Communications and Public Involvement
Q. Why does NOACA maintain such an outdated and user-unfriendly website?
Point taken. The site is in bad shape, and it’s a sore spot with me too. That’s why we included a site makeover as part of our work plan for the current fiscal year. We’ll be soliciting bids from website design consultants in the next couple weeks, and I expect to have a much cleaner, more navigable site up by early 2012. For any website design consultants who may read this blog, watch our website for the RFP in the next couple weeks.
Q. Why doesn't NOACA maintain a Twitter account the way ODOT and MORPC and many other government agencies do?
Obviously, many organizations inside and outside of government use social media to get their message out. We take public involvement seriously (see the NOACA Public Interaction Policy in the Documents section of our site), and I agree that we need to step it up in the area of online public involvement.
However, we don’t think Twitter is for us. We’re currently reviewing a couple options for online public participation and comment that we think will allow for thoughtful and detailed public discourse. Stay tuned.
Q. A representative of NOACA recently told me the staff sees its mission as "serving the board (of governors)." This is a misunderstanding of its obligation to public taxpayers whose money it is responsible for dispersing.
I don’t know who told you this or in what context, but I think it’s fair to say that we see our mission as serving the public. However, the vast majority of our board members are locally elected officials who represent the citizens of this region. In a democratic sense, we see serving the board as inseparable from serving the public. Of course, a strong public involvement process is also vitally important, which is why we have an extensive public interaction policy.
Q. Unfortunately, citizens don't really have a clear cut way to influence NOACA, that is my primary complaint.
There are lots of ways for citizens to express their views to NOACA. The first, and perhaps best way, is through the locally elected officials who serve on our board. Our board membership includes mayors, county commissioners, the Cuyahoga County executive, city council members, county council members, county engineers and others. They are your elected representatives, and they are NOACA’s decision-makers. Making your views known to them is a very direct and practical way to influence NOACA.
We also welcome agenda-relevant public comment at board and committee meetings. Nearly all these meetings are public meetings, and the time, place and agenda for these meetings is available on our calendar in the “What’s New” section of our website.
We also solicit public comment through public events, meetings and the internet. The easiest and most obvious way to submit comment is through the “Contact Us” link on our home page.
Another good way to meaningfully communicate with us is through the Project Planning Review section of our site (available from the home page), which includes information on projects being considered for board approval. That page includes a link for public comments, which we always welcome. We are now working with a consultant to create a GIS based online platform for Project Planning Review, which will offer much more detailed project information and opportunity for public comment. That system will be available later this year.
Finally, we are also now working to develop our long-range transportation plan, which will be completed in 2013. As we develop this important, federally required planning document, we will be soliciting public opinion and hosting public meetings. We’ll post notice of those meetings in local newspapers and on our home page. We welcome your participation.
Q. Why did NOACA and ODOT hold the meeting that would determine the fate of Cleveland West Shoreway project in Akron?
I think you’re talking about the recent Transportation Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) meeting. TRAC is a committee that reviews major new projects to the transportation system for ODOT funding. This wasn’t NOACA’s meeting; it was a statewide TRAC meeting for project sponsors submitting projects for consideration.
The West Shoreway project was on our recommended list, but we attended this meeting to support all the Northeast Ohio projects on our list. The City of Cleveland was also there, and it was at that meeting that city planning director Bob Brown announced changes to the scope of the West Shoreway project due to insufficient funding. We are in discussions with the city now about the future of this project and its bike element in particular, which we think is an essential project component. We may be able to provide funding for the bike element of that project, and we’re working with the city and our committees to try to make that happen.
Q. NOACA employed a bike planner for 2-1/2 decades. What does the public have to show for its investment in that position, exactly?
I wasn’t at NOACA 2 ½ decades ago, but in recent years she developed a protocol for annual bike counts, which became the basis of NOACA’s Regional Bicycle Transportation Plan (available in the Transportation/Bike Planning section of our website). The bike plan outlines our Board-approved policy for a preferred network of bike facilities, which is gradually being added to our transportation system as roads become eligible for reconstruction.
She also developed a series of bike route maps for each of NOACA’s five counties, which are updated regularly and continue to be popular with cyclists. Moreover, she was instrumental in creating and staffing a Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC), which has now become the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC). These councils have had direct input into the planning and project selection processes at NOACA.
Q. Why do none of NOACA policy documents mention the word "sprawl," even those that relate directly to air and water quality? How does the agency justify such a blatant omission?
The “omission” doesn’t really exist. I don’t know about the word “sprawl” specifically, but NOACA’s policy documents certainly address the issue of sprawl. In fact, the first 14 pages of our long range transportation plan (there’s a link on our home page) extensively address outmigration from our central city and central county to outlying areas.
Sprawl is an important issue, but it’s one that NOACA has little power to directly affect. Ohio is a home rule state, and each community is free to set its own land use policies. NOACA has no legal authority to control land use in individual communities. Thus, the 200-plus communities in the NOACA region each have their own land use plans.
