Call it sprawl repair, or rethinking suburbs to be more attractive to the next generation. More examples of retrofitting dead shopping malls, like Randall Park, or a strip mall into a walkable, town center are cropping up across the country and here in Cleveland.
The recession and new demographic trends-like college grads flocking to vibrant, but affordable, communities-are fueling demand for more multi-family rental apartments with shops on the ground level.
Sensing that trend, the city of Shaker Heights launched a plan in 2000 for a Complete Street makeover of its busy and dangerous intersection of Warrensville Center-Northfield roads-and-Van Aken-and-Chagrin boulevards.
The plan will introduce to Northeast Ohio a comprehensive makeover for a network of roads designed around a single purpose-moving cars. It will lay the groundwork for development rarely seen in a suburb-a district where it's possible to walk comfortably, live close to were you shop or work, or take a one-seat commute on rail to downtown Cleveland.
Ideas in the Shaker plan include:
- Slowing car traffic on Warrensville and making sense of the intersection by narrowing it, adding better crosswalks and rerouting Northfield south.
- Vacating sections of Van Aken Boulevard to form a pedestrian zone (while promoting Chagrin as the alternate for car traffic)
- Introducing an infill development plan. New, mixed use buildings will fill in vacant or poor land uses like gas stations to form a coherent streetscape that attracts new residents to a place that invites foot traffic in shops and outdoor cafés. Retrofitting existing buildings to function within this 'town center' approach.
- Exploring new transit options including an extension of the RTA Blue Line (light rail) from its current terminus east through the Warrensville intersection (with possible extension a few miles east to development along the I-271 corridor) and building a larger, more efficient bus and Rapid transit center.
Shaker announced in February, 2012 that it secured a $4.4 million grant from the state's District One Public Works Integrating Committee. Combined with $7 million from the region's MPO and $2.3 million from the city and county, plus a layer of six smaller funding streams, the project is fully funded and will begin construction in late 2013.
Plans for the Van Aken district began to take shape in 2000 with the creation of the City's Strategic Investment Plan, an effort led by Urban Design Associates (UDA) of Pittsburgh. The plan engaged hundreds of residents and developed a shopping list of initiatives, with the vision of a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use downtown on a network of urban streets. In 2008, the city crafted the Warrensville/Van Aken Transit-Oriented Development Plan with the consultant team of The Planning Partnership and URS.
This is a district that grew into an uncomfortable hybrid sort of place-with a busy but undersized light-rail and bus terminal surrounded by plenty of multi-family high rises. Saddled as it is with one of the worst (in terms of traffic and accidents) intersections in the state, and incoherent strip centers bisected by redundant roads-retail has been in a long cycle of decline. Despite trying to spruce up the strip centers multiple times, Van Aken Center feels obsolete and is failing to compete with the lifestyle centers, malls, and big box centers down the road. So, building on its assets and making it function like a traditional town center is a smart response.
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Public officials reading this and wondering how they can retrofit a trouble intersection in their city into a vibrant, walkable downtown can take heart that Shaker's example may carry lessons forward. Funding models other than Shaker's layer cake are being used successfully across the country.
The February, 2012 Better! Cities & Towns newsletter from Congress for New Urbanism explores local funding options for transit-oriented development. They write that, since federal New Starts for transit has a 73-year backlog, cities are looking at examples like Portland's streetcar expansion which will be funded through a special assessment district (similar to the Downtown Cleveland Alliance). Special assessment districts have even worked to fund dense nodes of development on a light-rail system like RTA's Blue Line (the example they share is the Dulles Rail Transit Improvement District in Fairfax County, Virginia).
Other funding paths mentioned in the article include Joint Development, where cities like Denver are sharing costs with their regional MPO, state DOT and a developer to build the $500 million Denver Union Station Project. TIF Districts and Development Impact Fees are also options for TODs. All of these funding mechanisms have been around and used in one form or another Cleveland.
Can you think of an intersection in your town that is prime for this kind of street repair?
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The suburbs aren't the only street repair beneficiaries. Slavic Village in Cleveland will finally move forward with a Complete Street makeover of Fleet Avenue, also having won in February 2012 the District One Public Works Integrating Committee (DOPWIC) approved grant of $4.2 million for road and streetscape improvements for Fleet Avenue. The rest of the money for the $6 million project will come from the city of Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD).
The project includes street and sidewalk improvements to the section of Fleet between I-77 and Broadway. Plans call for streetscape improvements, green infrastructure (natural, on-site rain capture), and bike lanes to be installed between East 49th and East 65th streets. Also included are plans for bump-outs at intersections to reduce the distance of pedestrian crosswalks (and to preserve on-street parking).
Councilman Tony Brancatelli said the project is critical to attracting investment to Slavic Village and rebounding from the impacts of the housing market crash. Funds for the project will be available in July. Engineering for the project is slated to begin in the fall and take a year to complete. The project should be ready for construction in late 2013 or early 2014.