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At the beginning of this year Akron, Cleveland, and Canton joined 75 other cities around the country in a contest to win $ 40 million dollars from the U-S Department of Transportation.

The Smart Cities Challenge wanted the best vision of 21st century transportation using technology.  Ideastream’s Mark Urycki explored some of the ideas being kicked around and filed this report . ..

 

We all know that transportation in the 21st century is supposed to include flying cars.

 

But really, one fairly common idea among the Smart Cities proposals:  self-driving cars.  The Executive Director of The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, Grace Gallucci, thinks autonomous cars may reduce congestion better than the addition of more lanes.

 

“Self-driving automobiles which would have capacity to have better reaction time, they’ll be able to drive themselves more efficiently.  That will help congestion much more than capacity [larger roads] ever could.”  

 

And we know computers never crash, right?  

 

“Trucks driving in tandem will be probably one of the first things to be evident in self-driving vehicles.  And one of the ways that has been discussed to make that really work is a dedicated lane on the interstate.  So that is a possibility and something that we’ll look at. “

 

Dedicated lanes are a common thread in the transportation world and not just in the future.  

 

25 years ago the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act became law.  Known as Ice Tea – it dedicated money for bike trails and pedestrian walkways.

 

More and more agencies are designing streets with lanes dedicated to bikes and pedestrians,  as seen on large European boulevards. 

 

Akron Planning Director Jason Segedy calls them “protected bike lanes.”

 

“So if someone is riding they’ve got a line of parked car between them and the through-traffic. And it almost serves as a kind of wall protecting them.”

 

The lanes are available because Akron and Cleveland roads were built for more people than they now have. 

 

“Right now” says Segedy, “given that we’ve lost a third of our population in the last 50 years, our streets, if anything, err on the side of being overbuilt which in a way is good problem to have.  We don’t have to pay catch up and widen a bunch of roads.“

 

Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue is an example of car lanes that have been turned into bus-only lanes. That creates Bus Rapid Transit.

 

Gallucci says more of those may be in the offing with the use of smart traffic signals which have allowed buses or emergency vehicles the right of way.

 

“Now it’s going to be where you have a commonality of the normal vehicle being able to communicate with the traffic signals as well as perhaps other vehicles. And so they’ll be better able to move through “ 

 

Canton’s Smart Cities proposal includes driverless shuttles that would connect the airport to the new NFL Hall of Fame Village.  

 

Technology

Sensors are now available for trucks or buses that will alert the drivers whenever a pedestrian is nearby. 

 

Other technology is helping public transit officials plan.  

 

Metro RTA in Summit County has used GPS software to measure every stop and passenger boarding its buses and is now restructuring its system to add more buses where they’re needed and cutting routes where they are not. 

 

Spokesman Jessica Dreschel says they also offer online apps to let passengers know exactly where their bus is.

 

“You can track your bus in real time on a map; you can look up your stops and see when buses are departing from particular stops; and you can also set up alerts so you can get messages sent your phone when a bus is departing from a particular bus stop that you use frequently.”

 

Of the 78 cities who entered the Smart Cities Challenge, the winner was Columbus.  It proposed many of the technical gadgetry mentioned earlier but it also included a focus on serving the poor, who rely on public transportation to get to jobs, shopping, and medical care.

 

Land use is an issue for transportation.

 

The Greater Cleveland RTA is now cutting service due to a budget shortfall.  Its Director of Service Management Joel Freilich says RTA has tries to keep up with businesses and organizations that have sprawled out to the suburbs but it is a strain on resources

 

“If someone says ‘oh we’re going far far away over here will you give us a bus route?’  If we have the resources and we do provide the bus route that only solves the problem on that spoke.   Everyone else is wishing like crazy that that service had been provided downtown.  That job or that educational service or that justice service or any other service.” 

 

At the same time young people and empty nesters are slowly moving back into downtowns– trying to land near transit stops.  

 

These transportation officials do consider environmental impacts in their planning. 

 

Metro RTA just opened both electric car charging stations and a compressed natural gas pump in Akron.   But one thing that bothers them?  Parking.  

 

Kris Liljeblad, the just-retired Director Planning and Development of Metro RTA says all that concrete surface area causes problems.

 

“Parking creates an incredible urban impact – undesirable environmental impact- heat island effects and storm drainage problems, all kinds of things. "

 

Akron Planning Director Jason Segedy agrees, saying his city has far more parking spaces than demand. He says that land could be better used.

 

“You know every square foot of we have devoted to a parking space that might be empty 20 hours a day is a place someone can’t live or work."

Officials have seen the increase of young people and empty nesters back into downtowns. They note the new residents want to be located near transit stops. 

 

Tuesday evening at the Ideacenter, The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency holds a public meeting about its transportation plans for the year 2040.  It begins at 6pm. 

 

Mark.Urycki@ideastream.org

 

 

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