with a justice system, this matter is resolved without violence. And the party with the most muscle doesn’t necessarily prevail. Nobody responds with baseball bats. Nobody gets killed. The justice system provides a dispassionate intermediary that helps resolve the matter in peaceful terms. It punishes the “bad guy” and protects the “good guy” — at least in theory.

But the justice system isn’t handed down by God, or a dictator, in a democracy like ours. It’s negotiated by willing participants. It is entrusted to decide the matter objectively, and in fairness, and without respect to the status of the individuals involved. And if it does so at least to a large degree, its legitimacy won’t be drawn into question.

Then we have a case like the Tamir Rice case, and the Brelo case, and the countless others around the country. And here we so clearly have this pattern where justice seems to be being applied unevenly. Where some people benefit and some people are harmed, based not on any consistent moral terrain, but based on relatively arbitrary social characteristics of the victims.

The question for the aggrieved parties in this case — black people in Cleveland (and, zooming out, in other cities around the United States) — is why should they follow the rules if the rules don’t apply to other people? How long can people be expected to follow the rules, when it becomes clear that the rules serve to oppress, not protect them? That is the kind of question this case raises.

The Plain Dealer Editorial Board members, in my opinion, are as close an approximation to Cleveland’s patriarchy as practically anyone. It’s disappointing that they don’t recognize that the integrity of our justice system and this question of peace are tied up in each other.

They call for peace, but not for justice, but there can never be one without the other.

–Angie Schmitt

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Why are Rust Belt Cities Shrinking?

This probably sounds like a stupid question, but I’m serious about this. There was a recent round of publicity about a study out of Cleveland State that basically showed *some* growth in young well educated people in central Cleveland, namely downtown.

The authors of the report didn’t come out an say it, but the article seems to sort of imply that this “brain gain” is the precursor to real population growth in Cleveland or at least a “bottoming out” something that has apparently been predicted before.

Here’s the thing though. Cleveland is still losing population. Between 2000 and 2010, it lost 17 percent of its population; almost 1 in five people living in the city just booked it and left.

If we’re going to sort of hypothesize about when Cleveland’s going to grow again, as a couple people do in this Plain Dealer article, we’ve got to understand why people are leaving and I’m not sure we do.

So on one hand we have this study saying younger, well educated people are moving to the city, but not quite enough to stem the decline. So another more numerous group of people are leaving faster than the “brain gainers” are moving in. The question is who are they? Why are they leaving?

That is a question that doesn’t get enough attention, I think.

Now, you are probably shaking your head and saying “duh, everyone knows it’s the schools dummy!” Or “crime!” But those kinds of explanations, while I’m sure they are part of it, i don’t think really explain it. Here’s why: I think the Cleveland schools suck — and they do suck, no argument there — BECAUSE all the middle class people moved away, not the other way around. School district quality — I don’t have the resources to do a study or analysis — but I have a sneaking suspicion are largely a function of the demographics/economics of the district. In other words, the schools in whatever wealthy exclusive suburb aren’t awesome because the district is coincidentally really well managed. Exclusive rich suburbs have schools that are well funded and can afford to hire awesome staff and also and maybe more importantly, they can exclude low income kids who are likely to have academic and personal challenges.

What I’m saying is, if middle class people hadn’t pretty much abandoned Cleveland, the schools would be in way better shape. And crime would be reduced too. Anyway, it’s debatable I guess. But it’s hard to separate cause and effect.

Anyway the reason I took a break from pumping milk out of my breasts (I just had a baby five weeks ago) to write this dumb post is because I wanted to present this theory that I am sort of partial to — the theory of why Cleveland and likewise other rust belt cities and even inner ring suburbs in a lot of cases are shrinking: Filtering!

This is a really nerdy topic, but it’d the favored theory of the few people I trust on demographics in northeast Ohio — Tom Bier of Cleveland State and Jason Segedy of the Akron Metropolitan Planning Study and NEOSCC. What filtering basically means is that people don’t like old houses. People are constantly moving to newer houses and leaving the older houses behind for poorer people.

Tom Bier has been sounding the warning bell (and mostly ignored) for years that this is a crisis for Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. The growing areas of northeast Ohio — and there’s precious few of them — are the areas where they’re building new housing, namely sprawl developments on farmland.

Anyway, it’s been a few weeks now, but Jason Segedy recently posited that for Akron to grow again, the city needs a plan to build new housing — a good amount of it too.

