Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cleveland Makes Progress by Removing Waterfront Highway--Um Sort Of?

NPR recently did a story on how mainstream taking down urban highways has become.

"Cities as diverse as New Haven, New Orleans and Seattle are either doing it or talking about it. The chief motivation seems to be money.

Milwaukee removed a freeway spur for $30 million. Officials estimated it would have cost between $50 million and $80 million to fix that roadway. That inspired Akron, Ohio, officials to study what to do with an aging six-lane freeway that few motorists use.

"Perhaps we can remove sections of it and have it fit in better with the Akron grid system and offer an economic benefit by making land available," says Jim Weber, Akron's construction manager."

Shockingly, even Cleveland is well along the way towards removing the lakefront, West Shoreway freeway, and replacing it with a boulevard.

Except, in spite of the hype and good press, this has gotten, things are not exactly what they seem. Angie Schmitt,from Rust Wire notes that the resulting ground road will be very much a freeway.

"Several years ago, city planners and neighborhood activists on the west side hatched a plan to reconnect city residents to Lake Erie by converting the West Shoreway into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard. Planners recommended reducing the speed limit from 50 to 35, adding stoplights with crosswalks and installing a bike path.

Despite almost universal recognition of the importance of lake access, advancing the plan was not the slam dunk you might expect. In order to lower the speed limit, the state legislature would have to formally act in favor of the proposal. Although local planners estimated the reduction would cost the average commuter a mere 70 extra seconds of travel time, the legislation stalled in the statehouse. Even city council members from the farther-west wards of Cleveland came out against the plan, joining a powerful opposition group of suburban commuters.

Furthermore, in order to convert a limited-access highway into a boulevard with stoplights that would allow for pedestrian crossing, the plan would have to be approved by the Ohio Department of Transportation. After reviewing the proposal, ODOT nixed the stoplights, saying they would increase congestion. The city was forced to scale back plans"

Yes, you read right, In Ohio, speed limits and traffic light placement on major roads are not up to the local community, but the state DOT. So, now exactly how will local residents and visitors cross this road--through new improved tunnels (you really think many people will actually use these?) built at a city expense of $2.5 million. Sure seems like a freeway.

Not that it's exactly that simple since plans to reduce speed limits spurred not just suburban but city opposition in a town so oriented around the car. Those opponents can point to the relative lack of pedestrian life in the downtown and areas near the lake and say there is just no demand for pedestrian access--just like there wasn't in NYC or San Francisco before their waterfront highways came down. Even so, Detroit Shoreway and Gordon Square near the lake are fairly popular places.

One added note is that once again, a major factor here was the very unwise placement of a huge football stadium, requiring massive parking and highway access on the central city waterfront.

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