Editor’s note: Former Rocky River High School student Claire Stemen spent two weeks working with West Life on a senior project, published here.
By Claire Stemen
Without a car or the needed motivation to decode the RTA, it is difficult to get to Cleveland. This transportation issue is perplexing when the general sentiments of the public consist of great love for the city.
The problem is not the lack of things to do in Cleveland and its surrounding regions or the people who inhabit the area. The problem is the accessibility of transportation and Cleveland’s and its surrounding suburbs’ lack of walkability. Angie Schmitt, founder of the blog Rustwire and also manager of the blog Streetsblog, advocates increased public transportation in Cleveland. “Cleveland was built around the time for streetcars; we evolved before cars were what cities built around. Cleveland was also healthiest at that time,” Schmitt said.
Currently traveling into Cleveland, people can travel via RTA buses, RTA railways, biking, walking or by driving their own car. Seeing residents or suburbanites geared up to bike or walk throughout the city, however, is a rare sight indeed. The RTA bus system isn’t well-known by those who use it for being efficient enough to satisfy the needs of Westshore residents either, so the number of options in the way of transportation get increasingly slim, as well as expensive.
Ryan Murphy, a former Bay Village resident, finds that the RTA “could be better. It’s not as convenient. Coming from Bay Village there isn’t a very easy way to get there,” Murphy said. Rocky River resident Loren Reash-Henz agrees: “There isn’t one near my house that is really accessible,” Reash-Henz said. While ridership on the RTA has risen 4.3 percent, most of the increase is seen on the East Side routes, with very little increase on the West Side of Cleveland.
Aside from the greatly needed improvements on the West Side of Cleveland, the possibility of a transit system much like Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C., has been debated.
Previous plans for a train to connect Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus were entertained in 2010, but ultimately shut down when Gov. John Kasich came into office. Kasich insisted Ohio could not afford the plan. Schmitt thinks otherwise.
“The plan for the $13 million 3-C train system costs less than what we spend mowing highway medians. Saying we couldn’t afford to operate the train system was a lie. Kasich is sort of moving backwards and hurting Cleveland’s ability to compete,” Schmitt said. With the lack of accessible public transportation in Cleveland and its surrounding suburbs, young people and the innovators of our nation avoid this area, desiring to remain carless.
Much like the cities of Chicago, New York and D.C., transit systems could increase Cleveland and the Westshore’s walkability. Increased mobility for a small price is great fertilizer for a cultural community, encouraging the number of people exploring the city and its surrounding suburbs.
Walking from Bay Village, Rocky River or Avon Lake to Cleveland is generally out of the question. Another environmentally conscious and inexpensive way to travel around is biking. Currently, the organization Bike Cleveland encourages the city residents and those who commute into it to bike, spreading awareness with a “Bike to Work” week and other activities for the public. Biking is another great way to increase the city’s walkability and the number of suburban visitors. Cleveland is also thinking of creating a bike-share program, where people can buy passes to utilize bikes around the city. Bikesharecleveland.com is also conducting several surveys on the interest and demand for this program.
Murphy expressed interest for biking into and out of the city. “I’d be more interested in that than just taking my own bike,” Murphy said. As for biking now, Murphy wishes there were more ‘set’ pathways to travel on.
“A third of people in America don’t drive. That’s one million people in Ohio who don’t drive. Their mobility is compromised,” Schmitt said. If one million people in Ohio do not use a car to get around, why not satisfy their needs?
Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, illuminates the upcoming issue of retiring baby boomers who may want to get rid of their cars, but still get around. It seems that the younger generation would prefer to move around without cars as well. “Young people are less interested in driving. (Among those aged) 18-35, driving has gone down 23 percent,” Prendergast quoted from the Federal Highway Association. In fact, 1 in 213 commuters biked to work into the city in 2000, and 1 in 87 walked to work into the city in 2008. He also commented that if we do not satisfy these needs from demographics that make up more than half of our nation, “we’ll lose out to those communities who provide for them.”
Resistance to such enhancements for Cleveland and the Westshore have been present for years and don’t seem to show signs of changing anytime soon. This leaves communities with the responsibility of improving where we live. With only 1 percent of our state’s budget going to public transportation, “the state won’t do anything, so we have to take care of ourselves,” Prendergast said.
“When cities have wider roads and cars that are spewing toxins in people’s face, it degrades urban life. The opportunity is present in Cleveland for walkability. We need to embrace urban walking like NYC, Chicago and Portland,” Schmitt said.
Most of the time, the Westshore suburbs butt heads and maintain an attitude of separation and pride for their communities. With our unification, however, and the desire for a more connected community between Cleveland and its suburbs, every citizen can enjoy the economical, environmental and health benefits of being connected with impressive public transportation.