Transportation

Long a Bus City, Ohio's Capital Hires Consultants to Explore New Transit Options

How will Columbus, Ohio, accommodate future growth?

by Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / December 1, 2017
A bus driving through The Short North in Columbus, OH.

(TNS) — A new study will determine whether a train, bus-rapid transit or another type of transportation system that moves a lot of people in a single vehicle is needed to serve different parts of the Columbus area as it develops in the future.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is working with Columbus, the Central Ohio Transit Authority and several other central Ohio communities to study development possibilities in five corridors stretching from downtown to past the outerbelt.

Consultants hired to conduct the study will look at every piece of property in those five areas to identify the development possibilities as the region's population grows in the next several decades. MORPC estimates the region could add 1 million people by 2050.

Once consultants determine which scenarios are likely for each area, they will recommend transit options, policies and regulations that can support them into the future.

"This is going to look at what kind of development could go there and what do we need in terms of transportation and infrastructure to make it happen," said William Murdock, MORPC's executive director.

Murdock said the corridors are a mix of developed and undeveloped areas. Consultants will analyze the areas around West Broad Street and East Main Street; the southeast, including parts of Parsons Avenue, Groveport Road and Alum Creek Drive; the Northeast primarily following Cleveland Avenue; and the Northwest along Olentangy River, Bethel and Sawmill roads.

"For us what's probably the most important starting part is: Are there a lot of people who can use transit, and how much, and, OK, now let's look at the different types of technology," Murdock said. "We don't actually know what it will end up recommending."

Murdock said light rail, bus-rapid transit and new transit technologies all are possibilities. Those also would be radical shifts for Columbus, which relies on COTA's bus network for public transit.

COTA will launch its first bus-rapid transit line on Cleveland Avenue next year. Bus-rapid transit lines are designed to move faster than traditional buses, combining limited stops with "signal priority" technology that alerts traffic lights of an oncoming bus to prepare the light to change.

"I hope we won't be building the last dinosaur transit system but we will be building the first of the new version of transit systems," Yaromir Steiner, CEO of Steiner & Associates, said at the news conference. Steiner also is the chairman of the Columbus district of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research institute that pushes land-use policies as potential solutions to urban problems.

Columbus is among the entities that will help pay for the $600,000 study, which will be conducted by several consultants. MORPC, the Columbus Partnership, COTA and several suburbs also are chipping in.

Columbus City Councilman Shannon G. Hardin said at a news conference Thursday that the region has to develop in the "right way" as population grows. The Insight 2050 report encouraged dense development in the future.

"We have a choice before us. We can further sprawl onto undeveloped land or we can densify," Hardin said.

©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.