Op/Ed: Bring it Columbus

Bring it Columbus

Columbus lost the bid for the Democratic National Convention, but we gained so much more. We better know who we are. We put ourselves out there, with the big boys and girls, to be judged. For, maybe the first time, as a city, we said “Hi, World. Pick us, choose us, and love us.” We did it because collectively, as a community, we believe in ourselves. We think we have a lot to offer, and we do. We would have been amazing hosts.

We are on our way to becoming a world class city. We know it. We believe we can get there. The community, humanity, openness and yes swagger, the Democratic National Convention Committee witnessed on their visit is real. The hardships, the grit, and the uneasiness we minimized are also real.

We still have far too many of our neighbors struggling with poverty, and were not yet connected in the ways we should be. Our people are still trying to figure out better ways to navigate this City. We have gaps. Many of us feel it. We know we don’t offer the kinds of transportation options that enable everyone in our community to thrive. We’ve come a long way in the last few years as far as transit options. Still we know we need more choices to bring the very best to Columbus.

These are things we should have moved on a decade ago. We should have talked more. We know this. We were young. We made priorities. We got really good at many things, creating a bustling downtown core and amazing neighborhoods among them.

And so, it’s time. Let’s concentrate on us now. The Democratic National Convention didn’t choose us, and that’s okay. We know who we are and who we want to be. We can become a better connected Columbus. Let’s be it. Bring it Columbus.

Elissa Schneider, Transit Columbus Chair and Columbus resident.

TransitColumbus Endorses COTA Changes

As originally published on ColumbusUnderground.com TransitColumbus is proud to announce our endorsement of the proposed changes coming out of COTA’s Transit System Review process. Head over to ColumbusUnderground for our opinion piece or read our statement below:

Transit Columbus strongly supports the transit system review (TSR) redesign process being developed by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) that will streamline and improve service. These changes will provide the best coverage for the largest amount of Central Ohioans possible. COTA has the ability to vastly improve access, reliability, frequency, and ridership by revamping the current system to become simplified and efficient; all this with no additional taxpayer funding. We acknowledge that change is hard, and there will be some growing pains as a result of these changes. However, the end result will be a vast improvement for greatest number of people possible.

The core idea of the scenario proposed by consultant team including Jarret Walker (of the blog Human Transit), is to expand the network of services that run every 15 minutes or better all day — so that more people have service that is highly useful.  The plan creates higher-frequency, better-connected service that is projected to increase ridership by 10% within two years.

Currently only three routes provide high frequency service; under the new scenario more than 10 routes will have service that runs every 15 minutes or better. The plan also proposes to extend better service to suburban job centers in places such as Rickenbacker, New Albany and Dublin, and will realign less effective service to improve ridership and connectivity to jobs, while less productive routes will be discontinued.

Transit Columbus believes this is a better way for COTA to do business. It maximizes existing resources, creates better service and generates more ridership revenue without an increase in fares or local taxes. COTA has spent the past decade listening carefully to the public and making incremental changes and adjustments to improve service.  It’s time for the central Ohio community to embrace the transformative changes COTA is considering.

We can continue to do more of the same and make small incremental changes to improve service, or we can revisit the entire system and consider a new, better way of doing things. Current projections add around 500,000 people to the region by 2050; that’s more than the populations of the cities of Cincinnati and Dayton combined. As a City we must embrace the possibilities and opportunities this creates. A new way of moving our people is one critical way must prepare for the future Columbus.

The proposed plan would be the largest modification for COTA in 40 years and will give central Ohio a solid foundation for the future. As a region we must embrace a better connected Columbus, and it starts with the TSR scenario developed by COTA and its consultant team.

Why you should be excited about COTA

Have you ever missed a bus that only comes hourly? Have you ever ridden on a bus that takes forever to wind its squiggly way through neighborhood streets? These frustrations may soon be a thing of the past.

As you read this COTA is working with the renowned firm Jarrett Walker & Associates to completely redo their service map. Although the final plan hasn’t been released, judging from the draft plan there are some big and exciting changes on the way.

