Safety study finds closing Public Square to RTA buses increases risk to pedestrians

Posted at 4:57 PM, Feb 07, 2017

The City of Cleveland indefinitely closed Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority traffic access through Public Square last summer. But a new study released Tuesday is raising questions about whether that was the best idea.

The study, commissioned by the RTA, supports re-opening the square to buses, finding that not allowing bus traffic in the area actually increases the risk to pedestrians. 

The study also found, in part: 

  • Closing Superior Avenue to GCRTA usage has increased the operational risk to GCRTA operations, pedestrians and motor vehicles at 15 pedestrian crossings and five intersections around the perimeter roadway.
  • Closing Superior Avenue to GCRTA usage has created choke points along the West Roadway to the Ontario Street intersection resulting in increased safety and security risks.
  • Opening Superior Avenue to GCRTA usage will reduce the operational risk to GCRTA operations, pedestrians and motor vehicles around the perimeter roadway. The listed pedestrian crossing safety mitigations for the Superior Avenue center block pedestrian crossing should be implemented.
  • Security and terrorism vulnerabilities exist whether Superior Avenue is open or closed. The recommended mitigations for both the day to day criminal activity and terrorism threats need to be evaluated and implemented as needed between GCRTA, Transit Police, the City of Cleveland Police, TSA, and DHS. 

"It's safer for RTA buses to go through the Square, then to go around the square," said Joe Calabrese, Chief Executive Officer & General Manager of the RTA. "The reason for that is for buses to go around the square, they have to make more than 1 million turns, additional turns every year to traverse the perimeter of the square."

Calabrese said closing the square off to buses creates a traffic jam in the area.

"Taking those thousand buses a day to bring them around the square causes congestion and traffic backups," he said. 

A pedestrian was struck and killed by an RTA busnear Public Square in December. Though representatives from Clevelanders for Public Transit have said they believe the closing of Superior Avenue is partly to blame, it's unclear whether that's actually the case. 

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration told RTA to re-open Public Square or repay $12 million in federal grants.

"Losing $12 million would be significant," said Calabrese. "Equally as concerning would be to, I think, tarnish what is a very good reputation we have with the federal government of delivering projects on time, on budget and, of course, with the agreements we have." 

The City of Cleveland held a press conference Tuesday evening in response to the release of the study. 

Cleveland Chief Operating Officer Darnell Brown classified it as a "premature release of information." 

He added that the city still needs a "clear understanding and assessment of risk" before they will reopen Public Square to buses.