Saturday, April 14, 2007

priorities for in-town living

90.3 WCPN News: The Downtown Comeback: "Alan Ehrenhalt: This is one of the last pieces to fall in place before this comeback. First you need the streets to be safe. Then you [sic] commerce: stores, restaurants, coffee houses, theaters. Then you need public transit to get them to work. Then some adventurous families will move in if all goes well enough of them to improve the schools. That's how it'll work, not the other way around."

I agree that safety is the primary concern for people who live in cities. That's one reason that Cleveland elected and appointed officials have compromised us: they have cut our safety budget to the bone, laid off police, and embarrassed us with sellouts like the "Ladder 42" debacle. Since the days of Ben Franklin, we have known that safety is the first priority for city dwellers, yet we here in Cleveland allow our representatives to circumvent the wisdom of fully staffed and functional safety forces and spend the money instead on consultants, studies, abatements, demolitions, and street projects. Our largest budget expenditure should be for safety; safety costs for adequate staffing should be fully satisfied, and then we should pay for all other expenses after that. We need to take care of ourselves first at the most basic level. We need to be able to walk the streets, all of them, and ride the buses, at all hours, with relative impunity.

Second, we should improve the transit system. I differ with Alan Ehrenhalt on this piece of the revitalization equation. If the transit system doesn't run frequently and way beyond normal business hours, there's no point in building commerce in town. If you build commerce first, the businesses can starve to death waiting on safety services and transit services. The basic structure must be there before business can survive, and then prosper. Also, if you build public transit first, it makes it possible to demolish less for automobile parking, as you build our your "commerce."

Also, to improve transit is relatively simple and doesn't take a massive civic upset like the Euclid Corridor to make things more viable immediately--the main purpose of the corridor is to put $300 million in motion, not to improve our mobility. We already had a lot of buses running up and down Euclid Avenue before the corridor "improvement" began. All you have to do is increase the frequency of the runs, so that people can transfer from one route to another with very little down time. This would cost way less than $300 million, to get us functional. One of the reasons middle-class and upper-class people don't use public transit is because they can't afford to wait an hour--or more--for the next bus to appear. We have to have the expectation that a bus will come along in 10-15 minutes, so we can be on our way timely, and safely. There's no point in wasting time or putting yourself at undue risk of harm or robbery. Anybody who has spent an hour or more waiting at night on the 79 to come through public square knows that there are no police maintaining order, either in patrol cars or on foot, and that you are at the mercy of the crazies and the drug dealers, and these latter ply their trade freely at the bus stops.

Adventurous families have already moved in, some as many as 35 years ago; we have the people here right now, and these planners from the ivory towers of academia are looking around for new people to lure in, new progams to start, new grants to receive, and new palaver to get them an audience. They ought to be playing to their base of core urban dwellers, yet we've had to fight with our government, our nonprofits, the department of transportation, and our planning departments to protect our interests since the early 1980s. The younger "wealthy" can see what our lives have been like, how we've had to protect our neighborhoods against the depradations of the people who should supposedly work for the public good, and these younger "wealthy" have no problem with not joining the fray, when you can't trust the planners who want to entice you to move into an abusive situation, where you can spend half your time protecting a teetering status quo. Our kids know how much time we've spent trying to keep our community stable; they know it's time the other kids' parents spent working for themselves and their families solely, building their own wealth, living in a safer suburban setting.

We need to start telling our stories about the sellout in this town these past 35 years. We need to start telling the truth.


  1. I agree that security and transport are prerequisites for business and living.

    A few arguments for the Euclid Corridor, though; I believe its goals and design are in line with what you seek:

    The Corridor is being designed for better security, through lighting, space, policing, etc. And its improvements in appearances of both the Avenue and the transit infrastructure, (stops and vehicles,) will also cultivate safety.

    Changing vehicle type allows for greater capacity, speed (when coupled with road redesign), and higher run frequency -- and at reduced environmental impact.

    It's credible that Euclid's previous design limited run frequency (which you suggest would be easy to ramp-up.) The road was narrow, a slow stop-and-go, and calling for serious repair anyway.

  2. What I've been thinking about lately, Jeff, is how the RTA needs to have an increased frequency of runs starting right now in order for us to begin to have the people traffic we speculate about in discussions of revival of underused areas. We may not renew our bus-pass buys for May--the value hasn't been there for us--the runs are way too infrequent. I think we in this region are going about the revitalization thing ass-backwards, doing the big things first and attending to the less expensive, common-sense things after that.