A Primer on State Issue One

April 28th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, Intern

On May 6th, voters will choose whether or not to renew the state’s program for funding public infrastructure capital improvements by permitting the issuance of general obligation bonds. If renewed, this vote authorizes the state to continue selling bonds (for another 10 years) to fund much-needed improvement projects all over the state, such as construction on local roads, bridges, and water-supply systems.

Since the program was approved by voters via a constitutional amendment in 1987, it has helped to rebuild more than 11,500 local road, bridge, sewer, water and solid-waste projects, in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. The program provides up to 50 percent funding for new construction projects and up to 90 percent for repair-and-replacement projects.

The Ohio Public Works Commission currently allots $150 million each year to this program, however, under the new amendment, the state would increase the size of bonds to provide more money: $175 million in each of the first five years and $200 million in each of the next five years. That is a 39 percent increase in the money that local road and water-supply construction projects currently receive. Furthermore, it is projected that this program would create an estimated 3,500 additional construction and related jobs over the next decade.

The passage of this issue is especially critical at this time since the state’s current authorization to issue bonds against the state’s tax revenue expires in 2015 or whenever the state has maxed out the amount approved in the last bond issue. If this program were to expire, it would cut off a source of money for municipal construction projects and the estimated 35,000 workers employed on the projects.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, local governments, and nonprofits around the state have endorsed Issue 1.  For more information, the Ohio League of Women’s Voters has provided non-partisan, in-depth information here.

Gray v. Green Infrastructure

April 10th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

As the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) sets out on a $3 billion tunnel project, questions have been raised as to whether enough focus is being spent on a possibly cheaper and greener alternative to tunnels. Rates continue to increase to cover the cost of these expansive projects, but some ratepayers are not convinced that this is the best solution to their water and sewage issues. Some argue that green infrastructure (such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bio-infiltration installations) can often provide more sustainable benefits at a lesser cost than single-purpose gray infrastructure. Furthermore, building green infrastructure could possibly improve the overall aesthetic quality of some of Cleveland’s most blighted neighborhoods, by turning vacant lots into lush rain gardens and building more parks. These sort of green projects support property values by beautifying the surrounding areas, while also stimulating the economy by providing landscaping and maintenance jobs.

Although the NEORSD had originally agreed to include green infrastructure in their water and sewer system, they are now planning to spend 97.5% of project funds on seven large tunnels. Some arguments in favor of this decision include the fact that many green projects come with high barriers, such as the EPA requirement that the sewer district have full control over the land in perpetuity, so that it can be properly maintained. Sewer district Executive Director Julius Ciacca and his team have also argued that much of the green infrastructure technology is still unproven in large-scale applications and would be much more time-consuming, which could prove to be a risky move when aiming to meet a series of strict federally mandated benchmarks. This is due in part to the case that green infrastructure is often capable of capturing only the first inch of rainfall and diverting it from the sewer, so that in heavier rains, water retention features become overwhelmed, and the overflow defaults to the combined sewer system.

Although green infrastructure may be difficult to implement in the short term, the lasting effects of going green are undeniable. More and more cities are continuing to pursue green alternatives, such as Philadelphia’s recent projects, as green infrastructure continues to prove to be both sustainable and inexpensive in comparison to gray infrastructure. In many ways, it also adds property value to localities, as it works to beautify deteriorating and impoverished communities. Due to its many benefits, when used in the right locations, green infrastructure can add great value to both the existing water and sewer infrastructure and to surrounding neighborhoods.

Meeting the Infrastructure Challenge in Legacy Cities

March 31st, 2014

By Jacob Wolf, Research Associate

Combined sewer overflows (CSO) stink—both environmentally and economically—for Ohio’s cities. In many urban areas built up in the 19th and early 20th centuries, stormwater runoff drains into the same pipes that carry raw sewage to treatment facilities. Most days, all of the combined sewer and storm water makes it safely to the treatment plants. However, when there is heavy rainfall, the systems overload, and the excess untreated water gets diverted into rivers and lakes. This is referred to as a CSO event. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and other cities around Ohio and the rest of the country are under mandates from the United States E.P.A. to reduce or eliminate the amount of CSO discharged into their waterways.

