RNC Event Zone May be a Problem for Bus and Train Travelers

The RNC is approaching in Cleveland and I am concerned. I became concerned way back in July, 2014 when Cleveland City Council passed an emergency ordinancewhich essentially hands over the city to the GOP — City Directors [such as Public Safety Director Michael McGrath] and former Plain Dealer publisher Terry Egger, now chair of the RNC host committee.

A little background if you are not familiar. You may know Terry Egger also as co-chairman of the $330 million Opportunity Corridor Boondoggle which I have written a lot about. Egger was also publisher of the only newspaper in town at that time, the Plain Dealer, and gave the project glowing coverage despite large opposition.

You may also know McGrath as the official that residents have demanded loudly to step down after the death of Tanisha Anderson, the shooting of Tamir Rice, and the shooting of Brandon Jones. Before McGrath was promoted to Public Safety Director, he was Chief of Police. During his time as Police Chief, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were shot and killed during a police chase where 137 shots were fired though neither was armed. Despite these incidents, no convictions resulted. We have a lot of serious problems in Cleveland and hosting a convention for Republicans should be pretty low on our list, but alas here we are.

McGrath is still here and playing a central role in the RNC while the Opportunity Corridor is being built despite lack of planning and continued opposition. What could go wrong with these leaders? No worries about freedom of speech and all that nonsense. It’s the protestors, right? Everything is their fault. It’s the protestors that decided to host this convention and did not prepare adequately despite years of planning.

So it came as no surprise when the initial “event zone” was announced that there would be some problems.

Initially, the “event zone” was a 3.5 square-mile area, from West 25th Street across downtown to Interstate 90. The agreement also included a list of banned items in the “event zone” including many legal weapons (though not guns), as well as tents and other camping equipment and everyday items such as tennis balls, coolers, and canned goods.

The ACLU sued Cleveland over the draconian RNC rules. Specifically, the ACLU was concerned about the size of the “event zone” as well as the homeless population that lives within the “event zone.” In a statement released, the the ACLU stated, “these rules criminalize everyone from people who are homeless to grocery shoppers for carrying everyday items.”

The original rules were thrown out by U.S. District Judge James Gwin, who ruled they would have violated the First Amendment. The City scrambled and a compromise was struck with the ACLU a couple weeks ago. The new event zone is about half the size, and no longer includes the area between the west bank of the Cuyahoga River and West 25th Street. Also, the event zone restrictions will not apply to the city’s homeless population, though the agreement is unclear in how the city will identify homeless people.

The ruling is seen as a win overall, but does it go far enough? I don’t mean far enough for people to carry guns (that’s already happening, remember) but far enough to not inconvenience people that have nothing to do with the RNC. The answer, unfortunately is no. The agreement is a win for the homeless (provided you can prove you are homeless?), but who is still marginalized?

That’s right, bus and train riders were not considered at all in the RNC rules. Why do I say this? Because the Greyhound, Megabus, and Amtrak stations are all located within the “event zone” while any bag exceeding the size of 18” x 13” x 7” is prohibited.

How are riders supposed to leave the station with their luggage? Were the companies alerted to these restrictions and given any guidance? What happens when a passenger gets off the Greyhound in Cleveland with luggage and walks to Public Square to catch the rapid or a bus home?

Greyhound was contacted and was not aware they were in the RNC event zone. The only change will be no luggage storage at the station during the RNC. So what are riders supposed to do with their luggage? This could be a huge problem since for many people Greyhound is their only option.

Megabus was contacted using their general phone number, which reports “no current plans to move the stop location” in Cleveland. Megabus is especially problematic since their stop is outside but still within the “event zone.”

Amtrak was contacted, they also were not aware they were located within the event zone and did not have any changes to their luggage policy. I mentioned traveling during the RNC and leaving the station on foot in Cleveland, he said it would not make any difference.

Cleveland Police Department was also contacted. A CPD secretary was under the impression the Greyhound station was not in the event zone and recommended driving directly to one’s destination after getting off the bus. This recommendation does not consider that many may need to walk with luggage to a RTA bus stop. She also recommended contacting Greyhound for further questions.

No one can give me a straight answer.

Better hope all your luggage fits in here...

Better hope all your luggage fits in here.

The frustrating thing is this is all part of a larger problem. Politicians don’t give a damn about people that don’t have cars. They don’t consider them at all. At least not in Cleveland and definitely not Ohio (since the state only spends $0.63 cents/person on transit, right at the bottom between South Dakota and Mississippi!)

This is just the latest example. Another being that Public Square, Cleveland’s hub for public transportation was rebuilt (just in time for the RNC) but did not gather any feedback from actual RTA riders that use the Square daily. This resulted in an estimated $3 million increase in RTA operating costs. Coincidentally, RTA fares are being increased to cover a $3 million deficit. All this while RTA is facing further “catastrophic revenue loss”.

