Paige Bennett’s recent article in The Land highlights Cleveland’s new “Complete and Green Streets” ordinance (676-2020) that was recently introduced by Councilman Kerry McCormack. According to the article this ordinance “has been in the works for two years and has already been reviewed by several groups.” Jacob VanSickle, the Bike Cleveland guy, had a lot of nice things to say about it.
I don’t. Here’s why.
This ordinance is missing the “or else” part, because exemptions are automatic. Any time the administration feels like not implementing Complete and Green standards, they can claim an “exemption” (see Section 7) which can be for any reason. An exemption claim triggers some requirements for notifications and a hearing, but (really importantly) there’s nobody who can say “no” to it.
This wouldn’t be too bad if the administration was really into Complete and Green practices and could be counted on to use exemptions very narrowly, but we know for a fact that they’re not. Very few streets in Cleveland meet the standards today, nine years into our existing Complete and Green Streets policy.
Notably, substantial work has been done on major east-west streets like Woodland, Cedar, and Chester—but they’re not compliant with Complete and Green standards. You can drive as fast as you want on these streets, with usually a couple lanes to yourself, and there is essentially no infrastructure for anything but cars.
That’s the future under this new legislation of unlimited “exemption.”
My letter to Kerry McCormack:
I read through your proposed Ordinance 676-2020 and while it’s way more specific than the old ordinance, it’s not going to work.
If the administration wants to implement “complete streets” today, there is nothing stopping them from doing it. So the ordinance is by its nature making them do something they don’t want to do.
And the new ordinance has a giant loophole that allows them to do exactly zero complete streets, by claiming “exemption” (viz. Section 7) for any reason or no reason (“exemptions… include, but are not limited to…”). As you know, when an exemption is claimed the new ordinance would require three things: notification of the TIAC, notification of the Council member in the affected area, and a hearing. But there is nothing in the ordinance that denies an exemption.
So there is nothing stopping the people who are already not wanting to create complete streets from exempting literally every project from this ordinance. They can send out a lot of notifications and have a lot of meaningless hearings and then just keep making “incomplete” streets as always.
Bottom line, this ordinance means “you have to do complete streets unless you decide you don’t want to.” Its ineffectualness is baked in.
(Also, Section 6 is a little messy because it doesn’t specify which TIAC members are appointed by which entity. Who gets to pick the “two resident representatives”? Is the MPO representative chosen by the Mayor or Council? It’s not spelled out.)
There’s clearly a good intention behind this ordinance but it doesn’t work because it’s just advisory in effect. If this administration was one that acted on good advice though, you wouldn’t need the legislation. If the Complete and Green Street elements aren’t mandatory, or if they always yield to claimed “exemptions,” then they won’t get done.
I’m looking forward to your reply on this. I hope you agree that amending 676-2020 to make it non-advisory by making exemptions a lot harder to get is the way to go.