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The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus


Forum presents new ways to think about public transit

Friday, Mar. 19, 2010

"Beyond the Bus?" -- last night's public forum -- featured two local transportation and planning leaders along with an activist for more accessible public transit.

COTA's Bill Lhota and MORPC's Chester Jourdan

Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus as part of the year-long study of public transit, the forum drew a crowd of about 60 members and non-members to the University Plaza Hotel for an informative discussion moderated by Gulsah Akar, a visiting assistant professor in city and regional planning at OSU’s Knowlton School of Architecture.

A video of the forum will be available soon for streaming. Keep checking this site for more information.

Brent Simonds, advocacy coordinator for the Mid-Ohio Board for an Independent Living Environment (MOBILE), discussed the challenges in using public transit faced by people with disabilities. He commended the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) for its paratransit service, Project Mainstream, but described an array of difficulties, from bus driver attitudes to poor sidewalk conditions, that hinder mobility for many people with disabilities. He suggested ways in which the service could be improved and indicated that the recently funded "3-C&D" railway project, federal stimulus dollars aimed at linking Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati by passenger rail, offers people with disabilities an opportunity to travel to nearby cities that they may never before have visited.

Chester Jourdan, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), reviewed the history of the "built environment" in this country, from canals and early railroad to the telegraph and interstate highway systems, pointing to the need for a significant public investment in such infrastructure. Jourdan suggested that central Ohio doesn't suffer so much from poor transit as it does from poor land use and planning choices, which transit is expected to "fix."

Bill Lhota, COTA's president and chief executive officer, described some of the changes COTA has made since he took the helm in 2002 and stressed the need for making new investments in public transit now because of the long lead time needed to realize such ambitious projects. He pointed to plans to link points outside Franklin County with Columbus through long-distance bus service and to send buses around the outerbelt so that residents outside the city do not have to travel downtown first before taking another line to their destination.

League members will meet Apr. 26 at a consensus meeting to determine if there will be a new League position on public transit. Some background material for the study is already posted, and more will soon be available.

Information provided on the tables at the event was drawn from the 2009 Public Transportation Fact Book.


Whether it’s been advocacy, transportation planning, economic development, housing, improving the environment, or hurricane recovery and rebuilding, there’s no shortage of strategic, regional efforts that Chester R. Jourdan, Jr. has led during his professional career. Chester brought his successful leadership skills, diverse experience and passion for regionalism to central Ohio in December 2006 when he was appointed as executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC).

Promoting collaboration and cooperation is at the core of Chester’s passion for regions and local governments. By bringing people together he and MORPC are able to move forward initiatives that enhance the quality of life for every central Ohio resident. MORPC’s work is seen every day through planning, programming and public policy initiatives in the areas metropolitan planning, transportation, environment, housing, water, land use, economic development, energy, and technology. MORPC is a voluntary association of local governments representing nearly 2 million people providing innovative solutions for the many challenges facing our growing region. Chester has successfully built new strategic partnerships among the public and private sector, non-profit organizations, and members of the state and federal legislature to ensure the strength and vibrancy of central Ohio’s future.

Chester hit the ground running, during his first year with MORPC as he led the organization’s relocation to new office space in the Brewery District, directed a major restructuring of the agency’s programs and services, and expanded MORPC’s service area from seven to 12 central Ohio counties. He is also active in the community serving as Co-Chair of the Mayor Coleman’s 2012 Commission’s Moving People Task Force, and a member of the following: Columbus Partnership’s Federal Funding Team, Chemical Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council of Franklin County, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s 21st Century Transportation Priorities Task Force, the Transportation Matters Coalition, the United Way of Central Ohio’s Public Policy Committee, The Ohio State University’s Swank Advisory Council on Rural-Urban Policy, Compete Columbus’ Board, Community Research Partners’ Board, Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Steering Committee, the Ohio Department of Safety’s Homeland Security Advisory Council , Operation Lifesavers Board, Mid-Ohio Food Bank Kitchen Cabinet, Connect Ohio Steering Committee, the Commission on Local Government Reform and Collaboration, the Compact with Ohio Cities Task Force, the Grange Insurance Audubon Center Board, the National Association of Regional Councils Executive Director’s Committee, the National Association of Development Organization’s Board, the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and the American Highway Users Alliance Streamlining Committee Chair.

