20 October, 2008

SOMETHING ROTTEN IN CLEVELAND?




Just down the shore from Cleveland, the Toledo Blade reports some "truths" on the new Euclid Corridor Bus Rapid Transit Line. Of course Cleveland claimed "It's just like rail, only cheaper", and the familiar battle cry, "TOD just like rail". But is it really? Cleveland put out two proposals, one for a double track rapid LRT system - partly in a subway, and compared it with buses running in exclusive lanes. Hum? Rail $100 Million a mile and Bus $30 Million (a bit more per mile then expansion of JTA's Skyway) so they ran to the bus. They claim to have just as much TOD as any new rail line, but is it true? A survey shows that nearly 75% of this TOD is NOT PRIVATE. It's City, County, State and other government type service centers and office buildings. Unless you count a MacDonald's Restaurant, hardly the super-booster on the tax rolls they are claiming. Meanwhile over in Toledo, they are watching "big brother" Cleveland, and do THEY have something to say.


IT'S A BUS? IT'S A TRAIN? IT'S BOTH
Cleveland’s bus rapid transit line is expected to launch in October, running a 9.4-mile loop. MATTHEW EISENBLADE STAFF WRITER



Our system has almost every attribute of rail except rail,” said Joe Calabrese, chief executive of the Cleveland transit authority. “If you operate a system that is perceived to be simple to use, has great frequency, is safe, and is clean, you will attract new riders. I am confident we will attract new riders.”


Local possibilities


Mr. Calabrese, who credits former Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich for championing the project as mayor, governor, and now U.S. senator, said the scalability of bus rapid transit makes it a viable option for cities the size of Toledo. He calls the system “BRT Light” when cities pick and choose the elements that gel best with their existing infrastructure.Toledo and other similarly populated cities could take advantage of the Federal Transit Administration’s recently overhauled “Small Starts” and “Very Small Starts” programs, which offer up to $75 million in funding for small bus, rail, or ferry projects. James Gee, general manager of the Toledo Area Regional Transportation Authority, which operates more than 40 bus routes a day in the city and most of its suburbs, agreed bus rapid transit could work in northwest Ohio. “Even if we start small and build a smaller line here in Toledo, we could see the resulting increases in private development,” he said. “It does take a leap of faith, but as other cities have demonstrated if you do take that leap with public dollars, private dollars will follow.”


Along for the ride


While bus ridership in both Toledo and Cleveland has grown in recent months, diesel costs have ballooned. And those fuel bills threaten the revenue and viability of busing systems across the country. “Many systems around the state, instead of adding service when demand is at an all-time high, are probably going to be cutting service,” Mr. Calabrese said.“My diesel bill went from $5 million in 2003, to $12 million last year, to $21 million this year, and it should be about $24 million next year.”In Toledo, TARTA will cut its bus service by 7 percent on Aug. 24, a decision that has caused outcries from local riders.Aside from rising fuel prices affecting expansion possibilities, Neil Reid, director of the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center, warned transit officials to consider the American comfort level with buses.“Most people in Toledo, people say under 50, probably have never ridden a bus before or only on sporadic occasion,” he said. “People probably just don’t consider that an option.”The issues may cut deeper than simple unfamiliarity.Busing systems in many cities have been painted as ferries for the poor. Alan Plattus, director of the Yale Urban Design Center in New Haven, Conn., said dismantling a classist attitude — as has been done in many European countries — may be as important to the success of buses in America as the routes they follow.“The bus system has gotten to be a class system,” he said. “Middle class people who might use the bus instead of taking a car trip don’t do it.”For many urban planners, busing systems also have become the figurative poor man’s light rail, a shot below the mark for cities focusing on asphalt instead of track and relying on tenuous data promising real estate development around buses.John Norquist, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Chicago, agreed developers are more likely to be attracted to areas along rail stations or lines where the city has signaled its intention to make large, nearly indelible investments.“Light rail is good because it’s permanent,” he said. “People say with buses they’re good because they’re flexible, but they could disappear at any moment.”Light rail — the term applied to streetcar systems such as trolleys — is nothing new.The Richmond Union Passenger Railway came online as the first large electric street railway system in 1888, displacing horse drawn buggies. Many cities, including Toledo, decommissioned their streetcar systems in the 1950s as the country began its migration to the suburbs and the automobile industry flourished.


Finding the right path


James Seney, former executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, said old streetcar lines in Toledo fit the layout of the community and may be a guide for rail revampment.“What makes urban rail work is when you create transit routes that have clusters of neighborhoods on them,” said Mr. Seney, the former mayor of Sylvania. “You should design [routes] based on your existing neighborhoods and tie that into the growth of downtown businesses, rather than trying to capture a larger area.”Though Mr. Seney said new tracks would be needed if Toledo decided to move forward with a rail plan, he admitted “the old guys logistically were correct.” The push toward rail is being seen in other U.S. cities.About 100 years after its invention, light rail experienced a heavy resurgence. Most of the United States’ busiest light rail systems today were built or intensely renovated in the last two decades, including lines in Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; Denver, and Dallas. Even smaller cities such as Little Rock, Tacoma, and Galveston, Texas, have invested in light rail systems since the turn of the century.The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston shuttles over a quarter million people per day on its green and red lines, making it by far the largest light-rail operation in the country.


BLOGGER NOTES:

Putting our faith in BRT for our main or trunk line transit is a serious error in Jacksonville. We have corridors where BRT makes good sense, in fact perhaps many more miles then what JTA planned in the original study. Blanding, JTB, Arlington Expressway, Edgewood, University and Lem Turner, just a few that come to mind.


The scary part of this story is we have just worked out that the Skyway at 26 miles would cost about 1/2 of the projected BRT system. Commuter Rail and Streetcar are much cheaper then either and as ridership grows, both have the ability to form trains and use cheaper electric power. So the question is, why not send our excellent planners back to the boards to draw up plans for an ultra-light-rail-lite-BRT network extending in all directions from Skyway, Streetcar and Commuter Rail?

TAKE A FREE TOUR OF THE JACKSONVILLE SKYWAY

The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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