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The plan of sustainable transportation in Cleveland

The concept of “sustainable development” has been mentioned a lot recently due to the serious climate problems today’s world is facing. If we do not find a sustainable development path, humanity will face an unprecedented crisis in a few decades. Therefore, regardless of whether it’s business, local government, or the federal government, they have all come up with a sustainable development plan. And obviously, the local government has the biggest impact on people’s lives with some of these initiatives. Cleveland, and the entire Northeast Ohio, as an important part of the Rust Belt region, clearly must make some changes in specific areas to achieve environmental justice and the goal of sustainable development. But before we can develop a plan, we need to understand the biggest problems we are facing.

First, air pollution in the Cleveland area is one of the issues that need to be addressed urgently. The PM2.5 concentration in Cleveland is 5.6 times the WHO air quality guideline value.[1] Air pollution from fuels can cause disease or premature death. Only in terms of traffic-related air pollutants, the pollutants that affect human health include respirable particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, ozone, carbon monoxide, and benzene. They increase the risk of several diseases, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer.[2] Compared to other problems, air pollution is the most visually harmful and affects urban residents the most.

The Green Corridor issue seems less urgent than the one above. Its impact on city residents is not well represented in the data, but that does not mean that urban green corridors will not be of great benefit to the entire city and its residents. Green corridors in cities play a vital part in the process of cities becoming more devoted to sustainability. In a nutshell, this refers to a vegetated strip that connects the city’s exceptional natural regions. Furthermore, they provide several benefits like as enhancing and conserving biodiversity, minimizing the heat island effect, lowering air and noise pollution, and so on.[3] The reason this issue is not mentioned as often is Cleveland has done a great job of this. Cleveland has 8,260 sqft of Green space per capita. Additionally, when we zoom out to the entire Ohio, the whole state is doing well, it has 6 of the 50 cities with the most green space per capita.[4] But that doesn’t mean we do not have any issues to be addressed in this aspect, we need to make sure that the benefits of green space are available to low-income groups.

Reducing carbon emissions and using less energy is not just a lifestyle that city dwellers adopt for their benefit, but more of an obligation that we have as human beings living in this world. The U.S. federal government set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and although states or local governments have not set a figure for themselves to reduce carbon emissions, we still have to work toward that. So from a macro perspective, Cleveland should take some measures to reduce emissions.

I think improving these environmental issues should start with transportation, and there is great potential for progress in this aspect in the Cleveland area. But what is clear is that making changes is not a simple matter and we must set both long-term and short-term goals. Our policy should start with something simple, that can be done quickly, doesn’t require as much budget, and is cost-effective. Then gradually trying to start some long-term and expensive projects that do not easily see outcomes. And eventually, reach our goal of building a sustainable city transportation system for Cleveland.

In the short term, I think putting some shared bikes into the city and setting up some car charging stations are good ideas. In the bike-sharing case, it is already a relatively mature model in China, and it’s growing rapidly in Europe. Bike-sharing will do more to reduce carbon emissions than expected. Using my home city Beijing as an example, just in the last year, shared bike users completed a total cycling mileage of 850 million km, helping cut 41,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide.[5] (achieved under the influence of COVID) Not only China but European countries such as Germany and UK are also expected to play a key role in the bike-sharing market. The Europe Bike Sharing Market was valued at USD 2.9 billion in 2021, and it is expected to reach USD 7.98 billion by 2027 end.[6] While Cleveland residents travel in a much different way than people in Europe and China, the success of bike-sharing in other parts of the world is still worth trying. Bike sharing can not only contribute in terms of carbon emission, but more importantly, people can treat it as a social welfare project. For some low-income people who do not have a car, this model will bring a lot of convenience to them. Unlike the former, the plan to set up charging posts is more targeted at middle and high-income households. Car charging stations are scarce in Cleveland and throughout the Ohio region, which has led many families to not choose to purchase electric vehicles. In fact, the government is aware of this problem, and just this past month, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) awarded $7.9 million in grants to support the installation of more than 150 publicly accessible electric vehicle DC Fast Charging ports at 32 locations in 25 counties. And Cuyahoga County receives $330,000 in grants.[7] We need more initiatives like this in the future to encourage people to buy electric cars, which are an important part of our sustainable transportation system.