Prior to joining MORPC Chester served as executive director of the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission in Beaumont, Texas. There he led an effective multi-level, far-reaching organization that addressed initiatives by promoting collaboration and cooperation, conducting comprehensive metropolitan planning, being an advocate, developing new programs, building community and business alliances, and providing a forum for the discussion and study of area issues. Chester was also actively engaged in the relief efforts for 27,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees and he helped lead efforts in the evacuation, relief, recovery and rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. During his years in Beaumont, he was also an adjunct professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, where he taught political science courses.

Chester also served with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, United States Department of Transportation in many different capacities in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Georgia, and Fort Worth, Texas. Chester earned his Masters in Urban and Regional Affairs from the University of Texas at Arlington and has completed doctoral course work in organizational management, urban economics, planning, public policy and public administration. He received a Bachelor of Science in political science at Stephen F. Austin State University graduating with honors.

Chester is a veteran and was an active-duty member of the United States Army serving proudly with both the 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. He spent a seven-month tour of duty with United Nation multi-national forces and observer’s peacekeeping force in Sinai, Egypt.

William J. Lhota was elected President and Chief Executive Officer of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) in September 2004. COTA is the public transportation provider, fixed route and demand responsive service to the disabled, in central Ohio.

Following retirement from American Electric Power in December 2001, as a senior executive, he formed LHOTA SERVICES in January 2002. LHOTA SERVICES was a sole proprietor business focusing on arbitration, mediation, energy consulting, as well as consulting, teaching and lecturing on business and engineering ethics.

At retirement from American Electric Power (AEP) Lhota was president - energy delivery, American Electric Power and executive vice president, American Electric Power Service Corporation.

While at AEP Lhota was responsible for AEP’s power transmission and distribution systems in eleven states. He spent 37 years at AEP serving in numerous management positions at Ohio Power Co. and Columbus Southern Power both subsidiaries of AEP in addition to the AEP Service Corporation.

Throughout his career Lhota has had extensive experience in public policy and labor relations. He had day-to-day responsibility for public policy in Washington and in Ohio for four years and supervised both Washington and state public policy for 18 years. Lhota has worked with organized labor throughout his career and he was instrumental in establishing cooperative relations between AEP and its labor unions.

He earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1964 from The Ohio State University. He also earned a master's degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978. He is a registered professional engineer in Ohio, Michigan and New York, and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers.

Lhota created and managed AEP’s original corporate governance program, has extensive experience in ethics and is:

Lhota is also:

Brent Simonds is a social worker who has worked with the disability community in a variety of ways. After working at OSU Outpatient Rehabilitation with the Brain Injury and Stroke Teams, Brent moved to New York, where he was a counselor for people with disabilities who were also survivors of domestic violence. He is currently the Advocacy Coordinator for MOBILE, the Independent Living Center that serves Franklin County.  Following a spinal cord injury in 1999, Brent uses a wheelchair to get around Columbus, uses public transportation on a daily basis, and has an interest in transit issues in Columbus and throughout the state of Ohio.


Gulsah Akar is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the City and Regional Planning Section at the Ohio State University. She conducts research and teaches in various aspects of transportation, including transportation demand, economic dimensions of transportation, transportation and energy policies, non-motorized transportation, and sustainability.

Dr. Akar received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a focus in Transportation. In addition to her academic background, Dr. Akar has industry experience as well. During her graduate studies, she worked as a research analyst at EMBARQ, World Resources Institute (WRI), Center for Sustainable Transport in Washington, D.C., where she got involved in several ongoing international projects. She also worked as a research assistant at the Department of Campus Transportation Services (DOTS) at the University of Maryland advising the Director of DOTS on sustainable campus transportation policies and conducting campus-wide surveys.

Event: Issue Forum: Beyond the Bus?
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