Cleveland: Kicking Off a Transit Plan

(Photo:  GCRTA)

I’m just back from a week in Cleveland, where I introduced our new transit planning project to members of the transit agency board and began the process of working with staff to develop network concepts that will help the public think about their choices.  Press coverage of my presentation is here, here, and here.  The local advocates at Clevelanders for Public Transit are also on the case.

Cleveland is in a challenging situation.  The city has been losing population for years and most growth has been in outer suburbs that were designed for total car dependence.  Low-wage industrial jobs are appearing in places that are otherwise almost rural, requiring low-income people to commute long distances.

All this is heightening the difficulty of the ridership-coverage tradeoff.  The agency faces understandable demands to run long routes to reach remote community colleges and low-wage jobs, but because these services require driving long distances to reach few people, they are always low-ridership services compared to what the agency could achieve if it focused more on Cleveland and its denser inner suburbs.   There’s no right or wrong answer about what to do.  The community must figure out its own priorities.

To that end, we have helped the agency launch a web survey to help people figure out what the agency should focus on.  In April, we’ll release two contrasting maps that illustrate the tradeoff more explicitly, and again ask people what they think.  Only then will we think about developing recommendations.

If you live in Cuyahoga County, please engage by taking the survey!


5 Responses to Cleveland: Kicking Off a Transit Plan

  1. david vartanoff March 4, 2019 at 10:17 am #

    If memory serves Cleveland recently tried to evict buses from the ‘Public Square’ downtown where a majority of transit users transfer so it will beinteresting to see how much political support there is for any significant transit improvements.

  2. MB March 4, 2019 at 6:08 pm #

    Cleveland leaders and the public need to be told one thing – funding must be increased for public transit.
    How do you expect to operate public transit on a tax that has not increased since the 1970’s?

    Coverage is already suffering, and this is just a scapegoat for politicians to be given a green light to not spend more money on transit.

  3. Albaby March 5, 2019 at 10:23 am #

    Since you’re digging into their transit system, I would like to ask – does Cleveland *need* mass transit in the long term?

    You’ve stated many times in the past that mass transit is necessary because technological advancement can’t change urban geometry. Specifically, no matter how technologically advanced the private passenger car becomes, you can’t possibly fit enough into dense urban spaces (like the ur-example Manhattan). You must have transit in such cities.

    But is that true of Cleveland? Is Cleveland one of those cities? I’ve never been, so I’m asking the question in earnest. The population has declined markedly over time, both the city proper and the entire Cuyahoga County region – and that population continues to fall. It’s got minimal traffic congestion even today, even with a very small transit mode share; and it doesn’t seem to have a high level of employment concentration. So from the face of it, it looks like a city that doesn’t have the space constraints you’ve discussed in other contexts.

    It *seems* like Cleveland might be the type of city that *could* be served with private passenger cars alone, if they developed sufficient autonomy to make them a cost-effective alternative to transit. That wouldn’t affect how you designed a bus system, but it *might* be something you take into account before looking at rail projects/investments, which will have a useful life measured in decades.

    So – does Cleveland fit your description of a city with urban geometry that *requires* mass transit?

    • Dave March 7, 2019 at 6:55 am #

      I don’t think Jarrett has ever said every city *requires* transit, geometry or not. I think he’s said that cities can’t get around the geometry that only so many people can travel around them in cars, so if the city wants more than whatever that upper limit is, they need to look at expanding transit options. But if the number of cars that want to enter and drive around the city is grossly lower than the maximum capacity that the geometry of the city allows for, then obviously transit isn’t *required* of the city for it to function. (Assuming the city cares nothing about the people who are too poor, too disabled, too young or too old to drive, of course.) A city that is seeing population declines for decades would be one of those cities, in my opinion.

  4. david vartanoff March 12, 2019 at 6:38 pm #

    For some of us, public transit is like sidewalks, streetlights, fire, police, potable water, sewer services. Without these attributes you merely have a suburban tract or a small town, not a city. While I grant this is an ideological position, it is my view.