Now there are all kinds of obstacles to that: clunky regulations and building departments, urban lots that belong to 15 heirs, not to mention — and this is the big one — a completely terrible housing market, where nearly all new housing needs major subsidies just to bridge the gap between purchase price and construction costs. But what if that were the solution? What if we had a clear idea of what the solution way? Do you think filtering is a good explanation?

–Angie Schmitt


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Michigan’s Budding Romance With Modern Passenger Rail

If you have ever ridden an intercity passenger train or a local streetcar, a commuter train, light rail system, or even a subway, you may have noticed the intoxicating feeling generated from riding the rails – the simple pleasure of watching the world pass by as you roll across or under the landscape. Perhaps this feeling is strongest when traveling on an intercity passenger train, but it is there nevertheless. Recently, my wife and I rode the rails across Canada, from Windsor to Toronto to Winnipeg to Edmonton to Vancouver. The glory days of railroading may not be as they once were, but it is clear that all forms of rail travel are a vital cog in any successful multi-modal transportation network. It also had an unexpected effect, in that rail travel invites human interaction unlike any other form of transportation.

During this trip, each of our intercity trains was filled to capacity. In addition, we saw a handsome new railway station in Windsor, and witnessed multitudes of Canadians riding GO Transit commuter trains and historic streetcars in metropolitan Toronto. We observed and rode the rapidly growing SkyTrain network in metropolitan Vancouver. On our return trip, we saw heavy use of Sound Transit’s commuter rail lines in Seattle and rode it’s CityLink Light Rail system between downtown and Sea-Tac International Airport. Sadly, the only place of any size where we didn’t see passenger rail being used to its fullest potential was upon our return to Michigan.

That does not mean passenger rail transportation is not playing a role here. All three AMTRAK routes in our state (Bluewater, Pere Marquette, and Wolverine) have strong and supportive ridership; we are thankfully participating in high-speed improvements to the Chicago-Detroit corridor; the M-1 Light Rail project is under construction along Woodward Avenue in Detroit; and the People Mover system continues to ply its elevated route around downtown Detroit. Other passenger rail routes being discussed include intercity services linking Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids; extending service to Traverse City, commuter service between Ann Arbor, Detroit Metro Airport, and downtown Detroit; and commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell. But, to really make a difference, Michigan needs to stop talking and start acting, by applying additional planning efforts and funding sources towards all modes of passenger rail transportation. In Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver, their professional sports stadiums were constructed abutting the commuter and intercity rail network. In addition, all three have rail links to their airports. Such foresighted transportation planning helps reduce traffic congestion on area road networks, reduces air pollution, and reduces overall dependency on automobiles, while it also increases the lifespan of the road system and interconnectivity between transport modes. Here in Michigan, we are so reliant on the automobile, that it is often our only option. Given Detroit’s moniker as “the Motor City,” that may seem like a logical conclusion, but

why can’t “motors” include those for locomotives too?

Beyond the transportation benefits of a multi-modal system that incorporates various forms of passenger rail, there is another advantage that became very clear during this trip – opportunity for human interaction. This certainly cannot happen when we drive solo, cocooned in our cars, and is a limited option for a small group of people in carpool and vanpool situations. However, when riding the rails, particularly for middle to longer distances, one has the chance to interact with their fellow passengers on a regular basis. With each and every trip there is the potential of meeting new people. Even as an avid bike commuter, I will admit that opportunities for conversations beyond brief greetings are limited, though it does happen more often than with cars. Meanwhile, during our Canadian cross-country trip, at every meal we were seated with different pairs of passengers. This gave us a perfect opportunity to meet our fellow travelers from all over the world, including other parts of the United States, Canada, India, Australia, England, Sudan, etc. Furthermore, in all forms of passenger rail, one has the opportunity to get up and move around from place to place which generates the potential to meet and connect with new people. In other words, passenger rail can be a social gathering place.

Will Michigan’s current romance with intercity passenger rail be a lasting relationship or will we revert to our old lonesome ways the next time gas prices drop or fuel efficiency improves? That’s the big question. But, one has hopeful optimism when they observe what’s taking place north of the border and in other cities around our country. For it’s not just Seattle where the romance with the rails has fully blossomed, but in many other American cities where you would have never imagined it 10-20-30 years ago. Burgeoning cities in the south and west like Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Dallas, Sacramento, San Jose, Houston, Miami, Charlotte, Honolulu, and others have hopped on the train phenomenon. For Michigan to be/remain truly competitive, it must allow our budding romance with modern passenger rail transportation to fully flower. Otherwise, our state risks becoming sidetracked onto an abandoned spur as the world rolls past.