First, and most exciting, more routes will run at least every 15 minutes! As of now, we only have 3 routes that run with such a high frequency, but under the proposed plan that will jump to 12. No only that, but they would also run at least every 15 minutes seven days a week. That’s right, weekends too. Draft_Proposed_FTN-page-001

If that’s not enough to get you excited

  • 10,752 more existing riders will be within 1/4 mile of 15 minute service
  • 17,176 more jobs are within a 1/4 mile of any service (+4.2%)
  • More than twice as many residents (116,000 more residents) get frequent service – that’s part of why ridership will grow (+103%)

Best of all: COTA can make these improvements without spending more money. All of the changes proposed will paid for out of the savings from eliminated meandering and unpopular routes and increasing system efficiency.

By making our bus system simpler, faster and easier to use we will be taking an important step towards making Columbus a transit-friendly city.

Check out www.cota.com for more information.

(picture: proposed high-frequency routes)

 

614 Interview with Our Board Chair!

614 Magazine recently sat down with our current Board Chair Eric Davies. See what he had to say below:

 

Where Are We Going? (Click to Read on 614.com)

Eric Davies from Transit Columbus talks about the past, present, and future of transportation in Columbus

By Chris Gaitten

Published April 1, 2014

We don’t know where you’re reading this magazine, but we do know that if you’re in Columbus, you aren’t reading it on a passenger train. The dearth of mass transit has been long bemoaned by more progressive minds, and Transit Columbus, a mostly volunteer nonprofit advocacy group, is one organization that’s attempting to bring the city closer to a more complete transportation system.

On April 22, Transit Columbus will host the culminating event for GOOD IDEAS Columbus, a program that challenged six design teams to solve one transit-related problem each, given to them by community leaders. (614) spoke with Eric Davies, the chair of the organization’s board of trustees, to give us a status report for transportation in the city, and where we go from here.

How has transit in Columbus improved over the past five years?
Mainly COTA getting [the] expanded levy and the additional quarter-percent sales tax has really been a positive boon to public transit in Central Ohio and has allowed COTA to restore service that was cut and to really grow the service over the last five years. And that has been really valuable.

It’s vital that COTA renews their additional quarter-percent sales tax funding, which expires in 2016, and we’d certainly like to see it grow as well, and that COTA is able to look at some other modes. They’ve got the bus rapid-transit proposal on the table for the northeast corridor going to Cleveland Avenue, and we are in favor of that, and we’d like to certainly see this city and this region look at light rail, streetcar, and commuter rail, as well as intercity passenger rail.

What are the major challenges to getting more comprehensive transit systems in town that might include rail?
I think an understanding of the value of those modes, and the political will to shift how we fund our transportation systems. I think those are really the biggest issues. I think there’s a growing recognition that we are a city that really lacks in the infrastructure that we need … Columbus is a city that historically had a really robust passenger rail system in place. We had streetcars, we had interurban rail, and we had intercity passenger rail back in the first half of the 20th century. It was a very vibrant city. I live in the Beechwold area, and my neighborhood in this whole Clintonville-Beechwold area of the city flourished because of the streetcar.

Steve Campbell from the city finance office said one of the major challenges right now is that there really aren’t federal dollars coming in for the bigger rail investments. In addition, Governor Kasich has already rejected federal funds for a rail line. What can a local advocacy group do to combat funding hurdles on those higher levels?
First of all, and I certainly hear where Steve’s coming from, but there’s some money out there for large federal investments. There’s the TIGER Grant program, and there are some others … so I partially agree with Steve [and] I think it’s hard to get that money, but I think it’s also out there. I think that part of our shortfall and our shortcomings is we haven’t been putting up those applications, so of course you don’t get ’em unless you are willing to take some risk and put together a plan so they could potentially apply for federal funding. And I understand one area where we did that was for the 3C and passenger rail from Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland, but that got pulled and there were some unfortunate political issues there…there hasn’t been enough exposure and information and just dialogue about why public transit is important to Columbus and Central Ohio. And so that’s why we exist and we’re gonna continue to move this agenda forward, and I think that’s just what’s needed.

Okay, I’m giving you a magic wand and you can change one thing about the city’s transit today. What do you do?
I would say if I could wave a magic wand I would go back to when we could have put the light rail in place in the north corridor, which would have been right around about 12, 14 years ago when we had a levy on the ballot for that, and I would have passed that levy and it would be in place now. And I think that would shift the entire image of this community, and I think we would be looking at this picture very differently than we are right now.

