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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

City, RTA Announce: Public Square to Remain Closed to Buses Permanently

Posted By on Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 8:07 PM

click to enlarge Mayor Frank Jackson and RTA CEO Joe Calabrese address the media. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Mayor Frank Jackson and RTA CEO Joe Calabrese address the media.
After several months of prolonged and private deliberations, Mayor Frank Jackson and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) CEO Joe Calabrese announced Tuesday night that Public Square will remain closed to bus traffic permanently.

The Public Square stretch of Superior Avenue was supposed to have opened to buses on August 1 but has been barricaded ever since the RNC. Jackson said there would be capital costs involved in "removing the street portion" to create the "unified Square" he's always preferred. But that won't happen until the city gets the go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Jackson and Calabrese spoke to a small battery of reporters who'd managed to make it to City Hall in time, having been assembled on short notice — a 5:39 p.m. email announcing a 5:45 p.m. press conference.

In opening remarks, Jackson said the decision had been made in the "best interest" of the general public.

"This became more of a conversation — more intense — after the ribbon cutting," he said. "We are going to be engaging with our operations people, our traffic engineering, our police commission, to look at ways to mitigate the impact that this closure has on the transit zone."

Jackson said that, working with RTA, the city will come up with a comprehensive plan within 10-14 days and seek concurrence with the FTA, after which time the 600-foot strip of Superior Avenue can be removed.

"The concerns that we've heard are the impact of going around the square as opposed to through it," Joe Calabrese said, taking the Red Room mic to elaborate. "But we're going to look at the whole transit zone and use some strategies that have been successful to more than make up for the delays at Public Square." (Italics added.)

Calabrese referenced dedicated traffic lanes and/or traffic signal prioritization on St. Clair and Superior Avenues between W. 3rd and E. 18th / E. 12th, respectively.

"We hope to show the FTA that this will be an even better program for greater Cleveland," Calabrese said

The announcement came as a surprise, especially after public transit advocates have so strenuously campaigned for Public Square to re-open. Just last week, a web developer and transparent-government enthusiast named Melanie Mazanec, who lives in Chicago, created PublicSquander.com, a site where you can track the dollars lost due to bus re-routing in real time.

Calabrese said he wasn't sure if that figure (about $1.5 million annually) was accurate. Jackson questioned whether there were even any delays due to re-routing at all.

"
The advocates were more concerned about whether or not they would be prohibited from using buses in an efficient way, whether their life was going to be more difficult with the buses going around the Square," Jackson said.

"Some would argue that the six or seven-minute delay around the Square does present a challenge," a reporter responded.

"That's an assumption that may not be a fact, about a six or seven minute delay," Jackson said. "That may not be a fact."

"Well I've seen people time it," the reporter pressed.

"We have professionals here, not only with our police, but with our traffic engineers and RTA people that would give you another [number]."

Calabrese chimed in: "If we lose a little time going through 600 feet, we can gain time going through the other several blocks, so there's a net benefit, not a net loss."

Throughout the tense Q&A, Jackson denied that the Square had been designed specifically for bus traffic — "It was designed specifically for people," he clarified — and that this had been his master plan all along.

"Everybody knows the conspiracy, don't they?" Jackson responded to a reporter. "People can believe what they want to believe, and it was not that. In our initial conversations with RTA, I said to them, 'You know what my preference is, but if you can demonstrate to us that there's an operational and financial harm to RTA, then I will accept that.'"

Evidently (and miraculously, given the preponderance of evidence), no operational or financial harm was sufficiently demonstrated.

Moreover, Jackson continually cited "people" who had agitated for a unified Public Square. He admitted, though, that there had been no polling or data gathering to determine the public's opinions on the issue.

"Best interest of the general public," then, rings deafeningly off-key. And with with this much time invested in, one would assume, studying the effects and costs of the closure, the lack of answers proves dishearteningly sad yet predictable.

*Correction: The FTA is the Federal Transit Administration, not Authority.

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