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Lakewood studying options to close the 'last mile' gap in public transit

One of the RTA line bus stations located in Lakewood, Ohio.
Sarah Kepple
City of Lakewood
One of the RTA line bus stations located in Lakewood, Ohio. Officials say they're considering whether additional services might be possible to help people reach main bus and train lines.

Almost fifteen years after the Lakewood Community Circulator was discontinued, the city is considering new local transit options.

Lakewood, a suburb on Cleveland's West Side, has hired Iteris Inc., which specializes in “smart infrastructure management,” to conduct an ongoing study to establish the need and feasibility for other public transportation options. The city is using nearly $150,000 in county-awarded American Rescue Act dollars to fund the survey.

The results are expected sometime this summer, said Lakewood City Council President Sarah Kepple.

“It’s early to say what exactly it would look like,” Kepple said. “But some of the things that we're thinking about are what is the cost for residents or for the city? Is it feasible that way? What are the conveniences residents are looking for? How frequently does it need to come through?” 

In April, the city passed the Active Transportation Plan with funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation, which seeks to make walking and biking safer within the city. It also includes plans to improve safety for kids walking to school. Public school busing is not provided within the community.

Despite these new transportation initiatives, city council members feel a sense of “urgency” to consider different modes of transportation that can circulate through the community according to Kepple.

“Connecting the dots between the existing broader RTA [Regional Transport Authority] infrastructure in Lakewood is what we've heard from residents is needed,” Kepple said.

When the circulator was discontinued in 2009, Lakewood wasn’t the only Cuyahoga County community affected; 12 other communities also lost their circulator lines.

Lakewood has options for senior citizens and those with disabilities to get around through a transportation van.

“The opportunity is right there to have a local, internal transportation option,” Kepple said “But there are other communities in Ohio that certainly could benefit from the lessons that we're learning from both this study and anything that would be implemented.”

A circulator system, which allows riders to hop on and off as a bus runs its route, left a gap in service many missed, said Cuyahoga County Councilmember, Dale Miller.

“There's just a lot of discussion now about 'last mile' transportation, and how people get from their home to public transportation to where they work or whatever other event they're going to,” Miller said. “These circulator buses could be very useful in a lot of communities.”

Miller, who supported Lakewood's bid for a county grant to hire Iteris Inc., did so because of the large support from residents to reinstate the circulator, he said.

“I heard lots of comments from people after the circulator service was discontinued, expressing disappointment that it was well used in Lakewood and that people felt the need for it,” Miller said. “I had a clear sense that this was something [that] was worth pursuing that people would be interested in.”

Kepple said there will be practicalities to consider as the conversation about local transportation continues.

“Having something that is truly convenient, cost-accessible and physically accessible would be a necessity to make this actually feasible,” Kepple said.

Mariah Alanskas was a news intern at Ideastream Public Media for the spring 2024 semester.