The Jackson administration tried to block complete and green streets legislation — then council fought back

Bike lanes under construction on the Detroit Superior bridge. Photo courtesy Bike Cleveland.

Bike lanes under construction on the Detroit Superior bridge. Photo courtesy Bike Cleveland.

By neglecting a proposal for complete and green streets in Cleveland, opponents thought they were killing it. Yet now, after a year of delays, the proposal is moving forward.

No one, though, is rejoicing. At least, not yet.

“We shouldn’t have to resort to this parliamentary procedure,” said Ward 3 councilman Kerry McCormack, author of the Aug. 2020 proposal.

“We should have a partner in the administration that believes in greener streets. We’re not doing something crazy here. At every block club meeting I go to, people want safer streets.”

Indeed, McCormack’s idea was far from incendiary. The ordinance he submitted to council last year was conceived with the most vulnerable in mind. Its intent was to give the public more input in street design and to promote equitable mobility and safer cycling.

But the administration of Mayor Frank Jackson apparently wasn’t interested. Ignoring a requirement in the city charter to refer such proposals to the Planning Commission, city officials instead sat on the bill, preventing it from being considered.

Officials in the Jackson administration haven’t said why they blocked the proposal, and didn’t respond to requests for comment in time for this story. McCormack, though, said he thinks he understands what happened.  

It isn’t that the administration disclosed any specific reservations. Rather, it’s that the proposal, crafted with input from dozens of community organizations and citizens over several years, gives power to the people.

McCormack’s letter to the planning commission, which he tweeted out Sept. 2, 2021.

McCormack’s letter to the planning commission, which he tweeted out Sept. 2, 2021.

“The crux of it is that it provides oversight and they don’t like it,” McCormack said.

Only the administration didn’t get the last word. Staff attorneys for city council discovered a provision in parliamentary procedure requiring the city to refer proposals like McCormack’s to the Planning Commission within 30 days of submission. If the city refuses, then according to procedure the proposal is deemed approved, and city council can begin considering it at the committee level.

That deadline has now passed. McCormack said council attorneys submitted the referral Aug. 5, 2021, but the Planning Commission didn’t put it on its agendas for Aug. 6, Aug. 20, or Sept. 3.

McCormack said he now expects the proposal to appear on the agenda of the next meeting of the Development, Planning, and Sustainability (DPS) committee later this month.

Meanwhile, the proposal is attracting attention among interested civilians. The nonprofit advocacy group Bike Cleveland has put out an action alert asking residents to contact city council in support of the legislation.

“This updated legislation will ensure equitable mobility by creating an improved process through which to elicit community input,” the alert states. “The result will be better street designs which result in more livable, equitable communities.”

McCormack, for his part, said he’s glad to see the proposal advance, but disheartened that city council had to surmount inaction by the administration to get the legislation where it is. He said he’d have preferred a fair, honest debate. 

“If you have open concerns, then let’s talk about it,” he said. “That’s the point of legislative review, to mark it up.”

For more on complete and green streets in Cleveland, check out:

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Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.

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