Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Creating Places: BRT — Cleveland style

Comparing the riding of a conventional city bus to the riding of bus rapid transit is like comparing the music of The Beatles to that of Kiss. You simply don't do it.

On this bus and rock and roll music theme, I just returned from a trip to Cleveland, in which I stayed downtown and checked on various elements of this underrated city. Construction on the much-discussed medical mart/convention center is underway, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is stellar, the University Circle district is vibrant and the Ohio City commercial district along 25th Street is very cool. A pleasant surprise included the distinctiveness and liveliness of the central business district's pedestrian-only Fourth Street (see photo below).

As to Cleveland's HealthLine bus rapid transit ... outstanding. I rode it twice and was quite impressed. The HealthLine is the prototype on which many other U.S. cities (including Nashville) are hoping to model their proposed BRT systems. Of note, I had coffee with Joe Calabrese, GM of the Greater Regional Transit Authority (more on this meeting later, as Joe is familiar with Nashville and what we're trying to do here with bus rapid transit). The man knows BRT — which he playfully calls "better rapid transit."

In short, the HealthLine is efficient and easy to use. It has spurred, since it opened in 2008, an estimated $4.3 billion in economic development. And the buses are quite eye-catching, sleek and surprisingly quiet. I last visited Cleveland in 1999 and drove Euclid Avenue (along which the BRT is located). The street seemed tired and in need of an infusion. Euclid got that infusion courtesy of the HealthLine. Indeed, the changes to the street since then have been dramatic.

Cleveland has hit a home run with its bus rapid transit.

More on this topic — and other Cleveland tidbits — in an upcoming post.

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