//All Aboard

All Aboard

The light-rail Rapid is emerging, once again, as a key component in Shaker’s livability, as livability is defined in 21st-century terms.

By Julie McGovern Voyzey

Rapid train in Shaker Heights, Ohio

What’s your connection? Maybe you remember riding the Rapid to Terminal Tower as a child to have dinner at the Silver Grille, or you start your day rushing to catch the 8:01 to work, or your weekend begins with a ride to the North Union Farmers Market in Shaker Square on Saturday mornings. Maybe it is simply the sound of the train rumbling down the tracks or the sight of the silver striped cars rushing by. Whatever your connection, the rhythms and sounds the Rapid creates in our daily lives both consciously and subconsciously are inextricably linked to the experience of living in Shaker Heights. The Rapid is an ingrained part of our identity – a key to the development of the City in the early 20th century, and a cornerstone of the City’s redevelopment and growth in the early 21st century.

Beginning in 1913, with a lumbering trolley running down Shaker Boulevard from Fontenay Road and evolving through the early part of the 20th century in both reach and speed, the Rapid has been shuttling residents of Shaker Heights to and from downtown Cleveland for a century. Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, the founders of Shaker Heights and railroad magnates themselves, knew that rapid transit was crucial to the success of Shaker Heights. Direct, fast access to downtown made living in this then-rural area a viable option for wealthy city dwellers.

Streets were laid out in relation to the rapid transit line; every house was built within a few minutes’ walk to a stop. No dwelling is more than a half mile from the nearest station, and most are just a quarter mile. This combination of a carefully planned community and a rapid transit line whisking residents downtown in 21 minutes made Shaker Heights a sought-after community.

Today, the Rapid is as relevant and important to Shaker Heights as ever. Throughout the U.S., the vast majority of urban redevelopment is occurring along public transit lines. Locally, look no further than the HealthLine, a bus rapid transit system (BRT) running along Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Euclid Avenue, once Cleveland’s main street, lined with the mansions of legendary industrialists, is again a hive of activity, connecting people to key places along the spine of downtown – thanks to a well-designed, pedestrian-and-bicycle-friendly system that shuttles people between Cleveland State University and University Circle with its hospitals and cultural amenities.

With a wave of millennials (18-30 year-olds) turning their backs on a car-dependent lifestyle, cities with light rail systems have a competitive advantage for the future. Transit Oriented Development is a key ingredient in efforts to attract a portion of these 70 million young people.

Consider these nationwide statistics:

  • 42% of apartment units under construction are within a few minutes’ walk of trains or buses.
  • 45% of millennials report a conscious effort to replace driving with other modes of transportation.
  • 26% of millennials have no driver’s license.
  • Home values near high-frequency public transit are 42% higher than those located farther from transit.
  • There is a 90% rent premium for units within walking distance of public transit versus other properties.

All of this adds up to a compelling story about the vital role of public transportation in real estate and housing decisions, especially when a city is trying to attract and retain residents who want alternatives to a car-dependent lifestyle. Think Amsterdam in the Netherlands, or San Francisco, or Brookline in Massachusetts, with streetcars rolling through vibrant, pedestrian-filled streets lined with restaurants, shops, and apartments.

Now envision this on a smaller scale in Shaker Heights, thanks to the key ingredient: the Rapid.

In fact, both of Shaker’s newest development projects were built to take advantage of this proximity to the Rapid: The Van Aken District, which sits at the end of the Blue Line at Van Aken Blvd. and Warrensville Center Rd. , and the Townhomes of Van Aken, also on the Blue Line,

Transit Oriented Development takes us back to our roots, back to the vision the Van Sweringens had for Shaker Heights, and propels us forward.

It is our past, and our future.