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A citizen's guide to removing a highway

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/01/11 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in West Shoreway

"The city's plan for the West Shoreway sells out the original vision," says my urban planning friend, an insider on how the $49 million project is unfolding.

"The city needs to be strong on this. The mayor needs to be really strong on this and put the intersections and a lakefront path back in."

The Jackson Administration has made assurances, that funding for some of those original aspects, will eventually be raised (currently, the lakefront path is not going to be funded, even if the city gets ODOT to agree to $21 million more). The city insists it wants the bike/ped path in there, but only after the road is reduced to a 35 mph boulevard.

City Hall asks for trust, for the community to line up with its effort to convince ODOT that rebuilding and resurfacing the Shoreway-with a grassy median added down the center) and a good-faith commitment that the road can be slowed-are the top priorities.

The Jackson Administration deserves credit for its recent introduction of a visionary lakefront development plan, which proposes new connections to the waterfront on the east side. It makes the original vision of turning the West Shoreway into a boulevard-which the Campbell Administration laid out in 2004's Lakefront Plan-more important than ever.

But, the city has been knocked back on its heels twice on the Shoreway project. First, ODOT told the city it couldn't have intersections that would connect the near west side to the lakefront. ODOT said their traffic models showed cars coming from the west slowing down, potentially adding up to two minutes to their morning commute. The city demurred, laboring under the false assumption that it would lose federal funding.

Then ODOT started detailed designs for a tunnel under a railway line at W. 73rd Street that was wrought with issues, and turned the West Shoreway project into a money pit. The city's response was to shift funding from the multipurpose path along the lakefront to the tunnel and access road (which is nice for a few hundred residents of the Battery Park development). Certainly, no one wants to lose a promised regional amenity-an 8-mile uninterrupted multipurpose path that connects Gordon Park, Downtown, the Flats, Ohio City, Gordon Square and Lakewood-but the city said it had to stick to its commitment to the Battery Park developer. It's concerned about the message it would send to developers if it didn't fund the W. 73rd Street tunnel.

What message did it send when the most interesting aspect of the project-the bike/pedestrian path along the lakefront-was the first to go?

The city can get out in front of these issues, and build support for a vision of connectivity and opening up prime lakefront land for development. The community wants more than quiet assurances that the West Shoreway will turn out fine. We deserve a stronger committment that this will be more than a six-lane boulevard with a grassy median. If we cannot go back to the drawing board and find a way to reinstate at least a few, key intersections and an iron-clad commitment to the lakefront path, then we're repaving a highway which has pretty nice pavement (better than most roads in the city).

The West Shoreway project that the community spoke loudly in favor of includes:

  • Additional land for development
  • The promised 8-mile uninterrupted link from the Gordon Park to Lakewood
  • New connections to the lakefront

Cleveland must believe that it deserves transformative thinking; we deserve to correct the mistakes on the lake. We can undo a 1950s era decision to build a highway that distanced us from the lake front instead of drawing us closer. We deserve to adopt the can-do attitude of places like Portland which turned highway money into a passenger rail project. It's up to the community to let the city know that-at tonight's West Shoreway public meeting. There is also a petition supporting a multipurpose path as part of the first phase of the project.

The city would do well to challenge ODOT's traffic and level of service model-in fact, a group of transportation advocates are hoping to do just that. If the city agrees, a number of professionals, working within its Sustainable Cleveland 2019 process, are positioned to tap funds and bring in technical assistance to challenge ODOT's model, which they say is tilted one way – toward moving cars not moving people who live where the road is. ODOT traffic models are not tablets handed down from on high. DOT models have been challenged and overturned, leading to a balance between all users of that road.

Let the mayor and the councilmen who are feeling pressure to take the money and redo the highway know that you need them to follow through on a promise of bringing down the wall of the West Shoreway that runs between the city and the lakefront.

Here are three talking points for a citizen's guide to making the Shoreway project sustainable.

  1. Adopt the guiding principles from the original lakefront plan - around sustainability and connections that represent what the public wants out of this project. For example, the 8-mile separated pedestrian and bicycle path connection east to west.
  2. Pursue alternatives and provide improved data to ODOT's traffic models. It may require a closer working relationship with the bike/pedestrian community which is coming to the table with funding and technical support. The goal should be re-introduce at-grade intersections. That's pesky only to ODOT.
  3. ODOT shares some of the blame-telling the city that it is responsible for triple the local match on its request for new funds (as a response, the city is not seeking funds for a bike/ped path in the additional $21 million). The city's latest plan shoves the nicest part of the project – the walking and biking access-off to city streets. That is unacceptable.

If we can't get to a point where the original vision is substantially met, then this could be the time for the bicycle and pedestrian community to say "don't do this project at all" and save the money for other pressing issues along this corridor-for which the allocated funds could be used. Otherwise, we are going to be left with a new highway along the lakefront for the next few decades.

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