A Forum for Public Feedback on Regional...

A Forum for Public Feedback on Regional Transportation Decisions is Needed

Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

NOACA is Cleveland's regional planning agency, responsible for dispersing millions in federal transportation dollars that shape our region for better or worse. But they engage in almost zero formal public outreach with the NE Ohio public in order to gain feedback. So I wanted to create a place where people could send feedback to this agency. If you have thoughts or suggestions about how NOACA works, post them below. I have quite a few :)

Participants (16) See All

What do you think?

Anonymous
on 2014-09-22T06:11:21+00:00
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Jason Segedy
on Oct 20, 2011
"Here's an interesting article about Portland's efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled, by..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 18, 2011
"Right everyone is invited. Conservatives and liberals. But somehow if conservatives don't respond..."
Daryl Rowland
on Oct 18, 2011
"Angie, I think invoking the phrase "fair and balanced" does nothing but make Roger Ailes..."
Jason Segedy
on Oct 18, 2011
"The article that you posted is fascinating and contains some great observations about the..."
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 18, 2011
"You could say the same thing about the concern I raised earlier - that the real names policy is a..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 18, 2011
"I think, no matter how hard you guys work, you aren't going to get a bunch of people on here..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 18, 2011
"I think you guys should be careful about this "fair and balanced" approach, especially if it..."
Alex Keleman
on Oct 17, 2011
"Daryl, I do want you to make it better, because it is unique in its mission. You made the..."
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 17, 2011
"I'm not at all talking about special treatment. What I am suggesting is that  I think the Civic..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011
"Give me a break."
Jason Segedy
on Oct 17, 2011
"I agree.  We need all voices represented here.  There is common ground and consensus to be had. ...."
Lia Lockert
on Oct 17, 2011
"Angie, I respect your ideas and applaud your efforts but I feel you've crossed the line with your..."
Jason Segedy
on Oct 17, 2011
"My comments weren't intended to hate-on Streetsboro.  They were intended to point out the fact..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011
"Does that mean that he deserves special treatment because on this one forum he is an oppressed..."
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 17, 2011
"I agree that male, middle class, suburbanite, white, etc. voices certainly have ample opportunity..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011
"Nobody's saying Streetsboro shouldn't exist. That is a vast simplification of these disccusions...."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011
"Yeah. The poor undersung male, middle-class suburbanite perspective. When will they finally get..."
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 16, 2011
"Alex, From the little bits you have posted here, I suspect your opinions are quite different..."
Daryl Rowland
on Oct 16, 2011
"Alex, I take responsibiltity for the "Sprawlfest" title, which was an internal joke made public..."
Alex Keleman
on Oct 16, 2011
"Daryl, When CC sponsors a "Sprawlfest" meetup then you are assuming a position. What if we..."
Daryl Rowland
on Oct 16, 2011
"Alex, there is no intended "Civic Commons Narrative," as you described it.  I hope you will..."
Alex Keleman
on Oct 15, 2011
"Jsaon, I surprised your hatin' on the Streestboro! Not my taste either, but it serves its..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 15, 2011
"I couldn't agree more. I think that is a big problem and a major incentive for sprawling,..."
Jason Segedy
on Oct 14, 2011
"Recent ODOT policy has been to pay for (all or part of) many resurfacing projects on state routes..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 14, 2011
"Did they change that townships get free roads thing? Suburban townships are the biggest scam."
Jason Segedy
on Oct 14, 2011
"While the cyncial part of of me finds some of the statements about the "creative class" disliking..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 14, 2011
"Jonathan, Again, I really appreciate your responses. I feel like this has been really valuable...."
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 14, 2011
"That's not realy accurate.  NOACA's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee routinely reviews and..."
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 13, 2011
"Angie, I'm sorry to hear about your boyfriend and your neighbor. I hope they're ok. You should..."
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 12, 2011
"Yes, that's what I always hear. But I don't see it. My boyfriend got hit by a car last week. My..."
Alex Keleman
on Oct 11, 2011 - 10:22 am

I've been reluctant to jump into this conversation in that it appeared more like a feud between a former employee and employer. Now that it has changed direction a bit, here's ome perspecitve from another MPO where  I routinely provide citizen input.

At AMATS there are 3 groups, the Policy Committee, made up of voting members - Mayors, City Managers, or designates of each community and some organizations (transit, etc) in Summit, Portage and part of Wayne county. Unlike NOACA, votes are not weighted by community, though the feds are trying to force all MPOs to change that (it was in the last Transporation bill).

Policy meets during the day, as does the Technical Advisory Committee, which is made up of engineers. They meet during the day, as I suspect NOACA does, because their evenings are taken up by Council meetings and committees in their own communities. Each city and city committee meets on a different night. It would be a nightmare to get a quorum during the evening.

We have a third committee, the Citizens Involvement Committee which does meet at night. The CIC meets a week before the Policy Committee, and votes and comments on the same agenda items.  This way, Policy will have our input. (citizen input is required by federal law for MPOs).

Our results are reported to Policy, especially when the issue was controversial. One of us from CIC tries to attend the Policy meeting and commnet if we feel our position requires extra explanation. What they do with it is another matter. They are not required to consider either the TAC or CIC recommendations, though I believe sometimes we can move the needle a bit.

 

Responses(3)

Jason Segedy
on Oct 11, 2011

Alex and his colleagues on our Citizens Involvement Committee really bring an important perspective.  They keep the planners and elected officials grounded, and I can honestly say that of our three committees, those are the meetings that I enjoy the most. 

People are there because they want to be there, and that is really refreshing.  Alex and the others on the CIC come because they truly care about their communities and the rest of the region.  It is inspiring to see people take time out of their busy schedules, and even off of work, to participate.

The afternoon versus evening Board/Policy Committee meeting is a tough issue.  Alex is right that obtaining a quorum in the evening could be difficult.  On the other hand, an evening Board meeting would certainly be more conducive to public participation.  This is something that I will be mulling over.

Increased online dialogue (at places like the Civic Commons) would be one way forward.  The Civic Commons did come to one of our Policy Commitee meetings this year and we encouraged the elected officials to participate in these online conversations.  I am hopeful that we can continue to "break the ice" with regards to using these types of tools for the public and elected officials to engage one another.

 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 11, 2011

That is really interesting. I wonder if that would be a good thing for us to have in Cleveland.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 11, 2011

Good points, Alex. The evening meeting issue is a tough one for the reasons you outlined. Getting a quorum in the evenings is dicey, mainly because so many elected officials have scheduling conflicts. Having a board or committee that repeatedly fails to reach a quorum is not a good use of anyone's time.

We don't have a citizens committee, but we do have non-governmental representatives on a number of our committees and councils, including the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC), the Air and Water Quality Committees, and the Transportation Advisory Committee.

I'm not sure which approach is better, but I think there are advantages to both approaches. A citizens commitee brings in a lot of unfiltered opinion from the public. On the other hand, having citizens on technical committees allows technical experts and non-governmental participatants to educate one another with their information and viewpoints. We often see peoples' viewpoints evolve over time as a result of that mix of perspectives.

A good committee process is invaluable because it allows technical and policy issues to be hashed out before they reach the board level. One reason why we have so few contentious votes at the board level is because the committee process works well. I really appreciate the work our committee members do for the region.

 
Expand This Thread
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 11, 2011 - 7:37 am

Thanks again for the thoughtful responses. I would like to add our own biking perspective.  During the early years of the nonprofit ClevelandBikes (2003-05), we approached NOAOCA about funding and even put in for discretionary money and CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Qaulity) money for our activities. We did not get any funding and were informally told that CMAQ money was generally used for traffic light synchronization.  Not to denigrate light synchronization for motorists and preventing idling, but bicycling is a useful and productive strategy as well and modest CMAQ support for cycling has been a productive and successful route in other cities. 

 

Responses(37)

Jason Segedy
on Oct 11, 2011

These are good comments.  You should also be aware that there has been talk in Washington about getting rid of the Transportation Enhancement funding program (which is primarily used to construct bike paths, bike lanes, and sidewalks).

There is a prevalent view in Washington today that these types of projects are a waste of money, and what we should be doing is to spend more of our scarce resources on expanding roads and building new roads.  I would argue that we don't have sufficient funding to repair our existing roads, let alone build new ones.  We could fix our aging roads and bridges AND build better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, IF the federal government instead decided to revamp its funding policies and prohibited the use of federal funds to add new highway capacity.  There could be limited exceptions for safety reasons, in cases where there is a demonstrated traffic crash problem.  I think we have to revamp the entire Federal highway program so that it has a "fix-it-first" focus.

This might sound like a radical step, but unless Washington raises fuel taxes, there is not enough money to be all things to all people.  We have an infrastructure maintenance problem in this country, and a sprawl problem, an a lack of alternatives to driving (increasingly expensive to fuel) cars.   Oh, and we also have a massive federal deficit, and a real estate crisis, and an energy crisis.  States and local governments could still decide to add lanes to a congested road on their own dime.  But this would go a long way toward shoring up our decaying infrastructure, and providing more transportation alternatives. 

Any of you that are interested in this issue should contact members of our Congressional delegation and our two Senators and encourage them to preserve transportation enhancement funding.

Some on the far-right may argue that this is economically unsound or somehow socialistic.  I think it is the opposite.  Washington encouraged sprawl 50 years ago.  It picked "winners" then.  It could just as easily discourage it now, if it had the political will to do so.  This isn't an anti-growth idea.  It's about channeling new growth into areas where the infrastructure already exists.  It is a very fiscally conservative idea.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 11, 2011

Jason, you hit the nail on the head regarding federal transportation funding policy. I would only add that people should ask their Member of Congress to not only preserve transportation enhancement (TE) funding, but to increase infrastructure funding overall. This is a problem that's reaching crisis proportions.

