By Nicole Hennessy
Buses barreling past traffic on main roads give the impression that public transportation is readily available for those without other options. But Northeast Ohio residents who depend on it know buses are inconsistent and have limited schedules, making simple tasks like getting back and forth to school, work, appointments or the grocery store difficult or, in some cases, impossible.
Northeast Ohio is built and continues to be built for cars, and “it is a civil rights issue,” said the chairman of Common Cause Ohio, Samuel Gresham Jr.
Addressing a crowd at Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman College of Urban Affairs June 13, he stressed this, going on to present the statistics outlined in the last census. He mentioned that nationally more than 50 percent of public transportation users are African-American, and 81 percent make less than $35,000 per year, with 23 percent below the poverty level.
“The lack of reliable transportation options disenfranchises people of color by reinforcing the cycle of poverty,” Gresham continued, including groups like the elderly and disabled in the list of community members being underserved.
Without reliable transportation to, from and within suburban areas like the Westshore, the ability of those who live in neighborhoods with low rates of car ownership, fewer job opportunities and equally unreliable transportation to find and maintain jobs is not easy.
Even those with cars, whether they realize it or not, are affected by issues related to transportation, especially with Cuyahoga County’s unemployment rates still hovering near 7 percent and underemployment rampant, but often not measured.
The average yearly cost of maintaining a car (about $10,000 as reported by AAA), coupled with the need to strive for car ownership, further puts underemployed or struggling families at a disadvantage, as these costs cut into funds that might be spent on other bills or groceries.
Still, in Ohio, about 99 percent of the transportation budget is spent on highways, while only 1 percent is spent on public transportation. Gresham presented these numbers, explaining that other states in the country with comparable rates of transportation expenditure are more rural, with just around 20 percent of Ohio’s population.
In closing, Gresham explained that corporate interests in roads and car-centric construction will continue to prevail unless residents understand the problem and come together to consider solutions.
“We have to find a way to organize, and we have to be more forward-thinking,” he said.
Akshai Singh, who heads the Northeast Ohio Transit Coalition, then corroborated much of what Gresham suggested, commending the passion conveyed in his speech, adding a few aspects of the transportation debate he finds troubling, such as the fact that community groups are no longer permitted to take legal action against agencies like the state Department of Transportation or their transit agencies.
He did point out that Cleveland’s agencies are doing the best they can with the budget available to them, pointing outside to the RTA Health Line passing by the college on Euclid.
What all this adds up to, he said, is that “some people simply don’t care right now about the mobility of all people. And that’s something that has to be addressed by anyone who feels differently.”
NOTE: This June 14 forum was sponsored by Bike Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium in partnership with the Levin College forum program.