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Can path to multi-modal West Shoreway save a $49 million investment

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/24/11 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in West Shoreway

It appears that the West Shoreway project is becoming unhinged. When the project was announced, it was hailed as a major victory for the city of Cleveland-a six-lane 50 mph freeway converted into a 35-mph boulevard with a grassy median, bike path and new intersections. The biggest gain for the city would be removing a huge barrier put in place in the 1950s that severed residents from one of the region's most attractive selling points, Lake Erie and its public beach. Back in 2000, millions of dollars were being poured into a Lakefront Plan, with public access and improving the sleeper of a lakefront park at Whiskey Island at its center – the West Shoreway was a natural outgrowth of a city yearning to be more livable.

Remember, the whole point of the West Shoreway project was to create a street grid and improve the multi-modal connection between the Near West Side and the lakefront. Equally important, it would open up land along the lakefront for new development that would make this an activated corridor (not a single use highway). ODOT only ever saw the intersections as an impediment to cars, but with their tunnel vision, they eliminated new development opportunity and multi-modal improvements as well. When its computer models showed it would cause congestion and slow commuting times to the suburbs, ODOT said they had to go, and the city folded. At that point, the West Shoreway project lost its soul.

Today's Plain Dealer article reveals how certain ambitions-like a major engineering project to add another tunnel at W. 73rd Street (in addition to the existing tunnel at nearby W. 76th)-were unrealistic from the start, and distracted from where investment was needed: Keeping a balance between intersections and traffic flow. Understandably, once the intersections were lost, the city wanted the pedestrian tunnels to substitute.

Now that the project has become too expensive for ODOT and the city to justify, city council and Mayor Jackson's Chief of Staff Ken Silliman are "united" in pushing ODOT to prioritize bikes as transportation; their proposal to repurpose an unnecessary third lane for a bike path is not extravagant (see picture above). Across the U.S., cities are retrofitting highways and boulevards with bike lanes because they have more lanes than they need-it will save the project millions of dollars, so we applaud them here for thinking outside of the box. That ODOT didn't bat an eye when Silliman suggested as much tells you that it's not hard to do. The agency's 'we'll study it' statement suggests we're hearing more ODOT stonewalling.

The city needs to stand firm on something close to the original purpose of this project, otherwise, they should scrap the whole thing. The West Shoreway doesn't need $49 million worth of new pavement in the same old place-the city can find another place to improve its livability with this money. The city is within its rights to refuse to play along with this bait and switch tactic at play with ODOT.

We understand the city's position about not pursuing-in the short term-a bike path from W. 49th to W. 25th (in Phase II, which won't start for another 10 years). If the city concedes this point, officials like Silliman need to negotiate for a complete street make over of Detroit Avenue – the presumed alternative route for the bike path on city streets – to be paid for from the West Shoreway budget.

We also agree with the position to not widen the intersection at W. 28th and Detroit which would have destroyed the historic Jamestown Building and seriously degraded the safety and comfort of this major arterial which serves a growing number of pedestrians and cyclists making their way to and from Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City and to work downtown. The alternative-to keep the ramps at W. 25th-should be met with a concerted effort (in phase II) to improve the intersection, now a harsh and unsafe place for a heavily used transit and pedestrian zone.

Running parallel to the West Shoreway project, the connection between Edgewater Park and Whiskey Island on Ed Hauser Way could be a strong contender for adding an off-road east-west bike path. Much of that will hinge on whether the Cleveland Metroparks decides to take ownership of Whiskey Island's Wendy Park and invest in multi-modal access from Edgewater (it couldn't happen fast enough). Transit advocates were also disappointed that the project doesn't include bus and rail improvements-it could reserve space in the median for a future west shore commuter rail line; bus service from the west side suburbs won't have stops that would bring you within walking distance of the lakefront without intersections. Without a real effort at making the West Shoreway multi-modal, it's hard to believe, but this is looking like just another highway project.

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