So, come on Michigan, in the immortal words of the O’Jays, let’s climb aboard the “Love Train” and thunder our way towards a more promising future.

– Rick Brown


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Ohio House Budget Slashes Measly Transit Budget

This post was written by Tim Kovach and originally appeared on his personal blog.

Yesterday, the Ohio House passed its version of the state’s biennial budget, HB 64. The proposed budget, which is the largest in state history (by far), appropriates $131.6 billion in total spending for fiscal years 2016 viagra versus cialis and 2017. This includes $71.5 billion in General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, which, based on reports from The Plain Dealer, will pay it no mind and develop a budget of its own. The next two-plus months should be…interesting.

Rep. Marty Sweeney was one of three Cleveland Dems that backed the provision shortchanging transit.

HB 64 sets aside more than $700 million less than Governor John Kasich had requested in his budget proposal, which he released in February. Yet, according to Plunderbund, the GRF spending is still 43% more than the final budget passed under Governor Ted Strickland. Moreover, HB 64 far exceeds the cap on increased GRF spending set in place by the Republican-controlled stated legislature in 2006. As Plunderbund explains, while the State Appropriation Limit law dictates the state cannot increase GRF appropriations by more than 3.5% in any given year, this budget blows that (stupid) limit out of the water. Under HB 64, GRF spending would spike by 11.3% in FY 2016 and 4.7% in FY 2017.

Last month, I noted that the Governor’s budget increased GRF spending on public transit by $1 million per year, to $8.3 million annually for FY 2016-2017 from $7.3 million in FY 2014-2015. (According to Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC), the state actually spent $10,134,611 during FY 2014.) As I argued at the time,

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

Well, it looks like even this modest enthusiasm was misplaced. HB 64 does away with this additional funding, locking in GRF spending on transit at $7.3 million for the next two years. Whereas transit accounted for a pitiful 0.035% of the GRF in FY 2014, this number will decrease to just 0.02% and 0.02% in FY 2016 and FY 2017, respectively.

Let’s express that in per capita terms, shall we? Based on projections from state’s Development Services Agency, Ohio’s population will reach 11,549,120 this year. That should grow to roughly 11,554,270 and 11,559,420 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Accordingly, the state will spend a whopping $0.63 per person on transit each year.

Clearly, Ohio does not prioritize public transit. To show how little our legislators care about this issue, I have collected a few other budget line items from the Ohio House’s budget, for comparison’s sake:

  • Ohio Grape Industries (spending to promote the state’s wineries): $970,000 per year for FY 2016-2017
  • Art acquisitions for public properties: $225,000 per year
  • Choose Life how much is viagra (state issued license plates to discourage abortions): $75,000 per year
  • Ohio State Racing Commission (“dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of horse racing and its related industry components”): $31,535,000 million per year
  • Ohio State Fair Harness Racing: $235,000 per year
  • Coal Research and Development Program (a program to “development and implementation of technologies that can use Ohio’s vast reserves of coal in an economical, environmentally sound manner” LOL): $234,400 per year
  • Coal Research & Development General Obligation Bond Debt Service: $5,991,400 in FY 2016, $5,038,700 in FY 2017
  • Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative (a program to “improve agricultural trade and R&D ties between Ohio and Israel”): $200,000 per year
  • State printing costs: $21,568,075 in FY 2016, $21,688,106 in FY 2017

This is just a small selection of the things that Ohio lawmakers would rather fund than public transit.

We already know, for instance, that ODOT spends more money to mow the grass alongside Ohio’s highways than it does on transit. We’ll also apparently spend nearly $1.2 million to find “a less costly and easier way to cut the grass and manage the trees and shrubs along the state’s interstates and highways.” Oh, and did I mention that the state has set aside more than $200,000 for legal fees to uphold our ban on same sex marriage? But $1 million more for transit is unthinkable.

Sadly, I can’t cheap viagra online even say that this budget passed strictly alongside party lines. That’s because, while 5 Republican representatives jumped shipped and voted against the bill, 3 Democrats actually voted in favor of it. All three of these legislators – John Barnes, Bill Patmon, and Martin Sweeney – hail from Cleveland, where nearly one-quarter of households lack access to a car.

One day, maybe we’ll break the car-centric fever raging through the Statehouse. Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through in a state that has no problem spending $429 million on a freeway bypass for a county that’s home to 25,000 people, but cannot find another dime for the nearly 250,000 people who ride transit each day (PDF) in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.


