This article has been reprinted with permission by ideastream.
Candidates for mayor of Cleveland shared their thoughts on a variety of environmental issues during a forum Wednesday evening focusing specifically on environmental justice.
Among the sponsors were advocacy organizations Bike Cleveland and Clevelanders for Public Transit and issues important to them, protected bike lanes and increased bus routes, were two of the most talked about during the forum.
Former Ward 2 Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed decried what he said was a lack of bike lanes on the East Side vs. the West Side of Cleveland and said Cleveland’s car culture is contributing to climate change.
“The fact that so many Americans believe that the only way we can get around is by car is continuing the climate crisis. And that’s what it is right now. It’s a crisis,” Reed said.
He proposed closing to car traffic, on weekends, the stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. through the Cultural Gardens. He said it would allow people on foot or on bikes to better enjoy the gardens.
Justin Bibb, an executive at an urban technology nonprofit and a former member of the Greater Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority (RTA) Board of Trustees, said he wants every neighborhood to prioritize pedestrians over cars.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about residents frustrated with drivers going 55 miles per hour on a 35-mile-per-hour street,” Bibb said. “There are lives at stake here and by prioritizing people over cars, we can make sure that every neighborhood in this city is safe and secure for our residents.”
Bibb also said the next mayor needs to work with the county, RTA, and the state government to get a “fair share” of investments for public transit.
State Sen. Sandra Williams highlighted her work in the Ohio Senate to secure $25 million for the RTA in the state budget. The money was budgeted by RTA to buy new busses and new rail cars.
“According to [RTA] and their statistic, that is going to help reduce climate change within our community and make the system more efficient,” Williams said.
On multiple occasions, attorney Ross DiBello said he wants to encourage residents to embrace public transportation.
“I want to attack car culture. I want to attack pollution and air quality and climate change,” DiBello said.
Among the other topics discussed: Cleveland’s diminished tree canopy, a lack of green energy in the area, and the rising costs of clean water.
Dennis Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor, and U.S. Congressman, said he would replace Burke Lakefront Airport with a park. He noted his decades of experience advocating for laws to improve environmental issues
“I have been absolutely years ahead of the public discussion on environmental matters, whether it’s been at a local level, a state level, a federal level, and even an international level,” Kucinich said.
Ward 7 Cleveland City Councilman Basheer Jones vowed to work with advocacy organizations that have expertise on environmental issues.
“Many of you are much smarter on the issues than I am. So when I’m sitting at the table with you, I will be silent and I will listen to you and hear your thoughts and concerns and implement — not just listen — and implement the expertise that you have,” Jones said.
The candidates agreed Cleveland needs to add more tree cover, but specific plans for accomplishing that were not fleshed out during the forum.
This story was produced as part of an environmental justice reporting initiative involving partners Ideastream Public Media, The Land, The NewsLab at Kent State University, WKSU, La Mega, and the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative (NEOSOJO).
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