CWRU, CSU and partners enter federal competition to connect workers without cars to sprawling job hubs along highways

by | Feb 17, 2021

Steven Litt,

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Sixty years of sprawl enabled by highways has moved tens of thousands of jobs beyond the reach of low-income job-seekers who can’t get to work without a car, but who can’t afford a car because they don’t have a job.

That conundrum — which is related to redlining, exclusionary zoning, and other legacies of systemic racism in Northeast Ohio — is the focus of a local entry in a new civic research project funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The local entry is part of a national competition in which contestants are seeking a $1 million, one-year grant to implement solutions to the “spatial mismatch’’ between jobs and employers created by sprawl.

Today, workers who can’t afford a car spend an inordinate amount of time stitching together bus routes that can involve lengthy waits at transfer points. Then, regardless of the weather or time of day, they may have to contend with long walks to complete what city planners call the “last mile’’ to their destinations.

The objective of the federal competition is to “provide mobility options that resolve what is often described as an affordable housing and job-location mismatch,’’ according to a Case Western Reserve University news release.

CWRU is partnering in the Northeast Ohio competition entry with Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga County, and the Fund for Our Economic Future, a philanthropic alliance devoted to job creation, access and training.

Pan Li, associate professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering at CWRU’s Case School of Engineering will serve as principal investigator in the project.

“It is our privilege to have this great opportunity to collaborate with our civic partners to address the spatial mismatch problem our local communities are facing,” Li said in the news release.

The project team also includes Francisca Richter, research assistant professor at CWRU’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences; Dominic Mathew, urban and regional planner for mobility innovations at the Fund for Our Economic Future; Hongkai Yu, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Cleveland State University; and Catherine Tkachyk, chief innovation and performance officer for Cuyahoga County.

The team will base their project on existing work supported by the Fund for Our Economic Future. Two years ago, the fund launched The Paradox Prize, an earlier competition that generated proposals from 53 firms seeking to provide efficient transport linking urban workers to suburban jobs.

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