In a panel featuring Kate Joncas, the former deputy mayor of Seattle, and two Cleveland executives whose last names rhyme with Gucci, the City Club of Cleveland presented "2018 State of Downtown: Enhancing Mobility" Thursday afternoon. The sold-out lunch event was the Leonard Ronis memorial forum on transportation.
Grace Gallucci, of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (most famous these days for its legal battle with Cleveland.com over Amazon HQ2 bid documents), and Joe Marinucci, of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, fielded questions from moderator Rick Jackson, of ideastream, and the audience about downtown transit infrastructure and, more broadly, the region's transit future.
Joncas opened things up by posting that Cleveland's historic buildings are its future. Adapting them for residential development will give Cleveland a "leg up," she said, in attracting residents downtown. She and Marinucci both said that with the continued increase in jobs and residents in the urban core, other indicators of success would fall into place. (This was the event's concluding sentiment as well.)
Some of the most interesting portions of the panel involved questions about driving's supremacy, and strategies for inducing a cultural shift. Both Rick Jackson and audience member Debbie Berry, of University Circle Inc. and the Cleveland Metroparks, asked questions about what could be done to encourage alternative modes.
Joncas said that some of her public sector colleagues in Seattle had wanted to make parking "so expensive and horrible that everyone would ride the bus." But her preference was to make alternative options so plentiful and so convenient that walking or biking or taking public transit was actually preferable. It worked. Seattle now has only 25 percent of its downtown workforce commuting in a single-occupancy vehicle, down from roughly 50 percent years ago.
When Berry followed up in the audience Q&A, asking about specific approaches, Joncas highlighted the need for convenient and reliable public transit. She mentioned partnering with Seattle's downtown development agency to sell transit passes to businesses and cited improvements to bus infrastructure itself — digital signs at every stop, a responsive real-time mobile app — that made riding the bus faster and easier.
"We also discourage monthly parking," she said. "If you buy monthly parking, you think you should use it or you don't get your money's worth. But if we can get people who drive every day to just take an alternate mode one day a week, we've really won, because it save an incredible amount of carbon and it frees up a lot of spaces on the roads."
The challenges in Cleveland and Seattle are markedly different. Gallucci discussed NOACA's long-range plan and stressed the need to find uses for excess road capacity, including protected bike lanes on historic boulevards. With respect to public transit, Gallucci said that it was important for Clevelanders to recognize the quality and scope of the existing system and to encourage transit-oriented development (under which label she included the Opportunity Corridor?)
"You get the transportation system you ask for," Gallucci said. "You get the system you deserve. But you have to ask for it."
Responding to Jackson's question about the Hyperloop — "Is this pie in the sky?" — Gallucci affirmed that the technology does indeed exist. NOACA is one of the few organizations studying the feasibility of its commercial application. She said NOACA had selected a firm to conduct the study and that work will likely begin in July and should be completed in about a year.
You can watch the full forum — including questions about downtown parking, autonomous vehicles, RTA funding, dockless bikeshare, and even scooters — below:
*This story has been updated. Grace Gallucci was originally described as a "nonprofit executive." NOACA is not a nonprofit.
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