Cleveland Revisits 1960s With Urban Renewal-Style “Opportunity Corridor”

Cleveland’s business leaders want you to know that “The Opportunity Corridor” — a new road they want to jam through the city’s southeast side — definitely isn’t a highway. From the beginning, project proponents have been careful to refer to this $350 million, three-mile traffic-mover as a “boulevard.” And they also want you to faithfully accept that this is really all about “opportunity” for the neighborhoods the road will bisect — some of the poorest in the region — not the benefit of suburban car commuters.

This roughly three-mile road would cost $350 million and displace nearly 100 families in Cleveland. Image: ##http://www.dot.state.oh.us/projects/ClevelandUrbanCoreProjects/OpportunityCorridor/Pages/default.aspx## ODOT## Click to enlarge.

For more than 10 years, business leaders in greater Cleveland have been pursuing this grand plan for a road to connect the suburban freeway system with the University Circle neighborhood, a major regional center of employment and home of the Cleveland Clinic. Their proposal — led by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland’s chamber of commerce — is an at-grade, 35 mile-per-hour, three-mile road with a series of stoplights. The cost is more than $100 million per mile.

When it comes to marketing this road, proponents are laying it on thick. They’re currently preparing a video that hails the new wave of prosperity it will usher into some of Cleveland’s most troubled neighborhoods. The co-chair of the project, Terry Eggars, is publisher of the local newspaper, the Plain Dealer, and the paper’s editorial board is one of the project’s most consistent cheerleaders.

Underlying the euphemisms and optimistic assessments, however, is the reality that this project is basically a high-speed traffic conveyor that will gouge a path through poor, African American neighborhoods by use of eminent domain — something that modern planners and city leaders generally frown upon, with good reason. Some 90 homes are slated for demolition, and more than half a dozen businesses — this is in a city that’s having enough trouble hanging on to its residents.

While project proponents downplay the displacement issue, the equity concerns go much deeper. Environmental Health Watch reports that 22 percent of African American children living on Cleveland’s east side suffer from asthma, and about 8 percent require hospitalization for the illness. In most of the neighborhoods the road will cut through, a majority of households don’t own cars. The project contains no money for transit, though it does include an off-street path for walking and biking.

Some of the most affected communities along the route sense that this is another grand development scheme at their expense. Before it was called the “Opportunity Corridor,” the project was known as the “Access to University Circle” project. Local writer Mansfield Frazier reported overhearing one resident say at a community meeting, “Yeah, this is an opportunity all right … an opportunity for white folks to get to work and not have to see any black folks.”

Akshai Singh, an organizer with the local chapter of the Sierra Club, points out that there are already six routes to the Cleveland Clinic from the beginning of the proposed “Opportunity Corridor” at East 55th. And many of them are in a state of disrepair, he says. Singh acknowledges there’s a “bottleneck” where the freeway currently ends at East 55th, but he says there are lower cost ways to remedy that. He’s not sure why Cleveland’s business and political leaders are so committed to this one approach.

“The Opportunity Corridor, in its current form, is a really inefficient use of limited state dollars,” he said.

Cleveland’s roads are notoriously potholed — the city’s finances allow only about $4.4 million per year for resurfacing. The city is slated to contribute almost three times that amount — $12 million — to the project. In fact, the Opportunity Corridor’s pricetag — roughly $350 million, depending on the source — is more than the city’s entire five-year capital budget for transportation.

“The sum of money, $350 million, could be a great boon for local road repair and transportation performance,” said Singh. “This project should essentially be rethought with respect to local needs, in addition to suburban needs”

The area around the "Opportunity Corridor" has been starved for investment. But is a $350 million highway the right type? Image: ##http://www.clevescene.com/cleveland/opportunity-or-opportunism/Content?oid=1836287## Cleveland Scene##

According to Marc Lefkowitz at the local environmental blog Green City Blue Lake, the Opportunity Corridor represents a schism between competing two schools of thought in Cleveland: One, drawing inspiration from the past, believes that opening new lands to development with highways was the highest form of economic development; the other is working to promote a new vision for the city built on local economies.

Lefkowitz says it’s tough to square Cleveland leaders’ stated goals for the city with this project:

For Mayor [Frank] Jackson to follow through on his statements this week that the neighborhoods are on the front burner, he’ll need to focus his priorities more on community building, and less on building highway extensions that speed suburban commuters through town.

