How quickly has Opportunity Corridor become a Cleveland meme? The $331 million, five-to-six lane road to be built between I-490 and University Circle has become synonymous with its lead sponsor, Ohio Department of Transportation, and its uniform code on road design. ODOT designs a road nearly the same if its in a densely populated city or sparsely rural area.
It’s become a running joke that whenever a visiting dignitary is given the tour and told how Opportunity Corridor will revitalize the Central neighborhood, said national speaker may be heard later making a sound bite about it. It started with Deputy Assistant Secretary at HUD, Harriet Tregoning, who noted that its design stands on the precipice between going right or “horribly wrong.”
So it was perhaps no surprise when Walkable City author and decorated urban designer Jeff Speck remarked to a roomful of city leaders last week that Opportunity Corridor will likely “induce demand” for more driving. It is self-defeating if the goal is to relieve congestion.
“There are reasons to build Opportunity Corridor, but if it’s congestion, you have to look elsewhere,” he warned, “because if you build it, it will eventually fill up. In Cleveland, you have roads that are under capacity.”
Opportunity Corridor proponents have admitted that congestion relief is not a primary driver. Their hat is being hung on sparking economic gains for the area.
Not so fast, says Speck.
“I challenge you to find a vibrant, urban center that has 12-foot lanes and no parallel parking. It’s a fiction,” he said.
The design that ODOT initially brought forward did show 12-foot lanes and no parallel parking. But, after receiving feedback, the agency agreed to shave 1 foot from the lanes. The agency also agreed to add an off-road bike path.
Speck applauded the potential for a bike corridor. But added that 10-foot wide lanes are the difference between achieving higher or a lower-value economic plan. It can also be the difference between life or death.
“We know a 10-foot lane is about a 30 mph lane,” Speck added. “A 12 foot lane is a highway lane. You can go at those speeds. And yet we continue to build them that wide, and then mark them 25 mph. That’s why the codes are bad.”
By contrast, Portland, Oregon’s Department of Transportation has a Skinny Streets program where the city insists on building or maintaining 20-foot wide streets (with on-street parking on one side) or 30-foot wide (with on-street parking on both sides).
“(Portland’s) citizens understand and are demanding skinny lanes,” Speck said.
A conversation emerged contrasting Opportunity Corridor and Euclid Corridor—that the former is considered a link and the latter a place.
“If it’s a link, the goal is about saving time. If it’s a place, it’s about spending time,” PlaceMakers, LLC. principal Hazel Borys explained.
Anthony Whitfield, Economic Development Director at Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, insists that ODOT is willing to consider the area at the eastern end of Opportunity Corridor a zone for placemaking. Between Cedar and E. 105th Street, ODOT agreed to put in a center median, two mid-block crosswalks, new crossing signals at the main streets. Fairfax will pursue Innovation Square, a mixed-income housing project at Cedar.
“We have discussed using the (city’s Urban Form district that is in effect on Detroit Avenue) here,” Whitfield says.
The city will also introduce a Design Review District for Opportunity Corridor, he adds.
Fairfax is working to attract a major retailer to the ground floor of a multi-thousand-space parking garage that The Cleveland Clinic announced it will build at E. 105 and Cedar, he adds.
“We’re not saying ‘no’ to all options,” he said, including a form-based code. “We’re going to put in sharrows and we might tighten up the lanes on Cedar. We want to slow traffic down.”
The bigger worry is the land-use and development plan for the rest of the corridor.
Forest City Enterprises President and CEO Ron Ratner noted that the city needs an update to its comprehensive plan to acknowledge that it is shrinking. It should concentrate limited resources on what’s working, like the core and area immediately adjacent to University Circle.
“We are still spending so much energy, and it’s distressing to drive through these areas,” Ratner said. “The Opportunity Corridor has no more than 10% of its peak land use capacity. When I look at the study for it from a year ago, it was suburban-style office park development. We have to do better. The corridors that connect to it have to be multi dimensional.”