2 In North America/ Travel

How A Cavaliers Championship Made Cleveland Virtually Car-Free

I grabbed my GoPro yesterday morning before heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade, unsure of what I’d even do with the footage. But it was a historic moment and I knew I at least wanted it as a personal keepsake.

I’ve already written about what it’s like to live in a championship city and what that can do to a community’s mindset. Now I know what a championship parade can do for a city, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out what I’d do with the video — showing Clevelanders and viewers from any city how a championship can prove that a car-free city is a better, happier city.


Lorain-Carnegie Bridge during Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade

I started the morning with a three-mile run around 6 a.m. Running from my Ohio City neighborhood, over the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, through Downtown, and back over the Detroit-Superior Bridge completed a perfect three-mile loop. It also gave me an opportunity to scope out the crowd.

Early estimates said to expect 800,000 to 1,000,000 people (final numbers estimate 1.3 million). RTA, our public transportation authority, was already noting long lines waiting at the rail stations, especially at the park-and-rides. Sure enough, folks dressed in their Cavaliers wine and gold were already walking across the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge to Downtown Cleveland where plenty had been camped out since before sunrise on Ontario Street near the start of the parade route.

One of the main reasons I live where I live is because I have options. I can walk, bike, and take public transportation. I do not nor will I ever live in a transportation desert where my options are limited to vehicle transportation. So getting to the parade was never going to be an issue for me.

For so many others, it was an introduction to the sorry state of public transportation and walkability in Northeast Ohio.

(A note to the reader: I share this story here, on a travel website, because poor public transportation is an issue across the globe and impacts how we travel as tourists and in our everyday lives. Also, because it’s my website and I wanna.)


Cleveland skyline during Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade

While my family and I were enjoying our scenic walk over the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge with some of the best views of the Cleveland skyline, others were stuck in multi-hour lines trying to board a train. Many tweeted their frustrations to RTA, who to their credit, admitted their failure and used it as an opportunity to point out to first-time users that they are embarrassingly underfunded.

Case in point, the State of Ohio gives a measly 62 cents per capita for public transportation, putting one of the most populous and urbanized states in the U.S. on par with South Dakota and Mississippi. Neighboring states with similar population numbers, like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, average $57.71 per capita annually. We in Ohio also have the notorious distinction of having a governor (that nameless face who tried running for president and arguably gave us Trump by splintering his party’s vote), whose first order of business on election night was to declare the 3-C Corridor dead — a rail project that would have connected Ohio’s three largest cities of Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

(Plenty of reasonable people argue over the effectiveness of the 3-C Corridor plan, but methinks we can all agree that a real leader, a true visionary with a forward-looking agenda doesn’t immediately scrap a badly needed idea because it isn’t currently perfect. No highway project has ever been scrutinized under the same criteria.)

Cleveland, despite originally being fashioned after walkable New England cities, is a classic example of a beautiful American city being decimated by the advent of the car. Roads were widened, streetcars removed, public transportation shunned, and new highways gutted neighborhoods leading to a startling population decline over 50 years. Instead of people living and working in their neighborhood, they now live in suburbs and exurbs, driving 20 miles or more to get to work.

Unsurprisingly, reversing the trend has been difficult. This is true across the United States and in just about any other car-heavy urban area from New Delhi to Lima. Historic buildings continue to be leveled for surface parking lots while our national infrastructure crumbles. Convincing people that we need to move away from cars and back to walking, cycling, and public transportation has been like pulling teeth. Most are met with classic, baseless arguments, like:

“It’ll never happen.”

“People just drive.”

Or my favorite for its cocktail of assumption and inaccuracy, “Businesses need parking.”

Because the prevailing wisdom is that cities like Cleveland are and always will be car cities, it’s difficult to change minds short of buying everyone a roundtrip ticket to Copenhagen or Zürich — cities once overrun with cars and are now multi-modal meccas with some of the cleanest urban air you can breathe.

At least, that’s what I used to think.


