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Future Flats: Green industrial play spaces

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/27/09 @ 2:46pm

Converting old infrastructure-rusted freight rail lines and ill-used parking lots-into exciting recreational and green spaces is driving the latest re-invention of the Cleveland Flats. The city and a group of nonprofit organizations have been working on makeover plans that reflect new values-healthy living and a more nuanced approach to the icons of the past, which the Flats has in spades-making them part of a package of design elements for a city founded on the fires of industry.

The Cuyahoga & Mahoning rail-to-trail project is a showpiece example of this new approach in the Flats. The C&M was awarded $1.3 million from the Clean Ohio Fund to acquire, uncover and build 1.3 miles of trail and parkway where an old rail line is buried.

The trail begins south of the rail line where the West Bank wraps around Irishtown Bend ? near Hooples and Columbus Road. Here, the trail serves a dual purpose: Connecting to (and extending) the Towpath Trail to the lakefront and stabilizing a crumbling section of Riverbed Street with a "bio-engineered" riverbank. A new, treelined bike trail will hug the river and thread below the white granite arch of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

Just ahead of you is the gray stone arch of the Old Detroit Bridge. Today you'll see a passage choked with dirt and scrub brush; the future holds something very different for the C&M rail line, which forms a back alley for Stonebridge. Building Cleveland by Design (BCbD) has developed plans to transform it into a bike trail and green space. Like the well-appointed Promenade Plantee enjoyed by Parisians, this cool urban space will live alongside condos and retail planned by K&D, the developers of Stonebridge and connect the West Bank to Whiskey Island. The County Engineer will likely do some of the heavy lifting-it owns an intersecting strip of land under the Main Avenue Bridge which BCbD has designs for a skate park, a boardwalk and wetlands that capture rain water spilling off the bridge.

(Click here to see a virtual tour of the C&M rail trail).

The C&M trail will connect the Towpath Trail at its southern end to the proposed Canal Basin Park and, with a little luck and the right negotiation, to a new bridge over the river to Wendy Park, the natural area of Whiskey Island (wouldn't it be poetic if the industrial owner of the land on which the bridge is to be built donates it to the city in memory of Ed Hauser?) on the northern end.

Ohio Canal Corridor displayed plans for Canal Basin Park at a public meeting on March 11. The vision is for a 21-acre park and trail system under the Detroit-Superior Bridge where the river bends to form a thumb of land. The park will mark the triumphant completion of the 100-mile Towpath Trail from Akron to Cleveland. The final leg into the Flats may be years off, but the plan is for the trail to ascend from the hardscrabble Scranton Peninsula over the Cuyahoga River on the blue-beamed Carter Road lift bridge, which will lead to a flat, riverbed landscape of native prairie grasses and paths tread by scullers, cyclists and the lunch crowd walking to the Flatiron. Imagine an urban green space nestled among the silos, abandoned train engines and steel girded jackknifed bridges frozen in place.

The final segment of the Towpath Trail from Tremont into the Flats could tap into federal stimulus funds set up to make our transportation network more open and safe for biking and walking? Ohio will receive $56 million from the stimulus bill for transportation enhancements, says Cleveland City Planner Marty Cader, and, depending on how much Cleveland gets, that will determine how many bike/ped projects get funded from the city's priority list, which includes: the Downtown Bike Station, Train Avenue Bikeway, Lake (Erie) to (Shaker) Lakes Trail, Kerruish Park Trail, Dike 14 Trail and the Towpath Trail.

As a rule of thumb, it costs $100 per foot to engineer bike trails (there are 5,280 feet in a mile). Construction costs and the level of scrutiny (the environmental impact studies) attached to federal funds is much higher, thus, the $7.9 million price tag of the next section of the Towpath to be built from Harvard Road to Steelyard Commons.

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