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Ohio City and Gateway: A tale of two district plans

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/29/11 @ 7:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

Two Cleveland neighborhoods-Ohio City and Gateway (downtown)-are drawing up plans to improve their walkability and their circulation between major destinations. The studies "Gateway District: Re-Imagining the Public Realm" (not available online) and "A Vision for the Market District" were funded by Transportation for Livable Communities, a planning grant program of NOACA.

While they offer similar approaches-recommending traffic calming and 'livability' enhancements such as brick-lined crosswalks, bike lanes and large public art installations, in the case of the Market District plan, it feels both grounded and positioned to serve as a launch pad for a thriving district. Where the Gateway plan sketches in the standard urban design elements-a dashed line on Lower Prospect calling for bike lanes, a line of circles for street trees, the Market District plan offers a bit more awareness of why it's a booming district – calling for multiple ways to circulate, to discover and strategically add life to dead zones (for example, calling for dense development around the train station at W. 25th Street and Gehring).

Arguably, it has a stronger sense of mission, which it carves out as: "Establish a micro-economy based upon local artisans and food production, processing, distribution and finished product sales". It also has a better sense of connections-to the lake and new recreation and urban agriculture opportunities emerging here and it aspires to create new, more human scaled places (not mega blocks devoted to valet zones).

The Market District plan, which is still in draft form (the nonprofit development group, Ohio City, Inc. is taking public comment until July 1), has a lot going for it. What's really nice about this plan is the recognition that the West Side Market is a major regional destination and should get its own parking garage (so that the many scattered surface parking lots in the area can be consolidated and reused for a higher purpose). The plan also recognizes that the District is connected to a great walkable neighborhood-it draws up a bold plan to convert behind the West Side Market the lazy brick roads of Bridge Avenue and grease soaked driveways into a more attractive zone where tree-lined lanes invite visitors to stroll and visit the Ohio City Farm (and future farm stands) or take a walk on a trail down to the river (which would connect to the proposed Lake Link Trail). The plan also calls for a new bike trail within the Red Line corridor and new commercial development on Lorain with direct access to the Rapid (again, instead of a giant surface lot). The promenade and shared car/pedestrian roads behind the Market would be mirrored on the other side of W. 25th by an extension of Market Avenue through the parking lot behind the brewery, opening up opportunity to expand one of Cleveland's best walking commercial districts. Nearby Lorain Avenue near Souper Market and Touch would be enhanced by making it a promenade-converting the road from asphalt into brick pavers. Again, much of this is (good) planning that doesn't have funding for implementation (yet; it would be great if funding – perhaps from their new Business Improvement District – could pick off the low hanging fruit).

The Market District plan shows an impressive awareness of the existing footpaths and back lanes in the Ohio City, remnants of a pre-car existence that are well used by the neighborhood. The Gateway plan has a few interesting ideas that build off organic circulation patterns and the remaining historic charm and urban fabric. Most notably, it calls for an enhanced Sumner Avenue streetscape (pictured right - the brick lane behind the old Peterson's Nuts across from the baseball park) and for an entry way through the stone wall to the old Erie Street Cemetery. As an interesting side note: The Gateway plan came out before the bombshell announcement by Caesers casino that its four-lane valet parking zone on Lower Prospect will replace the historic Columbia Building. While the plan optimistically concludes that "the bike station and casino…will only solidify this area as a multi-modal activity hub" the sad reality is the future of Lower Prospect is now in disarray for walking and biking between destinations of E. 4th and Tower City. Plans for public art, new street trees, a special surface treatment onthe road face an even greater challenge than dark storefronts. Will they repair the hole in the urban fabric? Will the casino as a massive demand generator erase the prospect of bike lanes on Lower Prospect (from Ontario to E. 22nd Street)? How will the traffic from the sports complexes, the success of E. 4th as a 'pedestrian zone' (most customers still arrive by car) and now the four million visitors to the casino alter the plans for bike lanes that connect the bike station and mixed use districts downtown? Does Huron Road, which Gateway also has mapped as a route for bike lanes, become the better alternative to Lower Prospect which will become a parking lot on weekends in front of E. 4th as a more bike/ped friendly corridor?

The ability of these plans to become drivers of new placemaking projects-in two districts that will continue to feel the push and pull between car and individual scale- will depend on the collective leadership and wisdom from the city, the nonprofit community development groups and we hope from the people who live and enjoy visiting these slices of world-class urban life in Cleveland.

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