Has the will and whim of one developer outweighed the very good intentions of the West Shoreway project? Back in 2004, the Shoreway transformation was hailed as the crown jewel in Cleveland's Lakefront Plan. Then-Mayor Campbell and her Planning Director Chris Ronayne drew up a plan to reconnect whole neighborhoods cut off from the lakeshore and provide a city with a Chicago-like bikeway. Today, those ideas have been stripped out, the promise of easily crossing the Shoreway and connecting with wonderful parks like Edgewater and Wendy Park at Whiskey Island are gone. The city should stand firm against this diminished project, say, 'no, thanks' let's be fiscally responsible and find another way to invest $40 million in a project worthy of its citizens' desire to connect with the most amazing natural resource right at their doorstep. (If the governor can give back $400 million for statewide passenger rail, Mayor Jackson can make a point by giving back the money for the Shoreway save the resurfacing).
We keep hearing-from city planners and ODOT officials that "the city insists" it go down this way, that an exorbitantly expensive tunnel and road connecting Battery Park condo development with Edgewater Park at W. 73rd Street ranks above all (see image above for proposed W. 73rd tunnel for cars). But their cries are getting harder and harder to hear over the West Shoreway being sucked into this money pit of an intersection which escalated from $19 million at the outset to $25 million a year ago to $34 million two weeks ago.
Into that maw the very promise and purpose of what Mayor Jane and Ronayne envisioned – a street grid repaired, a bikeway that would move millions on an unimpeded stretch with lake views or walking from home to toes in the sand, a world-class connection from downtown via the Detroit-Superior Bridge bike lane all along the lakefront to Edgewater and Lake Boulevard-has disappeared. A very promising project has been squandered with the megalomaniacal pursuit of the White Whale at W. 73rd Street.
No matter that to tunnel below rail tracks and move a massive sewer line at W. 73rd swallows almost the entire budget. It's beyond reason that the $7 million bike path was quickly sacrificed, but still the cost of one intersection to connect Marous Bros. development at the lakefront is not a sure thing. The $31 million price tag stands on shaky ground; based as it is without putting a single shovel in the ground (and knowing what the city uncovered some 500 feet away with the smaller pedestrian tunnel project at W. 76th which has run into a host of issues from collapsing hillsides to water infiltration).
If the Battery Park connector road to Edgewater comes at the expense of the regional amenity of a lakefront bikeway, then the city has two reasonable responses – One, it can tell ODOT this project must end, full stop, and give back the money save for a few million to repave the surface of the Shoreway. The city should have pulled the plug on the project when ODOT told them adding a minute and a half to suburban commuters morning drive was the reason their street grid connecting city residents to the lakefront wasn't going forward. Instead, city council floats a proposal to take a lane from the Shoreway for a bike lane. But, ODOT already told the city that cars reign supreme, so why would taking a lane fit ODOT's models now?
"A" level cyclists suggest that ODOT can carve out a much smaller part of the budget for improving Detroit Avenue as an on-road bikeway. This has a lot of merit, and is certainly more realistic than shuttling cyclists into an out of the way alley behind a church that ends at W. 26th street. At least making Detroit more bike and pedestrian friendly would offer a concession to a lost cause with the Shoreway bike path. But is it a substitute for the tourists and less experienced cyclists who would have come to Cleveland's lakeshore communities in droves on weekends, tasting the food and seeing a show in Gordon Square-don't tourists and weekend riders connecting from the Towpath count when considering how to invest in transportation that promotes a new way of experiencing the city?
"Now, what do we have here in Cleveland?" asked an angered Cleveland Planning Bike Planner Marty Cader. "Zero off road bike path along the lakefront like we see in Chicago or Portland. Nothing is connected. I'm talking about the tourists who say, 'I want to see your bike path.' Sorry, you can't get there from here."
Cader said ODOT previously shot down Westbrook's proposed bike lane on the Shoreway. Worse yet, the agency still hasn't ruled that it's legal to reduce the speed on the limited access highway from 50 mph to a 35 mph boulevard.
"If Marous thinks this exit is so important-if they need it so badly-do like we told Jacobs in Avon, if you want the interchange, pay for it yourself."
Cader's comments-and the sense that the project has failed its original purpose to improve living conditions-reflect a broad consensus among the city's cycling and sustainability advocates who met recently to discuss the response to sacrificing a regional amenity for the narrow interests of one developer.
As it stands, bike/ped improvements across the board-not just the off-road bike path parallel to the Shoreway-will be zeroed out. It starts with the W. 25th Street intersection which will lose a bike path along the west side of the road since the current proposal keeps the same highway ramp set up. Lost is more than a trailhead to the Shoreway bike path, but also a safer transition from the Detroit-Superior bike lane and a future off-road connection to the lakefront park at Whiskey Island. The investments in the Flats trails-the "Lake Link Trail" and the Towpath connection-will be greatly diminished in making no improvement to the most direct connection from Ohio City via a (now not) improved W. 25th Street and Detroit Avenue intersection.
"This is the transformation of Cleveland, the one that transforms our lakefront. Well, it doesn't look too transformed to me. We have three unfinished tunnels and a repaved shoreway," Cader says.
Where do we go from here? Cader has been tasked by his boss, Cleveland Planning Director Bob Brown, to come up with an alternative to no lakeshore bike path. Cader despairs that there is no alternative. The route had been carefully worked out to provide maximum views and appreciation of the lake and natural shoreline in the original plan. What can possibly replace that?
"At what point do you say you're pursuing folly, and it's about this one intersection which does not intersect with the Shoreway?"