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.

Leave a comment: