Cleveland City Planners Change Policies to Create 15-Minute City


cleveland city planners change policies to create 15 minute city

Cleveland, Ohio, has approved new zoning and transportation policies that are angling to transform it into the next “fifteen-minute city,” The City Planning Commission voted to move forward with changes to building codes in several pilot neighborhoods it wants to make more pedestrian friendly. However, such policies have become contentious with European examples further down the path of progress seeing relatively consistent opposition due to the fact that the ultimate goal is to eliminate the automobile.

This is actually something Cleveland has been working on for years, starting way back in 2015. However, the program hadn’t built the necessary momentum until the pandemic. In 2022, Mayor Justin Bibb introduced the fifteen-minute premise as a way to modernize the city, citing Paris as the example.

“The basic concept of a fifteen-minute city is this ideal planning framework where human needs and desires are accessible within a fifteen-minute walk, bicycle ride, or transit trip,” Matt Moss, a planner with Cleveland City Planning Commission, stated at the time. “That’s really what we’re striving for in this new planning model.”

However, the idea needed to take into account which neighborhoods could even accommodate these changes. Many places in Cleveland are effectively too poor for the concept to work due to there being a deficit of amenities. Bike lanes and green space aren’t going to be appreciated by people living in areas without grocery stores, schools, or places to work. Urban planners had their work cut out for them and officials pivoted to changing zoning laws and incentives for a transit-oriented development that doesn’t plan around parking or additional driving lanes.

Fast forward to this week and is reporting the necessary changes have been made with three neighborhoods being targeted for construction — Hough, Opportunity Corridor and the Detroit Shoreway/Cudell.


The city views the pilot rezoning as a prelude to wider application across Cleveland, with opportunities to tweak and make adjustments as development unfolds under the new code.

The new zoning is designed to regulate the density and built form of buildings by controlling factors such as height, closer setbacks from streets, and specified amounts of windows to increase ground-level transparency.

The new code would emphasize graphic illustrations of requirements alongside 200 pages of text. It would largely replace, or in some cases work alongside, the existing code, developed in 1929, which largely regulates land use and is expressed primarily through text.

The second vote Friday established new performance standards for a “Transportation Demand Management’’ requirements developers would need to meet for projects located in roughly a dozen transit corridors across the city.

Subsidies will also be awarded to businesses (via a points system) based around offering services encouraging public transportation and bicycling. This could be as simple as a company offering employees a transit pass or as complicated as a corporation helping to refurbish bus stations. Minimum parking laws are also being done away with, since the point of the scheme is to reduce automotive traffic as much as possible. The new standards will reportedly come into effect in less than a month.

“I’m excited about these two initiatives and bringing my vision of prioritizing a vision of people over cars,’’ Bibb said. “We’re a transit city, we’re a bike city, and it’s time we started acting like it.’’

Potential benefits aside, this will undoubtedly become a controversial issue as things progress. Fifteen-minute cities are an admirable concept and tend to work in urban areas that were never designed with cars in mind to begin with. But they’re broadly unpopular in places where people have to commute to work, as they’re often accompanied by rather aggressive traffic laws. They’ve also fallen under criticism due to the fact that they’re frequently framed as grass-roots initiatives, when they’re actually the most top-down central planning imaginable.

Vision Zero policies were something I became aware of at the impetus of the automotive industry pushing self-driving vehicles roughly seven years ago. At the time, they were being used as a way to nudge U.S. legislators to re-imagine preexisting vehicle safety standards to better accommodate self-driving vehicles, ensuring they would be placed on public roads as quickly as possible. The assumption here is that connected vehicles could force drivers into changing their behavior, collect valuable data for law enforcement, and eventually remove the human driver from the equation. But this is but a singular component.

Vision Zero is a globally focused United Nations initiative designed to totally eliminate all traffic accidents by implementing comprehensive changes to the legal framework of traffic laws, the expansion of public transportation, and physically changing roadways to accommodate those modifications. While initially quite vague, Vision Zero has grown to incorporate combating assumed environmental harms caused by automobiles, achieving “transportation equity,” and has been leveraged by a myriad of governments (particularly in Europe) hoping to reshape urban environments.

While this has resulted in cities pushing for more walkable areas and additional greenspace for pedestrians, we’ve also seen Vision Zero used to rationalize extremely low speed limits, unmitigated data collection, and unparalleled traffic surveillance that’s now baked in with automated traffic enforcement. If you live in a major metropolitan area, and were recently subjected to congestion charging, dramatically lower speed limits, or some kind of automated ticketing mechanism, there’s an extremely good chance those decisions were influenced by Vision Zero policies.

Fifteen-minute cities are effectively an offshoot of Vision Zero and are designed to create sustainable urban environments that mitigate pollution while also being convenient for the local population. Ideally, it’s supposed to create pedestrian-friendly environments where residents can have all their daily needs met without needing to hop into a privately owned automobile. However, the public response could be graciously described as mixed.

Many European cities have seen the implementation of Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) that fine drivers for using certain roadways without being in the correct type of car. The assumption here is that such decisions would encourage locals to purchase more electric vehicles while also discouraging them from driving when it’s not absolutely necessary. However, some residents of the the United Kingdom and France have taken to destroying surveillance cameras and blocking enforcement vehicles in protest on the basis that they find the scheme oppressive and extremely greedy.

Having reported on the topic frequently, your author was often told that these were European problems that would never migrate here. This continued after New York City adopted lower speed limits, replaced driving lanes with bicycle paths, raised tolls, and eventually introduced congestion charging in Manhattan with the accumulated riches going to the city’s absolutely broken Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Less than a year away from Manhattan being outfitted with congestion cameras and Cleveland is ready to try its hand at becoming a fifteen-minute city. This was always a global initiative focused on changing roads in every Western town and, while I’m certain some good things will come of it, they will happen overwhelmingly at the expense of drivers. The only real questions are how far will it go, how long it will take, what’s truly fair, and whether or not these trade offs will be appreciated by the locals.

[Image: Cleveland Planning Commission]

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