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The Dispatch reported on the mood at the first public meeting about the COTA Downtown Operations Analysis.  They make it clear that the transit center idea didn’t go over well.  According to a comment on Columbus Underground, neither proposal was popular with attendees.  But based on the end of this article, it sounds like COTA wants to do something different.

Bus riders not thrilled with proposed COTA transit center
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 11:49 PM
By Robert Vitale
The Columbus Dispatch

A sweltering July afternoon failed to win over many Central Ohio Transit Authority riders today on the idea of a transit center that would consolidate Downtown bus stops.

A cool wait for the bus – or a warm wait or a dry one, depending on the weather – wouldn’t be worth the tradeoff of a longer walk to get there and a longer ride home, regular riders said.

“I’d go for the quickest option,” said Moten, waiting for a Broad Street bus in the not-too-helpful shade of a Statehouse parking-garage entrance.

…A COTA study of its Downtown operations suggested that rerouting more than a third of High Street buses a block west to Front Street bus stops would accomplish the same development goals with less cost to taxpayers and less disruption for passengers.

A transit center – with restrooms, stores and food service – would cost between $20 million and $40 million to build and $5 million a year to run, COTA consultants estimated. The most likely location would be at Gay and High streets, just a block north of Broad and High, but the consultants said routing buses through a center would add up to six minutes to some riders’ trips.

COTA executives prefer diverting 32 of 89 evening rush-hour buses to Front Street, but the plan would require converting Front Street to two-way traffic north of Broad. Consultants estimated that option would cost $1.6 million to build new shelters and $1.2 million to run annually.

It would mean an extra minute or two on the bus for passengers.

Neither plan would require a fare increase, COTA Vice President Doug Moore said. The agency hasn’t budgeted for either option, though, he said.

COTA President and CEO Bill Lhota said the agency likely will pursue one of the two plans instead of sticking with the status quo.

“We want to work with the leaders of this city,” he said.

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So does that mean some buses are moving to Front Street?  Will COTA wait for transfer data from new fare boxes before making decisions?  Or is it back to square one to generate new ideas?

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A road diet is what transportation engineers and planners call a lane reconfiguration where a wide road gets narrower. Upper Arlington is planning to put Lane Avenue on a diet, reducing the number of travel lanes from four (two in each direction) to three (one in each direction with a center turn lane) between North Star Road and Northwest Boulevard. On-street parking will be permitted on the north side of the street. This should reduce speeds to aid the street in becoming a new walkable urban business district.  Here are some renderings from Upper Arlington’s consultant:

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For the last few days, I’ve been reading the COTA Downtown Operations Analysis on my 20-minute train ride.  The report was prepared for COTA by Transytems to evaluate options for removing buses and waiting passengers from High Street.

Why do we want to remove buses and passengers from High Street?  The Downtown Columbus 2010 Strategic Plan wants to “restore High Street,” and the bus congestion and lack of on-street parking are given as two reasons why there are tens of thousands of square feet of vacant storefronts.

High Street has always been a primary commercial corridor of Downtown Columbus, and the City as a whole. High Street is the hub of government, commercial and entertainment activity, however it faces numerous challenges. Despite recent reinvestment and redevelopment, High Street has tens of thousands of square feet of vacant storefronts and is pock-marked with surface parking lots. The bus transit mall that occupies High Street increases bus congestion, blocks storefronts and prevents on-street parking. The streetscape is aging and new street trees and street furnishings are badly needed.

One solution pitched by the plan is to build a transit center to replace the transit mall.

This new downtown transit center could have numerous positive spin-off effects. Reducing the bus congestion on High Street will allow for the proposed streetscape improvements and the return of on-street parking. To more efficiently serve the downtown area, cities such as Nashville have also instituted free, aggressively marketed and branded downtown circulator buses. With the advent of a transit center, there is an opportunity to revive COTA’s “Link” service within Downtown Columbus.

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My previous post about aggregate income densities as a means of measuring the potential for walkable urban business districts was quite popular, so I decided to replicate the maps (not the whole analysis) for Cleveland (Cuyahoga County) and Cincinnati (Hamilton County). Click on the map to link to a Google docs version. There you can click on “File” in the upper left and “Download Original” to get a PDF version with labels. The labels are in millions of dollars per square mile. This really isn’t too hard to do once you know what you’re doing, so if anyone has other county requests, I’ll consider it.

I have a couple of quick thoughts, but you can do your own analysis on these. Cleveland is more or less as I would expect. Ohio City, Lakewood, and Cleveland Heights are at the high end. Shaker Heights is also very high, and has some retail, but not much of a walkable urban main street (parts of Chagrin Blvd are close).  I would suggest that Beachwood has successfully capitalized on Shaker’s potential, not to mention attracting drivers from farther east.  Shaker Square (in Cleveland) has a high value though.

I really don’t know Cincinnati well enough to comment, but it looks like the Hyde Park area and downtown are the high end of the aggregate income density figures.

This is a long post, but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with what I think are some interesting maps at the bottom.

