Investments in ‘legacy cities’ key to recovery

Torey Hollingsworth, MCRP
August 29, 2017

Ohioans are used to hosting a parade of reporters every four years for the presidential election. But after last year’s election, the visits to Ohio’s smaller legacy cities like Youngstown and Chillicothe didn’t stop. Reporters kept visiting to write about the challenges facing these communities and their peers throughout the Midwest, challenges that were credited with helping to elect the president. While these issues deserve attention, recent dispatches from Ohio’s smaller legacy cities often fail to tell the whole story.


Driverless cars could be the attractive future but public transportation is the vital present

Alex Highley, MPA
May 8, 2017

Many states across the country, including Ohio, have begun to embrace the idea that driverless cars will soon represent an exciting, safe, and more efficient alternative to human-controlled vehicles. Last year, Columbus was awarded the federal Smart Cities grant, which pledges millions of federal dollars to be invested in new technologies for driverless cars. While autonomous vehicles may eventually solve some of the transportation challenges Ohio faces once their usage is proven to be safe and effective, leaders in the state should focus their efforts today on expanding and strengthening public transit. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) believes that Ohio must prioritize investment in the existing transportation system, where the technology already exists to safely and efficiently transport people to jobs, doctors, and grocery stores.

While autonomous vehicles may one day rule the road, it is imperative that Ohio develops transportation solutions for residents who seek a means of mobility in the short-term. Public transit is a proven form of transportation that if invested in properly, can produce a number of economic development benefits for residents and businesses within communities of all types. Ohio’s population is aging and many residents, especially those living in rural areas, do not have reliable access to a car to get to job opportunities, medical appointments, family, and the grocery store. Because Ohio’s land usage pattern is defined by sprawling communities, residential areas are often located far from job sites and thus qualified individuals are unable to fill positions at companies seeking their talents. Improving transit service through, for instance, regionalization, will ameliorate these difficulties by connecting workers with key destinations and allow them to participate in Ohio’s economy.

However, there is a glaring shortage of good-working public transportation buses and vans in Ohio. As the Ohio Department of Transportation Transit Needs Study notes, 27 counties in Ohio do not even operate a public transit network, which means that many people rely on health and human service transportation functions to get to important destinations. Even within the transit agencies that do offer service, over a third of the 3,240 vehicles are beyond their useful life, yet they are still on the roads. As demand grows among all age groups, investment in the system is even more crucial. By 2025, the Transit Needs Study estimates that an additional $562 million in annual funding will be needed to meet the future demand for public transit statewide.

Given the general level of uncertainty surrounding driverless cars, leaders at all level of government and business should concentrate efforts on existing transportation systems. At the moment, 74 percent of Americans simply do not believe driverless cars will be safe to use. Until the public has demonstrated it trusts the new technology, it would be premature to pool resources into a system with so many lingering questions. Even if Ohioans do at some point accept autonomous vehicles as a viable alternative to driver-operated cars, it is unlikely that their costs, at least initially, will make them accessible to a wide cohort of citizens. Thus, the proliferation of the technology would likely do little to help residents who struggle to find a way to get to doctor’s appointments. By supporting a robust, modernized public transportation system, Ohio’s leaders can build a successful, fluid network of travel for workers and residents throughout the state.

This opinion piece was featured in the APA's Summer Newsletter.


Here's how to, and how not to, rebuild America

JON HONECK, PHD

The Cincinnati Enquirer published GOPC Senior Policy Fellow Jon Honeck's guest column "Here's how to, and how not to, rebuild America." In the op-ed, GOPC makes practical recommendations to guide policymakers as they tackle the challenges of keeping the country moving in the 21st Century. 

For the first time in years, the nation’s infrastructure crisis will be a leading issue in Congress. To build on this momentum at the state level, GOPC is advocating for improvements in public transit in the upcoming Ohio Department of Transportation budget. The op-ed recommends that policymakers in Ohio and in Washington should adopt a “fix it first” policy that focuses on maintaining and utilizing existing infrastructure. With this solid foundation in place, we can think creatively about how to finance catalytic projects that think out of the box.


Positive Trends for Ohio’s Communities, but Recovery Remains Fragile

GOPC Opinion Piece
October 12, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that household income increased and poverty decreased for most Americans in 2015. Census estimates show that these trends held true in most of Ohio as well. This is great news. Without a doubt, gains for Ohioans will help strengthen the economy in our state and local communities.

Yet these encouraging findings must not distract us from the continuing challenges facing Ohio, especially its small and mid-sized cities. Challenges like the shift away from manufacturing, population decline, and concentrated poverty existed long before the Recession but became even more difficult because of it. Creativity and strategic risk-taking by local leaders has resulted in rebounding downtowns, safer neighborhoods, and other reasons for optimism, but past and present Census data strongly suggest that recovery has been fragile and that another downturn could easily undo recent progress.

State and federal lawmakers should support policy solutions that are sensitive to the particular needs of small and mid-sized cities and their regions, which are still transitioning to a new post-industrial economy. Ohio’s long-term prosperity depends on making sure that all of its communities are able to thrive. While the news from the Census Bureau should be celebrated, there is more to be done to guarantee that these positive trends hold steady in the face of future economic dips.