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COTA Reveals New Transit Recommendations, Looks for Feedback

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Reveals New Transit Recommendations, Looks for FeedbackConceptual composite image by Walker Evans.
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The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) started its NextGen initiative nearly two years ago, hoping to lay out a long-term vision for the future of transit in the region. A lot has changed since then – including the Smart City win, which fundamentally changed the landscape of transportation planning in Columbus – leading to delays in rolling out both COTA’s recommendations and those of city’s Connect Columbus plan.

COTA has now taken a major step, though, releasing a series of recommendations for the bus system as well as maps showing the corridors best suited for serious transit investment.

That investment could take the form of commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, or bus rapid transit — all grouped under the category of “high capacity transit corridors.”

The recommended corridors are divided into three categories – “Possible Today”, “Successful Tomorrow” and “Viable with Growth.” The three corridors deemed ready for high capacity transit now are High Street, East Main Street, and a small connector line running from East Franklinton to the campus of Columbus State Community College.


The next tier includes a commuter rail line connecting downtown and Polaris, an upgrade to the CMAX bus rapid transit line on Cleveland Avenue (which is set to open in January of 2018) and higher-capacity transit on Broad Street. Further in the future are possible protects like a Newark commuter rail line and a line traveling from downtown to the airport, and on to Easton.

The more general enhancements recommended in the plan seem to track fairly closely to those being implemented as part of COTA’s Transit System Redesign, which will be rolled out on May 1st. Other recommendations include “improvements to first/last mile access, accessible vehicles, and technologies to improve information, speed, and reliability,” all of which are being tackled in some way by the Smart Columbus initiative.

A new wave of public meetings is happening this week to get feedback on the proposals. For details on times and locations of the meetings, and for the opportunity to fill out an online survey, go to www.cota.com/Projects/NextGen.

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  • Jeff C

    “Don’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good”
    It’s a start. And demonstrating improvement in transportation downtown will lead to more investment, which will improve service, which will continue the cycle.

  • lbl

    not that I think any of this will become a reality – but the outlook for the vast majority of the West-side seems pretty dim. all three plans are heavily tilted towards the East-side.

    • YalithKBK

      Probably because all the rich people live there with cars, so who needs a bus. I used to live new UA and it sucked as there is zero bus service in that area.

      • RedStorm45

        #3 and #19 are direct lines to downtown that run through UA…

    • Jaye Moore

      The Westside is the most densely populated. That section of the city rail lines should connect on Mckinley and run west.

  • CMHflyer

    I’m surprised that a corridor spanning all the way up to Delaware did not make the cut in any of the categories listed. Would it be that difficult to create a spur between Polaris and downtown Delaware?

  • jman

    Very good news from Cota, let’s make it happen!

  • Columbusite

    I’m surprised to see Downtown-Airport-Easton so low on the list, as it seems to be talked about often. I guess that’s why they do studies though. I’d like to see them pick one and do it, but I’m not optimistic. At best we will get a few more so-called BRTs if Cleveland Ave does well.

    • cr08

      I’m really anxious to see how well the Cleveland Ave BRT does. I live a spitting distance from the supposed Park n Ride location in the old Meijer lot and live right off of Cleveland proper so it will be interesting to watch the progress. The PnR seems to be moving pretty quick. Every day something’s changed over there.

      • DeWight Smith

        Having used BRTs in other cities…if you got on near home headed downtown…you’d be there by the time you check your fb notifications.

        • Great to hear! I’m only thirty minutes on the bus now down Cleveland Ave, can’t wait for the C-Max. Always been envious when I’m in other cities and get to read instead of sitting in traffic. Finally just decided to make the bus work for me here. Can’t get away from driving a little, but it’s far better than driving all of it.

    • AkronRonin

      I agree, particularly since this is one of the key reasons cited for Columbus missing out on hosting the DNC last year. Meanwhile, For as anti-transit as the GOP is, the RNC chose Cleveland because of the Red Line between Hopkins and Downtown. Go figure.


    Some sort of rail connecting downtown – parallel to high street – through OSU campus, across to Easton, over to the airport and back into downtown should be the first thing on any lists.

    Makes the most sense for the area, as well as long term. Convention center area to the airport seems like it would make the most sense, money. Game day ridership would be high. Work days connecting campus, government areas. Students able to ride to and from populous areas. Make it happen COTA!

