The Symbolic Impact of Policy

An Examination of the Diversity Brought to North Olmsted by the North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line


Stephen W.  Wolf

April 18, 2002

This paper is discusses how the North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line caused changes in the formation of the City of North Olmsted.

In March of 2005, in order to divert money to other uses, Cuyahoga County forced the North Olmsted Municipal Bus line to merge with its county run system.  Regionalization worked to minimize local control.  Only loosly controlled by unelected government officials, the lack of oversight resulted in deterioration of service (so far).

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Table of Contents


Populating North Olmsted

Target Groups

Who Rides the Busses




The Future



            On a cold evening on the last day of February in 1931, the last Cleveland, Southwestern, and Columbus Railway interurban car swayed and bobbed as it left the Village of North Olmsted.  North Olmsted Mayor Charles A. Seltzer lived the loss and felt the fear that the end of the interurban service represented to the Village.

            The next day, March 1, 1931, two busses pulled out onto Lorain Road.  The North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line was born.  To the Village, it represented so much more than we, with our 21st century mobility, shopping, and services can understand.  To us here in the future, it also represented so much more than those people some fifty years ago could envision.

            The policy of instituting and supporting an independent municipal bus line (and then fighting to keep it) represented many things to many people.  To the landowners, it represented increased land values.  To the citizens living in the 1931 village, it represented a vital link to shopping, jobs, and services.  To us here in the future it represents a reason many hundreds of businesses and tens-of-thousands of people chose to live and work in North Olmsted.  It works to support the tax-base needed to run the City.  It represents services to the schools.  It represents service to the young and the old.  It represents service to the poor.  In short, both 50 years ago and now looking into our future, the North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line represents diversity in both people and places.

Populating North Olmsted

            No one pretends to suggest the bus line was instituted to insure diversity, and certainly not diversity in race.  In 1931 the world was a different place in a different time.  In 1931 the Village was white.  In The Story of Cedar Point Valley, local historian Walter Holzworth states that some diversity existed to the south, along the railroad line that cuts through what is now Olmsted Township.  The jobs associated with the installation that railway line attracted a few black families to that area (24).

            Growth occurs along transportation corridors.  In the 1930s a land economist Homey Hoyt suggested that growth from a big city radiated outward.  His “Sectoral Model” said that the outward growth was likely to follow transportation corridors that provided links and services to the users (Steinbacher 76).  North Olmsted, in 1931 was an ideally suited example of Mr. Hoyt’s beliefs.  Six miles east-to-west and two miles from north-to-south, its main road, Lorain Road, bisected the village lengthwise.  Providing transportation along that route essentially provided access to all 12 square miles of the Village (see Figure 1).

            Sociologist Harvey Molotch suggested the idea that the first priority of government is growth.  The “land-based elite,” those who own property and stand to benefit from growth, manipulate government to their ends.  He called this the “growth machine” (Levy 85).  North Olmsted, although they don’t wear their motives on their sleeve, has a long history of manipulating its government to attain growth.  Over its history, streets were put in without sidewalks, traffic signals without pedestrian crossings, and other neglectful projects were undertaken to serve to commercialize areas of the City (this same process of neglect can now be seen occurring in areas that have similar new development, such as a new mall, where development is pedestrian unfriendly).  The addition of the bus line certainly served to open land for expansion and meets the requirements of being an outcome of a growth machine.  Although the concept of a growth machine implies a negative to the well-being of the City, this growth machine also provided jobs and a tax-base that still supports the City today.

            Others would have liked to stop North Olmsted’s bus line.  In 1935 the Ohio Supreme Court put to rest a challenge by the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Railway Company to take control of the bus line.  The City of Cleveland wished to license and franchise any mass transit running within its boundaries.  The Cleveland Railway Company didn’t care for North Olmsted cutting into its profits.  The Supreme Court determined that North Olmsted did have a right to run a bus line in Cleveland and threw the case out (Cleveland Ry. Co. v. North Olmsted (1935), 130 Ohio St. 144).

Target Groups

            There are two kinds of people who ride the bus.  The first group, who have been riding since the inception of the line, wish to travel to Cleveland to work or shop.  Following the suburbanization of North Olmsted, capital followed.  Shopping sprang up and the bus line now provides a way for people to travel from Cleveland to North Olmsted to work or shop.

            In the mid-1930s, shopping required either a trip to the city or buying things sight-unseen from mail order catalogs.  The busses provided a means by which people could travel to the city to shop.

