Mayor Jackson: Reopen Public Square Now. #TransitBelongs

It is now September 1st and I still have not heard anything about Public Square reopening to RTA. Superior Ave was supposed to reopen on August 1st after being closed for over 16 months. So far, the mayor has refused to open Superior Avenue, claiming they are studying traffic patterns. I do not understand how this is acceptable when the Square was already closed for over a year. Furthermore, a study costing $120K was already done by Nelson Nygaard which recommended keeping Superior Ave open to RTA.

I understand the need for great public spaces such as Public Square but building green spaces will not magically make downtown Cleveland a more vibrant place. The nearby Malls A, B, and C have tons of green space but are barely ever used. The real issue in Cleveland is that we have prioritized the car for far too long. The problem with Public Square and the surrounding areas are the surface parking lots nearby that are dead zones. We should be encouraging people to use transit so we can build less parking, leading to a more vibrant city. Undermining the quality of our transit system for the sake of public spaces does not make sense. Wonderful green spaces can be built that include transit, Portland’s Transit Mall is a great example.

Portland Transit Mall

Portland’s Transit Mall. Notice bus only lane. More info: here

How does this affect me? The #26 bus on Detroit Ave is one of RTA’s routes with the highest ridership. The #26 had over 1.8 million riders in 2015 but the bus was only on time 61.6% of the time according to monthly averages. I have often waited over 10 minutes after the scheduled time. I always ask why the bus is late and the most common response is due to the closure of Superior Ave on Public Square.

And it’s not just #26 riders of course. About 20,000 transfers from bus to bus happen daily in Public Square. Riders such as myself have timed how long it takes to get around Public Square, with times ranging from 5-9 minutes. That may not sound like a lot but if you commute using RTA that is at least an extra 10 minutes daily roundtrip, which is nearly an hour a week of wasted time sitting on the bus waiting to get around the Square. This adds up to nearly 60 hours of sitting in traffic for riders since Superior has been closed. (73 weeks x 50 mins/week = 3650 mins = 60 hours). This is unacceptable.

Furthermore, because of the delay many times I am often trying to run to the other side of the Square to catch a bus and have missed buses, causing even more delays. Public Square has been our public transit hub for over 100 years, many people transfer on Public Square. Keeping Superior closed makes much of RTA’s system more unreliable which will hurt it regardless of the lack of funding.

Construction has completely closed Public Square for 16 months. Estimates based on Scenario H (completely closing Public Square) would cost RTA an additional 2.6 million annually, or about $3.5 million over 16 months. After construction is complete, scenario D (north and south expansion) will cost RTA $1 million annually. The fare increase is only expected to generate $1.8 million annually. Should riders have to pay for the cost of the Public Square construction that will largely benefit downtown property owners? Source: Plain Dealer

It will cost RTA $2.6 million annually if Superior is closed. The recent fare increase to $2.50 is only going to generate ~$3 million. Why should RTA users pay for the inconvenience?
Source: Plain Dealer

Speaking of funding, keeping Superior Ave closed will cost RTA an estimated $2.6 million per year. This is also unacceptable. I am tired of hearing the local representatives passing the buck, claiming that the poor state funding is RTA’s problem. Ohio’s public transit funding is completely inadequate but this is nothing new. ODOT has never funded public transportation adequately. The whole reason RTA was formed in 1975 was to collect local dollars (via 1% county sales tax, the majority of its budget) to match for federal funding streams. ODOT was never meant to be a central part of funding so we need to quit making excuses and discuss local solutions. RTA is actually losing nearly $68 million annually due to population loss from Cuyahoga County, much more than state funding has accounted for even before funding levels declined.

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The figures above speak for themselves. In 2000, ODOT was only spending about $30M on urban transit programs for the whole state. The much greater loss in funding to RTA is due to population loss from Cuyahoga County shown above. Sources: RTA and ODOT Statewide Transit Needs Study

 

We must address land use and sprawl if we want our region to remain competitive by offering transportation options. After all, real freedom isn’t the right to sit in traffic daily, but the right to have many options, whether that is driving, walking, using our new bikeshare or taking transit. That means prioritizing buses that carry up to 60 people over limited parking spaces for events and police, which is sadly what the transit lanes are being used for now.

 

Transit only lanes which save RTA riders hours/month are being used for parking. We continue to prioritize the car in this city which is the real barrier to vibrant spaces.

 

http://www.planetizen.com/files/styles/content_image/public/img/Screen%20Shot%202014-04-29%20at%206.10.16%20PM.png?itok=S9PDecDP

Great article on how cities need to take back space from cars to be vibrant. We need to encourage RTA use.
Source: Planetizen

Ultimately, the decision to close Ontario to buses but leave Superior open was made after meetings with a variety of different stakeholders. This initial process was far from perfect as most RTA riders had no clue what was going to happen to the Square or how to have their feedback included. Despite these shortcomings, the Group Plan Commission recommended keeping Superior Avenue open to RTA. It is not acceptable that the mayor can change the decision on this $50 million project alone. Hopefully the Square is reopened soon before I spend another 60 hours of my life on a bus sitting in traffic.

If you agree I urge you to get involved with Clevelanders for Public Transit and send the mayor a message here.

 

Updates:

1.

Good point…

2.

I was asked for ridership on routes through Public Square. Here’s the data for 2015.  Tim is lowballing me at $20/hour or $1,200/year for delays but imagine the gigantic cost for over 64,000 daily!

3.

I was sent the Nelson Nygaard Public Square traffic study.
The recommendations in 2014 were..
2014 analysis
So we know Superior was studied and two dedicated transit lanes in each direction were recommended, it hasn’t been done and it’s wasting thousands of people’s time. What is the hold up?

 

4.

Sam Allard over at Cleveland Scene has followed up with the city and give us an update. Apparently traffic data has been collected but no timeline. Apparently this is not a high priority item at city hall.

 

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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