25Connects, a community planning effort led by RTA that aims to support walkable, transit-oriented development on West 25th Street between Detroit Avenue and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, is hosting a virtual public meeting on Wed., Oct. 14 at 6 pm. RTA will provide an update on opportunities along the W. 25th Street corridor to implement transit-oriented development (TOD) and bus rapid transit (BRT) enhancements, and solicit feedback.
One of the main goals of the project is to provide the design recommendations and tools to support the MetroHealth Line, one of the RTA’s busiest routes with 1.7 million rides annually, and ensure that the community doesn’t get left out of the planning process.
“Public transit is a critical component of healthy communities,” explained David Jurca, the Engagement Strategy Lead for 25Connects. “The 25th corridor has the potential to grow even more in ridership and serve as a spine for equitable development along the entire corridor, which then has an impact on the quality character and livability of these neighborhoods.”
The changes being considered run the gamut from improving the frequency of transit and adding traffic calming measures, to adding more trash receptacles, wifi at shelters, and landscaping, to redesigning structures and adding public art that reflects the populations along the route.
“It’s important to reinforce the unique local culture and visual identity of communities along the way,” explained Jurca. “That can all drive economic investment and more opportunities for affordable housing.”
In order to develop the most relevant plan for the local community, 25Connects put forth a comprehensive timeline to gather community input. The “Community Engagement” phase was to last from May to December and consist of large-scale community meetings, group tours throughout the area to collect impressions, and user-experience walks in which individuals document everything they see, think and feel as they set out from their home to public transportation, revealing experiential data that cannot be captured in a survey.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March, the plan had to quickly be altered. The timeline has now been extended through February. Planners are also providing some in-person feedback opportunities. “We’re ramping up the engagements over the next couple of months, realizing that we can’t rely on online [meetings] entirely and providing opportunities for people who might not be the most comfortable engaging online,” said Jurca.
Although the method of engagement has switched with the pandemic, the approach of engaging people in ways that honor the cultures found along the corridor has remained a core value of 25Connects. With 21% of the homes in the service area being Spanish-speaking, visitors to the project’s homepage are able to immediately go to 25Connecta, a fully translated website with all of the materials and presentations available in Spanish. Engagement sessions will be held at venues like salons and barber shops, places where participants do not have to RSVP but can still provide feedback. The project has also engaged the services of Roberta Duarte, founder of Areko Consulting, who is spearheading ethnographic research including Café Con Leche events for small group conversations.
“These community members are the experts and are the ones with the knowledge,” said Duarte. “We want to bring them into a conversation in a way that honors that knowledge while making them feel comfortable enough to participate.”
Residents are encouraged to visit https://www.25connects.com/ where they can access all of the resource materials and presentations on the project and sign up to learn about future opportunities for engagement.
Ken Schneck is an author, professor, radio host, and rabble rouser. He is the author of “Seriously, What Am I Doing Here?: The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew,” “LGBTQ Cleveland,” “LGBTQ Columbus” and “LGBTQ Cincinnati.” In 2020, he founded The Buckeye Flame, Ohio’s online LGBTQ+ publication. In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.