University Hospitals’ CEO Cliff A. Megerian, MD, FACS, joined several top officials from UH and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) for a preview of one of 16 new passenger and environmentally friendly buses for use on the HealthLine bus-rapid (BRT) system. Last week, the busses stopped at UH Cleveland Medical Center and UH Rainbow Ahuja Center for Women & Children where UH leaders had the opportunity to tour the vehicles and speak to members of the GCRTA about the importance of expanding access to high quality health care, including enhancing transportation options.
In 2008, in an unprecedented and forward-thinking partnership, UH and Cleveland Clinic collaborated with the GCRTA to create the HealthLine on Euclid Avenue. The HealthLine was the first and remains the only BRT line in Greater Cleveland. Named after the partnership between the two health care systems, this agreement with RTA supports public transit on Euclid Avenue, with each health care system contributing annually to the 25-year financial support agreement. The partnership has spurred community and economic development along Euclid Avenue, connecting people to the health care institutions, the arts district at University Circle, and their workplaces.
“UH is the ‘home town’ team, distinguished by a legacy of caring for our communities for 155 years and bringing high-quality care close to where our patients live,” explained Dr. Megerian. “As an anchor institution, we are in a unique position to contribute to the health and welfare of Northeast Ohioans and we take pride in knowing that through investments such as these, we have the ability to catalyze change and enhance access to care.”
“All of the buses come with features that will be of great service to our passengers, such as free Wi-Fi, and LCD screens that display real time route updates, along with news and weather reports,” said GCRTA General Manager, Chief Executive Officer India Birdsong. “The buses are powered by low emission technology and meet both EPA and NHTSA program goals to reduce harmful emission and fuel consumption.” Additional technical features include a communication system with traffic lights along the route to reduce time stopped at intersections, interior and exterior cameras for rider safety, and a turn warning system to alert surrounding pedestrians. Natoya Walker Minor, Deputy General Manager of Administration and External Affairs for RTA, said that connecting to the community through workforce and economic development were driving forces for the HealthLine’s creation. And as calculated in 2018, the HealthLine has stimulated more than $9.5 billion in economic development along the Euclid Corridor, which translates to $190 gained for every dollar spent on creating the HealthLine. “These investments have resulted in a vibrant community, greater access, healthier people, and a healthier community,” said Walker Minor.
UH’s investment for the RTA HealthLine is $125,000 a year for 25 years – until 2033. It is a significant component of our “upstream” community health improvement strategy to address social influencers of health. Importantly, the establishment of the HealthLine has aided in UH’s goal of providing convenient medical access to young women, teens, mothers and mothers-to-be, as its UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Ahuja Center for Women & Children is located conveniently along the HealthLine route. Having to navigate the main campus might have seemed overwhelming to patients who had never been there, but the new Center is a stand-alone building and easy to find for first-time patients or visitors.
RTA’s data shows that the largest percentage of riders are traveling to work, health care appointments, or school. The HealthLine, as well as all of RTA’s public transit, is designed to offer a comfortable ride that is dependable and reliable. “We know University Circle is an economic engine, and Euclid Avenue has many access points that intersect with the whole community,” Walker Minor said. Residents of East Cleveland also use the HealthLine to travel to jobs in or near downtown Cleveland, and downtown residents and students at Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University rely on it to travel for classes, or entertainment at Playhouse Square or the Uptown neighborhood at University Circle. As anticipated, there has been a multiplier effect.
The opening of the UH Rainbow Ahuja Center for Women & Children in July 2018, also spurred Dave’s Supermarket to relocate within walking distance of the Center, helping to alleviate the food desert in this area. The presence of the full-service grocery store allows nearby residents, as well as those who can travel on the HealthLine, and UH Rainbow patients and visitors, to access fresh produce, and other staples of a healthy diet.
The HealthLine has encouraged other development in the MidTown Corridor, including the upcoming Cleveland Foundation relocation from Playhouse Square to its new home on Chester Avenue. In January 2021, Greater Cleveland RTA also began offering free, monthly bus passes to new and expectant mothers so they can get to their medical appointments, a program called Baby on Board. “This multiplier effect is what we wanted from the investment into the HealthLine,” said Walker Minor. “And it’s saving the lives of mothers and their babies.”