Support from Local Leaders Boosts Smart2 Proposal

Plans for Smart2 Network Call for Bike Share Program

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city Board of Control approved entering into an agreement for a $13,000 planning grant to develop a bike share system as part of a larger effort to revamp Fifth Avenue.

A local delegation began a two-day mission Thursday to Washington, D.C., to lobby federal officials for a $10.4 million grant from a U.S. Department of Transportation program: Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build.

Similar requests to fund what is now referred to as the “Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training” – or Smart2 – Network were twice denied funding under Build’s predecessor.

Components of the plan include reducing the number of vehicle lanes on Fifth Avenue, adding turning lanes, medians, bike lanes, a tree-lined divided boulevard, and enhancements to Commerce, Federal, Front and Phelps streets.

Two proposed autonomous shuttles would connect St. Elizabeth Hospital Youngstown, Youngstown State University, the Western Reserve Transit Authority station downtown, the Youngstown Business Incubator and the Joseph Co. International manufacturing and research campus under construction on the East Side.

Members of the delegation include representatives of the Smart2 project’s partners. The local delegation includes Mayor Jamael Tito Brown; Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments; Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel; James Dignan, president/CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber; Paul Homick, president, Mercy Health Foundation Mahoning Valley; and Charlie Nelson, representing the Western Reserve Transit Authority.

According to Kinnick, the delegation planned to meet during the trip with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Ohio U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13, Bill Johnson, R-6, and Bob Gibbs, R-7; senior staff for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and representatives of USDOT officials.

“We were well received,” Kinnick said. Officials the delegation met with yesterday felt the project was “solid” and were impressed with the partnerships put together to accomplish it, something local representatives were told would be crucial after previous applications were denied.

The objective is to impress upon the officials “how important and impactful” receiving the grant would be for the city, Brown said while traveling to Washington yesterday.

“We’re covering all the bases,” he said.

Brown serves as chairman of the city’s Board of Control. With him en route to the Capitol, the board’s remaining members – Jeff Limbian, law director, and Kyle Miasek, deputy finance director – approved entering an agreement with Eastgate for the $13,000 bike share planning grant.

The city is providing $3,000 in matching funds for the grant, which is being provided by Eastgate.

The city is working on the bike share proposal with Youngstown State University’s Regional Economic Development Initiative, also known as REDI. The bike share system was being developed prior to the grant application, said Betheney Krzys, safety program manager for Eastgate.

“Since we were already working on it, we thought it would look favorable in the application as part of the match to this project,” Krzys said. Most streets covered in the Build application will incorporate bicycle lanes, she said.

CycleHop, a bike share operator operating in 15 cities, including Cleveland, and the consultant working with REDI, will look at the costs associated with instituting a bike share program such as the equipment and infrastructure required, said T. Sharon Woodberry, the city’s director of community planning and economic development.

“This is something that is attractive to millennials,” she said.

When Eastgate submitted the Build application in July, USDOT said a decision as expected within four to six months, Kinnick said. “No one has wavered from that or offered another time period,” he said.

Pictured: A rendering of what Fifth Avenue could look like if the $10.4 Build grant is approved and the Smart2 Network moves forward. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.