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Building a Better Block comes to downtown Cleveland

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/09/12 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

Rockin Rockwell<br />A temporary complete street in downtown Cleveland introduced two-way bike lanes and bioWiFi benches.<br /><br />

"Pop up Rockwell" is a one-week display of what a Complete and Green Street can look like in Cleveland. Starting at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, the Kent State Urban Design Collaborative and the GreenCityBlueLake Institute will lead a team responding to the challenge of remaking Rockwell—a side street that runs west to east from the Warehouse District, through Public Square and behind the Cleveland Public Library and Mall B—into a more vibrant space.

Here's a little background. In January, 2012 Cleveland adopted Complete Streets legislation, joining 300 cities requiring new and major road projects to be "designed and operated to enable safe access for all users." (Complete Streets Coalition). "Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street."

Cleveland placed itself in the rare company of three cities requiring both Complete and Green Streets. Green streets may include natural ways of capturing rain water on site, such as trees, permeable pavement and bioswales.

Pop up Rockwell is the second such local response to a national movement that seeks more humanizing uses for and conversion of streets and in-between space in cities. Efforts like Better Blocks and Park(ing) Day have inspired local action for a few hours, a day or a week at the scale of the street. Better Blocks was started by Jason Roberts who singlehandedly launched a movement that started in Dallas. Roberts, guerilla style, installed a pop-up shop in a vacant storefront that spilled out as a sidewalk café and was buffered by trees and shrubs which served a dual purpose of designating space for a bike lane. Eventually, his idea inspired the city and supporters to work with him on more pop up projects, and his ideas spread to other cities.

The Cleveland project has the blessing of the city and adjacent institutions including the Library and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland (it is also informed by large planning initiatives like the New Group Plan and the car-free Public Square). It is more a living laboratory then what an actual Complete and Green Street with funding will be able to achieve. At a planning meeting last week in the downtown studio space of the Urban Design Center, students from Kent State sketched ideas for a temporary bike lane that will be installed on Rockwell. They contemplated going beyond a simple bike lane to a two-way cycle track (an at-grade, contra-flow bike path that repurposes a lane from the roadway) buffered by planters. They also considered where to paint in crosswalks that may be 'missing', how to introduce temporary rain capture devices, and discussed dropping in a sidewalk café for the Starbucks at Key Tower that would activate a big empty plaza.

The idea is to shake things up-and to 'nudge' leaders to implement the improvements on a permanent basis. Pop up Rockwell was inspired as much by Dallas as 2011's Pop UP Pearl in Cleveland's Old Brooklyn neighborhood. Organizers of a street fair popped up a shop and a micro-Better Blocks exhibit (in tandem, a bike scavenger hunt called Pedal for Prizes went along Pearl Road. "Pop UP Pearl" will be repeated on May 19, 2012, adding some new elements like a Pop UP skatepark and a DIY urbanism competition.

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