Cleveland: Tell us what you think about these alternative networks!

Our work on Greater Cleveland’s transit network is now available online, and we’re looking for people from the area to provide their input through this online survey.  The transit agency, GCRTA, hired us this year to help develop transit network alternatives that would illustrate what the transit network could look like if it shifted its focus more towards attracting higher ridership, and what it what the network would look like if it shifted towards extending coverage, as well as what the possibilities may be with different levels of funding.

The local newspaper, the Plain Dealer, has a great article about the networks and what they are intended to illustrate.

Cleveland is fortunate to have a relatively dense, and walkable pre-war era development pattern across much of the city, but as with most places in the United States, the trend over the past half-century has been the continual spread of residents and jobs to far-flung locations across the region. Since the region as a whole is growing very slowly, or not at all, this slow dispersal of the tax base poses a long-term challenge for the stability of transit resources and travel markets as more people and jobs flee to the margins of Cuyahoga County, or beyond.

When operating resources are limited, as in GCRTA’s case, the ridership/coverage tradeoff is put front and center in any discussion of what transit can do. Today’s network extends to most, but not all, of the developed area of the county, and provides little high-frequency service within the dense, walkable core of the region. Reaching more of Cuyahoga County would mean curtailing frequency in dense areas even more. But building a robust frequent network would require pulling back from many of these lower-density suburban areas, as there is little waste or duplication to reallocate in the current service design of RTA’s network.

In this context, RTA has brought us in to help explore what the transit network could look like today, if different policy priorities were emphasized more strongly in network design. Further on in the project, we’ll also be developing alternatives for different financial scenarios. Right now, RTA is conducting outreach on two alternatives: a High Frequency Alternative which brings frequent service to most of the dense, walkable central areas of Cleveland and the inner-ring suburbs, and a Coverage Alternative, which spreads low-frequency service to more of county.

The purpose of these alternatives is to illustrate for the public, stakeholders, and the agency’s Board of Trustees the potential outcomes of a policy choice to focus more on ridership or on coverage. (You can click each map below to explore a larger annotated version).

The High Frequency Alternative concentrates service so that lines run more frequently, reducing waiting times and making travel by transit more convenient. The network would reach fewer places, but where it does reach, trips would be faster than with the Existing Network.

As a result, over 40% more jobs would be accessible by the average county resident in an hour with the High Frequency Alternative. But on the other hand, the reduction in overall network extent reduces the number of people within a ½-mile walk to transit by over 20% from current levels.

You can compare the structure of the network on Cleveland’s east side to see this principle in action:

GCRTA Existing Network (left) compared with the High Frequency Alternative (right)

On the other hand, the Coverage Alternative spreads out service across the county, but spreading it out means spreading it thin. Frequencies would be lower throughout the network. This means that the network reaches more places but some trips would take much longer. Because these are budget-neutral alternatives, expanding the reach of the network requires reducing service levels on other routes, some routes that run every 45 minutes today would run every 60 minutes, and RTA’s single existing 15-minute bus service would run every 20 minutes. About 25,000 more people would be within a ½-mile walk of a transit stop, about a 5% increase from the Existing Network.

We hope these alternatives clearly illustrate the ridership/coverage tradeoff as it applies to Cuyahoga County and Cleveland. If you live in the area, please tell us what you think! You can learn more about the project and alternatives here.  Then, if you live, work or study in Cuyahoga County, be sure  take this short online survey.









, , , ,

7 Responses to Cleveland: Tell us what you think about these alternative networks!

  1. MB May 15, 2019 at 3:40 pm #

    The ridership (I know it is just a concept) network completely ignores the fact that much of the economic activity is in the suburbs. It does not matter if you have buses running every 15 minutes through all the poor inner city neighborhoods, if those buses don’t connect people to suburban jobs and educational institutions, where low income the residents are traveling to.

    This idea to punish the suburbs with bad or no transit, just punishes the riders who depend on transit to get them to work, education, to appointments, etc.

    Instead of giving politicians a ticket to not invest in transit. What Cleveland leaders need to be told is that you cannot operate a transit system on a tax that has not risen since the 1970s.

    But I guess it is just easier to ask people to choose ridership or coverage, instead of actually tackle the fiscal issue facing transit in Cuyahoga County.

    • Chris Yuen May 17, 2019 at 10:49 am #

      The High Frequency (Ridership) network doesn’t ignore the economic activity in the suburbs, but it chooses to put service where a stronger ridership per service hour outcome can be expected.

