Today’s vast majority of second- and third-tier cities across the country, like Cleveland, depend on robust system of public transportation to serve the needs of its economically disadvantaged. Because urban sprawl has distributed jobs across metro regions, low-income residents who do not have cars rely on public transportation to get them to their jobs everyday. Along with getting to jobs, convenient RTA access will also help residents get to school, purchase groceries, greatly increase quality of life for residents in Cleveland.

DigitalC along with the Cleveland Code for America brigade, OpenCleveland (, designed the first-ever HeatMap visualization to examine the convenience and access to public transit in Northeast Ohio and its impact on the economy of the region.

While we make the case that we need more and different kinds of data collected to make a more robust case for public transit, our analysis shows that regional public transit in Northeast Ohio is demonstrably agile and provides an important service to the very parts of our community for whom public transit is vital to their ability to actively participate in the economy.

Where Are the Transportation Deserts in Cleveland?

In order to live and work freely across a region citizens need the ability to move around for work and everyday life. A robust public transportation system enables this by providing multiple bus stops and routes within a reasonably walkable distance to their home, enabling people to move around conveniently.

This is especially important to low-income residents who do not have cars and who rely on public transportation to get them to their jobs everyday. Because urban sprawl has distributed jobs across metro regions, cities like Cleveland depend on robust system of public transportation to serve the needs of its economically disadvantaged.

Due to recent public outcry that cutting services was having a negative impact on neighborhood access, OpenCleveland, working in conjunction with DigitalC, constructed a HeatMap to display transportation deserts in Cleveland. While no doubt there is growing stress on the public transit authority, overall the HeatMap shows that the RTA stations are well distributed across Cleveland with very few transportation deserts - good news for the impact on the economics of Cleveland residents and the region.

Here is the map:

The map is displayed below. In order to make the map, we uniformly generated over 20,000 points in the city of Cleveland and calculated the walking time between each of those points to the closest bus stop using the MapBox API. On the map, points that are red are those where it will take people a long time to the nearest stop, therefore illustrating a transportation desert. A distribution of minutes to stop of all the points are displayed after the map.

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Our Findings:

Using the HeatMap, we provide those interested in public transit for lower income communities a tool for making recommendations on areas of improvement.Even though there are several extreme heat pockets on the map, a closer examination has revealed that those heat pockets are non-residential areas such as railroad tracks, rivers, and military bases.

  • Almost all residents in the Cleveland Area are able to walk to a RTA stop in under 10 minutes while over 50% can talk to a nearest RTA stop in under 5 minutes.
  • On the southeast and the west side of Cleveland we saw significantly more areas where residents need to spend 10-15 minutes walking to the nearest transportation stop.
  • Currently there is an uneven distribution of stops between the northeast, southeast and west of Cleveland. Overall, the northeast side of the town is significantly better covered than the southeast, which is better covered than the west.

RTA currently has no data collection that tracks where people get on and where they get off of the system. This alone would be a valuable new source of data to provide better customer experience and support the better optimization of bus routes.


Based on the analysis, we provided few potential areas of improvement to the RTA system in Cleveland:

  • RTA could construct more stops in the south side of the city to ensure low income residents there get to work quickly.
  • RTA could construct more stops in the west side of the city
  • RTA and regional planning partners like NOACA could consider adding additional sensors to allow more robust data collection for stops to know where people go on and off.
  • RTA could provide real-time geo-location of buses so riders can better manage their time by knowing bus schedules and delays, via a web-based mobile app.

To view all RTA stops in Cuyahoga County, please click on this link.
To view all datasets used for this project, please view the dataset section of the DigitalC Civic Insights Hub
To view Github Repository of the stop mapping program, please visit

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