My view is that TE is under attack mainly because we're living in a time of scarcity. When TE has to compete with basic highway and transit preservation projects for scarce dollars, enhancements lose. If infrastruture was properly funded overall, TE would be seen as what it is: a small set-aside to make our infrastructure more attractive a user-friendly. This never used to be seen as a problem. 

 

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 11, 2011

Kevin, I'm not sure offhand what project you're referring to, but it was probably rejected for CMAQ funding simply because ClevelandBikes doesn't meet the federal requirements for being a project sponsor. Generally speaking, only local communities, counties, transit agencies and ODOT are recognized as CMAQ-eligible project sponsors. Non-profit organizations aren't eligible. Our hands are tied in situations like this.

 
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 12, 2011

Actually, the formal request for support fror ClevelandBikes was from the City of Cleveland, to avoid the point you raise.  At any rate, we did not receive funding.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 11, 2011

Did NOACA ever do anything to help ClevelandBikes, Kevin? Or were they always an obstacle? I'm curious.

 

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 11, 2011

Again, federal regulations preclude giving CMAQ funding to non-profits. However, we have given ClevelandBikes a seat at the committee table, where I think they've provided useful input to the NOACA process.

It's worth noting that we routinely use CMAQ to advance bike and transit projects through recognized project sponsors. We've used CMAQ for the Healthline project, the Towpath trail, and dozens of other transit and bike projects. Our current Transportation Improvement Program (available on our home page) contains nearly $25 million in CMAQ for the Towpath Trail alone.

 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 12, 2011

Yes, that's what I always hear. But I don't see it.

My boyfriend got hit by a car last week. My nextdoor neighbor got hit the month before.

I ride my bike everyday through Detroit Shoreway, Ohio City, Tremont and Downtown and I never cross a bike lane. There isn't one piece of infrastructure for us, except a bike lane that ends in the middle of a bridge.

I don't see any consicous effort by any elected officials or government agencies to keep people like me safe, only to move cars speedily though our neighborhoods. We fight for bike improvements all the time, only to be told they're too expensive, but we spare not expense for highways and bridges. The inner-belt, the shoreway, it's the same old story. Car travel is priviledged above all other modes.

There is a bike lane in the industrial valley I use sometimes. The only reason it is even there is because of the tow path. So it crosses Jennings right near the highway interchange. But is there a crosswalk? Any marking whatsoever? Or course not! What is the point of a bike lane if it incorporates a dangerous and unmarked crossing? That is what passes for transportation planning in this region.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 13, 2011

Angie, I'm sorry to hear about your boyfriend and your neighbor. I hope they're ok.

You should know that markings for bikes and pedestrians really aren't planning issues; they're basic street maintenance issues. MPOs don't do street maintenance. You might want to give your city council representative a call about getting some markings on the street in the location you mentioned.

A lot of safety issues can be remedied with low-cost, basic kinds of improvements -- such as painted markings, clearer signage, trimming trees, removing visual barriers, etc. We work with local communities and ODOT to conduct roadway safety audits that identify just these kinds of issues. You can find examples in the Publications/Transportation/Reports tab on our website. 

Unfortunately, it's a small program and we can't be everywhere, so we tend to focus on high-traffic locations with identified safety issues. That's why it's always good for cyclists and pedestrians to communicate with the city on these kinds of problems.

 
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 14, 2011

That's not realy accurate.  NOACA's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee routinely reviews and advises on road projects and recommends signage, along with physical treatment like bicycle lanes, wide shoulders and the like. It's very much poart of NAOCA's responsibilities and far better to be included at the outset, than to add improvements later on or encounter needless safety risks and injuries because readily implemented changes weren't considered.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 14, 2011

Jonathan,

Again, I really appreciate your responses. I feel like this has been really valuable.

Can I ask you for one more favor? Could you read the attached article? I wish I could have the entire NOACA leadership read it along with the board. It explains my concerns about planning efforts in the Cleveland region exactly.

There is one part in particular that stood out to me. The writer talks about how regional leaders "live in a different cultural universe" from young, mobile talent. I think there's a lot of truth to this.

We need a better balance between healthy suburban communities and healthy urban ones. There is a lot that could be done from the transportation planning side to address this issue of primary importance to the future of our region.

Thanks again!

 

Angie

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 14, 2011

While the cyncial part of of me finds some of the statements about the "creative class" disliking sprawl perhaps a bit overstated, or too clever by half, this article makes some absolutely amazing points about quality of place, or lack thereof.  Even more prescient is its "outing" of a political and business culture that doesn't even consider this to be an issue:

"It’s almost like the people running things are profoundly disconnected from the reality that many if not most talented knowledge workers find our region’s paradigm of extreme suburbanization to be highly unattractive. It seems to me that we are halfway through a 100 year death spiral in which the forces in support of the status quo become relatively stronger as people with vision and ambition just give up and leave. As we descend this death spiral, we must in my mind be approaching the point of no return, where the constituency for reform dwindles below a critical threshold and the region’s path of self destruction becomes unalterable."

And I think this observation is dead-on and equally applicable to NEO:

"The attitude of many in our region is that our problems are confined to Detroit city while the suburbs are thought to be lovely."

We do just flat-out have some ugly places (lots of them actually).  And they will get uglier as they age and fall into disrepair.  Aesthetics rarely play into our private and public sector development and planning discussions.  This is an American cultural problem that is especially prevalent in these parts.  Our cultural temperament is extremely biased toward an "engineering" ethos rather than an "artistic" one.  We choose "function" over "form" to a fault.  The planning discipline itself has evolved from the artistry of Burnham's City Beautiful movement to the allegedly functional technocracy of Le Corbusier.  We are culturally the poorer for it.

There are all sorts of issues not mentioned in this letter involving the intersection between race, class, and quality of place as well.  Too many of our planning "best practices" cater only to white, upper middle class folks.  And this is as true, or even truer, in Boulder, or Austin, or Portland as it is here.  We have to ask ourselves, "What are we doing to create better places for people who are poor, or black, or both, that have the same needs (well-planned communities) as everyone else?"  I'm afraid that the answer is "Not nearly enough." 

Even basic infrastructure maintenance can contain this implicit class-based bias.  This policy is relaxing, but it used to be ODOT urban paving policy that municipalities were responsible for resurfacing their own roads, but ODOT would foot the bill in townships.  Ostensibly, because they were "rural" - but in fact, many Ohio townships are urban.  I remember Jay Williams, former Youngstown mayor, saying that people would cross the corp line from Boardman Twp into Youngstown and say "Look, they are so dysfunctional, they can't even take care of their own roads. . .no wonder no one wants to invest in or live here." when the reality was that Boardman was getting its roads paid for by the state, while Youngstown wasn't.  And Youngstown truly does have a horribly weakened tax base, on top of that fact.  Now, how is that fair or equitable?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 14, 2011

Did they change that townships get free roads thing? Suburban townships are the biggest scam.

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 14, 2011

Recent ODOT policy has been to pay for (all or part of) many resurfacing projects on state routes in cities.  This would include small cities (Independence) as well as big cities (Cleveland).  This has been a welcome change that, I believe, began under the Taft administration and continued through the Strickland and Kasich administrations.

But overall, I think that our statewide and countywide policies are still biased toward townships.  The notion that most township dwellers are rural residents is about 40 years out of date.  While it is true that most Ohio townships are rural, if one were to look at the numbers, I would wager that most Ohio township RESIDENTS are in fact urbanites.  I was in Anderson Twp outside of Cincinnati a few weeks ago.  It didn't feel like a Township to me.  It felt like a city.  So I looked it up - 43,000 people.  Boardman Twp, which I mentioned earlier, isn't much smaller than Youngstown itself.  It is a city for all-intents and purposes. 

It's true that townships don't have the same tax base that cities do, but I think they are, especially in urban areas, a fairly archaic form of government.  Their typically lax planning standards and loose controls on development often result in something that is the worst of both worlds - and an even more undesirable (in this writer's opinion) hybrid of urban and rural than one finds in most suburban cities and villages.  

Many of the negative aesthetic issues raised in an earlier post reach their nadir in townships.  Townships developed primarily on this not-urban, not-rural model run into significant problems as they mature, even if they do incorporate.  One need look no further than Streetsboro to see how it is almost impossible to retroactively create a sense of place or aesthetic beauty in a place that never was a "town" to begin with.  Neighboring Hudson provides an interesting contrast, which is not just due to greater wealth.  There is a true sense of place there - which I believe, coupled with a desirable geographic location, was a major factor in its attractiveness.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 15, 2011

I couldn't agree more. I think that is a big problem and a major incentive for sprawling, unplanned, auto-oriented communities that are syphoning wealth from Ohio's cities.

It wouldn't be so disappointing if the communities we were creating weren't so subpar. Boardman Township in Youngstown is a great example of the problems this model presents. They are completely broke. They can't issue an income tax, so their property taxes are really high, placing a high burden on retirees, and putting the schools in a bad position.

I used to report on that community. They were largely reliant on the estate tax. Which, you know, isn't the most stable source of funding. They had to just hope a rich person would die every year.

Plus 224 in Boardman, perfect example of the value of urban planning. That road is a nightmare by any standard. I remember there was a group that used to rate cities across the country. Youngstown-Boardman MSA was rated among the worst places to live every year. The organization described Boardman as "an unremarkable suburb." Which is a nice way of putting it.