That “opportunity corridor” is not the kind of wise investment needed to spur a real renaissance, the kind that follows residents’ aspirations for building local, self-reliant economies that ripple opportunity out from the spot on the map in southeast Cleveland to the region who, let’s face it, has its fortunes tied to the city’s ability to provide a decent living and housing to its residents.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, it’s as if we’ve learned literally nothing from the past 50 years of disastrous transportation and land use policies …

  • yodasws

    “Hey, you know how people hate driving on crumbling roads? Well, let’s build a whole new road for them to drive on until it, too, starts to crumble!”

  • Grif_E

    I don’t know how you manage to write up an article about this without talking about the brownfield/Super Fund remediation side of it.

  • CTownPlan

    While, I think you make a lot of great points, you don’t present other benefits that the new road could potentially bring, except for the lessening of travel times for suburban commuters (besides the fact that City of Cleveland west-siders and south-siders also work at University Circle and would also see their travel times decrease) and new bike/ped path.

    1. Congestion mitigation on the innerbelt and subsequent air quality improvements due to less congestion – traffic will be diverted from the innerbelt since those traveling from the south and west won’t have to take the innerbelt to Carnegie or Chester. This will free up congestion and will be good for downtown; improved access for business, residents, and visitors alike. Some of the air quality improvements could be offset by increased congestion at I-490/I-77/E. 55th interchange, but overall the whole system would see less congestion and improvements in air quality.

    2. I believe the Clinic would like to expand southward and this new road will facilitate that. There is also the potential spin-off development that could take place, akin to the Health-Tech corridor on Euclid Ave, as new or expanding businesses looking to locate in the region will want quick access to the highway and to be close to University Circle. Both of these possible developments could bring new jobs to the area.

    Your points about who benefits is well-taken as much of these improvements will not help lower income residents of the area, and thus “opportunity corridor” is a misnomer; it’s a political tactic to drum up support. The only potential benefits would come from the possibility of some residents who would like to leave that neighborhood being able to since they would probably get 2-4 times payout on their home if it is seized through eminent domain. This could also help those residents that might be underwater on their mortgage or are facing foreclosure. Many residents will not be happy with the changes though, and do not want to leave the area. The potential jobs being created at the Clinic or nearby health tech companies would disproportionately employ higher educated, suburban workers. Some lower income retail jobs will be created on the corridor, but to label that benefit as a great “opportunity” for the lower income residents is misleading. Also, some of these jobs will have just been diverted from Midtown and the Carnegie corridor, due to lowered traffic along that route.

  • CTownPlan

    While, I think you make a lot of great points, you don’t present other benefits that the new road could potentially bring, except for the lessening of travel times for suburban commuters (besides the fact that City of Cleveland west-siders and south-siders also work at University Circle and would also see their travel times decrease) and new bike/ped path.

    1. Congestion mitigation on the innerbelt and subsequent air quality improvements due to less congestion – traffic will be diverted from the innerbelt since those traveling from the south and west won’t have to take the innerbelt to Carnegie or Chester. This will free up congestion and will be good for downtown; improved access for business, residents, and visitors alike. Some of the air quality improvements could be offset by increased congestion at I-490/I-77/E. 55th interchange, but overall the whole system would see less congestion and improvements in air quality.

    2. I believe the Clinic would like to expand southward and this new road will facilitate that. There is also the potential spin-off development that could take place, akin to the Health-Tech corridor on Euclid Ave, as new or expanding businesses looking to locate in the region will want quick access to the highway and to be close to University Circle. Both of these possible developments could bring new jobs to the area.

    Your points about who benefits is well-taken as much of these improvements will not help lower income residents of the area, and thus “opportunity corridor” is a misnomer; it’s a political tactic to drum up support. The only potential benefits would come from the possibility of some residents who would like to leave that neighborhood being able to since they would probably get 2-4 times payout on their home if it is seized through eminent domain. This could also help those residents that might be underwater on their mortgage or are facing foreclosure. Many residents will not be happy with the changes though, and do not want to leave the area. The potential jobs being created at the Clinic or nearby health tech companies would disproportionately employ higher educated, suburban workers. Some lower income retail jobs will be created on the corridor, but to label that benefit as a great “opportunity” for the lower income residents is misleading. Also, some of these jobs will have just been diverted from Midtown and the Carnegie corridor, due to lowered traffic along that route.

