When your state doesn’t fund public transportation, you end up with this

rta healthline buses

RTA HealthLine buses in downtown Cleveland (courtesy of Cleveland.com).

Jason Segedy, the remarkably progressive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Akron area, has the full text of an interview he did with Mark Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake up at his blog. In the interview, he discussed the changes that we need to make in Northeast Ohio in order to enhance public transportation and make it a viable alternative for residents. It’s well worth reading.

In the interview, Jason discusses what we need do in order to develop a big picture for public transit at both the metro and regional level going forward. But he also gets down into the minutiae that really affects the daily experiences of public transit users, including

things like improving rider safety (mostly perception of safety); ease-of-use (using smart phone technology to give real-time travel information and for electronic fare payment); improving transit waiting environments; improving walkability and bikability to transit stops; and working more closely with local governments and private developers to improve signage, wayfinding, and to institute transit-friendly urban design.

I have used public transportation extensively both in Cleveland and Washington, DC, where (despite all of WMATA’s many, many problems), living car free is actually a viable option. Unlike in DC, in Cleveland I cannot use a smart phone app to check when the next bus or train arrives, I cannot reload my fare card online, and I am often unable to escape the elements when riding the bus or rapid.

In many ways, as Jason pointed out yesterday, these types of quotidian issues are what really controls whether or not people will utilize transit. And one of the most crucial issues is that of rider comfort and safety. If people don’t feel safe from harm at bus stops and rapid stations, they won’t come back the next time. It’s no wonder that the Greater Cleveland RTA has to spend thousands of dollars on commercials assuring Clevelanders that taking the bus isn’t as bad as getting a root canal.

But, given the state of Ohio’s absolute refusal to invest in public transportation, riding the bus or rapid in this region can often feel like a chore. As a state, Ohio spends less public transportation than all but 3 others.

Funding for transit in Ohio has fallen by three-quarters (PDF), from $44.22 million in 2000 to just $10.87 million by 2010. And whereas other states provide, on average, 23% of total operating funds for transit agencies, Ohio contributes a whopping 3%. When you break it down on a per capita basis, the state spent just $0.94 per Ohioan in FY 2010, less than every other state in the Great Lakes region. Even that car-dependent state up North spends $19.98 per capita, over 21 times more than the Buckeye state.

Much of this stems from the fact that the Ohio constitution bars the use of gas tax revenues for anything but highway construction and maintenance, meaning that all transit funding must come from the state’s general fund. And of the minuscule amount of funding the state does provide, just 3% of it goes towards capital expenditures. As a result, without federal grants like the TIGER program, few, if any, new public transportation projects would go forward.

That virtual absence of funding for transit and ODOT’s infatuation with sprawl leads to situations like what you see below. This is an actual bus stop in Northeast Ohio. While I obviously haven’t seen every possible bus stop in the 7-county area, this is easily the most dangerous and least rider-friendly stop I have ever come across.

bus stop at route 237 & Eastland Road

An actual stop for the #86 bus alongside Route 237 in Cleveland (courtesy of Google Maps).

This bus stop is located where Eastland Road meets Route 237, just across from Hopkins Airport and the I-X Center. If you look closely enough, you can just make out the small, blue RTA bus stop sign.

Route 237 is a restricted-access highway with a 50mph speed limit. In other words, you aren’t even allowed to walk or bike on the road due to the dangerous speed at which traffic moves, but you can wait for a bus 3 feet away from passing cars. And if you need to cross to the other side of 237 for any reason, keep dreaming. There’s no intersection anywhere near it. I don’t know if anyone has been killed or injured waiting for a bus here, but if not, it’s just a matter of time. Ohio has completely abrogated its responsibility to fund alternate transportation, and the end result is this kind of nightmare for public safety.

So what are the worst/most dangerous bus stops you’ve come across in Northeast Ohio? Share you pictures in the comments or send them to me directly. Maybe we can shame ODOT into changing it’s reckless ways. Probably not.