In terms of long-term goals, Cleveland’s inefficient public transportation system (both bus and RTA) is a major factor preventing it from becoming a sustainable city. Extremely low coverage and infrequent headways result in low-income groups needing to spend a significant amount of time each day commuting, which makes means that many potential job opportunities are not available to them.[8] For the middle-class and high-income groups, it is almost impossible for them to choose public transportation as a choice of travel because of its timeliness. The private car becomes the only travel option available to them, which is clearly not a sustainable model. All successful sustainable cities around the world have an extremely advanced and eco-friendly public transportation system. Berlin, Germany, San Francisco, the United States, and Vancouver, Canada have all shown successful precedents for Cleveland.[9]  Increasing the frequency and coverage of public transportation is something that needs to be urgently addressed, as it will greatly benefit low-income groups. In addition, it is necessary to gradually replace the existing buses with new clean energy buses, open more RTA routes, set up more stops, and last but also important, provide a more comfortable riding environment for passengers in order to improve the riding experience of passengers. After all, these changes are completed, not only will it be the low-income group that will take public transportation, but more people who own their cars will join because of convenience, comfort, and time savings. At that time, the use of private cars will be greatly reduced.

The reduction of using private vehicles will contribute significantly to the reduction of carbon emissions in the Cleveland area. Cuyahoga County’s total greenhouse gas emissions did show a downward trend over the past few years, but this was mainly due to a significant reduction in the Stationary Energy component. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have remained at the same level, with over ninety percent of this section contributed by private vehicles.[10]

The significance of this improved, sustainable transportation system is far from being limited to reducing the use of private cars. It will bring all Cleveland residents regardless of race and socio eco class, into a healthy, environmentally friendly system that will dramatically change the way people live. The mobility of residents in the city will largely increase, and this could be an effective stress reliever for people. For instance, low-income families living in East Cleveland can also take public transportation to enjoy time in Forest Hill Park located in South Euclid during the weekends. And people’s mental and physical health improves dramatically in the process.

Obviously, the implementation of this plan will not be as rosy as imagined. The first major obstacle to reform is the budget, the city’s current revenue does not allow Cleveland to make such a big change. For example, the Bay Area, home to San Francisco, the most successful sustainable city in the United States, just announced a $30 billion-plus budget agreement in June of this year, of which $1.09 billion was spent on a transportation package that includes new investments in public transit, freight movement, bicycles, and other transportation projects. investments in public transit, freight movement, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements, and climate adaptation projects.[11] Whereas, the City of Cleveland’s annual budget is only $1.8 billion. (Although the Cleveland area is smaller in population size and area than San Francisco, this can still be considered as a reference)

In addition to stretched finances, another predictable obstacle is that Cleveland’s city residents are likely to be reluctant to engage with the city’s public transportation system. It is possible that they will not ride shared bikes or take the new buses or RTA trips. The success of this system is based on the willingness of people to give up private car travel if alternative options are available. People living in Beijing or San Francisco, for example, have always traveled primarily by subway or BART. However, the majority of Cleveland residents do not have that habit. There are many reasons for this, such as the reluctance of middle-class residents to share a bus with low-income groups and the homeless. They feel unsafe because of the extremely high crime rates in certain areas of Cleveland in the past.

Overall, I don’t think this is a goal that can be easily achieved in the short term because the existing transportation system in Cleveland is just terrible and there are too many things that need to be improved. And this proposal is bound to meet with a lot of opposition because it will cost the city most of its budget over the next few years, and its outcome is not as immediate as other social welfare projects. But fortunately, people are becoming aware of the importance of environmental justice and will make a lot of changes as a result.


