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Where's the vision for a reclaimed West Shoreway?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/17/12 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in West Shoreway

Looking for some advice on converting an urban highway, like Cleveland's West Shoreway, into a boulevard that provides a vibrant neighborhood more room for growth?

Peter Park, former Planning Director of Denver now a professor at Harvard, shares this insight from the $25 million removal of Milwaukee's 1960s-era Park East Freeway in 2002, which opened 26 acres for redevelopment and has become one of the hottest land valuation areas in the city:

"Establish a vision for what you want your city, town, or neighborhood to become. Prepare yourself; broadcast a signal to the private sector that you're ready."

The difference in Wisconsin and Ohio? Their governor and DOT weren't willing to fight it once Harley-Davidson saw it as the lynchpin for development, Park writes in the report, "The Life and Death of Urban Highways" which looks at highway removals in Milwaukee, Portland (Oregon) and San Francisco.

In Cleveland's case, ODOT and the governor have thrown roadblocks at the West Shoreway boulevard project, from the standard stonewalling that it will slow down cars to its too expensive.

The problem may be the vision-for how the boulevard continues the re-birth of neighborhoods on the city's near west side. Is there a reason the West Shoreway is not being trumpeted by a consortium of private business interests? The biggest business interest has been construction firm Marous Brothers, developer of Battery Park, a large infill development, who turned a desire to see a tunnel connecting their development to the Shoreway into a campaign that has won the unflagging support of the Mayor and city council.

Marous' outsized influence on the project means a car and pedestrian tunnel was given higher priority than a lakefront bike path, an amenity that the region desired for decades. The tunnels are bleeding the $49 million project budget. The original concept, to reconnect people to the lake and make land desirable for redevelopment with a restored street grid, has somehow morphed into another form of limited access highway with a new interchange.

How did the interests of one development get conflated with the interests of the entire Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood? Cleveland officials held up a funhouse mirror and it distorted their vision. A tunnel at W. 73rd Street-seven blocks west and north of the center of the neighborhood's redevelopment, Gordon Square Arts District- is seen as essential to its fragile growth and looks equal to all other forms of lakefront access for the west side of the city.

Meanwhile, with Cleveland's share of federal Community Development Block Grants diminishing by 22% since 2010, community development groups' have been looking to diversify from real estate development into building wealth and improving health. Norm Krumholz at Cleveland State University Levin College of Urban Affairs reports in "Re-Thinking the Future of Cleveland's Neighborhood Developers":

CDCs that have taken a multi-faceted, more holistic, comprehensive approach to community based revitalization have been more successful than those that have focused on constituent services or housing development alone. As the industry contracts and service areas change, we expect that all CDCs will need an integrated, thoughtful, measured set of activities to address the broader challenges in their neighborhoods: housing, schools, healthy life-styles, land reuse, community and individual wealth building, and commercial development.

How well does the West Shoreway conversion in its current version perform as a community development program?

Too many promises-like a lakefront bike path, that were central to placing quality of life ahead of a few minutes of commute time-are in jeopardy of being broken. Even upgrading existing pedestrian areas have turned in to an engineering nightmare. The W. 76th Street pedestrian tunnel has ODOT scrambling to stabilize the hill side while constructing a pedestrian switchback to get from underneath the railroad then under Route 2, to the beach. The important neighborhood connection has been closed for renovation for more than 2 years.

Are there other private sector forces that can bring some reason back in to the West Shoreway? Are they able to create a vision for how walking and biking directly to and from the lakefront is a boon to their business? Are there important voices with a large stake in Detroit-Shoreway's future that need to be brought back under the tent?

Perhaps ODOT's decision to propose delay in funding the project is the perfect excuse to go back to the drawing board and build a coalition of not only bike, health, advocates for seniors, but also the private sector with a strong presence here who can put a vision for lakefront access as a lifeblood to continued neighborhood re-growth ahead of narrow self-interest.

What is needed is a better way of showing what a complete and green boulevard looks like. With a clear vision, a case for economic spin off is harder to deny. With a strong vision, Cleveland could move up into the top priority for Congress for New Urbanism's national campaign to remove urban highways (the West Shoreway is currently #7). That can only help build more than tepid support in City Hall.

An article titled, "Needed: An expanded campaign to tear down urban freeways" in Congress for New Urbanism's May edition of Better Cities & Towns notes that the most successful highway removal projects were led by mayors. A new vision could even up Cleveland's chances if it applies for US DOT grants for removal of limited-access highways, if the state isn't moved to help. A good example is The New Haven Downtown Crossing project which won a $16 million TIGER II grant to convert Connecticut State Route 34 from a limited access highway to urban boulevards.

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