The strategies the affected cities are developing to reduce their CSO can be broadly categorized as either “gray infrastructure” or “green infrastructure.” “Gray” refers to building new pipes and tunnels underground to hold the excess water. “Green” involves using plants, gardens, and open space on the surface to reduce the amount of storm water runoff that gets into the pipes in the first place. The Plain Dealer recently ran a series of articles that analyzed the pros and cons of both approaches, focusing on the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD)’s $3 billion project to build new underground tunnels.

Green infrastructure has many benefits for urban revitalization. It commonly appears as street-side landscaping features or open, undeveloped space. It can also mean “daylighting” previously covered streams and waterways. Some green infrastructure projects transform vacant or abandoned property into “rain gardens.” All these forms of green infrastructure have great aesthetic benefits that improve the quality of urban places as they capture storm water and keep it out of the sewers.

The City of Philadelphia is leading the charge for green solutions to the CSO problem. Philadelphia’s 25-year, $2.4 billion CSO reduction plan will spend roughly 70% of the program’s budget on 8,000 to 12,000 acres of green projects. Officials estimate that this will eliminate about 8 billion gallons of sewage overflow per year. By contrast, the NEORSD tunnel project devotes only 2.5% of its $3 billion budget to green infrastructure.

However, NEORSD leaders and other critics argue that green methods alone will not prevent enough overflow events. Even if Philadelphia’s plan succeeds, it will still produce more gallons of overflow than Northeast Ohio does now. Furthermore, Philadelphia is not under an EPA consent decree, so it does not have the same stringent benchmarks to meet that NEORSD and other Ohio districts have.

Reducing and eliminating CSO discharge is key for economic development in legacy cities. Cleaner waterways create more desirable places that people want to live, work, and play. As it performs its utilitarian function of mitigating stormwater runoff, green infrastructure beautifies neighborhoods and creates vibrant, new public spaces. It can increase property values and provide a tool for disposing of vacant and abandoned residential property. Even if green infrastructure isn’t the only solution for CSOs, it should be at least be part of the solution due to the additional benefits it provides.

Piqua Recognized as Top 10 National Leader in Creating Complete Streets

February 18th, 2014

Greater Ohio congratulates the City of Piqua, Ohio on receiving national recognition for developing complete streets. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of national non-profit Smart Growth America (SGA), the complete streets policy that Piqua passed last year ranked 9th in the country, out of more than 80 cities, states, and regions that passed similar policies in 2013. SGA says this makes Piqua “a national leader in making streets safer and more convenient for everyone who uses them.”

Complete streets policies “encourage planners and engineers to design and build streets that are safe and convenient for everyone, regardless of age, ability, income or ethnicity, and no matter how they travel,” according to SGA.

SGA’s rankings are “intended to celebrate the communities that have done exceptional work in crafting comprehensive policy language over the past year.” The evaluators determine scores based on 10 technical elements of an ideal Complete Streets policy. The communities with the top-scoring policies of 2013 are:

1.         Littleton, MA

2.         Peru, IN

3.         Fort Lauderdale, FL

4.         Auburn, ME (tie)

4.         Lewiston, ME (tie)

6.         Baltimore County, MD

7.         Portsmouth, NH

8.         Muscatine, IA

9.          Piqua, OH

10.        Oakland, CA

11.        Hayward, CA (tie)

11.        Livermore, CA (tie)

11.        Massachusetts Department of Transportation (tie)

14.        Cedar Falls, IA (tie)

14.        Waterloo, IA (tie)

More information about the winning policies and evaluation criteria, and what Piqua scored, is available here.

Nationwide, a total of 610 jurisdictions in 48 states have Complete Streets policies in place.

GOPC Applauds Transportation Reform in Pennsylvania

February 12th, 2014

The Greater Ohio Policy Center sends its belated congratulation to our smart growth colleague 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania for leading a diverse coalition of stakeholders in successfully advocating for a $2.3 billion state transportation package in Pennsylvania.

