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WNYC News

Cleveland's Health Line: A Boost for Transit and for Business?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reported by Dan Moulthrop

As American cities increasingly look to expand their transit options -- but keep costs low -- many planners are looking at Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. The city of Cleveland, Ohio, launched a BRT, called the Health Line, about six months ago with two promises. The first: better, more efficient public transit on an important city artery. The second promise was more nebulous: that the BRT would provide an economic boost to the city's depressed downtown. In WNYC's look at BRTs around the world, Reporter Dan Moulthrop takes a look at how it's going in Cleveland.

Let's start with the buses.

CALABRESE: The vehicles we use are not buses, they're Rapid Transit Vehicles.

And the difference?

CALABRESE: A couple hundred thousand dollars.

Joe Calabrese is the CEO of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. And, he's really proud of the new BRT system. So proud, he still cherishes last year’s bus-of-the-month calendar from a manufacturer that featured Cleveland’s new vehicle.

CALABRESE: The uniqueness is the rail-like design and the rail-like operation. We really designed, built and are operating this as if it were a rail system. The only difference is that they’re operating on rubber tires.

Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit line has been running since last October. Euclid Avenue wasn’t supposed to be serviced by fancy buses. In the early 1990s, city leaders pushed for a surface rail line, but the cost for the four-mile line would have been close to a billion dollars. Like New York, perhaps, only more so, Cleveland couldn’t afford that. So the city leaders put their hope in what they saw as the next best much cheaper thing. And they said—and privately hoped—it would spur the economic development the same way light rail has in Portland, Oregon, and other cities.

The downtown end of Euclid Avenue is lined with tall historic buildings—mostly empty. This part of the city stood in for New York in parts of the movie Spiderman Three. Here, it’s not difficult to understand the need for economic development.

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