Marc Lefkowitz | 04/16/15 @ 10:00am
University Circle is taking a hard look at which strategies define the experience of being in a world-class Eds and Meds district.
University Circle, Inc. and heads of all the major institutions have been working with New York firm Nelson/Nygaard to introduce better transportation options to Cleveland's second largest employment center. They released phase two of the Moving Greater University Circle Transportation and Mobility Study for public comment this week. After conducting user surveys, walking audits, and gathering intelligence, phase two focuses on street improvements (phase one looked at parking supply and demand).
Overall the goal is to improve shared transportation services, i.e. parking, and to move people more efficiently in this hemmed in space. Phase two makes clear how with a commendable suite of street calming measures, a more visible bike network, and improvements to the public realm to encourage more walking and biking, two forms of transportation deemed on a growth curve for University Circle given its location and existing infrastructure.
Specifically, phase two of the study pinpoints 11 sites—many of them dangerous intersections like Cedar Hill, Euclid/Stokes/Stearns and Euclid and Mayfield—for improvement. The most common approach is to normalize wide intersections by returning some road space to sidewalks, bike paths and pedestrian islands. This approach serves a dual purpose— both to encourage walking, outdoor gathering and to correct for areas of the street network that were overbuilt and, crash data shows, are proven hazards. The plan is commendable for prioritizing multi-modalism as a choice. Especially where the district is experiencing growth in residents and workers—two groups deemed open for trying new things like taking the HealthLine or RedLine. Designing a space that is safe and welcoming sends the right signal.
Exhibit A is the wide delta of roads at the base of Cedar Hill. The plan calls for expanding sidewalks, adding crosswalks and bike paths in an attempt to bring some order to where Cedar-Glen Parkway, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Cedar Avenue, East Boulevard, Stearns Road and Carnegie all converge. With major new investments—RTA’s bus station, the $10 million University Cedar-University Rapid Station, the Cleveland School of the Arts and John Hay High School campus, and two regional bike paths coming from Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights—bike and pedestrian activity is expected to climb. In addition to narrower streets and intersections, the proposal extends the bike paths and provides new crossings and adds pedestrian refuge islands.
Greater attention will be paid to danger zones like the spaghetti bowl of roads at MLK/Fairhill/Stokes. Bike lanes and curb extensions will be added while “slip lanes” that dart across medians like Liberty Avenue—a little cut through that creates unpredictable weaving —would be closed. Another slip lane on Euclid westbound where it meets Stokes Boulevard in front of the art museum would also get shut down—eliminating a spot where cars speed around a soft curve into oncoming pedestrians—the site of 264 crashes between 2008 and 2012.
The study now faces the daunting task of convincing heads of institutions that call University Circle home that dieting the highway style roads here might add a minute to their commute. Traffic studies conducted by Nelson/Nygaard show how the bike and pedestrian safety improvements don’t meet the approval of traffic engineers. Safety improvements move their “Level of Service” to a lower grade. But, who should we ask if these proposed safety improvements are important—the thousands of people who routinely walk and bike here and don’t want to get run over by a distracted driver who may have to use his brakes or the traffic engineer who works in an office near the highway in Garfield Heights and who probably never visits University Circle?
It has been proposed around the halls of University Circle that a compromise could come in phasing these improvements and even piloting the more controversial ones like closing Liberty and the highway-like slip lanes using orange construction barrels. Phasing will happen in due course because of the nature of funding cycles. The reassurance that skeptics of making University Circle a safer place for pedestrians and cyclists need is on display right now in the temporary closing of one of three westbound lanes on Chester and E. 101th Street due to the construction of the new Clinic medical campus. Traffic flows fine despite “losing” this lane.
Hundreds of residential units being built in the Upper Chester development and the medical school will add lots of new pedestrian activity here. Another idea from the study would be to diet Chester around E. 93rd from six to four lanes, adding bike lanes and pedestrian refuge islands. The LOS stays the same in the a.m. and goes down one grade in the p.m. It’s minor considering how many people can be safely moved through this space. But, rest assured, there will be push back. Champions of making University Circle a premier walkable district will need support—to know that, from a safety, environmental, and health perspective, making complete streets a priority in University Circle is worth pursuing. Take a moment to look over the proposed improvements on the Wiki Map and fill out a survey online here.