In late 2013, Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, signed a bill that was advanced by the Republican-controlled legislature.  Under this transportation funding bill, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation will:

  • Creates a multi-modal fund that grows from $30 to $144 million over a 5-year period, to which bicycle and pedestrian projects can apply for funding; and sets an annual minimum of $2 million of that fund to be spent on bicycle and pedestrian facilities;
  • new revenue streams for transit will generate $49 million to $60 million statewide in the current fiscal year and $476 million to $497 million in year five.
  • Funding for repairing deficient bridges and roads

This package is expected create 50,000 new jobs and preserve 12,000 existing jobs, according to the Governor’s office.

Funding for this work will come from the gradual elimination of the limit on the wholesale tax on gasoline, and increased fees on licenses, permits and traffic tickets.

Together, multi-modal advocates, road contractors, business leaders and policymakers made the economic case for this visionary, game-changing budget.  GOPC congratulates all advocates and applauds Pennsylvania’s General Assembly and Governor.

Highlights from “Advancing Ohio’s Urban Agenda”

January 25th, 2013

On our journey from Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland for the joint ULI/GOPC/LOCUS event series, “Advancing Ohio’s Urban Agenda: Walkable Communities for Globally Competitive Cities,” trends amongst the three cities became apparent as participants engaged in the dialogue about addressing the market demand for walkable development in Ohio. We were able to capture some of these trends in both text and film (yes, videos are coming!) form and would like to share some of the key highlights with you.

Highlights from the Events:

  • Millennials (aka Generation Y) are shifting market demand and cities in Ohio must meet that demand for walkable, urban development in order to remain globally competitive.
  • As more walkable development (approximately 100-500 meters in diameter of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development) is added to areas, their property values increase and the local market improves.
  • Transportation drives development. If developers build quality products in the right locations with access to urban-friendly transportation systems, they will get a price premium. Seventy percent of ballots across the nation to increase sales tax to fund public transportation have passed.
  • Read the rest of this entry »

Advancing Ohio’s Urban Agenda

January 18th, 2013

In Ohio and around the country, real estate developers and investors are recognizing pent-up demand for and a market shift toward sustainable, walkable urban places. Despite this paradigm shift and change in market momentum, many local, state and federal policies currently in place distort development incentives and hamper efforts to create the development consumers want and that support strong local economies. Urban developers and real estate and land use experts can align to provide state and national policy makers with expert advice on current consumer demand and the many benefits of urban and metropolitan growth strategies.

Over the past few days—January 16th and 17th—Greater Ohio traveled to Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland to co-host events with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) district councils of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, as well as LOCUS to host “Advancing Ohio’s Urban Agenda: Walkable Communities for Globally Competitive Cities,” an exclusive series featuring Christopher Leinberger, President of LOCUS—a national network of real estate developers and investors that advocates for sustainable, walkable urban development in America’s metropolitan areas.

These first-of-their-kind events in Ohio provided a forum to connect developers from urban centers across the state to discuss the demand for sustainable communities. The gatherings were a critical first step toward identifying ways to inform policymakers and ultimately help more communities across Ohio develop in ways that are sustainable for the environment, the people living in them, and their bottom lines.

Click here to read Mark Ferenchick’s Columbus Dispatch article on the Columbus event: “Walkable urban development will keep younger professionals in Columbus, expert says”.

Columbus Taking a Giant Leap Toward Multi-Modal Transit

December 14th, 2012

By John Gardocki, Greater Ohio Policy Center Intern

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman recently announced a plan to roll out the first bike share program in the state in the summer of 2013.  The metropolitan cities of Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, and Portland all have successful programs.  New York City and Columbus seem to be the next big ones to join in the craze. 

Managed by Alta Bicycle Share, the program will include approximately 30 stations with 10 bikes at each station for a total of 300 bicycles- however you can return the bike at any of the 30 stations located at major spots in Downtown and the surrounding communities. 

Public involvement will be integral for the locations of the bike share stations.  With the addition of the bike share program, Columbus will have an additional transit option in the downtown area for residents and business people.  Alta operates Capital Bike share in the Washington, D.C. area, Hubway in the Boston Metro, Melbourne Bike Share (Australia), and Chattanooga’s Bicycle Transit System.  Capital Bike Share has seen an increase in all types of memberships since beginning operations in 2010. 