 
Alex Keleman
on Oct 15, 2011

Jsaon,

I surprised your hatin' on the Streestboro!

Not my taste either, but it serves its purpose. if I had to shop exclusively in Hudson I would have to get to the local office supply store before they closed at 5, and maybe wait a week for them to order in the item I needed. I can go to Staples and get it like that, for less than the Hudson merchant can by it for. And you know what, I save money for my business. Not a hypothetiical, its how it was 10-15 years ago. That local store is out of busines, no loss for us. Big Box- 1, local lame part-time merchant-0.

There's a place in Streetsboro for the people that want to live there, and can afford a yard etc. but can't afford a Hudson or Aurora. Not everyone needs a "sense of place,"' or puts that high a priiority on it. That New England square  takes me an extra 20 minutes to nagivate through town, the price we pay for that "quaintness."

Too many of the contributors here feel those Streetsboro people don't have that right to choose- that they should stay in Maple Heights on their  30 ft. wide lot and their 1905's home with 2 bedoroms and a single bath. They don't live, as Greater Ohio puts it, in a "place that matters."

BTW, I wish you would contribute your thougths to my RPI post. Everyone else would just wish the post to go away, because it doesn't fit the Civic Commons narrative.

 

 

 
Daryl Rowland
on Oct 16, 2011

Alex, there is no intended "Civic Commons Narrative," as you described it.  I hope you will contiue to give voice to the counter-narrative in this case and invite new voices to our conversations to support alternative viewpoints.  The Civic Commons must be a neutral site to fulfill its mission. Our hope is to bring the full spectrum of ideas to the table and generate imaginative solutions that suit no entrenched narrative. 

 
Alex Keleman
on Oct 16, 2011

Daryl,

When CC sponsors a "Sprawlfest" meetup then you are assuming a position.

What if we sponsored a Cuyahoga County-based government seminar and called it "Corruptionfest?" Both express an opinion.

Or when Dan does a radio show about tax sharing and equates the concept  to giving blood, asking listeners, "don't you care about urban areas, wouldn't you be willing to give?"For most of us, we already gave at the office -literally- when our income taxes were siphoned off in our work city. (Most states don't have a local income tax, btw)

Again, "don't you care" is a"when did you stop beating your wife?"" loaded question, hardly neutral.

You say differing opnions are welcome, but most of the time one occurs, you get crickets in response. Better I should write about a dozen copycat protesters sort of camping in downtown Cleveland. Now THAT gets the readers talking!

Thanks to you for engaging me. I'll contine to comment as time allows, but I don't hold out much hope for responses, intelligent or otherwise.

 
Daryl Rowland
on Oct 16, 2011

Alex, I take responsibiltity for the "Sprawlfest" title, which was an internal joke made public in a perhaps failed effort to lend a bit of levity to civics. But more importantly, yes, we may reveal biases in our summaries or comments on the site, but we need to be called on those biases and asked to unpack them in public.  The fact that we are imperfect doesn't mean we are insincere in our broad goals for the Civic Commons. Several of us had a conversation last week about the need to seek a wider spectrum of opinions.  Please help us to be better.

 
Alex Keleman
on Oct 17, 2011

Daryl,

I do want you to make it better, because it is unique in its mission.

You made the assertion that CC was unbiased, I responded that from my point of view, it hasn't been.  And you answered. Thanks!

I'm not asking for special treatment, and I don't take any of it personally.

I was trying to point out that for some of those who don't agree, or who would take it persoanlly, they would simply walk away. Enough of them leave, then you don't  have a dialogue, you have an echo chamber.

There are enough of those places already on the net.

This is new ground for all of us.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 18, 2011

I think you guys should be careful about this "fair and balanced" approach, especially if it doesn't evolve that way naturally.

The media is under a lot of pressure to always present both sides of the argument, no matter whether each side has equal merit. This in itself is a disortion of the truth, and tends toward partisan, counterproductive shouting matches.

I love how all it takes is for one conservative guy to cry liberal bias to bring the whole discussion to a standstill and cause the organization to reevaluate its whole mission. This is the same trap the papers fell into.

It's called the "view from nowhere." Nobodies' views are better than anyone elses'. There is no objective truth. Some people think global warming is a global conspiracy theory and their views are just as valid as those that are based in fact etc.

 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 18, 2011

I think, no matter how hard you guys work, you aren't going to get a bunch of people on here making intelligent arguments that we should continue our current scattershot approach to transportation spending and housing development.

It's just not working. The region is sinking.

I think it's sort of a hard argument to make that we shouldn't be more strategic about how we spend public money and make informed decisions about way we want our communities to evolve.

There are certainly plenty of people that support neverending suburban development in this region, but I'll wager a bet most of them haven't given it a ton of critical thought, otherwise, I'm sure, they'd be here right along with Alex.

This Streetsboro case is a perfect example. Jason thinks Streetsboro is, um, lacking, in so many words. I think Streetsboro basically sucks. Even Alex thinks Streetsboro has some liabilities. Streetsboro residents themselves think the community has made some mistakes in the way it was developed.

This is not a controversial issue. It is self-evident. What's the point in trying to spin it into some false dichotomy with "conservatives" defending unsustainable spending levels for auto infrastructure and "liberals" arguing we try something new.

 

 
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 18, 2011

You could say the same thing about the concern I raised earlier - that the real names policy is a barrier to participation by people who feel unsafe disclosing their biases/interest in a conversation when that disclosure is attached to their real life identity (e.g. members of the GLBT community, undocumented immigrants, people living with mental illness, etc.)  In fact, several people did say the same thing. 

The barrier I brought to the attention of the Civic Commons is more likely to impact people on the opposite end of the political spectrum.  Regardless of the viewpoint  of the person feeling excluded, the issue is identical: it is critically important for the Civic Commons to include the broadest range of voices possible in the conversations.

Solutions that are not subject to being abandoned in the next power shift need to be created taking into account as many of the perspectives of this broadly diverse community as we can gather.  When the Civic Commons creates barriers to participation (deliberately - as in the real names policy, or unintentionally - as in the perceived bias of the voice adopted by the Civic Commons) it is a real risk to the success of this audacious experiment.

There is no reason for substantive discussion to halt - but there is every reason for the Civic Commons to really listen carefully to anyone who is interested in participating, but feels the Civic Commons is (actively or passively) discouraging his or her participation.

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 18, 2011

The article that you posted is fascinating and contains some great observations about the American press. 

I agree that the discourse on this site has to evolve naturally.  I don't think we want the type of contrived, binary discussions that you see so often in the mainstream media. 

I also think that it is self-evident that the contributors, by virtue of their participation in the community, and their interest in a given topic, are unlikely, except by sheer accident, to hold views that are representative of the community at-large.  My guess is that we will not have a lot of participants on this site that do not have a college degree.  I am virtually certain that we won't hear from anyone that is functionally illiterate, and we absolutely will not run across anyone here that does not have access to the internet. 

I think that people that hold a "conservative" viewpoint are likely to be underrepresented on a site like this for a variety of philosophical, cultural, and sociological reasons which are not worth going into right now.  I'm not sure what exactly can be done about this, other than to encourage those that are here to participate, and to maintain a civil enough discourse that all future participants feel welcome. 

In fact, we won't even necessarily see opinions that are representative of the registered "community" on this site, because I would wager that the "lurkers" outnumber the active participants at least 50 to 1.  Their silence is likely to correlate with some common attribute that is not shared by the contributors.

I say these things to disabuse anyone of the notion that the opinions expressed on this site are a reliable barometer of public opinion.  I'm not sure if anything is a reliable barometer of public opinion (including the ballot box), but if there is one, this site is not it.

Having said all that, I am not at all confident that most issues that we will be discussing have only "two" sides, and I am even less confident that they lend themselves to abstract, highly subjective, and idealized concepts such as "objective truth" or "facts" that can be confidently described as having "merit".  I think the term "fact" is tossed around far too casually nowadays. 

There are few objective truths in the realm of public policy and civic discourse; there are not even that many in the universe at large, and my guess is that we will not be discussing any of them here.  Not to get too postmodern on you, but I think that most of the things that we commonly refer to as truths, are in fact social constructs, subject to individual interpretation.  There is often a direct correlation between how confident speakers are of their position, and how confident they "need to be" to serve their purposes. 

No, instead, of discussing tautologies like 2+2=4, or the self-evident case for the existence of human reason as a foundational principle for all human knowledge, we are, in fact, mucking through the miry expanse of questions like "What is urban sprawl?"  "Does urban sprawl have a direct impact upon our economic well-being?"  "If so, how much of an impact does it have?"  "Assuming that it does have an impact, do the benefits (whatever those may be) still outweigh the costs (however we manage to quantify them)?" 

This is messy stuff, and in these types of discussions, I'm not confident that we'll discover anything approaching "objective truth" or "fact".  We'll certainly come across facts such as "Streetsboro is an incorporated municipality of 16,028 residents (2010 census), located approximately 30 miles southeast of Cleveland at 41.242455N, -81.349124W", but we'll quickly leave those facts behind and start swimming through the weeds of messy public policy questions.

I don't say this to imply that we should throw up our hands and quit, because we can't find "truth".  There are still plenty of discoveries that we can make together, and if we take the time to listen to one another, build relationships, develop consensus, and get into action together, we can do a whole lot to make this region a better place.

