Residents See Improved Transit Service as Key to Neighborhood Equity & Growth DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, August 4, 2020 —
As the population of Downtown Cleveland approaches 20,000, neighborhood residents are raising their voices about the issues important to them. To illustrate the growing influence, Downtown Cleveland Residents (DCR) recently passed a resolution supporting a levy initiative to increase funding for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA). The resolution was voted on virtually by downtown resident members, and passed unanimously at DCR’s July Community Forum. DCR noted that frequent, reliable, safe, and affordable public transit is in the general interest of Downtown residents, but that GCRTA’s available resources have been hampered in recent years with state budget cuts and reduced sales tax revenue. According to the National Transit Database, service on GCRTA has been cut 29% since 2006. The cost of fares, however, has doubled over the same period. “They’re really up against a wall in terms of funding,” said DCR President Alan O’Connell of the GCRTA. “Public transit is a very efficient way for people to move around a city, but the geometry of dense urban environments requires transit to function well, or risk gridlock.” The resolution echoed this sentiment, referencing both a 2019 study commissioned by the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), which found that “additional non-Federal funds will be necessary to meet the existing and future needs of the [GCRTA] system, if heavy rail and light rail are to be maintained as viable transportation options,” as well as the Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study, which found that statewide “investment [in public transit] needs to double by 2025” and that “all stakeholders should be working towards” that funding goal. Residents also viewed an increase in resources for public transit as a way to promote neighborhood equity and affordability. The resolution cited a study by Cleveland State University’s Center for Economic Development which found that GCRTA service results in a 12.3% reduction in poverty and a growth of 3% in employment within the region. It also noted that the high costs to build structured parking (which averages approximately $25,000 per parking space in Downtown Cleveland), and the low return on investment received by developers on newly-built resident parking, result in residential rental prices that are higher than both residents and property owners would prefer. “We spoke to a couple developers who are active in the area. They told us that parking is a constant annoyance. They would prefer to dedicate more financial resources toward additional residences and amenities instead of these soon-to-be-obsolete parking garages,” said O’Connell. DCR intentionally avoided language referencing the current coronavirus pandemic. O’Connell said that residents “wanted to communicate that this is an important long-term issue, and not just a pandemic response.” Indeed, the transit resolution itself was scheduled to be voted on before the public health lockdown in the spring of this year made in-person meetings impossible. Intentionally included, however, was a preference for the form of a transit levy. Once again following the lead of the GCP study, it states that increased funding for GCRTA via a property tax levy would be a more equitable option than an increase to the sales tax levy. Instead of a traditional property tax, DCR recommended that a levy take the form of a land value tax or a split-rate tax. “Residents want surface parking lots Downtown to be replaced by mixed-use buildings and public greenspace. Current property taxes effectively penalize and discourage development on valuable land,” said O’Connell. “This is completely backwards. There needs to be an incentive to build something that actually contributes to our community instead of encouraging parking lots to continue detracting from it.” A levy could be placed on the ballot by Cuyahoga County Council or directly by GCRTA. Other government entities are also able to introduce bond measures and send the proceeds to RTA.