    • AkronRonin

      My thoughts exactly. A HSR loop connecting these areas would be perfect. Eventual spokes could be built out to Polaris, Dublin, Grandview, etc. Not holding my breath of course, but we can hope.

  • Morning Toast

    I guess all of us in Grove City will just need to keep our cars. Sigh.

    • Isn’t that what you bought into when you moved to Grove City? ;) You didn’t move there expecting new mass transit system, did you?

      • Morning Toast

        Ha, well, no, of course not. When it comes to mass transit, I don’t expect much at all. However, when things like light rail, trollies, etc start getting talked about and a map doesn’t show anything tapping into Grove City (or Dublin, for that matter), it doesn’t make much sense – especially when Polaris is on the board.

        I’d like to think any plans that talk about going beyond buses means you’d look to where there are a ton of cars and traffic. Polaris is on that list, so is Dublin and so should Grove City and others.

        • Yeah, I’m just razzin’ ya a bit.

          I’m a big fan of regional commuter rail lines, especially because they could use existing tracks and be very cost effective. There’s no reason every major suburb couldn’t have something like this line in Nashville:


          “The first “starter line” cost $41 million, or just under $1.3 million per mile, which made it the most cost efficient commuter rail start-up in the nation.”

  • hometown

    Better public transit is a public good worthy of support. I think it’s fitting to acknowledge that there are winners and losers in this plan, however. Victorian Village’s loss of bus service plus the closing of the neighborhood Giant Eagle equals more car traffic through an area already experiencing growing pains due to increased population density. As residents living alongside a soon-to-be former Cota stop, we look forward to less noise from buses. We don’t look forward to the hundreds of new car trips soon be streaming past the house toward the GE Market District for basic supplies and groceries.

  • jman

    Has anyone heard any rumblings down at the Wolfe /Dispatch site lately? Capital Tower 2.0, maybe?

    • Pete

      I’ve been wondering what’s up with this site, too.

  • jman

    It’s beginning to look like Millennial Tower isn’t going to happen, or will be in limbo. We are so good at making plans that are never actually carried out. Oh, we’ll do something, but it will be greatly compromised. That’s the way it is here. My guess is 3-6 stories, and a ten year wait.

  • I find the cut off to exclude the entire South End quite odd. Especially considering the investment occuring in the area and projected changes. I guess I’ll read further into this in case it’s related to traffic patterns.

  • Kevin Gartrell

    A commuter rail is overdue. The population of Central Ohio has grown/increased over the years.

  • FairBudgets

    I feel BRT will be more effective at helping current populations while rail would be more likely to attract gentrification… (I am not an expert and would like any researchers or planners to weigh in on if this is true.) It is just an observation based on other cities i have visitd.

  • CMHflyer

    It would be interesting to gauge current public opinion on passenger rail in all forms in Columbus compared to when the last ballot attempt occurred.

    I would imagine demographics throughout the city have changed enough that more people would be in support of rail transit than in the past. The trick seems to be getting the broader audience of the metro onboard with the benefits of improved mass transit and paying for its implementation. The fact that driving is so cheap and efficient in Central Ohio already I believe is the greatest problem in convincing the public to invest in rail transit (why pay for it when I don’t need it now?). So how do we get those that live in places like Hilliard, Obetz, Westerville, and the like to acknowledge that investing in rail mass transit is beneficial for them while they might not be directly served by a line or event want to ride mass transit at all?

    • pduncan710

      In my experience living in the Washington DC area, people will take public transit if it reduces their commute time, cost or makes either of those things more consistent.
      In my example for my commute from my home in Reston, VA to my office in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of DC. If I drove I had to pay for the toll roads as well as parking in a garage downtown and depending on traffic could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If I took the metro my total commute cost less than the tolls + parking and took consistently 50-55 minutes. I chose the metro almost every time.
      For my current commute from my home in Hilliard to my office on E Broad St downtown, the drive can take as little as 20 and as much as 50 minutes. Luckily there are no toll-roads in the area and my current employer pays for parking. Assuming my employer would pay for transit cost in lieu of parking (I would assume if your employer pays for one they would pay for the other, but not both) if the commute on public transit took consistently 30 minutes I would again chose it every time.

  • Matt

    US Railcar DMUs can provide rail transit as soon as built AND can run on freight track WITH freight traffic. No need to build new expensive lines.

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