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Evaluating the Actual Design of the Opportunity Corridor

Ever since the state said it was going to award close to $300 million in borrowed turnpike money to the Opportunity Corridor, a project Cleveland’s planning and development leaders had been pushing for more than a decade, it’s been sort of a mad scramble to get shovels in the ground.

Project leaders now have the final federal approvals that they need to begin construction. In a few weeks they’re going to put sections 2 and 3 — the actual new road portion — out to bid on a quickie design-build contract that gives the engineering firm a good deal of leverage over the design details. And that will be the end of it as far as that goes, I believe. $331 million in spending will turn into a road that will be part of Cleveland’s landscape for decades. Pretty much all the leaders involved ceased discussing the design details of the the road months and months ago and have turned their attention toward the development they hope will follow.

They’re behind the ball on that already. Land speculators have been buying up properties and putting fences around them. Just last week some key project leaders floated a plan to solicit foundation support to spend $10 to $20 million assembling land they hope they can sell or give to new firms that will employ city residents.

So everything’s speeding ahead and more or less final as far as the people with power over the situation are concerned as with the $331 million road project. I’m sort of disturbed about this because the $331 million road project still had a lot of pretty glaring issues it seems just aren’t going to get addressed.

One thing I will say is I think the design of the road has gotten better in the last year or so. There have been a few key improvements that resulted from community pressure and public feedback. They are, IMO:

  • ODOT will no longer dead end 19 through streets, including Quincy, a major thoroughfare. On most of those streets, sort of residential side streets, drivers will be allowed to make right turns. With this change the road will still be a barrier to north-south, short-distance travel, the kind that is especially important to people living near by. But it will be less so.
  • Minority and local contractors will get 20 percent of construction contracts.This was a deal offered by Governor Kasich in the run up to his reelection campaign and was pushed for by the Black Contractors Association locally. This was always, always, always, at public meetings a big priority for people living nearby.
  • A pedestrian bridge has been added by the East 55th rapid station. This was a very early change made in response to public outcry. The original proposal from ODOT would have required transit riders to walk a long circuitous route around the road and a retention all to access the rapid station. ODOT caved to complaints and agreed to install a pedestrian bridge that would shorten this distance transit riders will have to travel by a third. (A note about this pedestrian bridge: the fact that ODOT is proposing pedestrian bridges over this road instead of at-grade crossings is pretty good evidence that the road isn’t very pedestrian friendly and operates, at least at this junction, much like a grade-separated highway.)
  • ODOT reduced travel lane widths from 12 feet to 11. 12-foot lanes are the type used on Interstate highways and they encourage fast speeds — far faster than the 35 miles per hour this road is supposed to be designed to accommodate, and faster than what is safe for pedestrians who will have to cross this road. After complaints, ODOT agreed to reduce the lane widths to 11 feet, which is still pretty wide and generous to motorists and not the most pedestrian friendly design but it is better than 12 feet.

That being said there are many, many outstanding issues I’m afraid we’re not going to see adequately resolved:

Bike infrastructure:

The one remaining design issue that seems to be getting a lot of attention is the issue of bike accommodations. Bike Cleveland and project manager Marie Kittredge have been making an issue over the fact that the current plan calls for bikes to use an off-road multi-use path on the road’s south side. Bike Cleveland director Jacob Vansickle has argued correctly that this is a second-rate way to accommodate bikes and is pushing an on-road protected bike lane.

The project’s steering committee is considering this and there seems to be a fair amount of political support. Steve Litt, architecture critic for the Plain Dealer has written about it twice — a sure sign that the establishment is firmly behind this idea. This is sort of an interesting development and I’m encouraged to see people in positions of authority finally pushing back on some of ODOT’s generally pretty old-school designs. I think converting the off-street bike path to on street would be an improvement to the design and help make the road slightly more pedestrian friendly.

However, Marie Kittridge told me they are not considering reducing the width of the road, only widening it to add the bike lane. That’s disappointing. The road is being built to accommodate all the traffic from every planned development around the corridor for the next 20 years. That’s why they were able to justify adding a fifth lane. A lot of the planned development for the area over the next 20 years might not ever happen. Or if it does happen it will take a long time. So the road will likely have excess capacity from day 1.

I am concerned that widening this very expensive road to add bike lanes will turn out to be surprisingly expensive, but that’s just a guess. Conducting a road diet on a parallel road like Woodland might be a nice alternative if so. But it will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

That being said, I am sort disappointed we haven’t seen the same type of advocacy from those in positions of authority for transit riders and pedestrians on this corridor. I really think those two groups are much more profoundly affected.