You have GOOD IDEAS Columbus coming up, and people tend to really like these things that offer ambitious, creative solutions. Ultimately, though, can an event like this generate real change or tangible results for the city?
I’m kinda mentoring one of the teams, and one of the things I’ve said is, just look at this problem through some different lenses and see what maybe are some easy short-term things that could happen in the next few months to a year to two years, and what are some longer term fixes that might need to occur and might really take a lot of energy and planning and time. And so hopefully we can find some small victories to help motivate action toward some of the bigger challenges that would really take more time, energy, and funding and maybe even some minor to major infrastructure change.

The point of GOOD IDEAS is not to come up with final transportation plans to solve a problem. It’s really to look at what’s happening now. What are some of our key issues in Central Ohio that are challenges and barriers for us in terms of offering a more multi-modal transportation system? … I think we’re gonna all be surprised and delighted to see what we get from this process, and I think the coolest thing about it is it’s really just engaging a lot of people in being a part of their transportation planning.

Thanks 614 for the reporting. Click here to check out the GOOD IDEAS Columbus Challenges and Results

The Score (part one)

This is the first of a 3 part series focusing on the walkable population of Columbus: What it is, how to improve it, and how it relates to transit.

We’ve all heard this argument: “Columbus is a car city” and in many ways the argument is correct. In a proactive mission to ensure growth in the second half of the 20th Century city leader’s annexed vast swaths of land which was developed into mostly car dependent neighborhoods. This has led to Columbus’ current situation, being both the geographic and population leader in Ohio, while maintaining its place as the 3rd Largest metro in our state (for the next few years anyway).

All this annexation and sprawling development may give the impression therefore that we’re a car city. For around 500,000 Columbusites who live in car dependent areas it’s true. For the nearly 233,000 of us who do live in walkable areas life is much less car centric. Though the City of Columbus itself contains more car dependent residents than the other 2Cs the amount of walkable residents also compares favorably with both Cincy (around 80,000 more) and Cleveland (around 80,000 less) as well as other comparable cities (the cities below are the same ones from the Benchmarking Columbus report found here).

**City

Total Walkable

Very Walkable

Somewhat Walkable

Rank

Portland

492369

216963

275406

1

Milwaukee

416082

200920

215162

2

Cleveland

313638

52831

260807

3

Minneapolis

313429

149728

163701

4

Columbus

232751

90611

142140

5

Austin

202682

65539

137143

6

Cincinnati

145569

42944

102625

7

Kansas City

138710

81213

57497

8

Louisville

124610

33623

90987

9

Jacksonville

79269

6373

72896

10

Nashville

44134

5898

38236

11

Charlotte

43449

16959

26490

12

Raleigh

27097

6431

20666

13

Indianpolis

21445

5289

16156

14

What do these numbers and stats tell us? They tell us that Columbus is doing well in terms of cultivating residents in walkable neighborhoods but also that we have much room to grow. All the cities above us (Portland, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Minneapolis) are known for their urbanity or livability. Columbus should focus on improving walkability in marginally walkable neighborhoods, going the extra mile where the walkable population is concentrated and should encourage population gains in established walkable areas. We need to lead on this issue so that we can be an example to the rest of the country, rather than a follower.

Some of the walking friendly changes to our neighborhoods are simple. Some are complex and time consuming. All are worth the time and investment. Improving walkability isn’t about forcing folks out of their cars but rather giving everyone an option. It’s no coincidence that most of the top neighborhoods for walkability are also some of the most expensive neighborhoods in Columbus (check out the full list here). Walkability is desirable. Even if most of your trips are accomplished by driving, having the option to walk is still important. Let’s extend that option to more of our friends and neighbors. Check back on soon to see how we can do that.

**Data above is derived from Walkscore.com. To view the full data for Columbus and all the cities included please click here.

GOOD IDEAS Columbus

TC-CoGo-Poster-Final-WEB

Join us for GOOD IDEAS Columbus, an innovative program that brings together creative and motivated young people with community leaders to solve pressing issues in Central Ohio. We are bringing Columbus’ brightest young minds; designers, architects, engineers, students and artists, and pairing them with some of the most important community leaders to work on real problems affecting transportation in our city. Six design teams of people under the age of 40 will each be paired with a community leader. The leader will ask their team to solve a problem relating to transportation in Columbus. On April 22 the creative teams will present their ideas in a fun-filled night with food, drink and entertainment.