There are many pro-bike coalitions across the U.S. that collect statistics to compare with other modes of transportation.  It is important to document the statistics of bicycling so people can see whether or not it will be beneficial for them to switch modes of transportation.  Bikes Belong is an organization devoted to increasing the amount of bikers on the roads.  Bike commuters report lower stress and greater feelings of freedom, relaxation, and excitement than car commuters. Appleton, M., 2011 While Columbus has a relatively stress-free commute compared to other metropolitan cities; it still puts a hamper on people’s behaviors.

Bike share is a cost effective solution for urban center residents and workers to commute sustainably.  The Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2010 stated, “The average American household spends $7,179 per year on owning and driving their cars. Cost savings for riding a bicycle are incredible especially if it is done on a daily basis.”

With the implementation of the bike share Columbus will not only be providing more transit options; but also improving the region’s health by reducing carbon emissions and encouraging exercise.  With more people bicycling on the streets, drivers should be more willing to share the road thus making it safer for all types of transportation modes.  This exciting development will be watched closely as implementation occurs because Columbus residents have been seeking greater investment into transportation choices.

Want More Transportation Options in Ohio? Let ODOT Know in this Survey!

July 18th, 2012

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is currently writing its long-term transportation plan called Access Ohio 2040. You can participate in their stakeholder engagement process by going to this link and clicking “Take the Access Ohio Survey.” Let them know your priorities for transportation in Ohio!

At Greater Ohio, we support investing in fix-it-first strategies for Ohio’s existing transportation infrastructure and finding more sustainable funding sources for our public transit systems.

By increasing our state’s transportation options with increased bus, rail, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, we can reduce our dependency on and need for new and expanded roads. Not only will a comprehensive transportation system limit the cost of infrastructure to taxpayers in the long term, but also decrease traffic congestion, fossil fuel consumption, and health issues related to inactivity. Building more robust public transportation systems will also help create jobs and boost economic development in the state, because people and businesses want to locate in areas that are accessible by more means than just cars. As the price of fossil fuels continues to escalate, it’s time that as a state, we build a more sustainable system of transportation.

You can help make a difference for the future of transportation in Ohio by taking this survey and letting ODOT know your priorities for transportation in Ohio.

The Importance of Walkable Neighborhoods

June 1st, 2012

Source: Zillow.com data analysis by Christopher B. Leinberger, Brookings Institution. Originally posted on NYtimes.com.

By John Gardocki, GO Intern

In a New York Times article by Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS,   convenient, walkable places are in demand.  Different cities throughout the U.S. are reaping benefits from making their cities walkable, friendly environments. Leinberger provides many examples of the demand for walkable cities including Columbus, OH, Denver, CO, and Seattle, WA.  Leinberger stresses the integration of developers and investors to work towards walkable communities.

Leinberger uses a tool he calls the walkability ladder, a step by step analysis rating least walkable to most walkable.  This tool can be used to evaluate the strength of the city. As a neighborhood moves up each step of the five-step walkability ladder, the average household income of those who live there increases some $10,000.  Leinberger’s article finds that on average, each step up the walkability ladder adds $9 per square foot to annual office rents, $7 per square foot to retail rents, more than $300 per month to apartment rents and nearly $82 per square foot to home values.

In a study by Brookings Institution, completed by Mariela Alfonzo and Leinberger about the effect walkability has on commercial and residential real estate, many walkable communities are seeing postive changes to property values.  Brookings found:

  1. More walkable places perform better economically
  2. Walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places
  3. Residents of more walkable places have lower transportation costs and higher transit access, but also higher housing costs
  4. Residents of places with poor walkability are generally less affluent and have lower educational attainment than places with good walkability

Walkable communities are especially important to the younger generation.  According to Brookings, young families want the advantages of walkable urban life, but also high-quality suburban schools.  This trend is about the revitalization of center cities and the urbanization of suburbs.
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