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Pedestrians take priority in Public Square

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/30/16 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Walking

Today’s (11 a.m.) dedication of the $50 million Public Square renovation highlights the importance of pedestrian space in cities. It is a major investment in a public space that de-emphasizes the car, right in the center of Cleveland.

Cars and buses will no longer drive north and south on Ontario Avenue. East-West is reserved for buses on Superior Avenue during rush hour.

<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />Images: Marc Lefkowitz

The square has been transformed as an expansive pedestrian mall—a space that includes a road but invites people to linger, lie down, lunch, play and make connections in equal measure.

The pedestrian mall-like experience has some precedence in Cleveland, most notably with the shutting off of East Fourth Street to traffic and its makeover as a pedestrian mall. Cleveland has built some other, important examples of streets that pay close attention to the details (most have come into existence since the city adopted, in 2011, a Complete and Green Streets ordinance). Larchmere, Professor, Waterloo, Fleet, Lower Euclid all have undergone streetscapes that place the walking experience ahead of the needs of cars (for a change).

What did they do? Plenty. The bottom line across the most pedestrian friendly streets in Cleveland—they took many, small but important steps to improving the walking environment.

The inclusion of traffic calming measures like “bump outs” at intersections are a good place to start. Same with infusing “green infrastructure” at intersections. Where people naturally gather, green infrastructure can soften the relentless hard surface which transmits a signal to slow down (smell the flowers). Stamped concrete or high-end pavers instead of asphalt are nice. Again, they say, pedestrians have priority here. Street trees offer shade or an irresistible chance to climb. Trees grow to become a very powerful, calming presence. Benches belong under trees where the young and old can congregate, chalk draw on the sidewalk, enjoy an ice cream or rest with a four legged friend and a good novel. Bike parking doesn’t have to be novel like Larchmere’s chair backs but it needs to be present all over a district. It can make a statement like the bike corral that provides shelter from the road and VIP treatment for cyclists at a sidewalk cafe (like The Root in Lakewood).

Public Square has always claimed a strategic place in our mental geography. The new square brings a lot of ideas on reclaiming space from cars, and renews that contract with people who (still) crave public gathering spaces.

We can probably think of other places that stand on the verge of pedestrianization of the highest order. Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. Wade Oval (the road), downtown Lakewood. Isn’t it nice to dream that these and other streets—that are already doing so much for walkable urbanism—could, with a little special attention become a special setting for pedestrians.

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