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Bikes and Transit are Hot in Cleveland

By Eric Rogers, Executive Director

I recently had the opportunity to visit Cleveland as part of a KCATA delegation studying that city's transit system, including Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, the KCMO Economic Development Corporation, Parson Brinkeroff, and the mayors of Independence, Lee's Summit, and Grandview. The similarities between Cleveland and Kansas City are many. Cleveland is a city of 400,000 people in a metro of 2 million, whereas KC is 450,000 in a metro of 2.2 million. Both cities are in the midst of urban redevelopment after decades of population loss. Like KC, Cleveland's Downtown has huge waiting lists for apartments - so much so that they have started converting hotels to housing.

L to R: Bike Box parking corral, downtown Bike Station, bike parking at suburban light rail station.

Bike infrastructure
The bike scene is vibrant and growing. Downtown has a new bike station with showers, lockers, secure bike parking, and more - all managed by the downtown business association. There is an extensive trail system along the Lake Erie waterfront and many streamway corridors. A new bikeway master plan and new complete streets policy is already bringing bike lanes through retrofits of existing urban streets. Besides Downtown, the Ohio City business district has also stepped up to support bike facilities with abundant bike racks and the Bike Box - a  large blue shipping container converted to a bike corral that replaced on street parking.

Bike advocacy
Cleveland has strong community and institutional support for bike advocacy, with a broad recognition that being bike-friendly is important for the community's health, environment, and economy. A community-wide strategic planning process led to the formation of Bike Cleveland, which receives significant startup and operational support from the local philanthropic community. The organization has a good relationship with City Hall, including regular meetings with the city's traffic engineer and public works director.

Transit system
Cleveland has an extensive system with a heavy rail line, two light rail lines reaching into the inner suburbs, a full bus rapid transit line, downtown circulator buses, and comprehensive local bus service. How can a city the same size as Kansas City have such a bigger transit system? It's all about regionalism and priorities. KCMO levies a 7/8 cent transit tax on its 450,000 people, which supplies the KCATA with about $40 million a year. Cleveland's Cuyahoga County levies a 1 cent sales tax on 1.2 million people, supporting their transit system with over $200 million per year. Regional transit funding means more transit and better transit for the whole region.

L to R: Red Line heavy rail, Blue Line light rail, Downtown free trolley.

Business community support for transit
Another distinguishing factor in Cleveland is strong corporate support for transit. Companies are buying naming rights to transit lines and stations. Real estate developers see transit as important for economic development, and employers value transit for workforce mobility. Corporate support has been a big challenge in Kansas City. While the business community has supported some small taxes to keep the bus system on life support, it has largely opposed or been indifferent to bigger picture improvements like streetcar, light rail, or commuter rail.

Downtown Trolleys
A system of free buses connecting various Downtown attractions like the Lake Eire waterfront, sports stadiums, shopping, regional transit, etc. The trolleys are free thanks to the sponsorship of many Downtown businesses and the business district.

KC and Cleveland represent the two ends of the BRT spectrum. Cleveland's HealthLine is a full-featured BRT with 24/7 dedicated lanes for most of its route, long articulated or "bendy" buses, off-board fare collection, substantial station buildings, and a system to align the bus with station doors. As part of the strategy to make as much like rail as possible, the vehicles even have a real light rail horn. Bike lanes are also included in the segment between Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University. Finally, the name HealthLine is the result of a unique naming rights deal with two institutions along the line - the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Other local businesses have also bought naming rights to individual stations. Cleveland's BRT cost about $200 million, compared to the $20 KC spent on the first MAX line on Main Street. Regional transit funding and strong corporate support make all the difference.

L to R: HealthLine vehicle and station.

Planning/transportation integration
The success of the HealthLine is due to strong ties between planning and transportation. The BRT corridor was established with the goal of redeveloping an aging commercial corridor, and it is doing just that. The city and transit agency coordinated reinvestment in utilities, infrastructure, housing, etc. Several large employers, universities, museums, and other civic institutions are lined up along the corridor. Just imagine trying to draw straight line between all of KC's scattered colleges, employment centers, hospitals, and cultural attractions.

Final thoughts
This was my first visit to Cleveland, and I was impressed by how eager everyone is to work together to improve a city with a lot pride. It's definitely one of the easiest Midwestern cities to navigate without a car. Special thanks to Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, the KCATA, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Bike Cleveland Executive Director Jacob VanSickle, and Streetsblog's Angie Schmitt for making the trip a valuable learning experience.


Submitted by eric rogers on