In 1931, few jobs outside farming or were available in the Village.  It was a wonderful place to escape the smoke of industrialized Cleveland; it was a wonderful place to live.  With the busses providing easy access to downtown, developers began to subdivide and build housing in the City to meet the need.  Through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s North Olmsted’s population steadily grew.

The increasing population was not lost on commercial developers.  In the early 1960s work began on the Great Northern Shopping Center.  While (sadly) destroying an excellent field for hunting rabbits, Great Northern easily attracted major stores such as Sears & Roebuck, J. C. Penney, Western Auto, Woolworths, and Grants.  Cleveland landmarks like Pick-n-Pay grocery, Gray Drug, Hough Bakery, Davis Bakery, Faflik’s Shoes, and Kitchen Maid Meats expanded into North Olmsted.  Stores like jewelers, barbers, medical offices, and even a public library rounded out the shopping.  It was the first one-stop shopping experience placed in the western suburbs.  Over time, the success of the strip center led to the building of the Great Northern Mall.  More large and small chain stores followed the capital that the residents and easy access of Great Northern presented.  Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the suburbanization of income (Levy 45) comes to completion as Cleveland landmarks like Halle’s, Higbee’s, and May Company Department Stores have closed or left Cleveland for the suburbs.  As Dillard’s in Cleveland’s Tower City closed, construction continues on a new Dillard’s at Great Northern Mall.

This form of commercialization requires that people be able to travel to the stores.  While cars work well for those who have the income to afford them, adding a bus line that caters to the commercial areas greatly expands the market.  Such commercialization relies on unskilled labor.  A second market exists in that the people to fill these jobs must have access to the stores that need the labor.  Busses allow a dramatically wider job market allowing the stores to hold down labor costs while providing employment to low-income groups.

Who Rides the Busses?

Mortality has declined.  People are living to an older age.  Fertility has also decreased; fewer children are being born.  Immigration is higher than at any time in our history and those moving here are young.  Bus riders are quickly approaching an age distribution curve that looks like an hourglass with most of our population either very young or very old (Brockerhoff 16).  Public transportation works to serve these groups more than any other.


            Lake Erie, over the eons, has provided the west side of Cleveland with a number of ridges that then served to act as transportation corridors.  Lake Road is the furthest north.  Detroit Road follows, then Center Ridge Road, and Lorain Road.  The pattern continues to the south of North Olmsted with Bagley, Royalton, and Boston Roads.  While the whole area has very similar characteristics, some areas developed early and quickly, some are only now seeing development, and some still hold a rural flavor.  Few causes can be seen for such differences.  However, the availability of bus systems to widen the markets is a primary factor.

            To our north we see that the topography is identical and the area has virtually equal access to Cleveland.  Yet this area only now shows development levels on par with the North Olmsted development of the 1960s.  While sidewalks and pedestrian amenities have always had a high priority in North Olmsted, only now are sidewalks being installed in many other areas.  South of North Olmsted remains much less urban and hosts far less development.  The need for sidewalks demands the same attention as the need for sewer systems.  Unusual to both our north and south is the lack of a business mix that would allow a resident access to services without the need for an automobile.  Areas outside of North Olmsted are highly dependent on vehicular traffic.

            The City of Fairview Park is situated east of the North Olmsted.  The bus routes bisected Fairview Park down Lorain Road, much like it does North Olmsted.  Similar growth and development can be seen.  The bus line is as beneficial to Fairview as it to North Olmsted.


            Running a bus company is a costly business.  In 1975, the Regional Transit Authority was formed to serve the greater Cleveland area.  That authority took over the Cleveland Transit System and integrated the operations of North Olmsted’s bus line into its operation while allowing North Olmsted to operate and control its portion of the line.  Bus drivers on North Olmsted busses work for the City of North Olmsted.  This lays the costs and administrative duties on North Olmsted.

Running a bus line will not provide a private operator a profit.  Significant federal subsidies are necessary to supplement farebox revenue.  Busses target low-income riders making it necessary to keep costs low for the rider.

            Other costs exist in the form of services that come with such an operation.  Police services are often required as intoxicated individuals get on and promptly fall asleep.  Being the “end of the line” they get a ride to North Olmsted.  Although always willing to support additions to our population, the more likely course of action is for North Olmsted to provide the miscreant a ride back from whence he came.

            Busses offer juveniles a cheap and dirty way to avoid truancy officers when away from school.  Hopping a bus to North Olmsted in the hopes they could blend in with the adult shopping crowd more often results in their hopping a ride back to school in a police car.

            Shoplifting, especially when committed to support a drug habit, leads many to the busses.  The busses take them to the shopping complexes where their thefts are observed and they are arrested.  Problems from outside the community are imported with the cost born not by social service but by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.