Aerial view of the Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade

It turns out that a championship parade is another way to give folks in car-centric cities a taste of a multi-modal, walkable city. Major thoroughfares were closed to pedestrian and bike traffic only throughout Downtown Cleveland. People who would usually make a fuss about walking three blocks from a parking space to the office were happily walking over a mile to get to the parade, spending the entire day on foot. City cyclists reported feeling safer than they’ve ever felt, having strength in numbers against those who (stupidly) decided to attempt driving into the parade. I can certainly concur as a pedestrian yesterday.

The Cavaliers championship parade was ultimately the largest open streets event in the city’s history. Though I happily partook in the obligatory shouting as the likes of Jim Brown and LeBron James passed by, the community aspect is what I enjoyed most — by far and without question.

So often we hear people complain about parking and worry how they’re going to get anywhere with traffic, construction, and this or that. To the contrary, nobody complained about parking yesterday, nobody worried about how they’d get to the parade — they just did it.

That’s when I knew what I’d do with my GoPro footage. Not only would I chronicle a Cleveland championship for personal reasons — because God only knows when we’ll experience this joy again — but also to document for my suburban and car-first friends how much more enjoyable a city is when it puts people first.

The Cleveland Mall at the Cleveland Cavaliers championship parade

For those who missed the parade because of record lines at RTA stations or wondered why the system isn’t nearly as expansive as it should be, perhaps they’ll think about those who rely on an underfunded system facing fare hikes next time politicians and state officials purpose yet another highway extension or boulevard widening project. Perhaps they’ll consider that we need to go back to a Cleveland that puts pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders first — y’know, the Cleveland that was once the sixth largest in population.

Watch my video or any other video of the Cleveland championship parade. Watch any championship parade in any other city. Tell me people aren’t happier without cars clogging up city streets and our lungs. Nobody was thinking, “Boy, this sure would be better if we replaced half of this million person crowd with cars.” People are happy to be together, not separated by 5,000-pounds of murderous metal.

Here’s hoping we throughout the globe continue to find reasons to give our streets back to people and that we in Cleveland don’t have to wait another 52 years to see it happen again.

How a Cavaliers championship made Cleveland virtually car-free pinterest

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  • Tim
    June 23, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    I walked to work yesterday across the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, rather than biking, simply due to the mass of humanity I knew would be crossing. It was the most people I’ve ever seen on the bridge (which I cross daily), more than after the 2013 Wild Card Playoff game.

    One thing to your point about the community aspect of the sheer mass of people on foot downtown yesterday, in light of the shooting that occurred. I felt a much greater sense of tension downtown yesterday than I did on Sunday. That’s probably a function of the sheer mass of humanity, along with the heat, the long delays, and the fact that the sense of euphoria we all felt Sunday night had started to wane a fraction. Being me, I inevitably had my concerns about could happen if something went south, and there were issues with emergency services accessing people in distress, along with some fights at Tower City. That’s all to be expected, to be fair. If you just run the numbers, the *majority* of Northeast Ohio was supposed downtown yesterday, so some bad things were going to happen, as they would on any given day.

    Now, once the shooting happened, the negatives associated with such a large group of people did occur. People started running and that quickly fed rumors, fear, and more groups of people running. Fortunately, I did not see anyone get trampled or harmed during this, though a lot of people were clearly (and understandably) shaken up.

    But, at the same time, while people who walked or took transit may have felt a greater sense of vulnerability, as they couldn’t simply jump in their cars and take off, I saw it a bit differently. We all had the chance to walk out of downtown immediately, rather than getting to our cars and waiting through traffic or dealing with lockdowns. It also drove me to actively interact with people in a way that I normally don’t, since I’m painfully socially awkward and shy. We ended up finding two guys from Columbus who had no idea where they were going and helping them get to where they were staying in Detroit-Shoreway. We also helped another man who had gotten cut off from his wife and lost his phone in the chaos, and we worked to reunite him with her at their car in Ohio City. None of this would have been possible under different circumstances. Having everyone out on the streets, together, brought us face-to-face, gave us shared experiences, and created a sense of community and self-help.

    • Joe
      June 23, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      Good points on how people being outside can help combat a bad situation rather than everyone running to their vehicles and turning into the selfish monster we all become behind a wheel.