 

 
Daryl Rowland
on Oct 18, 2011

Angie, I think invoking the phrase "fair and balanced" does nothing but make Roger Ailes snicker.  My point about the Civic Commons is not that we give equal weight to facts and fabrications, but that we invite all particpants to argue their views on the merits and produce cogent arguments, built with a reasonable regard for facts. 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 18, 2011

Right everyone is invited. Conservatives and liberals. But somehow if conservatives don't respond enthusiastically enough, it becomes your responsibility to drum up a louder voice from the right? That's ridiculous.

I love that you were just forced to apologize for slipping and using the word sprawl. That's the problem with giving equal weight to everyone's ideas no matter how ridicous they are. You end up as part of this giant conspiracy to preserve some fantasy from someone of the fringe that sprawl doesn't exist in this region.

Everyone who is in a leadership position at the Civic Commons is afraid to even use the word sprawl, that's how "left-leaning" they are. When I appeared on their radio show to talk about sprawl, they were sure to say "some people might call it sprawl, some people might call it economic development." (By the way, it was two against one on that show but I didn't argue the Civic Commons has a conservative bias. I do think they have a conservative bias, but not in the common sense of the word.)

In Cleveland losing 17 percent of our central city population in just 10 years while seeing 30 percent growth in Medina county is not enough to prompt civic leadership to dare to utter the word "sprawl."

This is the same BS we get from our regional planning agency. They are also too afraid to upset people like Alex. And so we continue to design a region for people like him. And the poor, and minorities, the handicapped, young people, well we dismiss people like that -- people like me -- as radical trouble makers if they dare open their mouths.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 16, 2011

Alex,

From the little bits you have posted here, I suspect your opinions are quite different from mine on most issues, and I don't necessarily agree with you that sponsoring a physical gathering to discuss the most active conversation which was started by a community member is expressing a Civic Commons viewpoint.

I do agree with you, though, that the Civic Commons needs to work on developing a more neutral voice when it is the Civic Commons (not individual community members) speaking.

There are aspects of the Civic Commons voice that I have taken issue with both publicly, and privately when I found the voice uninviting or painful.From an entirely different perspective, one thing I haven't yet said to anyone (and I probably should have) is that The Civic Commons is actually the first public conversation space that has made me feel old (actually the first place, period).  It was enough of a barrier when I started exploring the Civic Commons that I doubt I would have hung around had I not had a personal connection.  Just a quick example - a recent Civic Commons tweet: "@joecimperman: @wallywaterdrop and Monday!@civiccommons has deets!" email danmoulthrop at theciviccommons.com.  Huh???  I think I have interpreted it, but it was not intuitive, and among other things I had to resort to doing a search to find some meaning for deet other than the insect repellant ingredient...

In its attempt to be inviting, optimistic, punchy, and (dare I say) young, some of the tone ends up being alienating - or at least less inviting to segments of the population with a different conversational style/tone/language - without anyone ever intending it to be that way.  So even though I am probably politically closer to the viewpoints expressed by most of the current members of the Civic Commons, the formal voice of the Civic Commons has not always been a comfortable fit for me either.

The Civic Commons isn't responsible for the content or viewpoint which members of the community bring to the table - the intent is to be viewpoint neutral, so people are going to start and contribute to conversations from the viewpoints they hold - and right now they are probably closer to mine than yours.

That is where the Civic Commons team's responsibility comes in - to set a tone that is inviting to a broad spectrum of the population of NE Ohio, so that people with a broader spectrum of viewpoints will choose to become members of the Civic Commons - and it has not always done that well. 

So - I encourage you to stick around, point out when the Civic Commons is being tone deaf to the way its formal voice sounds to your segment(s) of the population.  We need to hear a broad spectrum of viewpoints to succeed, so the Civic Commons needs to fine tune its voice to make you to feel invited (even - and especially - if you don't agree with everyone you meet on the Commons), and it can't do that without your help.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011

Yeah. The poor undersung male, middle-class suburbanite perspective. When will they finally get their fair shake in the NE Ohio media, or civic institutions for that matter?

Did you think they started a forum on civic issues in order to reinforce the dominate narrative? What would be the point?

You are free to start your own discussions just like other people have. If no one's interested in them, I don't see how the Civic Commons staff is to blame. Everyone has listened to your ideas and responded thoughtfully. This poor conservative victim thing just seems like a way to silence viewpoints that are different from your own.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 17, 2011

I agree that male, middle class, suburbanite, white, etc. voices certainly have ample opportunity to be heard in a variety of forums - and that in many forums those voices often drown out voices like yours and mine.  If you have read other things I have posted, you know I am am an annoyingly persistent advocate for eliminating the barriers to participation and making sure underrepresented voices feel welcome to participate here.

But - I feel equally strongly that voices like Alex's also need to feel welcome here.  Otherwise all we end up doing is trading power back and forth based on whoever is currently in charge of the gavel.  The only way we come out ahead is to have all of our voices at the table so that we work out solutions that meet all of our needs, not just the needs of those who currently control the forum (whatever that forum might be).

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011

Does that mean that he deserves special treatment because on this one forum he is an oppressed minority? Interesting. I wonder if Alex would agree.

Because to me that smacks of priviledge.

 
Nancy Reeves
on Oct 17, 2011

I'm not at all talking about special treatment.

What I am suggesting is that  I think the Civic Commons needs to examine its tone (and to listen when anyone - white middle class men included - says this place feels biased) in the same way I think the Civic Commons needs to get over its hangup about pseudonymity, because requiring real names shuts out a different segment of the population.

This is important, not because I need a forum in which to run my mouth - or because white middle class men don't already dominate most public discourse - but because the Civic Commons needs all of our voices at the table in order to be able to create robust solutions that won't just be tossed aside when the power shifts again.

I have no desire to participate in an echo chamber - even if it is echoing solutions I happen to think are the most wonderful solutions in the world.  But that is exactly what the Civic Commons will become if does not attend to setting a tone and policies which are inviting to a broad spectrum of the population of NE Ohio.

 

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 17, 2011

I agree.  We need all voices represented here.  There is common ground and consensus to be had. . .If we take the time to find and achieve it.  It is not an exercise in instant gratification - it is hard work.

The shame of this society that we live in, and this has utterly disgusted me my entire adult life, is that we have taken the lazy way out and have instead chosen to rant from within the safety of our own echo-chambers, occasionally lobbing the odd grenade over the wall.  Few people listen, and even fewer care, what anyone that they perceive to not be like them thinks. 

This site and forum should strive (and I believe is striving) to give us something better than what I can find watching MSNBC, Fox News, the Republican presidential debate, or a speech by President Obama.

The world is a big, bad, complicated place with a lot of people that think a lot of different things about a lot of different topics.  If we are all going to make it a better place, we should all be able to talk to one another - not as one abstract viewpoint to another, but as one imperfect and fallible human being to another.

It all comes down to personal relationships.  We should be building them.  Nothing important in life happens without them.  Just ask Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.

 

 
Lia Lockert
on Oct 17, 2011

Angie, I respect your ideas and applaud your efforts but I feel you've crossed the line with your tone. Reasonable people will disagree, but let's do it without resorting to label-slinging. 

I take issue with two statements: "poor undersung male, middle-class suburbanite perspective" and "poor conservative victim thing."  How do either of those phrases further the conversation?

Fact-based conversations about concepts are sufficient to state the case and maybe even wake folks up enough to make some changes.  There's no need to resort to language that makes assumptions and dismisses a person and his/her point of view.

Let's agree to stick to the issues and argue ideas without disparaging each other.

 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011

Give me a break.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 17, 2011

Nobody's saying Streetsboro shouldn't exist. That is a vast simplification of these disccusions. If people want to live in unplanned, autocentric communities with no cultural resources, greenspace or historic value in NE Ohio, they have their choice of literally dozens or remarkablly similar places.

On the other hand, we need healthy communities like Maple Heights too. You will defend people's rights to live in the suburbs to the death. What about people that don't want to spend all their time driving? What about people that value diversity? Don't they have a right to live in a healthy community of their choosing also?

Streetsboro's right to exist and those people's right to live in the community of their choosing doesn't override Maple Height's right to do the same. Right now, communities like Maple Heights are suffering so that people in Streetsboro might save a few bucks on their taxes. That is a result of many policy decisions that have favored new development, not infill.

It's not a fair or sustainable arrangement.

We have built more communities than we can sustain in this region. To keep building more communities, especially of the Streetsboro variety with its numerous negative externalities for the region, is irresponsible.

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 20, 2011

Here's an interesting article about Portland's efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled, by retrofitting suburban areas:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2011/10/in-defense-of-portlands-orenco-station/313/

 

 

 
Daydream%20nation
Jason Segedy
on Oct 17, 2011

My comments weren't intended to hate-on Streetsboro.  They were intended to point out the fact that not all communities are equally functional in terms of their design and layout, nor are they equally desirable (my personal value judgement) in terms of their aesthetic beauty.  The value, or lack thereof, placed upon community planning plays a significant role in these outcomes.

In the case of Streetsboro, my opinion is of little to no consequence, except where it intersects with the desires of residents and their elected representatives to have a better-designed, better layed-out, and more aesthetically pleasing community.

Those desires have been expressed to me in the past by local officials in Streetsboro.  They have expressed a desire to create a traditional town center, because it doesn't have one.  There is a desire to do something about the monstrosity (I think by anyone's standards) that is the intersection of SR 14, SR 43, and SR 303.  And there is a desire to do something about the perennial flooding problem on SR 303, which necessitates the closure of a major state route more than a dozen times a year; presenting both a safety problem (as far as EMS response goes), and an access problem for both Hudson and Streetsboro residents. 

This flooding exists primarily because SR 303 was built through a wetland, but it is also exacerbated by the fact that sprawling retail and residential development, coupled with poor stormwater management practices, dramatically increase the volume of water in the wetland after a heavy rain.  Similar residential flooding problems are cropping up elsewhere in Streetsboro, due to poor planning practices.