  • Angie Schmitt

    I don’t believe this project will reduce congestion and improve air quality. I think it will induce sprawl, lengthen commutes and increase air pollution overall. It will induce driving. It runs parallel to a transit line. It will cannibalize a healthier mode. Adding $350 million in highway capacity is not an air quality solution. I haven’t heard it presented that way, but it would be awfully sad, IMO, if they resort to that.

  • Moses Cleaveland

    Has the alternatives analysis been completed for the “Opportunity Corridor”?

  • Mike Pauls

    I used to work for one of the neighborhood groups along the route, and I found this article one-sided, ill-informed and profoundly shocking. We all know that road projects are often wasteful and backward, but this Opportunity Corridor is a desperately-needed part of the East Side’s future, and the areas it will run through are the emptiest post-industrial wastelands in the city. This is a project everyone might applaud. It’s a sad day when greens and urbanists start opposing any useful improvement just by reflex. Shame on you.

  • Christopher Lohr

    Mike – this project is a $100M/mile boondoggle. Cleveland is a shrinking city that is already overbuilt for roadway capacity. Vehicle Miles Traveled are shrinking across the board, even more so for residents of the City. The idea that we, as westsiders, need better access to University Circle is ridiculous. We have a nationally recognized BRT, a rapid line, and a slew of roads that converge on University Circle. It has some of the best transportation access available in the area!

    Something that isn’t often mentioned is that the Opportunity Corridor would be turned over to the City for maintenance. How are we to believe that it wouldn’t crumble just like all the rest of the streets that we have but can’t effectively maintain?

    If you want my support for a new road through that corridor so that you can remediate superfund sites it better be designed with transit, walkability, and cycling as the primary user groups. Putting a sidepath trail next to it is lipstick on a pig.

  • krissie

    I would be more supportive of this project if it were a true “boulevard” rather than a 35mph – which really means more like 45mph, just look at Carnegie or Chester – road that incorporated bike lanes and BRT. Where it stands now, I’m not so sure it would benefit the actual East side residents or just the people traveling to University Circle from the suburbs. I think we can do better.

  • Anonymous

    Mistake by the Lake?

  • Anonymous

    “This is a project everyone might applaud” says Mike

    ““Yeah, this is an opportunity all right … an opportunity for white folks to get to work and not have to see any black folks” says corridor resident.

    Hmmmm . . . history sides with the latter when it comes to road expansion projects.

  • Anonymous

    1. Road expansion has proven over and over again to generate more congestion in the moderate to long run, not less – many times it is congested in as few as three years from date of construction. Hardly a benefit, but rather a liability and tremendous waste of scare public transportation dollars.

    2. The economic development and job creation potential (not to mention public health and the environment) of multimodal investments has been proven to eclipse that associated with road-oriented solutions. Cities are trying to figure out how to convert overly auto-oriented boulevards back to transit and alternative transportation corridors, yet still accommodating autos. Building an auto-oriented “boulevard” is a step backward, not forward, and significantly erodes the ROI Cleveland might otherwise realize through a more forward-thinking investment plan.

  • Anonymous

    As if? I’d have to say it more affirmatively: We have not learned anything from the past 50 years . . . not only in Cleveland, but also in places like Illinois, where the state DOT can’t imagine the need for anything apart from added highway capacity.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Angie, that is exactly what it will do.

    FTA spoke at a recent Illinois Department of Transportation advisory group meeting related to the ongoing I-290 EIS, stating that adding highway capacity erodes transit ridership, as well as the viability of future transit investments . . . at least until the highway gets congested again and we get enough money for the next investment which, of course, is bound to be another highway investment, anyway.

    A vicious circle.

    See the Asphalt Weekly trade publication from 1966 – the industry has known it for a long time. Why the heck can’t/don’t our models that inform our decision-making predict it . . .

  • Anonymous

    The issue is the type of investment and whether it is appropriate for Cleveland’s present and future needs. Sure, CERCLA is a part of that conversation, but rabbit trails a bit from the article’s focus.

