Sunday Train: Pushing for a Rapid Rail HSR Station in Ravenna, Ohio

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

OK, now, thanks to John Kasich, we are not going to get started on that Rapid Rail HSR network before 2015. Indeed, Democrats would probably have to take back one of the two Chambers of the State Legislature to be able to hit the ground running on getting that Rapid Rail HSR network going in 2015.

On the other hand, if you never lay the foundation, you always end up with an outcome you don’t like.

And I don’t like the way that the Ohio Hub connects to Summit and Portage Counties, so I want to work on how to get a station in Ravenna added to the Ohio Hub.

The reason its on the Sunday Train is threefold: maybe somebody can give me a great tip; maybe somebody can get an idea for something they can work on where they live; and its about making more sustainable transport options available to a medium city and a variety of inner and outer suburban landscapes.

Why is Portage County Missing?

Why is Portage County missing from the Ohio Hub? Because Kent and Ravenna are individually too small to justify a station.

But this betrays a lack of strategic thinking about the Route Matrix. The route from Pittsburgh to Cleveland has a preferred alignment that runs through Youngstown and Warren ~ and I believe that is why it is the preferred alignment ~ and an alternative alignment that runs through the thriving metropolis of Alliance, Ohio (pop: 22,586) {NB. Municipal populations ~ I’ll shift to urban area populations below).

It runs through Ravenna (pop: 11,442), misses Kent (pop: 27,915) skims through the northeastern edge of Summit County, passing through Hudson (pop: 23,026), but given its former importance as an industrial center, Akron (pop: 207,216) is not on the Ohio Hub, since rail lines were more built to run to Akron than through Akron on the way to somewhere else.

The “Southeast Cleveland” station is not necessarily even going to be in Summit County ~ it could be in Cuyahoga County further along the alignment, leaving urban Summit County (pop: 541,781) and small town, exurban and rural Portage Country (pop: 161,419) without a single station, despite the rail corridor running through both counties.

Won’t Someone Think of the Child… err, College Market?

Of course, an area population is not composed of a homogeneous mass of identical consumers / workers / travelers. Some populations are more likely to be using a 110mph or 125mph Rapid Rail HSR service than others. And one of those key populations are College Students.

And so it is quite relevant that in skipping Portage County altogether and at best brushing against, and possibly skipping Summit County, the Ohio Hub is leaving Kent State and Akron University off the network. Indeed, with Kent State and Akron U. on the line, the Pittsburgh / Cleveland rail line makes for a much more compelling “Knowledge Corridor” ~ Carnegie-Mellon, Pitt, Youngstown U, Kent State, Akron U, Case Western … if a “Knowledge Corridor” relies on synergy, adding two additional nodes to a four node corridor increases just the pairwise opportunities from six to 15.

If its not feasible to run the rail corridor through Kent State and Akron U, one should at least consider how to provide the most effective connecting service to Kent State and Akron U.

The Existing Lay of the Land

At present ~ with Kasich as Governor no telling how much this will be savaged in the next three years, but at least at present ~ the two counties have their own Bus Systems as their primary transport alternatives. There are two Akron routes to Hudson, if Hudson were to get a stop, so there’d be at least derisory connection from points in Akron to a “Southeast Cleveland” station if that station were located in Hudson. Otherwise, the connection would be the even less frequent intercity buses that run from Akron to Cleveland. The Akron system is organized around a downtown transit center, so the target for some form of station shuttle would be Akron U, Akron Transit Center, and the station.

For Portage County, the county transit service and the University bus service merged, so Kent State students have their fare covered up front, and only have to flash their University ID to get a ride. There is exactly one primary bus route, running between Ravenna and Kent and then swinging across the border into Summit County to connect to the big box retail district of Stow, which is functionally part of the Kent urban area. Kent has several additional “suburban” services, and Ravenna has one suburban horseshoe route, connecting to the main interurban at the Hospital.

The reason that the Portage County bus “gets to” go to Stow across the country border is that the Kent University airfield is located across the country border, so its going to the airfield, and just “happens” to also go by the Target / Giant Eagle strip mall and associated big box retail district in Stow along the way.