Transit riders:

We learned late in the process of this project that RTA, after months of denials, was considering closing both the East 79th Street rapid stations, in the heart of the project area. The RTA board has since decided these stations will remain open. But it is unclear where the money will come from to perform the repairs — which will cost at least $20 million. RTA has a $300 million maintenance bill coming due on its rapid system altogether and it certainly doesn’t have the money in its operating budget. RTA was able to negotiate $3 million from ODOT through this project for the East 105th street station, but how it’s going to raise the money for those other stations remains an open question. That is a less than 1 percent concession to transit from ODOT in this project, although the road bisects neighborhoods where 40 percent lack access to a car. I don’t know how anyone can consider this a fair distribution of transportation resources, but everyone just seems to be resigned to the idea that ODOT won’t give anyone money for transit.

Since the existence of the rapid stations was one of the project leaders’ primary justification for building the road — the argument was that new development spurred by the road would be transit accessible for people without cars — it’s pretty disappointing that this issue was more or less sidestepped throughout the process. Transit was pretty much ignored throughout this process — although this was always referred to as a “corridor,” which implies a bigger, more comprehensive project than a road with a side path. Throughout the planning process some of the project leaders have insisted that this area already has good transit access — because it is served by buses and rail — but that road access was the real obstacle (these leaders, I am certain, do not rely on the bus.) Now that whole excuse is sort of our the window, but it’s probably too late to develop a more balanced and inclusive approach.

In the end this $331 million investment in what is almost exclusively car infrastructure provides little to nothing for transit riders and that is a real travesty from an equity perspective, especially considering how transit dependent the surrounding neighborhoods are and how much they are going to be impacted by the construction and traffic from this road.

These are the kind of bridge elements ODOT is proposing.

ODOT and Kittredge are planning a meeting tonight, I understand, to invite the public to share ideas for fancy design elements to be added to some of the project’s many bridges. It’s frustrating to see them focused on this kind of cosmetic detail while all these transit issues remain unaddressed. Furthermore, their eagerness to invest money in this sort of trivial element, while basically ignoring some of the very serious transit concerns in the same area is pretty disappointing, but typical of the highway’s-first, nothing else matters approach we continue to see from the powerful old-school bureaucracy that is ODOT.


Furthermore, what kind of conditions the road is going to present to pedestrians seems to be another wide open question, which is pretty disappointing at this late stage in the game. Right from the beginning, project sponsor promised this road would be a “pedestrian friendly boulevard” — and it should be. It’s an urban road that runs through low-income neighborhoods. We don’t want to build a road that becomes the kind of road that low-income get killed trying to cross to get to jobs. It’s 2015 and our design sensibilities about these things should be getting more developed.

Now I think when the people who came up with this plan laid out that vision — “a pedestrian friendly boulevard” — they meant it. That truly was their vision. Unfortunately, they needed ODOT to design it and make it happen and ODOT doesn’t really do pedestrian friendly, they do highways. What they have put together, at least from what I can tell, is not an urban road but a watered down highway, with trees in the middle and a handful of intersections. And I think the powers that be are so eager to see this money spent and this road built, and accomplish their 10-year goal, they haven’t really been willing to do much in the way of advocacy for pedestrians in the project design, which is unfortunate.

That being said, we don’t have a lot of details about what the project means for pedestrians, even at this late stage. We know there will be a few additional crossings, even a couple mid-block crossings, thanks to public complaints. But we don’t know much of anything about what the intersections will look like. To me it looks like they’re going to be really awful.

I actually asked ODOT to give me the pedestrian crossing distances for the corridor. Initially they refused because they weren’t “public information” because ODOT itself had never calculated them. That really shows how much effort has gone into thinking about how pedestrians are going to experience this road. They had never even measured it.

Well, I complained about it and they agreed to measure them and give them to me, but only for Phase 1, the widening of East 105th. That’s really not the section of the road I’m most concerned with because it is an existing road and though I think ODOT’s involvement will probably make it more dangerous and less comfortable for pedestrians, since it was an existing historical road will buildings surrounding it, there’s a limit to how badly they can screw it up, in my opinion.

They told me they couldn’t give me the pedestrian crossing distances for the other two sections — the sections they’re spending all this money to build — because they were going to use a design-build contract and so the engineering firm basically gets to decide. I’m not sure whether the public has an opportunity to provide any feedback in this process, but I’m guessing it would be an uphill battle. Again, this is a really disappointing way to approach such a crucial feature of this project.