And then there is the abandoned Wal-Mart. . .sitting, mouldering away, if you will, just down the street from the new one.  This isn't good for anyone - except for Wal-Mart.

I mention all of these examples only to illustrate this point: "Develop haphazardly in haste, repent at leisure."

Streetsboro residents most certainly have a right to live there.  But I would argue that the place that they love and call home could be a nicer-looking, better planned community.  And I think they deserve one.  It is not my job to tell people where they should live.  But, as a professional planner, I do feel that it is my job to make and then articulate value judgements regarding what constitutes a well-planned community. 

I think that the things you mentioned about the lame part-time merchant and the 30-foot wide lot are really a false-choice.  It is not EITHER live in a "place that matters" that is incredibly exclusive (Hudson) or functionally obsolete (Maple Heights) OR live in a place that is affordable and practical, but functions poorly and is lacking in the aesthetics department (Streetsboro).  That kind of a false-choice sells our conversation short.

I would argue that we can do both - create places that look nice and function properly, but are still affordable and practical.  The degree to which we can balance all of these factors obviously does vary based on the workings of the free market, the vision of civic leaders, and the financial resources available.  But I think we could still build a lot more nice looking places than we currently do.  The fact that we build so few of them today is a failure of vision and imagination on the part of both the public and the private sector.  As I said earlier, our society values "functionality" above all else, and the irony is that we so often end up losing even that.

    

 
800px-abandoned_wal-mart
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 12, 2011

Angie, NOACA did support ClevelandBikes in some ways. Sally Hanley committed a significant amount of organizational time to Bike Week and Bike to Work events, coordinating an employer Bike to Work challenge.  In addition, ClevelandBikes got some financial support for hosting speaker events and planning/coordinating Bike Week, which I believe was $1000, but that was the only direct financial support.

 
Expand This Thread
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 07, 2011 - 9:04 am

Thanks Jonathan and NOACA. I am sorry for any misinformation and glad it was corrected.

A lot of this is truly news to me and good news. Without some sort of formal public outreach, it is hard to know these things even if you are a concerned citizen that is very engaged with transportation issues in NE Ohio. As I mentioned, meetings are during working hours, the website is hard to navigate, NOACA doesn't participate in online forums, it is difficult to know what the agency is up to. I know you guys produce a book-thick Transportation Improvement Plan annually, but you can't honestly expect the general public to refer to that to attempt to understand your organization.

The community really should be engaged in these topics because they're so important. If NOACA was more open, then maybe untrue rumors would be squeched much more quickly. Your response really helped clear things up for me. I think this is really great. Thanks again!

 

Responses(21)

Angie Schmitt
on Oct 07, 2011

Another thing, I can't help myself here. You guys are obviously clueless about the internet. I hope in your next round of hiring your hire someone who understand these things. I love the idea of you guys, all counting the days till your retirement, sitting around discussing Twitter, something you obviously don't understand. The public uses Twitter, much of it, but you guys don't. If you don't use Twitter you are missing a free and easy way to connect with the public. Writing a public engagement process is a good first step, but that doesn't actually count as engaging with the public. Same for bike planning. Writing bike plans is good and well, but a bunch of plans do me about as much good as a hole in the head when I'm trying to get from the west side to downtown safely.

NOACA desperately needs fresh blood and more diversity. The leadership of NOACA, correct me if I'm wrong, is 85 percent white, middle-aged men, who don't understand the internet or think it's very important. That's part of the reason why I think public participation is important. Like it or not, your demographics come with a set of biases and assumptions, whether that is uncomfortableness with social media or a preference for SOV car travel.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 07, 2011

Angie,

I said I wasn't going to engage in a tit-for-tat debate over what amounts to misinformation. I'm also not going to debate you as you denigrate the character and competence of NOACA staff. While you may "love the idea" in your head of who you imagine we are and what you suppose we understand, your snarky attacks do little to move the conversation in a positive direction.

We're very interested in enaging more with the public, but we'd prefer to keep it positive. For now, I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we're working to step up our online presence through a website redesign, an online forum, and a new online project development and review portal. I hope that readers of this blog will check out our site in the coming months as we roll out these improvements to our public involvement efforts.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 07, 2011

Hey I don't mean to be rude. I don't have anything personal against any of you guys. I think you're all very nice people on an individual level. I just think your organization doesn't do a great job with diversity, public outreach or urban development. And I'd like to live in a healthy region. It bothers me on a moral and philosophical level to see an important public body that doesn't seem to be commited to those ideals that are so important to sustainability, equity and economic health.

I'm not the only one who thinks and says this stuff, I'm just the only one who says it to your faces. So take it for what it is: constructive criticism from the voting public. If you guys were a little more proactive in addressing the publics' concern or engaging with the public, I imagine it wouldn't have gotten this far.

Again, I appreciate your response. I would like us to have a positive dialog. But I think you guys need to realize, that in order to do that, you're not always going to be able to control the tone and setting of the debate. You'll have to stand on your merits. If my criticisms are baseless, I imagine you guys don't have much reason to be concerned and they will be dismissed out of hand.

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Oct 07, 2011

Angie, I'm stepping into my role as public moderator for a lot of what happens at the Commons, and I'm asking you to tone down the heat and the rhetoric and to please stop making comments that can be read as personal attacks.  

One of the principles we all agree to here at the Civic Commons is to be civil to one another. We are in the business of making sure everyone feels welcome in the conversation and fostering positive dialogue. That responsibility resides with all of us. 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 07, 2011

What personal attacks? What reason would I have to personally attack anyone at NOACA? I don't know anyone there in any capacity outside their roles as administators of a public agency. I have never personally attacked anyone there outside of their job performance and that is a matter of public concern as they are public servants that are answerable to the public.

For what its worth, I think the Civic Commons should be careful about priviledging certain viewpoints over others. Specifically, limiting conversation that may be controversial or criticism of powerful individuals.

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Oct 07, 2011

Angie--I didn't say you were making personal attacks. I was asking you to be congnizant of the fact that your rhetoric has been heated at times and that some people read your comments as personal attacks. Nobody is privileging anyone's comments over anyone else's. As I said before, we're in the business of making sure everybody feels welcome and able to participate. And I thank you for doing your part. 

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 07, 2011

Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I don't mean to offend. I am just honestly speaking my mind here.

 
Emelio DiSabato
on Oct 07, 2011

Angie and Jonathan, I've very much appreciated reading your interaction here. Even if the conversation has become a little heated, it surely is important that frustrations from the public can be expressed to NOACA. Likewise, it is critical that NOACA respond to these frustrations so that misinformation may be cleared up.

Still, at hand here in this conversation is not so much accuracy of information, but transparency and productive connection with the public. If information is difficult to access, then it is NOACA's responsibility to make it more fluid. I have not been able, for example, to find NOACA's Public Interaction Policy--let alone the "Documents" section--on the website. An updated website cannot come soon enough, and should really be a top priority for NOACA right now. I'm glad to hear that a renewed website is in the works. (A more friendly logo and brand for the organization would be substantially impactful as well.)

Even the "Policies for Public Involvement at NOACA Meetings" document, as another example, is foreboding for those who would be interested in making public comment. Please compare what NOACA states about public participation to how Akron's AMATS presents it. AMATS, to be frank, makes me feel a lot more welcome as a public participant.

On the topic of Twitter, I think that the matter is simple: people use Twitter voraciously, people have requested that NOACA use Twitter, and so NOACA should create a Twitter account as soon as possible. I'd suggest that NOACA's new Twitter feed give regular updates on the progress towards a new, beautiful, well-branded website that would make the public proud.

And to Angie's point about diversity on the governing board -- what we're looking for here is strong, visionary leadership. That comes about in part from a diverse board, with younger people and more people of color. We want to be as proud of our regional governments and planning agencies as Portland, Ore. residents are of theirs. This is why I see our Civic Commons discussion as so important, and why I am so appreciative that you have engaged with us, Jonathan. For my part, as a citizen, I will strive to be better informed on NOACA's policies and publications so that we can all work for a livible, sustainable, people-centric region.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 07, 2011

Emelio, Thanks for weighing in.

Actually, the Public Interaction Policy is in the Publications tab on the left side of our home page. There's a flyout for agency policies, and you'll find the PIP in there. I agree that it's not as intuitive as it should be. Please bear with us as we redesign the site.

I also agree that the AMATS link you provided is a nice, clean, user-friendly approach. In the past we've often over-relied on references to our policy documents to tell our story, and I think that's been a mistake. I'll see what we can do about making that more user-friendly.

As for Twitter, we'll have to see. It's a legitimate tool, and I understand its popularity. We may eventually use Twitter as a tool to point to other content, but we'll have to see. Right now we're working on a few other public involvement tools that I think you'll like. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I greatly appreciate your optimism about how well our website makeover is going to turn out. I'm looking forward to it at least as much as you are.

Regarding diversity on the NOACA Governing Board, you make an important point. It's worth noting that it's the voters who mainly pick our Board members.

The NOACA Board is primarily made up of elected officials (there are some appointed officials as well, e.g., transit and ODOT officials). Board seats belong to the offices our Board members occupy, not the individuals themselves. The Mayor of Cleveland has a seat at the Board, as does the County Executive, etc. Whoever occupies those elected offices sits on our Board. Moreover, Board seats are distributed in proportion to the region's population, so Cuyahoga County and Cleveland have the preponderance of the representation.