[1]“Cleveland Air Quality Index (AQI) and Ohio Air Pollution,” IQAir, accessed November 7, 2022, https://www.iqair.com/us/usa/ohio/cleveland.

[2]“Who Air Quality Guidelines,” Risks of Hazardous Wastes, 2011, p. 379, https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-1-4377-7842-7.00035-0.

[3]Iberdrola, “Green Corridors, How to Take Care of the Environment in Cities?,” Iberdrola (Iberdrola, April 22, 2021), https://www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/green-corridor.

[4]Stacker, “Ohio Has 6 of the 50 Cities with the Most Green Space per Capita,” Stacker, January 10, 2022, https://stacker.com/ohio/ohio-has-6-50-cities-most-green-space-capita.

[5] “China Bike-Sharing Boosts Green Goals,” Xinhua, September 17, 2022.

[6]“Europe Bike Sharing Market: 2022 – 27: Industry Share, Size, Growth – Mordor Intelligence,” Europe Bike Sharing Market | 2022 – 27 | Industry Share, Size, Growth – Mordor Intelligence, accessed November 7, 2022, https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/europe-bike-sharing-market.

[7]Ohio EPA Awards grants for Electric Vehicle Charging stations in 25 counties, accessed November 7, 2022, https://epa.ohio.gov/about/media-center/news/ohio-epa-awards-grants-for-electric-vehicle-charging-stations-in-25-counties.

[8]Conor Morris, “Stuck in Cleveland: Riders Struggle to Use Public Transit to Get to Work,” Northeast Ohio Solution Journalism Collaborative, June 10, 2022.

[9] “6 Traits of a Sustainable City (with Examples),” Digi International, accessed November 7, 2022, https://www.digi.com/blog/post/sustainable-city.

[10]“Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory,” Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, October 14, 2020, https://www.countyplanning.us/projects/climate-action-plan/greenhouse-gas-inventory/.

[11]“New Budget Agreement Gives Big Boost to Transportation, Housing,” Metropolitan Transportation Commission, June 2, 2022, https://mtc.ca.gov/news/new-budget-agreement-gives-big-boost-transportation-housing.

Work cited

“6 Traits of a Sustainable City (with Examples).” Digi International. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.digi.com/blog/post/sustainable-city.

“China Bike-Sharing Boosts Green Goals.” Xinhua, September 17, 2022.

“Cleveland Air Quality Index (AQI) and Ohio Air Pollution.” IQAir. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.iqair.com/us/usa/ohio/cleveland.

“Europe Bike Sharing Market: 2022 – 27: Industry Share, Size, Growth – Mordor Intelligence.” Europe Bike Sharing Market | 2022 – 27 | Industry Share, Size, Growth – Mordor Intelligence. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/europe-bike-sharing-market.

“Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory.” Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, October 14, 2020. https://www.countyplanning.us/projects/climate-action-plan/greenhouse-gas-inventory/.

Iberdrola. “Green Corridors, How to Take Care of the Environment in Cities?” Iberdrola. Iberdrola, April 22, 2021. https://www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/green-corridor.

Morris, Conor. “Stuck in Cleveland: Riders Struggle to Use Public Transit to Get to Work.” Northeast Ohio Solution Journalism Collaborative, June 10, 2022.

“New Budget Agreement Gives Big Boost to Transportation, Housing.” Metropolitan Transportation Commission, June 2, 2022. https://mtc.ca.gov/news/new-budget-agreement-gives-big-boost-transportation-housing.

Ohio EPA Awards grants for Electric Vehicle Charging stations in 25 counties. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://epa.ohio.gov/about/media-center/news/ohio-epa-awards-grants-for-electric-vehicle-charging-stations-in-25-counties.

Stacker. “Ohio Has 6 of the 50 Cities with the Most Green Space per Capita.” Stacker, January 10, 2022. https://stacker.com/ohio/ohio-has-6-50-cities-most-green-space-capita.

“Who Air Quality Guidelines.” Risks of Hazardous Wastes, 2011, 379. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-1-4377-7842-7.00035-0.