I’m currently working on a “streetscape master plan” project at work, with a focus on economic development for a 3.5 mile long major arterial roadway.  I needed a way to measure economic activity, so I looked at walkscore.com.  Walk Score looks at the walking distances from a defined location to the nearest grocery store, bars and restaurants, shopping, coffee shops, book store,  bank, park, and school.  The destinations are weighted by importance (see methodology here) and a walk score is generated.  There are destinations included that aren’t related to economic activity, like the nearest park and school.  However, the focus is largely on nearby businesses, so I thought it was an acceptable measure of economic activity.  Here is the Walk Score map for Columbus:

Many of the green spots on the map are locations with major shopping centers (e.g., Graceland, Tuttle Crossing, Crosswoods, Polaris, Easton) and some are big box retail centers (e.g., Sawmill & SR-161, Hamilton & Morse, Stringtown Rd in Grove City).  These types of economic activity centers tend to attract people from farther away, traveling by car.  These aren’t really what I’m interested in measuring here.  I’m interested in the walkable urban business districts that are mostly supported by the people within walking distance.  This includes High Street from German Village through South Clintonville.  The green spots appear to extend west into the Brewery District (Front Street) and east to German Village (3rd Street).  Almost the entire downtown area is green.  The segment of 5th Avenue in 5th by Northwest (north of Grandview Heights) is green.  Grandview Avenue would be too if it were on WalkScore’s map.  Main Street in Bexley is green.  So is State Street in Uptown Westerville.  These are some of Columbus’ great streets.  They are the places with the most people on the sidewalks, the most shops and restaurants, the least vacancies, probably the biggest parking problems too.   They’re the places you go for fun and where you take out-of-town guests to show them the best Columbus has to offer.

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COTA is still searching for a long-term alternative to Graceland for a bus turnaround site.  The previous proposal to buy a stripmall on the southeast corner of High & Kanawha has been replaced with a new plan to purchase one of two properties on the east side of High Street just north of Graceland.

Two sites eyed for Clintonville bus turnaround
Neighbors give COTA input before decision
Monday, June 20, 2011 10:57 PM
By Lauren Hepler
The Columbus Dispatch

COTA officials met with Clintonville area residents tonight to discuss the final stages of a deal to construct a bus turnaround just north of Graceland Shopping Center.

Any agreement would come after more than a year of back-and-forth between Central Ohio Transit Authority officials and residents wary of what a busy N. High Street bus turnaround would do to the neighborhood.

COTA says there are two potential sites: a used car dealership at 5160 N. High and a vacant house at 5132 N. High.

“They’re both willing sellers,” said COTA spokeswoman Beth Berkemer. “We have not made a decision on either property yet. We are still negotiating.”

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Streetsblog recently featured some remarks about Ohio transportation policy from the Town Hall on Transportation Disparities Among Disadvantaged Communities event. 

Ohio’s Car-Centric Transpo Policy Harms the Poor, Elderly & People of Color
by Samuel Gresham Jr. on June 6, 2011

Good evening. My name is Samuel Gresham Jr. and I am the executive director of the Ohio Commission on African-American Males. Our mission is to help African-American males take responsibility for the improvement of the quality of their lives, by dismantling structural inequality through public policy advocacy, community organizing, and research.

…Transportation investment in Ohio has produced an inhospitable landscape for low-income people, people with disabilities, and the elderly. People of color are disproportionately disadvantaged by the current state of transportation through the cost of car ownership, under-investment in public transportation, and thoroughfares that have isolated low-income people and struggling families from jobs and services.

This is the civil rights dilemma of Ohio: Our laws purport to level the playing field, but our transportation choices have effectively barred millions of people from getting across it. Traditional nondiscrimination protections do not protect the people for whom opportunities are literally out of reach.

For this reason, our transportation policies [must] expand and improve access to people for whom the cost of car ownership is prohibitive and for those who may depend on public transportation, including older adults, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, and low-income people. Thoroughfares have exacerbated transportation inequities by extending the gaps between housing and jobs. Equity agendas should favor fixing existing infrastructure and incentivizing fill-in development in metro areas.

Ohio invests 99 percent of its transportation resources on highways, leaving less than 1 percent for public transportation, putting it 40th in the nation. All the states in the nation that spend less on transit then Ohio are more rural states, with an average population of only 20 percent of Ohio’s. Nearly 9 percent of Ohio’s households have no vehicle. Despite the need for public transportation, Ohio’s transit agencies have been forced to slash transit services and raise fares. A decade ago, federal operating funds for public transportation systems serving communities of more than 200,000 were severely cut. Most states dramatically increased support for public transportation; the state of Ohio has cut funding by 75 percent since 2002.

Ohio’s transportation policy needs to support a wide range of choices and users, not just car travel on highways and roadways. Studies show that 60 percent of bus trips in Ohio are work-related, and that people under the age of 40 are less likely to own cars. Ohio’s younger adults need access to education, jobs, and entertainment without needing a car. Seniors or people with disabilities may not be able to use a car or may not want to drive. Innovative transportation solutions are needed in Ohio’s suburbs and rural areas; these communities have a tremendous need to access employment and services.

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It seems obvious, but people without cars can’t get to work to participate in the economy if there is no transit access to the jobs or if the transit is excessively slow or unreliable. Public transportation and transit-supportive land use policies are one way to give people a hand up instead of hand out. More people with jobs means fewer people receiving government assistance and more government tax revenue.  It probably would also lead to less segregation, better schools, and safer neighborhoods.  Who wouldn’t love that?