I greatly appreciate your desire to be better informed about NOACA. It's our responsibility to meet you halfway, and I think it'll become a lot easier to be informed in the coming months. Thanks for your interest in NOACA.

 
Emelio DiSabato
on Oct 11, 2011

Ok Jonathan, found the Public Interaction Policy. Thanks!

I appreciate all your points here, and I'll be looking forward to future public involvement tools.

I'm wondering if you could tell us more about the NOACA Governing Board. Do other MPOs have a similar Board structure? Do federal guidelines have anything to do with a Board composed mostly of elected officials -- or is the composition articulated only by NOACA's internal bylaws? That is, can NOACA change its own policies so that the community can have a more direct role with the agency? I know GCRTA has its own Citizens Advisory Board -- but to my knowledge, NOACA has no such community role?

 
Dan Moulthrop
on Oct 07, 2011

Jonathan, thank you very much for being willing to engage in the dialogue with the public here at the Civic Commons. It's our hope that more public agencies like NOACA will be willing to take the step that you have, meeting the public where the conversation is. 

You should know that we built and designed (and the Knight Foundation funded) the Civic Commons to be a public utility that citizens, organizations and public agencies can harness to engage the community in dialogue about whatever issues are in need of discussion. This place belongs to NOACA and AMATS and other MPOs as much as it belongs to other public agencies using it (Cleveland Cuyahoga County Port Authority and the City of Cleveland, for instance), citizens of Northeast Ohio, and organizations across the region. 

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 07, 2011

Dan, thanks for the forum, and thanks for trying to make it a place for civil, positive dialogue.

Angie, your comments and criticisms are duly noted. I don't know if we'll ever change your view of us, but I hope people will see the steps we're taking in a positive light. I'm always up for positive dialogue.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 07, 2011

Awesome. Thanks for that. That is all we can ask.

I think with some rather moderate reforms, NOACA could earn my respect and those of people who have not been fairly represented. And the region would be better for everyone. I would love to talk to you guys about it further. Thanks again for hearing me out.

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 07, 2011

I really applaud everyone (Angie, Jonathan, Dan, Emelio) for their comments here.  This type of dialogue is not always easy or fun, but I think that it is really necessary. 

I think it is healthy to strip away some of the institutional and formal barriers to public participation.  As my career has progressed I have discovered with increasing frequency how these barriers are often self-imposed.  Sometimes we live in prisons of our own making.  I can be as guilty of it as anyone.

One example was when we at AMATS updated our public participation plan several years ago.  We had a stipulation (probably dating back to 1962 - who knows?) that said that people could only address the Policy Committee about items that were on the agenda.

And then it occurred to me: What if their comment is that we never put (insert topic here) on the agenda?  Oh. . . .not good.  Can you say self-fulfilling prophecy?

So we changed it.  But it took years for that particular light bulb to come on (I'm a little slow on the uptake).  We may have been following a policy that was created during the Cuban Missile Crisis out of sheer inertia.  Are you kidding me?  Scary.

I can't tell you how much I enjoy being a part of this online community.  I have tried and struggled to find ways to transcend the challenge of public engagement.  There are sporadic successes from time-to-time.  Ours is an inherently obscure profession, so we have to work all the harder to make it transparent, interesting, and engaging.  If I we were running Netflix or Apple (R.I.P. Steve Jobs), it would be easy.  

I think the Civic Commons is doing a fantastic job of helping us to do this.  We have a long way to go, but this site and the opinions expressed here have generated a lot of light. . .and sometimes a little heat.  But that's okay.  Nothing important or worthwhile is easy, or all fun-and-games.

I've blathered about my own (in my "night job" as a private citizen) disgust and disillusionment with our large institutions - governmental, corporate, religious, etc., on this site.  I find it cathartic, and perhaps someone else may even find it helpful (or at least entertaining).

A world full of connected citizens - one that was able to leverage the power of the hive-mind to build something as amazing as Wikipedia, is one that has the power to change our entire system of government.  And God knows that we need to.  Jonathan's comments about the gas tax are a great example.  He's exactly right. 

Read my editorial on the gas tax at the bottom of this page if you get a chance:

http://www.amatsplanning.org/?s=gas+tax

I convinced the elected officials in Summit and Portage counties to vote 15-12 to endorse increasing the gasoline tax.  Unfortunately, we couldn't convince Congress.  But 300 million (okay, I won't rope the kids into this) -- 200+ million of my fellow citizens could convince them.  They work for us.

This country has serious problems - and if we don't fix them soon it is going to be up to Generation X and the Millennials to clean it all up.  I belive that our generations can see more clearly than anyone that our institutions are archaic - they are no longer working for us.  They are hierarchical, vertical, and moribund.  They need to be transformed to something networked, horizontal, and nimble. 

We don't have any money, and we don't have a lot of time.  The sooner we start the transformation, the better.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 07, 2011

Great comments, Jason. Thanks for chiming in.

We should have lunch sometime and talk about public involvement. I'll buy.

 
Jason Segedy
on Oct 11, 2011

Great idea.  I'd like that.  If anything, I should buy you lunch:-) 

Let's chat off-line and see if we can get together sometime soon!

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 09, 2011

I have a couple other quick points to make about your responses, with all due respect (I mean that).

First of all, Jonathan, you say NOACA doesn't have the power to do land use planning. Fine. The truth is you could, it just wouldn't be legally binding. You could develop a land use plan to guide transportation decisions.

Failing that even, what's disappointing to me is that NOACA ignores the land use implications of its transportation planning decisions. (Avon interchange controversy excepted.)

For example, using congestion mitigation and air quality funding to widen roads in the exurbs. This is also a federal issue to be fair, but NOACA shouldn't allow local grantees to use money for air quality imrpovements to widen roads that hasten sprawl and unsustainable car-based development.

You say the agency doesn't use "sprawl" in its documents because you have alluded to that in policy and so it is not necessary. But I say that is a cop out and unacceptable. This region has lost thousands of acres of farmland to low density, unsustainable development over the last few decades and gained no population. That couldn't have happened without the willing hand of our transportation planning agency, at great public expense. And had the agency taken some leadership on the issue of sustainability and land use, our urban areas, and our region overall, would be stronger, more low-income people would be able to reach gainful employment, our air quality would be better and our infrastructure costs lower.

NOACA, correct me if I'm wrong, has more than 100 recommendations on how to improve the region's air quality and promoting dense, walkable, transit-friendly development isn't one of them. That is a failure of leadership, in my opinion, and an abdication of your responsibility as an air quality steward in this region. NOACA is so afraid of upsetting its exurban board members that it has effectively disemboweled its air quality program. That is why sprawl doesn't appear in any of its documents.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 09, 2011

Also, to the point of the board acting in the interests of the region over parochial interests of the communities they represent:

I would argue that the board always, 100% of the time, acts in the best interests of their home community without respect to the health of the region.

You say, the board approved plans for the Euclid Corridor and othe projects that were important to the central city and hold this up as evidence that they can put aside petty rivalries and see the big picture. I would argue, on the other hand, that the board simply approved these projects because Cleveland's turn was up. Just like they each had their turn before. And they approved Cleveland's projects so that Cleveland would approve their projects next time they were up.

If the board was actually acting for the good of the region of a whole, why would every vote they take be unanimous? I would expect, thinking people would disagree from time to time about what's best for the region and express that in votes.

But all the votes for the last several years have been unanimous. That is because the votes are meaningless. Policy is made on the NOACA board by elected officials trading horses prior to the votes taking place. They all approve all projects because they want their projects to be approved when it is their turn. But it cannot be possible that all projects are in the best interests of the region.

Betty Blair, former board president, is a perfect example, correcting anyone who refers to the region as Cleveland, because GDI, she is there to bring home the bacon for Lorian County and she could care less about the city of Cleveland and she doesn't care who knows it. It's people like that that run the NOACA board. Parochial and small minded to the end.

You say as concerned Cleveland residents the best way to affect NOACA policy is to solicit help from board members. But you yourself know, that if every person who lived in Cleveland, all 400,000 of us, got together and appeal to our NOACA board members, that would only give us 1/10 of the vote we'd need.

Exurban residents hold far stronger sway on a per capita basis, because they are better represented on the board. As a result, it's their transportation needs that dominate federal expenditures in the region. And we suffer on an environmental, economic and social justice level as a result.

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 10, 2011

 

Angie,

I said I wasn’t going to engage in a debate over misinformation, so I won’t do so. I also won’t debate your opinions, which you’ve made clear and are entitled to hold.  

However, you have a number of your “facts” wrong again. Let me just quickly correct the factual record:

·        NOACA does not use congestion mitigation and air quality funding to widen roads in the exurbs. Doesn't happen.

·        Contrary to your assertion, promoting walkable, transit-friendly development is very much among NOACA’s recommendations, both for improving air quality and for improving the transportation system. We are very committed to this, which is why GCRTA is one of our two biggest project sponsors. Below are two relevant goals from our transportation plan:

o   Establish a more balanced transportation system which enhances modal choices by prioritizing goods movement, transit, pedestrian and bicycle travel instead of just single occupancy vehicle movement and highways.

o   Direct the Plan and its investments toward efficient, compact land use development/redevelopment that facilitates accessibility, saves infrastructure costs, preserves and enhances farmland, forests and open space and enhances the economic viability of existing communities within the region.

·        Exurban board members have not "effectively disemboweled" NOACA’s air quality program. That’s simply nonsense. NOACA's air quality program is limited by its source of funding. Because we fund the program with federal transportation dollars, there are limits to the scope of the program based on federal regulations. This is why the program focuses strongly on transportation-related emissions issues.

