Buses to Cleveland
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Cleveland City Council members on Wednesday grilled city administrators and officials from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority over the controversial decision to permanently close Public Square to buses - challenging the city's argument that leaving Superior Avenue open imperils pedestrians enjoying the newly renovated public space.
At council's Transportation Committee hearing, city officials and RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese presented a largely united front against a barrage of criticism from council members and maintained that the city and RTA will work together to mitigate the inconveniences to riders and any increased costs that the square's closure might cause.
Mayor Frank Jackson's Chief of Staff Ken Silliman said the city and RTA also would seek the approval of the Federal Transportation Administration, which has invested millions in the transit system around Public Square and could demand that RTA repay the investment.
Despite heavy criticism that the decision to close the square was made with virtually no input from the public, all but one member of the Jackson administration - Planning Director Freddy Collier - had left the room before members of the public were given a chance to testify.
Here are council members' best questions and arguments and the city's responses:
Q: What, exactly are the safety concerns related to keeping the square open?
Cleveland Police Traffic Commissioner James Muhic said that the design of the crosswalk on Superior "gives an impression that both halves of the square are unified" - an illusion that could endanger children who are playing in the water feature and might be attracted to public art across the street.
"No matter how good a parent you are, that kid will slip away from you, " Muhic said. "And with the way the street looks, we felt there needed to be enhancements to stop the children from walking across the streets."
Muhic also said that drivers on Superior might become confused when they arrive at the square and see signs allowing only buses to continue along Superior - another safety hazard for pedestrians.
And he said that terrorists increasingly are choosing vehicles to execute their plots. The water feature and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument would become convenient targets, he said.
Council members largely rejected these claims, arguing that every vibrant urban city in the world integrates public transportation into its public spaces, and that people who use parks in those cities accept the potential hazards, generally without incident.
"The entire square is surrounded by roads, and children and families playing in a park have to be vigilant about their surroundings, " said Councilman Kerry McCormack. "The threat of vehicular traffic is a condition of an urban park, just as it is in many of our neighborhoods. Also, the unfortunate reality is that there are terrorist threats in our country, and I don't believe that the question of buses on Public Square has anything to do with that."
Councilman Brian Cummins went on to challenge the city's argument that the design of Superior is to blame for some of the safety problems. He pointed out that Jackson signed off on the closure of Superior in 2012 on the condition that Superior be redesigned to look like a plaza that blends with the rest of the square's streetscape when closed to traffic for special events.
City officials did not respond to that criticism.
Q: Will the city incur costs to redesign the street?
Cleveland's Chief of Regional Development Ed Rybka said that city-hired designer James Corner already is working on features to help unify the square.
But Silliman added that he wants to "minimize the future investment questions because we don't see a major future investment in the cards here."
He acknowledged that significant planning went into the project on the front end. But he said that plans evolve - and in this case, the square proved to be much more popular among pedestrians than anyone expected.
Silliman added that, in the future, city officials might come to council requesting legislation vacating that portion of Superior Avenue, allowing it officially to become part of the square's recreational space.