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Six questions for the "Opportunity Corridor"

David Beach  |  09/30/13 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

You would think that a $331 million project that’s being sold as a catalyst to revitalize some of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods would have started with an urban design vision of what those neighborhoods really need. But the Opportunity Corridor started as suburban-style access road between University Circle and the Interstate highway system.

Here are six questions about the project that could determine whether it will do more harm than good.

Where the highway ends<br />I-490 dead ends at E. 55th St. instead of continuing across the east side as the Clark Freeway as originally planned -- stopped in the 1960s by activists opposed to the destruction of the Shaker Lakes. Now the Opportunity Corridor would follow a different route from I-490 to University Circle. (Image from Google Earth)

Cleveland citizens and sustainable transportation activists have raised numerous questions about the Opportunity Corridor project. The key questions include:

Where will the project have the greatest impact? Will it facilitate the redevelopment of distressed east side neighborhoods? Or will it promote more sprawl development in the suburbs by making it easier for commuters to drive in and out of the city? Who will benefit the most?

Is lack of highway access really the limiting factor for development on the east side of Cleveland? If so, then why hasn’t the Carnegie Avenue corridor redeveloped? It has been a main access road from I-90 for decades. Or why has the new Bessemer Avenue access road struggled to attract investment?

Will the Opportunity Corridor help to create a vibrant place where people want to be or a corridor to pass through? The current design, with its wide right-of-way, cul-de-sacs, and sound walls certainly does not seem inspired by good placemaking. Indeed, the proposed sound walls will probably do more to shield the view of commuters from urban poverty than protect the ears of nearby residents.

Does Cleveland want to increase the number of people driving in and out of the city or the number of people living in the city? If the latter, then it’s better to constrain highway access—while investing in transit and other transportation alternatives—so more people will move close to jobs and urban activities. That’s the secret of world-class, livable cities like Vancouver.

Will the Opportunity Corridor reduce overall demand for transportation by car? Given the challenges of climate change and obesity, we should be designing cities that promote walkable, transit-oriented lifestyles. A road like the Opportunity Corridor seems designed to induce more driving, not less. And what will it do the gridlock and parking shortages that exist already in University Circle?

And why is ODOT leading the project? ODOT has no urban design vision. Its job is to make it easier for people to drive faster. The city should have learned its lesson with the West Shoreway debacle.

In sum, the Opportunity Corridor seems more like a road from the 1960s than a design solution for the carbon-constrained world of the future. It should be rethought, beginning with efforts to reduce transportation demand in University Circle and urban design strategies that focus on neighborhood place-making on the city’s east side. Then the state must change its transportation funding policies so that Opportunity Corridor funds can be re-allocated to help build a more sustainable city.

Submit your comments about the Opportunity Corridor project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement. You can also email comments to amanda.lee@dot.state.oh.us. The comment deadline is Oct. 31, 2013.

For more citizen questions about the Opportunity Corridor, go here.

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The Return of the Understanding Gap
3 years ago

Finally some discussion about what will happen to traffic (and the living environment) within University Circle as a result of the Opportunity Corridor! Let's get some ODOTers on record about what roads will need to be widened within UC (other than E. 105th) as a result of the OC. There is still this sense among planners that you can just keep piling cars upon cars into an area and it will remain a place that folks want to live and/or play in. Also, at what time is it appropriate to shift the focus from killing OC to making it better?

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