·        As I explained in an earlier post, NOACA planning and policy documents directly address the issue of sprawl. To say otherwise is incorrect.

·        Contrary to your claim, not every vote of the NOACA board is unanimous. Many are, but many are not. I largely attribute the unanimous votes to the fact that there’s nothing particularly controversial about resurfacing a road with poor pavement condition – no matter where that road happens to be.

·        I’ve never heard Betty Blair correct anyone for referring to the region as Greater Cleveland. I doubt this is part of any public record.

·        Exurban residents do not “hold far stronger sway on a per capita basis” because they are “better represented on the Board.” As I explained in an earlier post, board membership is based on population, and Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have the preponderance of the region’s population.

 

As I said in an earlier post, I'm always up for positive and civil discussion. However, because this is turning into a personal rant based on so many specious assertions, I’m going to limit my future participation in this thread.  I think we've made our points, and I trust that reasonable people will separate fact from fiction.

 

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Jason Segedy
on Oct 11, 2011

This is true.  CMAQ funds cannot be used to widen (add through lanes to) roadways.  Federal regulations prohibit using CMAQ funds to add through lanes.

They can be used to add turn lanes and to add a foot or two of width to existing lanes (which, depending on the project, could serve to make a roadway more bike-friendly).

In the Akron area, they are most commonly used for traffic signal synchronization, although, this is beginning to change.  We can also use them for roundabouts, alternative fuel (CNG) buses, sidewalks, bike lanes, and bike paths.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 11, 2011

Ok. Well maybe I'm wrong. Could you clarify what the organization has done to support walkable, densely populated communities and what it has done to address sprawl? I'm honestly curious.

 
Expand This Thread
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 03, 2011 - 2:55 pm

Hey guys,

 

Little update. I forwarded all of our concerns to Howard Maier, NOACA's director. So far he has not responded. I  just asked that our concerns be entered into the public record and brought before the board and that NOACA issue a formal response. I'm not sure NOACA has a legal right to refuse to hear a complaint from members of the public. I'll let you know what I learn and if I do get a response, I'll post it here.

In the meantime, if anyone knows of any legal resources that might be useful, I'm all ears.

 

Thanks,

 

Angie

 

Responses(3)

Lynn Phares
on Oct 05, 2011

Angie,

Do you ever go to any of the NOACA meetings? Know anyone who does?

Their next Transportation Advisory Committee meeting is Wednesday, Oct 12th at 10am.

Lynn

 
Angie Schmitt
on Oct 05, 2011

No I don't go myself and I don't know of anyone that goes. But I would like to. The problem for me at least is that the meetings are in the middle of the day and I'd have to take time off work. That is one of my complaints about NOACA. I think it's more transparent to have important public meetings outside of working hours so members of the public can attend and advance democracy in local government.

If you ever have time to go and report back, I think it would be great. I'll be sure to include you in future efforts to engage with this organization, as well.

 
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 06, 2011

NOAOCA meetings are not convenient for the public, as they are held during the day and people need to take off work to attend. Generally, the only people in the room are the NOACA staff, Boasrd members and engineering firms/contractors working on projects.  That means they may literally be paid, withyour tax dollars, to attend.  When cyclists and pedestrians protested regarding the innerbelt bridge project, perhaps 35 cyclists came and we were the only members of the public in the room.  Cyclists have been successful in attending meetings and raising points duringthe public comment sections on special occasions or issues are prsented. Like any attendee, you can have your two minutes to speak, but there is no assurance they are listening, although some representatives will willingly take the time to talk. 

 
Expand This Thread
Sam Bell
on Sep 23, 2011 - 11:46 pm

What's up with the road salt? Road salt causes a trmendous amount of rust and corrosion to vehicles in this area every year.  In my work as a mechanic, I deal with this damage on a daily basis.  While the average age of a car in America is now over 10 years, few cars in Cleveland will ever make it beyond about 12-15 years. [A 10 year average age requires essentially the same number of 20 year-old cars as new cars.] The salt also takes its toll on bridges, sewers, local aquifers and ecosystems.  All road salt eventually winds up in the lake or in the ground.

The collective cost of all this damage is many millions of dollars a year, most of it leaving our region.  This economic drag is a largely self-inflicted wound.  The are a number of alternatives to the acid gel treated,  sodium chloride based salt spread most widely.  A calcium chloride based deicer, for example is far less destructive in every category.  The mid- to long-term benefits would more than outweigh the modest increase in short-term costs.

When the Romans destroyed Carthage about two millenia ago, they plowed its fields with salt to prevent its reemergence as an economic rival.  To this day, virtually nothing grows there.  And here are we, doing it to ourselves! 

Does NOACA has any input on this issue?

If this is the wrong forum, I apologize, as I am just getting started.

 

 

Responses(1)

Angie Schmitt
on Sep 26, 2011

Sam,

I'm not NOACA, so I can't speak for them. But SEEING HOW THEY ARE IGNORING THESE PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS FROM THEIR FUNDERS, VOTERS, THAT THEY ARE NO DOUBT AWARE OF I'll give it a stab.

NOACA isn't involved with street salt that is left to local communities. In that sense, you might have some success with a campaign based on a single community, provided you could sell the financial side.

On the other hand, NOACA is responsible for water quality programs as they relate to the region's transportation system. So they could conceivabily issue recommendations to local entities about what to use to de-ice roads. That would never happen though because NOACA never takes leadership on environmental issues as a matter of policy.

 
Expand This Thread
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011 - 3:24 pm

NOACA employed a bike planner for 2-1/2 decades. What does the public have to show for its investment in that position, exactly?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011 - 3:13 pm

Why does NOACA hold its board meetings during business hours when few members of the public are able to attend? Does NOACA value public feedback? If so, what has the agency done to encourage public participation?

 

Responses(2)

Kevin Cronin
on Sep 22, 2011

You've raised many important points.  Other public regional agencies have periodic public meetings in the evening in local communities, rotating around the community, to ask the public "how are we doing?"  The early morning meetings are helpful only for those with paid jobs to be there, which is sadly only the government officials, the lobbyists and engineering and consulting firms.  The public input is practically zero.  During the debate over the innerbelt bridge, cyclists and pedestrians did well to get 50 cyclists to attend. Other than the paid individuals, we were the only people attending. Given the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, that's shokcing.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 22, 2011

NOACA to me sort of typifies the old-school NE ohio style of governance. Sort of good-old-boy, daddy-knows-best politics. It has always shocked me how little resistence corrupt government agencies have faced in this town. It's as if people don't realize that these agencies belong to the people and it's our right to demand effective and transparent service.

 
Expand This Thread
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011 - 3:11 pm

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?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011 - 3:09 pm

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?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011 - 2:48 pm

I am curious about NOACA's response to the new Complete Streets legislation put forward by the city of Cleveland. Does NOACA intend to honor the spirit of that legislation? Why didn't NOACA respond to that question from the Plain Dealer last week the way ODOT did?

 

Responses(23)

Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

Why doesn't NOACA maintain a Twitter account the way ODOT and MORPC and many other government agencies do? NOACA just spent many publicly-funded man hours producing a public interaction policy. What did that document recommend for gathering public feedback on important regional transportation decisions?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

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. What is NOACA's obligation to ordinary citizens? Do cyclists, for example, have a right to demand safety accomodations? Why haven't these accomodations materialized?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

Why does NOACA maintain such an outdated and user-unfriendly website? How does this advance your obligation to transparancy? How does this reflect on the region and on the competence of your organization for that matter?

 
Emelio DiSabato
on Sep 22, 2011

For comparison, check out the website of Columbus' MPO, MORPC: www.morpc.org/index.asp

And Akron's website (for its 'AMATS' MPO) is still better: www.amatsplanning.org

Like you, Angie, I find NOACA's website very frustrating. Its online presence does nothing to indicate an obligation to transparancy.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

Why did NOACA and ODOT hold the meeting that would determine the fate of Cleveland West Shoreway project in Akron? What effort was made to make the public (in Cleveland) aware of the event and the changes planned to that project?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

Why doesn't NOACA Director Howard Maier appear at importance transportation events in the community, such as the Bike Cleveland Summit, STAT's Sustainable Transportation Filmfest or the Sprawlfest discussion hosted by Civic Commons?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 21, 2011

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?

 
Rev. Allen V. Harris
on Sep 22, 2011

Angie,

I most certainly hope so!  I was thrilled with the legislation passed by the City Council and believe that NOACA, as well as ODOT, need to honor this important legistlation.  How would an average citizen like me help to insure this will happen?  Where would we go to find out if they are fulfilling the letter and spirit of the law?  Thanks for bringing this important question up!

Allen

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 22, 2011

Rev. Thanks for your concern. This is an important equity and public health issue for the region and it is awesome to have community leaders like yourself recognize that.

It is troubling that NOACA didn't respond to the PD like ODOT did, IMO. For starters, NOACA has a obligation to the region's most vunerable citizens who rely on their feet, bikes or transit to get around, but it is one that they have not traditionally taken that very seriously, or at least not nearly as seriously as car travel.

I think it is dissappointing NOACA hasn't expressed its support for Cleveland's forward-thinking legislation. Communities across the country are heading in this direction and Columbus' regional planning agency has its own region-wide complete streets policy.

I know many officials in Cleveland's top concern about passing complete streets wasn't that they didn't support the policy is was that it might make the city of Cleveland less competitive for funds from ODOT and NOACA. But under the federal directives, there is no reason this should be the case. NOACA and ODOT are both under federal obligation to keep all road users safe.

