Cleveland’s bus rapid transit HealthLine has provided an economic boost to the city, and offers a noteworthy example of successful transit-based redevelopment, according to Urban Land Magazine:
Euclid Avenue in Cleveland connects the two largest commercial districts in northeast Ohio: downtown Cleveland and University Circle. A microcosm of the city itself, the corridor has experienced extreme highs and lows throughout its history. At the turn of the 20th century, Euclid was known as Millionaires’ Row and was home to the founders of Standard Oil and General Electric. But by the time the Great Depression ended, the avenue was devastated. During the 1950s, its streetcars were dismantled. By the 2000s, the corridor was depressed, lined with dilapidated buildings and vacant lots and evoking a sense of hopelessness.
But Euclid’s role as an essential link between the central business district downtown and University Circle—a hub of world-class medical facilities and arts and culture amenities—rendered the corridor impossible to ignore. Starting in the 1970s, a nearly 30-year debate focused on how to integrate rapid transit along Euclid Avenue. Finally, in 1998 the city set aside prohibitively expensive rail plans and decided to move forward with bus rapid transit (BRT).
The resulting $200 million, 6.8-mile (11 km) Euclid Corridor Transportation Project catalyzed a powerful transformation along the avenue. Since the BRT line opened in 2008, the corridor has attracted $5.8 billion in investment—$3.3 billion for new construction and $2.5 billion for building rehab, together totaling more than 110 projects. Disproving naysayers and exceeding the expectations of supporters, the project has generated the economic growth that many thought could only be achieved with rail—and at a fraction of the cost. In 2011, the project won a ULI Award for Excellence.
By connecting downtown with University Circle, the BRT service contributes to the unification of Cleveland’s top economic generators across the entire city. The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland—the city’s two biggest employers—purchased naming rights to the BRT line in a 25-year, $6.25 million deal. Dubbing it the HealthLine ties the service to Cleveland’s branding as a hub of medical care and research. By physically linking large hospitals, startups, convention space, and cultural amenities, the corridor is propelling Cleveland’s evolution into a world-class destination for the health care and biotech industries.
Implementation was made possible by a complex funding partnership of multiple organizations, including the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) as the project sponsor, the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, the city of Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospitals. Of the $200 million invested in the project, $168.4 million for the transit component was provided by the full funding grant agreement (FFGA) with the FTA. The remaining $31.6 million went toward nontransit improvements, including sidewalks, utilities, and public art.
Although the Euclid corridor project secured funding in 2004, the project still struggled to gain initial widespread support. One major challenge was the notion that a bus line would not attract the professional community, instead driving the area’s social problems along Euclid Avenue further into the downtown and University Circle districts. Developers and community members also questioned the project’s ability to stimulate economic growth significantly.
In response, the RTA and the design team—prime consultant Wilbur Smith Associates of Cleveland and planning and landscape architect Sasaki Associates of Boston—adopted a strategy of “thinking rail while using bus.” Dedicated bus lanes free the buses from the interference of other traffic. From downtown to University Circle, buses run along exclusive lanes in the center of the street, which results in greater efficiency. “From Public Square [downtown] to University Circle, we reduced travel time from 30 minutes to 20 minutes,” says Michael J. Schipper, RTA deputy general manager for engineering and project management.
Additional features include prominent stations, raised station platforms that match the height of the bus floor to allow same-level boarding, real-time updates of bus arrival times, and off-vehicle fare collection—all of which imbue the HealthLine with the sensibility of an urban rail line. Having fewer stations improves travel times, and platforms in the road median reduce encroachment on the sidewalks. The stations, designed by Robert P. Madison International Inc. of Cleveland, are modern and transparent, constructed of glass and stainless steel, and designed to support the public realm by creating their own identity that reinforces the entire corridor and transit rather than mimicking a certain period or architectural style represented in the neighborhoods the line traverses. They are well-lit and are equipped with emergency blue-light phones and closed-circuit security cameras.
The HealthLine operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On weekdays, buses arrive at stations every ten minutes from early morning into the evening. During peak service periods, arrival frequency shrinks to every seven minutes. Such rigorous service levels make the HealthLine a convenient and reliable transit option.