I took this screen shot from a video ODOT made showing what the Opportunity Corridor will look like. it looks like a scary suburban arterial, to me, the kind that are most dangerous for pedestrians. Image: ODOT

Even with very little detail, it’s fair to say that a lot of the intersections are going to be quite wide. ODOT specifically chose to ignore concerns about the width of the intersections submitted by the public during the planning process — this is noted in the final Environmental Impact Statement and approved by the FHWA.

The road is five lanes for the first portion, and design plans include turn lanes at many intersections — always bad for pedestrians. Add two turn lanes and just the length of the traffic lanes could be as wide as 8o feet, and a lot more could be added if the road allows generous turn radii, which seems to be the plan because of “trucks.” Only 2 percent of the road’s traffic is estimated to be heavy trucks, and yet still that mode takes precedence over pedestrians in a low income neighborhood where many people lack cars. Wide turn radii would also encourage right-turning cars to speed around these intersections and add to the danger for pedestrians.

Now in some of the information ODOT has sent me, they have extended the boulevard into the crosswalk, more or less, to provide pedestrians a “island.” This is a good thing for safety. Even so, 80+ foot intersections are going to be very, very intimidating for the average pedestrian and definitely not the kind that will create a healthy balance of transportation modes or a walkable corridor in the sense most people understand it.

I don’t think the road can fairly be called “pedestrian friendly” and I really don’t even think there’s been a very good faith effort to make it so. I think the version of  “pedestrian friendly” ODOT and other local leaders have settled for is “pedestrian friendly compared to a limited access highway,” in that it provides the bare minimum in grudging accommodations to pedestrians. It’s disappointing that we settled for that and I think we will regret it very soon. It’s possible that the moment the road is built, it would be a good candidate for a road diet because it’s over engineered and not very context sensitive. I mean this road, from what I’ve seen in ODOT renderings, looks exactly like the kind of suburban arterial road you see outside a Walmart on North Olmsted, the kind where you never see any pedestrians, or when you do you’re afraid for them.

East 55th “jughandle”

Most of this area is currently a densely populated portion of the Slavic Village neighborhood. Image: ODOT

This is a good example. A last and final nagging concern I have about the design is tbe proposal for the beginning of the road at East 55th. ODOT and neighborhood leaders agreed a while back on a “jughangle” design, which is more or less a very small highway cloverleaf. The road will scoop below grade and neighborhood folks hope, relieve some of the nasty traffic that occurs at the awful intersection of I-490 and East 55th. I wasn’t around for the negotiations between ODOT and the neighborhood on this design. I assume ODOT presented them with some alternatives — all of them huge, concrete, solutions — and that this was designed to be the best of a lot of bad options from a neighborhood perspective.

I think it’s awful. I don’t understand how pedestrians are supposed to navigate it. The pedestrian bridge apparently. And Kent State’s Urban Design Collaborative pointed out Slavic Village residents won’t even be able to access East 55th from the road, at least last I heard. To make matters worse the whole thing is right in front of the East 55th rapid station and will reduce the walkability of that station, already very poor, and reduce the number of households within walking distance — because this area is where the majority of the houses seized through eminent domain are. So basically we’re trading a real urban neighborhood for that, and that is “progress,”

Some of us who have been following this project critically suggested that maybe a round-about would be a more humane solution, but I don’t think much consideration was given to the idea and I’m not sure 100 percent why. At this point I guess this is more or less set in stone. It’s a real shame to see something like that constructed in a neighborhood in this day and age.

We really should be moving toward road designs that are safe for pedestrians. And I understand that so many cars move through this area — and they’re trying to funnel them now all into the same area — that that creates some design challenges. We might never be able to create truly urban, pedestrian friendly streets in this context and that’s part of the reason I think this whole project is going to help sort of cement some unhealthy transportation patterns for the city at the same time we should be moving in the other direction. Funneling a lot of cars through a single chute really isn’t that healthy for cities, or urban.

I think a lot of people’s attitude, as far as the design of this road goes — and these are people who don’t live nearby — is that the neighborhoods impacted are in bad shape anyway and so these kinds of details don’t really matter. And so we’re getting a potentially damaging and dangerous design for our $331 million public investment, instead of the multi-modal pedestrian friendly boulevard we were promised and we seem to be willing to accept that, unfortunately.