Urban Areas and Legal Boundaries

Now, all the population numbers I gave below are recent (within the last five years) figures of populations within legal boundaries. But legal boundaries only have a very loose connection to the economic geography of a place.

That is why I like to include consideration of US Census Urban Areas (2000 Census map files) when thinking about intercity transport service areas. Urban Areas are based on a core of neighborhoods with a population density of 1,000 per sq. mile, and adds adjoining neighborhoods with a population density of 500 per square mile.

In terms of US Urban Areas ~ this is all Akron that I am talking about. The Akron urban area, pop. app. 570,000, as of 2000 somewhere between Fresno and Albuquerque on the urban area population list (and like many a regional economist, I will be happy next year when the 2010 census urban area maps and populations are available), centered on the higher density census tracts with in the City of Akron. About half of the adjoining Akron suburb of Cuyahoga Falls lies in the urban area, which connects to the suburb of Stow, which extends across the county border into Kent, which connects to Ravenna, which is the northeastern limit of the Akron urban area.

So, How does Akron use a Ravenna Station?

As far as the northeast corner of the Akron Urban Area, represented by Kent and Ravenna … as long as Ravenna Station is convenient to the existing Interurban bus route, for those who don’t drive, by catching the bus (roughly, green route at right). Adding patronage to an existing bus route allows for greater frequency, and service hours at the same subsidy. And for the critical Kent State University student market, from their perspective its already a “free bus ride”.

And for the Akron Transit Center and Akron University, there is already a limited frequency Kent/Akron Express service which can be directly extended into an Akron / Kent / Ravenna Stn service (blue route).

There may only be a sketch of public transport service in this part of the Akron urban area ~ but a station where the preferred alignment crosses the Akron urban area in Ravenna would build upon and support the services that already exist.

Where Should the Station Go

Well, obviously this is something that requires a bit of talking around with people in the local area as the advocacy progresses …

… but I noticed something, while cycling to work over the past year. There used to be the Ravenna Ravens band trailer parked here. This was back when the old High School in the middle of town was still in use. However, that building was replaced by a new High School, just south of the Hospital … and recently, as a result of actually riding through the new High School parking lots, I saw that the band trailer is now parked by the practice field outside the stadium.

What happened was they moved the high school in stages, with the first stage being the construction of a high school stadium at the site of the new high school. But as that was not convenient to the existing high school, there was a practice field established that was closer to the center of town, on a lot next to the branch rail line … that is the preferred alignment for the Pittsburgh / Cleveland line.

So I’m thinking, if they aren’t using that field anymore, that may be a good place for the station. If the platform extended to the west, it would allow for a direct walk to Chestnut Road, which is the existing route for the main Interurban bus route.

Winning Ravenna Station

Now, as said at the outset, the entire Ohio Hub has been tossed back on the shelf for the next two and a half years at least.

But all that is required at this point is to get the Ravenna Station penciled in. That involves getting the Ohio Rail Development Commission to have a second look at the question of service for Kent State and Akron University and the Akron urban area as a whole.

If that is raised, it is certainly in the interests of elected representative of Ravenna and Kent in Portage County to set forward Ravenna Station as an option. Wherever a Portage County station is located will be a magnet for local TOD (Transit-Oriented Development), and Ravenna is the alternative where that TOD would be welcomed rather than opposed ~ as it would be in a place like Brady Lake.

For motorists from greater Akron, most any location along the preferred alignment as it brushes against greater Akron are equally convenient or inconvenient, but for public transport users in Akron, a shuttle that runs most of the distance between downtown Akron and Kent on the Interstate and Route 43 provides for an effective express, and pooling Akron and Kent student demand should provide sufficient patronage to ensure a connection to each of the planned four Rapid Rail HSR trips each way each day.

So I’m thinking that a Ravenna Station with supporting Express Shuttle connection to Akron University and the Akron MTC can be presented Akron transit users as an upgrade to the existing plan.

Anyway, that’s the plan …

Of course, if it lets me ride my bike to Ravenna Station and catch a train with a connection to an Economist’s convention, or fly out of Cleveland or Pittsburgh, rather than have to recruit a family member to drive me the hour to the Akron-Canton airport … that’d be good too.

Midnight Oil ~ Truganini


    • BruceMcF on August 8, 2011 at 01:14

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