Yet another example is the total disregard for Amtrak riders in Cleveland. A 2012 article, titled “Cuyahoga County wants to hide Amtrak station from convention center view” says it all. Instead of fixing one of America’s saddest train stations, Jeff Appelbaum, the county’s point man for the new county funded $685 million convention center and $272 million hotel called the Amtrak station an “unsightly obstruction” and planned to hide the station from view by hiring a landscape architect.

The city has recently rectified this somewhat by planning an updated multimodal station with Greyhound and Amtrak. Critics claim the $50 million cost is too high but it’s not much compared to what was sunk into the convention center. Maybe it’s time we bring riders to the table when planning our city? Regardless, Cleveland desperately needs to change it’s car culture. A good start would be including people that don’t drive everywhere when decisions are made.

Stop the Opportunity Corridor and Fund RTA Now!

Last night after my article on RTA funding was posted, the City of Cleveland quietly announced they were planning to spend $3.1 million on the Opportunity Corridor project but are now withholding that money.

Apparently Mayor Frank Jackson “is getting a little suspicious we’re not going to get closure on issues [with the state] and the real plan was to build a freeway from highway system to University Circle.”

Link to the full article: http://www.cleveland.com/architecture/index.ssf/2016/04/city_of_cleveland_vows_to_with.html#incart_m-rpt-1

Of course we knew this all along and tried to tell them but our cities leaders didn’t take us seriously. The announcement that Cleveland may no longer spend this money comes at a critical juncture when RTA is facing a $7 million budget gap.

 

In addition to the $3 million Cleveland had pledged to the Opportunity Corridor, Cuyahoga County has currently pledged $11 million towards the project. Together, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County were planning to spend $14 million on Opportunity Corridor, which is twice as much as RTA’s budget gap.

There are many reasons we should not be funding the Opportunity Corridor:

  • Bus service will likely be cut nearby on East 79th (#2) and Cedar (#8).
  • The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is going back on their promise of proving 20% of jobs to minority business owners, instead providing just 5%.
  • ODOT has contributed $0 towards the costly reconstruction of both E 79th Street Red Line and Green/Blue Line stations,which are estimated to cost nearly $19 million!

Reconstructing these stations without state funding is leaving RTA with a large budget deficit. Despite RTA having no funding for these stations, Cleveland CIty Council decided to fast track the project!

This is unacceptable and we need to let the Mayor, City Council and County Executive know we won’t stand for it.

 

Tell Cleveland you want your $3 million in tax payer dollars spend on RTA, not Opportunity Corridor:

-Call Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson at 216-664-3990 or mayorsactioncenter@city.cleveland.oh.us

 

-Contact your City Council member asking them to revoke funding for Opportunity Corridor.

Tell Cuyahoga County you want your $11 million of tax payer dollars spent on RTA, not Opportunity Corridor:

-Call Armond Budish, Cuyahoga County Executive, at 216-443-7178 or contact your Cuyahoga Council member.

Attend a meeting tonight:

If you are free tonight RTA is holding their last public meeting on the fare increases and cuts at Fairfax Recreation Center, 2335 E 82 St, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.

Come let RTA and public officials know cutting bus service on East 79th Street and Cedar while Opportunity Corridor is built is unacceptable. ODOT should fund the East 79th Street stations if Opportunity Corridor is build and use 20% minority owned businesses.

Get your comments to RTA:

If you can’t make it you can also submit comments to RTA by 5pm Thursday, April 7th (tomorrow!). Email them at public-comment@gcrta.org
You can also comment directly to RTA board members and state legislators using this webpage.

Join us!

Some residents that opposed the Opportunity Corridor have formed a new group dedicated to sustaining public transportation in Cleveland. The group is called Clevelanders for Public Transit. You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter if you are interested.

Finally, you can learn more about the dire situation of public transit in Cleveland and what we can do about it the original post here.

Alternatives to RTA Fare Increases and Service Cuts. Or what we can do until Ohio has dedicated transit funding.

Update: The City of Cleveland is withholding money to the Opportunity Corridor, this could be an opportunity to use this funding in a meaningful way. Click here for more info.

Life is hard being a daily transit rider in Cleveland.  Often times you have to connect to buses that only come once an hour (better hope you make that connection). You always have to have $5 cash with you to buy an All Day Pass, since most trips require a transfer which is not included in the fare. You may tire of the GED advertisements blasting in your ears. You may start to think like Margaret Thatcher, “A man who, beyond the age of twenty-six, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”

So, why can transit be so frustrating in Cleveland? I cannot blame RTA. Largely it is due to dreadful funding from the state of Ohio and sprawl outside of Cuyahoga County — but that doesn’t mean there are not other ways to generate funding. Yes, we have to acknowledge and participate in the struggle for state funding, but we also cannot wait for Ohio to do the right thing while RTA deteriorates. So what can be done?