This is one reason why we’re excited to be involved as an active participant in the Northeast Ohio Sustainability Communities Consortium. NOACA was the lead applicant on the funding application for this consortium and serves as its fiscal agent. NOACA board president, Steve Hambley, chairs the consortium while Howard Maier serves as its treasurer. We’re hopeful that this consortium of 21 public and private sector organizations can help address sprawl-related issues through a cooperative effort. For more information on the NEOSCC, see our home page.
In addition, we do have policies and programs in place to assist urban core communities in a variety of ways. For more information, I refer you to the section on urban core communities in our Regional Transportation Investment Policy, which is also available directly from our home page.
Q. What is NOACA's plan for maintaining the region's existing infrastructure? What percent of the region's roads are in "good" condition? What percent of the regional transportation budget is spent on maintenance? Is that enough to keep our roads in good repair? If not, why do we continue to expand our infrastructure system?
NOACA’s plan for maintaining the region’s existing infrastructure is more extensive than I can describe in a blog posting. I refer you again to our long-range transportation plan, available on our home page. That’s the plan. In it, you’ll also find detailed answers to your questions about roadway condition (page 75 of the PDF).
NOACA spends the vast majority of its funding on preserving the existing transportation system. This includes road and bridge rehabilitation and replacement, but it also includes bus and rapid transit vehicle replacements. For fiscal years 2008-2015, NOACA programmed only about six percent of its funding for capacity adding projects. You’ll find detailed numbers on page 369 of the PDF for our Transportation Improvement Program (available on our home page).
We also provide road and bridge condition data to project sponsors, which helps prioritize preservation projects more effectively. Check out the Transportation System Data link on our home page for more information.
Because of the ongoing costs involved, including construction and maintenance costs – we expand the existing highway system minimally and reluctantly. However, sometimes capacity adding projects are necessary and justified to solve real-world safety and congestion problems.
To answer your last question, we absolutely do not spend enough to keep our roads in good repair. Transportation infrastructure is seriously underfunded at both the state and federal levels. The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and was never indexed for inflation. Could you replace your roof today at 1993 prices? To make matters worse, the Congressional leadership is now talking about a 30 percent cut in federal funding for highways and transit. We have actively advocated in both Columbus and Washington for increased funding for transportation infrastructure, but I’m afraid we’re swimming against the tide on this issue.
Q. How has the fact that Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population over the past decade impacted NOACA's policy going forward? If it hasn't, why?
NOACA’s policies regarding loss of population from urban core communities precede the losses of the last decade. We’ve seen this trend continue since the 1970s. And yes, this trend has affected NOACA policy.
Again, this is a big question to try to answer in a blog posting. I can only once again suggest that you familiarize yourself with the urban core policies in our transportation plan and Regional Transportation Infrastructure Policy. There are links to both documents on our home page.
Q. The fact that NOACA failed to show support to the city of Cleveland (for its complete streets policy) and furthermore failed to produce its own complete streets policy show a characteristic lack of leadership from this agency, in my opinion… But perhaps there is another explanation and they are strongly in support.
NOACA strongly supports Cleveland’s complete streets policy. Before the legislation was passed we sent a letter to the city expressing that support. The policy is consistent with our policies, our transportation plan goals and our planning principles. We didn’t comment in the PD article simply because we weren’t asked to comment.
With regard to our own complete streets policy, I believe that if you read our transportation plan, bike plan and regional transportation investment policy, you’ll see marbled throughout those documents what amounts to a de facto complete streets policy. NOACA strongly promotes multimodal transportation – including transit, bikeways and pedestrian facilities. In fact, one can make a pretty good case that NOACA policy does indeed promote complete streets. We were for complete streets before complete streets were cool.
Policy and Governance
Q. NOACA is an MPO and they aren't directly democratic. Its board members aren't elected by the region and are only accountable to folks in their home municipality. This is at the root of the agency's dysfunction. It is governed by a bunch of people whose only incentive is to get as much for their own community as they can.
Democracy in the United States, and in the NOACA region, is representative. We elect representatives to operate government on our behalf, and that representation begins at the local and county level in Ohio. There are no multi-county elected government officials anywhere in Ohio. If you want to change the system of American government, you’ll need to direct your comments to higher authorities than NOACA.
That said, I’ve heard exurban officials on the NOACA board argue strongly in favor of the Innerbelt and HealthLine projects, and we commonly see elected officials voting for projects that are beyond their jurisdictions. While it would be absurd to argue that there are no parochial interests at the NOACA board table, I think you’d find the regional perspective among these individuals is alive and well.
Q. I just heard, NOACA didn't get any applications from outside the state of Ohio for their director position and only one from outside the region, someone from Columbus.
I’m afraid you heard wrong. NOACA received applications from across the country for that position.