      If you’re interested in seeing access outcomes to educational institutions, go to and click the “Learn More About the Alternatives” link. The High-Frequency alternative would put more people within 60 minutes of more Cleveland Metropolitan School District high schools, and more people within 60 minutes of a Cuyahoga Community College campus than the existing network. The same analysis is available for access to jobs by lower-income residents.

      The idea is not to punish the suburbs, but to recognize that low frequencies, wherever they are, are pretty punishing to people’s ability to get anywhere if they are busy. The High Frequency (Ridership) alternative and the Coverage alternative show that shifting the ridership-coverage balance within a fixed budget is possible but will be painful for some people, whichever direction you move. The next two networks that we’ll work with RTA to design, over the summer, will illustrate the impacts of different budget scenarios.

      • MB May 17, 2019 at 8:44 pm #

        I am sorry if I am a little blunt Chris Yuen, but there are serious flaws with this kind of planning ( the coverage verses ridership debate).

        These exercises are making judgments on what kind of transit service an area could support based on population density, housing type, and income. Despite examples from around the world that less than ideally designed areas can support transit, when good service is provided; these plans just perpetuate the lie that suburban areas can’t support good transit.
        In addition, unique proposals (like Taxi Bus) are never mentioned as a way to ensure a basic level of transit service is provided to everyone. Instead, whole areas are just told they will be left without transit.

        In the long run, plans like the one for Cleveland will not advance public transit as an alternative to the auto. Because transit will never be a mode choice when you cut whole areas of your urban area off from transit, and continue to perpetuate the thinking that some areas can’t have good transit, despite evidence showing the opposite.

        At some point you have to admit that more $ is required. Instead, you are giving the government a pass to continue underfunding transit.

      • Matthew da Silva August 21, 2019 at 11:47 am #

        The poll showing riders equally split over a desire for more ridership and a desire for more coverage, with few preferring the status quo, shows how Cleveland’s current system is inadequate on both fronts and simply needs more funding. I am hoping the main point of these alternatives is to demonstrate to Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio that they simply need to allocate more money to transit. With the current funding levels, there is a Sisyphian choice between a functional system that serves an extremely small area, and a countywide system that is nonfunctional.

  2. John Charles Wilson May 18, 2019 at 10:53 am #

    Let’s say you only have $10 left, payday isn’t till next week, you don’t have credit, and you have to decide what to buy with that $10 at the grocery store.

    Your choices are: an $7 decent frozen pizza, a $2 bag of potato chips, and a $1 bottle of generic pop; OR a $3 loaf of whole wheat bread, a $2 package of lunchmeat, a $2 package of cheap processed cheese, and a $3 jar of peanuts; OR $5 worth of rice and beans, a $2 bottle of soy sauce, and a $3 pound of butter.

    None of these choices are ideal. The first one is great on taste – for one or two nights, but you will starve the next several days. The second is probably longer lasting but less tasty. The third might keep the hunger away all week but you will be bonkers from lack of taste by the end of that week.

    We all *know* the real solution is to have $25 instead of $10. But if you don’t, you don’t. But maybe you can plan to increase your income or manage your money differently next pay period….

    Maybe by showing the RTA that these plans are the best they can do with what they have, they will get the message that more is not just an option, it’s a legitimate necessity.

  3. david vartanoff May 27, 2019 at 2:30 pm #

    If my image of greater Cleveland is not completely wrong, support for GCRTA is minimal at best. IINM within the last year they tried to evict buses from the Public Square which is ground zero of the CBD. Enough people raised sand to get the buses back, but I think it demonstrates the problem. Further, recent ## from another site indicate that taken as a whole the Cleveland Metro has stayed at the same net population,but more people moved from Cleveland itself into the burbs. I would suggest whether race or class driven it does track Cleveland’s loss of major corporate HQs over several decades. What all that means, I think, is lower general ridership because transit doesn’t go where the jobs are (sometimes this is deliberate on the part of the employers as a way to constrain the pool of job seekers, sometimes merely moving so the CEO has a very short limo commute from home) Even 20+ years ago when I came in for a couple of conventions, the extremely convenient Rapid Transit from the airport, (Red Line) was a 2 car train with the second car locked off, and the operator taking fares like a bus at 7PM on a week night. Not Detroit or Baltimore, but…

  4. Nathanael May 30, 2019 at 10:54 pm #

    Both non-proposals are dumb. Cleveland has an… unusual… demographic and financial situation.

    Budget neutral choices are flat out unreasonable.

    The only reasonable proposal which is budget neutral for GCRTA is to get Cleveland and the suburbs to change their zoning rules to encourage more development around the existing rail lines.

    Perhaps these non-proposals can be used to convince people that GCRTA needs more funding. If so they’ll be useful. Otherwise not.