Or Imagine yourself Magically Whisked away to Cleveland
October 13, 2007
One of the funniest little moments on 30 Rock last year involved Liz Lemon (Evanston’s own Tina Fey) and her boyfriend leaving New York City, New York for a romantic getaway to “The Forest City,” the Manchester of Mid-America, the Metropolis of the Western Reserve, Cleveland Ohio.
My own experiences in Cleveland are limited, and not quite as magical as Ms. Lemon’s. My most recent trip didn’t even merit a full post (said post does emphasize why I should not write music criticism, Cheap Trick not withstanding), my second to last visit was a 4 hour layover during a greyhound ride from New York to Chicago (though I had a terrific grilled cheese at the Cleveland bus terminal), and my only other trip to Cleveland took place about 10 years before the creation of this blog. I did really like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s been eclipsed by the Seattle EMP in my mind, if only because of the monorail that runs through it. Still, fond childhood memories of the mid-90’s Indians (the best of the 90’s mini-dynasties that didn’t win The World Series), coupled with the Major League franchise do make me irrationally connected to Cleveland (Major League 3: Back to the Minors, with its ties to Minnesota, either never happened or will soon be aufheben by YS as the lost gem of family baseball movies).
But a funny thing happened recently to the mistake by the lake, something that shouldn’t go without notice. Cleveland was somehow named the top large transit agency in America. The award cites Cleveland’s expanded Downtown trolley service and an emphasis on customer service. I’m really not surprised by this development. Cleveland has a rather extensive metro system for a city of its size, with one heavy rail line and two light rail lines. Cleveland is well served by its transit agency, with (relatively) low traffic. According to a data set in this report on the Portland Light Rail system (YS: scouring the internet far and wide for data), Clevelanders lost only 10 hours to congestion in 2003 while their subway-less Cincinnati brethren lost 30. Of course Cleveland’s system would be totally insufficient for the Cleveland of 50 years ago, but such are the ironies of deindustrialization (see Season 2 of The Wire).
The report also cites Cleveland’s upcoming Bus Rapid Transit system, the Euclid Avenue Silver Line. While I support anything that gets people out of cars (like bike share programs, rickshaws, and the reintroduction of horses to city streets–a curse upon the dehorsifying New York!), I’m not particularly bullish on Bus Rapid Transit, mostly because the term is meaningless, describing a widely varying set of practices (I’m also suspicious of anything the Bush administration actively promotes, although my views on this may change if I can somehow figure out a way to get Yesterday’s Salad to qualify as a faith based initiative). Even better designed systems like the Eugene Oregon EmX have their critics and the most successful systems are too successful, indicative of the need for rail transit. This is not to mention the misfortune that befalls poorly planned systems. But, in my opinion, the biggest problem with BRT systems is their low passenger capacity. They may increase comfort and ease of use, but they don’t really offer much room for growth.
Planning a single BRT line is really planning for the city of today, and not the city of tomorrow. Metropolis, Illinois may claim to be the hometown of the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow (what a segue!) but Superman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Something tells me that our stable of Superman writers would look very different if Superman were “more powerful than a Silver Line bus,” and not “more powerful than a locomotive.”
Note to the Readers: Unlike this post, most transit columns are far more likely to be semi-controversial than they are semi-cogent. I was simply too astounded by Cleveland’s award not to comment.