Community Leaders

Commissioner Marilyn Brown, Franklin County Commissioner & MORPC Board Chair
Mayor Michael B. Coleman,  Mayor of Columbus
Betsy Pandora, Executive Director at the Short North Alliance
Dawn Tyler Lee, Sr. VP of Community Impact at United Way Central Ohio & COTA Board Chair
Brent Simonds, Development Director at Cycling for All
Mark Wagenbrenner, President at Wagenbrenner Development

 

What’s missing from this picture?

mapmapmapmap-page-001

The Urban Land Institute’s Columbus chapter published this map of cities with rail and/or bus rapid transit systems in existence or under constructions in their Columbus 2050 report. Sadly, the center of Ohio looks a bit empty….

 

Moving soon? A majority of Americans say transit matters when selecting a home

Every year the Urban Land Institute issues a survey on Americans’ housing preferences,014-001 and this year’s was quite interesting. So, what do the people want? It seems they want mixed-use communities, walkability and public transit. Considering the nearly daily news articles heralding the “return of Downtown” or proclaiming that “we’ve passed peak driving” this doesn’t really come as a surprise. Just look around Columbus and you can see dense, mixed-use developments mushrooming up all over the city. It’s a sight to behold.

The wonderful thing though was how many diverse demographics supported transit. Baby boomers, Generation Y, city-dwellers, those with post-graduate 012-001degrees and those making under $50,000 a year are just some of the demographics that ranked transit has a high priority. This helps explain why transit has been performing well in elections recently (in 2012 79% of transit initiatives won at the ballot box). We knew the support had to be coming from some where. It seems though, the support is coming from almost everywhere.

The question is, could something win at the ballot box in Central Ohio? We’ve got Baby boomers, Millenials, city-dwellers and a great university minting new masters degrees by the minute, so something tells me transit might have a chance. Perhaps it’s time to dust off Mayor Coleman’s 2006 streetcar plan, or COTA’s 2009 light rail plan, or, come up with something new and give it a go.

GPS tracking for COTA? It’s coming….

A screen shot from NYC's bus-tracking system

A screen shot from NYC’s bus-tracking system

Today is a day to rejoice. COTA has announced that starting early in 2014 people will be able to see their bus’ actual location in real-time using a GPS tracking system. So now when you’re hanging out in a cafe waiting for the twice hourly #18 to go back home you can keep an eye on your phone and time your dash to the bus stop perfectly. I wonder, will there be an app, or integration with Google maps? The easier transit gets to use the more people will use it, so we applaud another smart improvement from COTA.

For more info check out this week’s Transportation Insider column. There’s also a good bit about Millenials and transportation choice.

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/10/07/cota-users-will-get-gps-updates-on-buses.html

Downtown Circulator Public Meetings

Over four meetings next week, COTA is seeking comments from the public on a proposed Downtown Circulator. The Circulator’s focus would be to help better connect Downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods of the Short North, Convention Center, Arena District, Brewery District, and German Village.

The proposed Downtown Circulator would quickly and easily connect these areas and could include free or reduced fares, high frequency service, early morning and late night service, and specially branded buses. The full route is yet to be determined but could run primarily on High Street or on other nearby streets.

The proposed service is similar to service in other cities, particularly the DC Circulator in the nation’s capitol, which has achieved great popularity in Washington since its introduction in 2005. Successes in other cities show opportunities are great for the potential service in Columbus.

Not only would it help to  move visitors to our city easily from place to place, but it could also help to alleviate some of the parking issues now being experienced in our near Downtown neighborhoods. With a free or low fare, many could be enticed into parking further away from their destination or in remote parking lots, and simply catch a ride on the circulator to reach their final destination.

With easier, cheaper, and more convenient service than is currently available, downtown area residents may find it easier than ever to ditch their car and experience our city on a less stressful, more enjoyable and more human scale mode of transportation. A Downtown Circulator is one of the many pieces to the transportation puzzle that are coming together to make Columbus a more livable city.

Do you have ideas or suggestions for the potential service? Make sure to attend one of the public meetings below and  submit your thoughts on the potential service to COTA. As your public transportation advocacy group in the region, we at Transit Columbus are more than happy to forward your ideas and suggestions on to COTA for further examination. Make your voice heard on this important potential service!