It’s really a betrayal of the neighborhoods impacted I think. “Trust us,” they have been saying the whole time, this road will be “a pedestrian friendly boulevard.” It is technically a boulevard in that it had trees in the middle, but it’s not pedestrian friendly, it’s a thoroughfare designed first and foremost to speed high volumes of vehicular traffic with only the most superficial nods to other modes. I think a lot of the people leading this project understand this but have been willing to overlook it because they think the development will make it worth while. But that wasn’t the deal. They didn’t say, we’ll build a road through your neighborhood mainly designed for the convenience of suburban commuters while offering next to nothing to the surrounding neighborhoods, but it will be worth it in the end because of all the great development. They promised a nice, multi-modal urban road. In the end they only came through with the emptiest, most superficial nods to that kind of a vision — designs on large bridges, for example, a second-rate sidepath that doubles as a sidewalk.

This is a project that more than $30 million was spent “planning.” And this is the end result?  It’s disappointing, especially given how high-flying the rhetoric around this project has been. Those of us who have been making these kinds of points are more or less shouting into the wilderness, however, at this point. I’m not very optimistic that anything will improve and we will have blown an opportunity to create something that would be a real asset for urban neighborhoods.

–Angie Schmitt

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The Cleveland Clinic Just Doesn't Get it

Disappointing but not entirely surprising news from the Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland’s largest employer recently announced that it is closing Lakewood Hospital, in the cozy inner ring suburb, as it expands operations in sprawling Avon. This seems to be fitting with the nonprofit’s model of building a new hospital at every interchange opened in the sprawling hinterlands while winding down its hospital locations in the more populous areas of the region. All these hospitals, despite being entirely inaccessible outside of a private vehicle, are LEED certified for their “green” building practices.

The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t seem to value being part of a connected, urban community a whole lot, although to its credit, it did sponsor the Healhline, Cleveland’s award winning BRT.

The latest news from the Clinic is that it will spend $36 million to construct a 3,000-space parking garage on the southwest edge of its campus. The structure is about what you would expect. Not much of a boon for the neighborhood for the steep pricetag, not much of an advance for healthcare either. The Plain Dealer notes that this garage will be fed by the new $331 million “Opportunity Corridor” highway that will direct commuters from the south and western suburbs to campus.

I wish the Cleveland Clinic was embracing sustainable transportation and trying to make its campus and attractive, livable place. But that doesn’t seem to be the hospital’s M.O. at all. My architect friends jokingly call the Cleveland Clinic campus “Little Dubai.” The campus basically consists of a bunch of monolithic institutional buildings with a lot of dead space in between. It’s not really a community. It’s not really walkable. It’s not really an inviting or fun place to be.

I mean, it’s a hospital, so on one hand it’s sort of understandable. On the other hand, it just doesn’t have to be that way. It could be so great. Just east of the Clinic, a private developer, working with some institutional partners built a really phenomenal transit oriented development called Uptown. The development is mixed-use retail, with very little parking. It’s nestled in between Case Western University and Little Itality and it’s quickly becoming one of the coolest most attractive parts of the city.

The Cleveland Clinic campus could be like that, or at the very least more like that. But it needs to have less parking garages and more reasons to make people linger — heck even want to live nearby. It needs sidewalk-facing restaurants. There’s got to be some Cleveland

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Clinic employees who would prefer not to eat all their meals in a hospital cafeteria.

Here are some alternatives the Cleveland Clinic could have tried before building a $36 million parking garage. These are part of a strategy called “transportation demand

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management” that can save both employees and institutions like the Cleveland Clinic money. Because guess what? Parking is very expensive. Garaged parking spaces run up to $30k a piece or higher. There are cheaper and healthier options that would help keep healthcare costs low, offer employees valuable alternatives and improve the area around the Clinic:

  • Offer employees free bus passes/refund bus pass expenses for patients. For the price of a $36 million parking garage, the Cleveland Clinic could have purchased free bus passes at full price for 40,000 employees for a year. (The Cleveland Clinic only has 35,000 employees worldwide.) CAVEAT: I don’t expect that every employee would take transit to the Cleveland Clinic, but offering that as an incentive would encourage SOME employees to take transit instead of driving. For every employee the Cleveland Clinic could convert from a daily driver to transit commuter, it could save at least $12,000 in up front parking costs immediately. Why isn’t the Clinic more motivated to do this? I can only guess lack of imagination or some sort of fatalism/bad attitude about transit and the people that ride it on the part of institutional leadership. That is unfortunate.
  • Offer employees cash incentives to carpool. It could be as little as free parking passes. Again, this wouldn’t work for everyone, but for every employee that could be encouraged to buddy up, $12,000 savings for the Clinic — i.e. healthcare consumers.
  • Offer employees flexibility in parking passes. It is my understanding that the Cleveland Clinic does not allow its employees to purchase part-time parking passes. This is a problem because folks who might be an occasional bike or transit commuters are essentially penalized, or discouraged from doing so, because they must pay the full monthly parking rate. The Clinic should change this immediately.
  • Cash incentives to not drive to campus. Some institutions that run transportation demand management programs have found that offering commuters as little as $90 a year not to commute by car can have a surprising effect on solo car commuting.
  • Another thing the Cleveland could do is get more involved with incentivizing living near work for its employees. I know the Clinic has tried this in the past and it hasn’t been super successful. But it should not give up. Urban areas are becoming increasingly attractive across the county as household sizes become smaller and attitudes about urban living evolve. Probably many of their employees who are recruited from cities like Philadelphia and Chicago and Seattle where urban living is attractive. Their recruitment would benefit if they could offer high-quality living near work. Imagine if each of the Cleveland Clinic’s enormous parking garages were just one-third apartment housing how much more alive and active the campus would feel. The problem is, people won’t move to be closer to the hospital if living near the hospital offers no real advantage over living far away. And right now the Clinic’s transportation policies make driving in from far away as easy as possible and living close to the campus not that pleasant.

All of these alternatives would be cheaper than the way the Cleveland Clinic is doing it right now. And they would all promote something the Cleveland Clinic claims to be very committed to: promoting healthy lifestyles among its workers. It’s failing to do that if it doesn’t encourage its employees to bike and walk to work and to use low-emissions forms of transportation that lower asthma and obesity rates. It’s also negatively impacting the communities around it, which hurts the hospital as well.

-Angie Schmitt



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Cleveland's Police's Telling Response to Tamir Rice and the DOJ Report

So this is the statement Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued in response to a scathing Department of Justice report finding the department is “reckless,” “poorly trained” and “frequently deprives people of their constitutional rights.” I’ll spare you the gory details of this report, if you want more info check this out, but in a nutshell the two-year investigation found that officers, among other things, have been pistol whipping suspects and firing guns in a manner that threatens innocent bystanders.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

In light of all, Chief Williams prerogative is to remind the pubic that “the majority of” their “officers do great police work.” I want to say, for the record, I have absolutely no doubt that that is true. It is also, entirely beside the point.

Let’s say Calvin Williams was the owner of a restaurant. Let’s say a bunch of people ate food from this restaurant and got very sick and that the health department came and wrote a report and found there were “systemic” problems with the restaurant’s policies and employees that led to the problem. Let’s say the report also uncovered other problems — labor violations, vermin in the kitchen, etc. What if restaurant owner Calvin Williams response was, “I want to remind everyone that we served a lot of meals that didn’t make people sick.” Of course that would be true, but when you’re in a position of authority, you don’t get to be congratulated for things working as they should — especially in light of shocking evidence that in some important instances they are not.

This should really be obvious to anyone in a management role, but a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. If a few Cleveland Police Officers are out there pistol whipping people in the face like they think they are Scarface or something, that is naturally going to overshadow the good work being done by the majority. That’s why it’s Chief Williams’ job to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. And he completely and utterly failed at it. Now he is not accepting responsibility the way a real leader should.

This kind of response from all throughout the ranks of Cleveland leadership is almost more disturbing to me than the findings in DOJ report itself, and definitely helps explain how things could have gotten so out of hand.

Additionally, this insistence from police that because their job is risky and difficult, unprofessional, unethical and dangerous conduct should be excused is just not logically defensible. Because police are entrusted with a great deal of authority and latitude, they are under even more obligation than other kinds of workers to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

When you are in charge of an organization that screws up this badly, and the evidence of the screw up is so completely devastating, there is really only one acceptable way to respond: Chief Williams should apologize to the people of Cleveland and admit that he and other leaders have failed in their primary duty of ensuring quality throughout the department’s ranks.

Among those of us who are outraged by what has been uncovered, I think there are very few of us that doubt there are upstanding and hardworking officers throughout the ranks of the Cleveland Police. It’s unfortunate, but it’s axiomatic to employees within any organization, that their reputation is tarnished when others among their ranks behave unprofessionally and unethically.

It’s men like Chief Williams and other superior officers that have let the hardworking and trustworthy officers within CPD’s ranks down, by permitting disgraceful behavior by other officers wearing the same badge. The responsibility for the department’s tarnished image belongs with them, not misperceptions of the public or the media.

–Angie Schmitt


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