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City Planning throws weight behind open access for Innerbelt Bridge

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/27/10 @ 8:26pm

After months of working in the trenches to re-imagine an Innerbelt Bridge with access to all (with a bike/pedestrian path and scenic overlook with panoramic views of the city), cycling and sustainability advocates took another step forward today as the Cleveland Planning Commission approved a resolution of support.

Commission member and former director of Cleveland Public Art (where she fought the battle to put a bike lane and promenade on the Detroit-Superior Bridge) Lillian Kuri led the charge that ODOT include language inviting alternative designs including a multi-purpose path atop the bridge as part of its Request for Qualifications bid packages. Commission members Anthony Coyne and David Bowen agreed that an alternative in the sealed bid process would invite engineering firms to provide a design for a bike/ped path.

"A design-builder should be able to put in an exception for a design improvement," Bowen said. "What if it costs less and it's a design exception? Why shouldn't that score higher?"

Planning Director Bob Brown, who along with City Sustainability Manager Andrew Watterson and City Engineer Rob Mavic were added to the Innerbelt Bridge RFQ process after the Planning Commission and the cycling community took up the issue, said ODOT at a recent meeting to discuss the bridge RFQ threatened the loss of $85 million in Stimulus funds if any delay comes into the process. Brown said that FHWA signed off on the Abbey Avenue alternative and suggested that ODOT will reject the bike/ped on the bridge by citing the federal approval.

Kuri summarily rejected that, pointing out that "when the bike lanes came up on the Euclid Corridor, the environmental assessment was done, but somehow (the lanes) got done. I would like to see the commission ask the question if this can get done, especially if bids come in and its below the (budgeted) price. It has to be in there for us to get an apples to apples comparison."

The Commission's resolution also included a call for ODOT to attend their next meeting on February 5 (at 9 am at Cleveland City Hall) to discuss the benefits of a bike/ped path included in the bid process. ODOT will release the RFQ on Feb. 2, so Brown pointed out that the resolution and alternative technical specification in the RFQ will have to be sent to ODOT this week. ODOT will host a meeting for parties interested in designing the Innerbelt Bridge on Feb. 9. Kuri asked if this was a public meeting (and offered after that a group of advocates might consider forming as a design 'firm' to bid on the project ? for at least the purpose of attending the Feb. 9 meeting. The guidlines for bidding on the Innerbelt Bridge can be found here.)

As a side note, the advocacy work on this project has been phenomenally effective, and continues to be the best hope in the face of a culture of 'no' that pervades. ODOT meanwhile continues to make what it feels are concessions. This week, the Plain Dealer reported that ODOT will give $1 million to each of the three firms that make the short list for alternative designs for the bridge. It was also noted by Director Brown that ODOT will extend its earlier proposal to design bike lanes on Abbey Avenue from the bridge to the W. 25th Rapid station, to re-configure W. 21st as a one-way street and to extend the bike lanes on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge through the Ontario intersection.

Read the notes from the entire Planning Commission meeting here. 

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Also at today's Cleveland Planning Commission meeting, the Chickens and Bees urban farming ordinance, which the city approved in February 2009, was tweaked (the ordinance is up for renewal next month). The commission agreed that the city's Building and Housing Department no longer need approve plans that call for simple coops (larger coops and hen houses will still require approval from Building and Housing. The city had 14 applications last year, mostly for chickens and bees.

The Commission also heard from CSU about the North Union Farmer's Market space at 19th Street and Euclid, located where the university knocked down the Corlett Building. The plan is to improve the plaza, an interim use, with trees and planting beds (no mention if CSU was adopting stormwater best practices such as bioswales) and a 1970s throwback (Kuri called them 'fussy') kiosks designed to screen a special events restroom and mechanical boxes. CSU was asked if a composting toilet would be considered, and the university is still looking into "whether it's technically feasible. The university is not opposed to the idea," said Geoff Varga of Ralph Tyler Co. The long-term plan is to build a performing arts building on the site. Director Bob Brown asked about the original plan to replace the concrete with a more permeable surface ? a grass eco-grid was considered. "We can certainly replace that with permeable pavement, but it has to survive service vehicle use." The Commission will leave it to CSU's discretion, Brown said.

Finally, the Planning Commission recognized Councilman Joe Cimperman for his 10 years of service on the commission. Cimperman was inexplicably replaced by Councilwoman Phillis Cleveland this year. 

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