The fact that NOACA failed to show support to the city of Cleveland 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. I wish someone from NOACA would respond to our concerns. They are funded entirely through our tax dollars and I think it is outrageous that they would ignore legitimate public concerns like these. NOACA will lose its legitimacy with the public if it operates like a closed-door entity using taxpayer dollars.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 22, 2011

As for the question of what you can do, that's not really clear because NOACA hasn't indicated it welcomes and values public input, even though they use our tax dollars. A group of us that have concerns about this agency are thinking of strategies to try to get them to at least acknowledge our complaints, and hopefully work with us to create a more democratic and inclusive organization.

In the meantime, NOACA is led by a board of 50 public officials from around the region and it has made it clear that it sees its responsiblity as only to be accountable to those public officials, who are in turn accountable only to their electors in their home community and not the health of the region more generally. This is a big problem because ordinary concerned citizens are completely without recourse in cases like this.

I will be sure to include you in any efforts going forward. It would be nice however, if NOACA would just sign onto the commons and say they are supportive of Cleveland's legislation. I guess if they do not, we can assume they don't? Who knows? It is unfortunate that we do not even know.

 
Lora DiFranco
on Sep 27, 2011

NOACA posted a job description for an Assistant Executive Director over the summer (job description attached). Although they're hiring someone to shadow the current ED for a year before they take over... I really hope they pick someone to bring NOACA into the 21st century. Any ideas on how citizens can get involved in the hiring process?

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 27, 2011

Unfortunately, citizens don't really have a clear cut way to influence NOACA, that is my primary complaint. A lot of us who are concerned about NOACA are concerned about that very issue. But we don't really have a clear recourse, unfortunately.

NOACA is an MPO and they aren't directly democratic. Its board members aren't elected by the region and are only accountble to folks in their home municipality. This is at the root of the agency's disfunction. It is governed by a bunch of people whose only incentive is to get as much for their own community as they can. And that is what they do. But that is not an efficient or equitable way to plan a region.

I wrote this article I'll attach below that explains a bit about how MPOs function and how the most democratic ones are the most successful. Thanks for your concern to this important issue!

 
Jason Segedy
on Sep 29, 2011

Angie, your Streetsblog article raises some very important points.  Your "non-MPO" perspective is invaluable to me.  Sometimes the forest is seen most clearly when standing outside of it.  You are providing the type of public comments that I find incredibly helpful, because your comments are related to the overall planning process, not just NIMBY concerns or an arcane debate over the merits of a specific project or initiative.  The issues you raise cut to the heart of "What are MPOs?  "Why do they exist? and "How can they be more effective?"

A few comments on the points you raised in the Streetsblog article:

1) MPOs are indeed the strongest form of regional governance that we have.  In our fragmented (geographically and thematically) system this means that they are still not very strong, but it does mean that they are potentially valuable regional planning assets that often go underutilized. This is true at my own MPO.  We have a group of incredibly powerful people sitting in one room and our continual challenge is how to harness that potential energy and use it to create a more sustainable, better-planned region.  There have been successes, but we have a long way to go.  We are continually striving to improve, and "we" has to include the elected officials, the staff, and the public. 

2) It is also true that most MPOs have boards that operate more like the "Senate" than the "House of Representatives".  This can certainly be problematic in terms of overall representation of the public, especially in cases where the staff and the public are not sufficiently engaged in representing the interests of the entire region.  Changing existing structures will entail either a regional consensus amongst local governments, or, as you mentioned, an act of Congress.  Former Chairman Oberstar's legislation did fall into a "black hole" (along with everything else in Washington, except for obsession with the 2012 election), so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

3) I think the key to an effective MPO really does boil down to: A) an engaged board of elected officials that truly are willing to set aside their own provincial concerns (at least from time-to-time) and focus on the well-being of the entire region; B) a staff that advocates continually for creating well-planned, socially, economically, and environmentally integrated places; and C) a well-informed public that is passionate about ensuring that governmental institutions truly reflect its needs, hopes, and aspirations.

I am working to cultivate "A", here in Greater Akron, and I am directly responsible for ensuring "B".  There have been succeses, but I think that our MPO can, should, and will always need to do better.  I firmly believe that there is no such thing as "having arrived" when it comes to the kind of work that we do.

But perhaps the most important part of the equation is "C", and it is you, specifically, and others like you that can truly make a difference.  I commend you for that.  Your comments here have prompted me and my staff to do some "soul searching" of our own, and I thank you for that.

 

 
Circles
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 29, 2011

That is the responsive leadership we need in Cleveland. Thanks, Jason! You are really an inspiration.

What a stark contrast from the stoney silence of our regional planning agency. Whatever policy NOACA has evidently developed that they will not communicate with members of the public in this forum is inexcusable and telling, I think. The Civic Commons was developed by civic leaders at great expense in order to enhanse the role of citizens participation in the community decision-making process. And our regional planning agency chooses to pretend like it doesn't exist? Wow. Nice move, guys!

The crime of the whole thing is that they actually use taxpayer dollars to develop those kind of communications policies and pay communications staff. That should be illegal.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 30, 2011

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.

Nobody worth their salt as a transportation planner is going to spend a year shadowing Howard Maier, a director that had presided over precipitious decline and mediocraty.

That was the plan all along anyway and everyone knew it. It is so disappointing that none of the region's leaders had the nerve to stand up for progress and reform.

If I owned stock in greater Cleveland I would sell and I'd buy in greater Arkon and Columbus. Too bad I own a house in Cleveland. The joke's on me and all the other people tht aren't on the public payroll and are trying to build a future in this region.

Score one for the status quo: self-destruction!

 
Caitlin Johnson
on Sep 30, 2011

I don't really know a lot about MPOs...but I would venture to guess that a lot of people who don't pay deep attention to these issues (with no fault of their own, they have kids, they're busy, the aren't in this line of work) might not even know what NOACA is or that it exists. It's pretty hard to hold an organization accountable if that's the case. I recently did some research on Portland, Oregon and the Twin Cities. In Portland, they have a Metro Council that is in charge of transportation and land use planning. The council is made up of 16 or 17 elected officials. In the Twin Cities - it's similar but the council people are appointed by the governor. Adding that layer of accountability could go a long way to making people pay attention to the MPOs.

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 30, 2011

You are right about that. That would be so wonderful. We need to do something!

 
Angie Schmitt
on Sep 30, 2011

Only in Cleveland does running a public agency for a decade without being indicted qualify as exempary service. Sheesh. #fail

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 06, 2011

Angie,

I’ve reluctantly decided to respond to your blog postings. I’ve been reluctant to do so because, while you make some valid points, many of your assertions are frankly uninformed and factually wrong. I’ll try to correct the record on these points, but I don’t wish to engage in an ongoing tit-for-tat online debate over what amounts to misinformation. My job isn’t to draw an audience to online misinformation about NOACA.

If you’d like to engage with us in a more fact-based discussion, I’d be happy to hear from you. We don’t do everything right, but I think if you take an honest look at our policy documents you’ll see that your negative characterizations of NOACA are largely off-base.

You can learn a lot about our actual policies by reading some of our key policy documents. These include the long-range transportation plan (Connections 2030), the Regional Transportation Investment Policy, the NOACA Regional Bicycle Transportation Plan and the NOACA Public Interaction Policy. All are available on our website (noaca.org). If you’re unsure of your facts, I’d also urge you to call me directly before posting what may be a specious accusation.

That said, I am posting my responses to your specific questions.

 

Jonathan Giblin, NOACA Director of Programs

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 06, 2011

 

 

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.

 

Multimodal Transportation

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.

 

Planning Issues

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.

 

 

 
Susie Gavazzi
on Oct 10, 2011

Jonathan,

Wow...thank you for taking the time to post such a reasonable reply.  One dude, accountable for decades of agency policy; you have broad (and brave!) shoulders. Cleveland cyclists look to a future of safe, year round cycling as a means to travel to work, shop, enact greener life mechanisms, and to seek health and recreation.  Cleveland is a beautiful, terrain diverse location to cycle....and it is not currently safe in many, if not most areas, to be sure, urban, suburban and rurally.  Drivers are distracted and don't know or understand "Same road, same rules", roads are dilapidated and littered, etc., etc.  Thank you for a civilized, response to an emotional and sometimes heated topic.

Susie

 
Jonathan Giblin
on Oct 11, 2011

Susie, Thanks for the kind words. Transforming a 60-year-old national highway system into something more multi-modal and user-friendly won't happen overnight, but we're working on it.

Greater Cleveland really is beautiful, and I think we're making headway on multimodal infrastructure. I think the drivers are slowly coming around too, but change takes time.

 
Kevin Cronin
on Oct 08, 2011

I think this public debate has been illuminating, even if heated at times, and I want to thank Angie, Jonathon, emilio and others, as well as Dan for hosting and promoting the dialogue.  I think it's great news that NOACA is looking to redesign the website and it can't happen fast enough.  It's hard to ask the public that the big policy book is online, go get it. Every public entity has its own public dialogue responsibilities and referring to an outdated, user un-friendly website is not enough.  I wish NOACA would host evening forums to meet and engage with the public.  Even the Sewar District went on the road to explain irs policies and they are facing a need to explain a significant fee incease.  Perhaps that's the problem. Perhaps NOACA doesn't feel the need to explain to the public with public meetings, because the public in only the most round about way, is involved in funding projects.  Is it possible that NOACA Board of Governors, because they are elected officials and already engage with the public, want a free space to wheel and deal away from the public? I don't know, but if so, they are off-base. All government entitites should be aggressively engaged in public outreach.  Thanks for the robust online debate.  It's not a substitute, but was very informative nonetheless.

 
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