            Diversity rides the busses of North Olmsted in two ways.  First, by providing a wide job market and hosting positions that do not require special skills, busses help by providing transportation to low-income job seekers.  Second, a variety of housing and federal programs that provide low-cost housing are attracted to areas that provide busses that provide a wide job market.

            During the pre-Bush economic boom, labor shortages were seen by stores posting help wanted signs and taking advertisements in the local newspapers.  Many of the unskilled employees commuted from other areas.  This brought a great deal of diversity to the City.

One argument against the commercialized growth experienced in North Olmsted is that it does little to enhance income tax collection.  People working in low-skilled jobs do not earn high wages; they do not pay high income taxes.  Much of the loss of income tax is recovered by the high property taxes the establishments have to pay.

            Sometimes a number of areas of public policy combine to provide a situation that can affect the diversity of a community.  Some evoke strong feelings like busing school students to achieve integration.  Others come quietly and provide their service without causing a ruckus.  Such is what happened in 1974 when the United States Congress created the Section 8 program.  Section 8 subsidies provide assistance to low-income people so that they can move into places they could not otherwise afford.  Section 8 has been criticized for moving people from one blighted neighborhood to another.  However, in many places Section 8 was used to establish a more diverse population.  Newer programs like the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Hope VI project speak directly to moving the poor out of blighted areas (HUD 1).
            Such is the case in North Olmsted.  Through various flavors of HUD grants, apartment building owners were able to secure federal grants to update or undertake new construction.  In turn, they accept low-income people as tenants.  Their locations were chosen due to having excellent access to bus routes.

The Conclusion:  Plans for the Future

            As the country fights a two-front war between terrorism and a recession, the monies to fund programs for those less fortunate will dwindle.  Such is the case with the mass transit.  Serving low-income residents, the young, and the elderly, transit cannot continue unless already hefty subsidies rise to match the costs of running the busses.  These needs compete with the costs of war and the devolution of federal controls over assistance to the needy.

            The urbanization of third world countries and the institution of free trade have led to close links between small and big cities in Southeast Asia.  A city forms an economic node that is then linked with other cities in a cooperative that forms a networked region.  No longer are major cities dependent on their central core, but on a wider network. (Brockerhoff: 13 and 33).  In 1999, the U. S. federal government proposed a means by which major U.S. cities could be linked by cooperatives and regional partnerships.  This would serve to lessen dependence on city cores.  Having choices in community transportation is a large part of this inter-city networking.  Busses are a large part of community transportation (HUD 2).  Again, funding for such sustainable cities are highly dependent on the attitude of the federal government and their policies toward making these cities livable.

            North Olmsted would do well to remember its roots, remember what now provides it with what it has, and consider the potential future without a bus line.  Cleveland should recognize the need to integrate itself into a regional concept of employment for their residents.  They need busses, too.  Our County should recognize that although direct intervention could bring about regionalization, our area is doing a pretty good job of it on its own.  Busses are a large part of that regionalization.



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Christiansen, Harry. Northern Ohio Interurbans and Rapid Transit Railways. Euclid, Ohio: Trolley Lore 1983


City of Cleveland and Cleveland Railway Company v. North Olmsted (1935), 130 Ohio St. 144


City of North Olmsted. The North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line. 2001 < NOMBL/MAINNOMBL.htm>


“Cleveland, Southwestern, and Columbus Railway” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University 2001 <>


Decsman, David B. Cleveland Suburban Busses – North Olmsted Municipal Bus Line. 1970 <>


Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 21st Century Agenda for Cities and Suburbs. 1999 <



Farnsworth, Martha Richie. “America’s Diversity and Growth: Signposts for the 21st Century.” Population Bulletin 55.2 (June 2000)


Holzworth, Walter F. The Story of Cedar Point Valley. North Olmsted: n.p., 1966 (reproduced from typewritten copy and held at the North Olmsted Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library)


…. The Olmsted Story. North Olmsted: n.p., 197? (reproduced from typewritten copy and held at the North Olmsted Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library)


Levy, John M. Urban America: Processes and Problems. New Jersey: Prentice Hall 2000


Steinbacher, Roberta, Virginia O. Benson, ed. An Introduction to Urban Studies. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendal/Hunt 1997


Vandervoot, Bill. Midwest Transit, Present and Past. 2002 <>


The author is a Lieutenant with the North Olmsted, Ohio Police Department.  He has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies (Public Safety Management) and a Masters in Public Administration both from the Levin College of Urban Affairs at the Cleveland State University.