Austerity is the prevailing logic these days. Raising fares and cutting routes would have disastrous consequences for RTA.  Are there alternatives to austerity? I do not have the answers, however I have some suggestions in hopes of opening up space for a larger conversation of the role of transit in Northeast Ohio.

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Fed Up with corporate influence in food policy and what to do about it

Last week I was finally able to see the new documentary film Fed Up at the wonderful Cedar Lee Theater. The documentary attempts to look at why the obesity epidemic continues to grow, and what we can do about it. FU states that “everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the last 30 years is dead wrong. FED UP is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see.” FU is produced by Laurie David (environmental activist and producer of An Inconvenient Truth), produced and narrated by Katie Couric, and directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Soechtig’s name was familiar, as it turns out she was a consulting producer for GMO OMG (I reviewed it here), and also directed Tapped (movie about the bottled water industry, haven’t seen it but heard good things).

Fed Up Movie Poster

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Cuyahoga county sinners pay so 34 other counties can listen to Indians baseball

I was excited to be listening to the Indians open the season late Monday night against Oakland. Lately, I have been extremely busy and was looking forward to sitting back and listening to the game. Masterson pitched well for Cleveland, and I thought there would be nothing to worry about if we could put a few runs on the board. Then, just as I was starting to relax I hear Tom Hamilton, the best announcer in sports, telling me to “Keep Cleveland strong by voting yes on Issue 7.” My blood pressure shot through the roof.

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A call for the Opportunity Corridor to be reevaluated with more transparency and honesty

I currently live on the east side of Cleveland, and having worked with patients on the east side for years, I have always wondered what it would take to help our struggling communities.  I did home care throughout these neighborhoods for a number of years, and the effect of being surrounded by blight constantly grated on me: Why so much vacant space?  What would help these neighborhoods?  Why is no one investing in these communities?

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We Need Complete Streets and Transit, Jobs that Break the Cycle of Poverty, Safe Food and Transparency

1. We need to encourage walking and cycling to help increase physical activity and prevent obesity. To do this, we need to have policies on transportation that encourage walking and cycling for daily travel. Completes Streets are streets that are designed for everyone, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit users of all ages.  A bill has been introduced in the senate by Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called the Safe Streets act of 2014. The bill would encourage complete streets by requiring all federally-funded transportation projects, with certain exceptions, to accommodate the safety and convenience of all users in accordance with complete streets policy. For more info, check out this article on Grist.

 

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Ending Food Deserts in Clevo, Decreases in Childhood Obesity, New Food Label, and a Fermentation School Bus

Some good food news in Cleveland and in childhood obesity. Also info on a new food label and the need for independent sources, in science and beyond…

1. Everyone should check out this Kickstarter about the Farm Food Program at Case Western Reserve University’s Farm.  The FFP will provided jobs to Cleveland residents to help grow hundreds of pounds of produce exclusively for residents living in food deserts around Cleveland. The graphic below is taken from their shirt that you can get from donating!

Farm to Food Desert

 

2. While I am dreaming about decent weather, biking, sunshine, and vitamin D, Tara Whitsitt is making her dream a reality (wow I am a terrible writer). Last summer, Tara dreamed about driving a school bus full of fermented foods around the country last summer. She decided to make these dreams a reality and started Fermentation of Wheels. Her school bus is touring around the country this year, teaching fermentation and connecting people with local food. She will be making her way over to Ohio in July! If you are interested in fermented foods you may also want to check out Sandor Katz’s website Wild Fermentation. Katz was also interviewed on Food Sleuth Radio last April. I plan to post more about fermented foods and gut bacteria, especially since gut bacteria may play a role in obesity.

 

3. The Cleveland Film fest program guides are out this week and there are many movies I am looking forward to, including Farmland. Farmland is the latest documentary from Academy Award winner James Moll. The movie goes behind the scenes with a new generation of younger farmers, and tries to explore all sides of modern farming. Check out the trailer…

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A Call for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to Take a Stance on GMOs

As I mentioned previously, GMO Free Northeast Ohio showed the documentary Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives last Thursday at the Mustard Seed Market in Solon. While I am glad to make it out of Solon alive (lack of public transportation = long walk from the bus in the street due to snow covered sidewalksRIP Joseph Brown), I am looking to get a less biased view of GMOs. The movie should be watched, but for people who are already skeptical of GMOs, it offers little answers, which I guess is the intention of the movie. Yes, chronic diseases and allergies have increased since GMO foods were introduced in 1996, but correlation does not equal causation. I needed to continue to look elsewhere to get more information on GMOs, though I still heartily agree with the precautionary principal, and that more long-term studies are needed.

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Weekly Update: Free Lunches for Low Income Schools & Junk Food Banned, Food Chains film, GRAS lawsuit and more!

The past few days I’ve started working on an article. It’s a large endeavor and I’m not sure I’ll even finish it, but right now I am still working on it. For now, a few interesting bits from around the internet.

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