    The Environmental Justice theme implicitly includes consideration of a broad range of social, economic, and environmental benefits/impacts. Given that economically disadvantaged populations have long been subjected to the adverse consequences of major investments, not the least of which being pollution (air, water, and land), without having shared in the benefits, federal regulation mandates consideration of EJ needs and the potential for disproportionate impacts.

    Cleaning up any Superfund site(s) in the project alignment is, again, implicit to the discussion, and may be worthy of its own independent article, but is hard to capture in a blog post on the broader theme of making investments that are just plain dumb.

  • Bolwerk

    Is it DISQUS that is bringing all these non-sequitur right-wing/delusional comments I’ve seen here
    lately? I swear, StreetsBlog had a much more sensible, interesting
    commentariat before that buggy, atrocious POS was installed. Things got worse on the NYC StreetsBlog, but they have just gotten outlandish on the DC one.

  • Bolwerk

    P.S.. Don’t cut and paste anything with DISQUS, or it will hide a pointless line break. Seriously, I’ve never seen a junkier piece of software so widely used.

  • NoCynic

    I like CTownPlan’s arguments. While I am against building more highways that increase sprawl, these projects almost always are in the outer suburbs, like Avon Lake. One of the criticisms of these projects for urbanists is that they suck people and money out of the inner city as economic development goes with the highway exchange.

    So, could this argument be used to argue that this project might actually suck people and money into Cleveland? It would also invest state money in the city for a change.

    The “benefits” to the neighborhood must be more than indirect. Creating a complete street plan, designing actual neighborhood-oriented and resident-owned businesses at intersections (e.g. healthy family restaurants, a bike shop, and local bakery) are different than just a string of fast food and gas stations.

    If neighborhood residents were truly engaged in the process, there is a chance that what is created is different than the current non-stop rush of cars on Chester and Cedar. All effort should be made not to duplicate those grade-level drag strips where any bicycler risks their life to traverse.

    Finally, Chester, Euclid and Cedar are all nearly void of residential homes. This road seems more likely that white folks will actually see black folks. To be sure, the opportunity will be lost if it starts with a razed neighborhood along both sides of the corridor.

    Who is working to make sure the worst-case scenario does not occur?

  • clevelizzy

    How many of the homes slated for demolition are vacant, if any?

  • Streetsblog Network

    I believe they all are occupied, although a minority are owner-occupied. I don’t think they are included for eminent domain/demolition if they are already vacant and acquired by the land bank. So there may be others in the path that are not included in that figure, those are vacant, I believe.

  • John Strok

    Most of the land along the path is owned by the city or rail corps. A large stretch is actually owned by Orlando. There is one section of housing from 55th through Kinsman, otherwise it’s all burnt out industrial land noone wants. I imagine that some housing will also be lost when they widen 105th. But that is all under the control of UCI or other Circle players. Folks over in the Circle have proposed going ahead with the 105 widening without the rest of the project done in order to speed up the process.

    The really interesting thing with this story is the timing for the funding. Very interesting the Kasich, who isn’t from this area, when state reps ignore Cleveland if they aren’t from there; waits until he’s running against a Cleveland area challenger for the governors seat. It’s so transparent it’s hysterical. At least we get a desperately needed infrastructure improvement from the political pay offs.

  • John Strok

    Your bias is astounding.

    This notion that somehow this will be a highway in disguise is really low. There is such a thing as a street hierarchy, this is something that planners should understand. We need roads in the city that allow for faster movement through the city in paths that people actually want to take. The road IS a transit investment. There are still city buses and I’m certain that the park and rides will use this extensively. How many people who work the Circle from the west might choose now to ride if the commute time is reduced by fifteen minutes? Who knows for certain? If you object to divided boulevards, then you must also despise West Blvd, Shaker Blvd, Fairmount Blvd and more. I have no delusions that this street will have the same appeal as the ones I listed, but a four lane boulevard with a fifth that comes and goes as a turning lane isn’t a massive right of way, and 40 isn’t a freeway, especially if there will be 7 at grade intersections.

    The amount of displacement is minimal, and in todays climate there won’t be people left to rot as it was in the 60’s. The notion that planners today “frown” on eminent domain is ludicrous. As a trained planner, I recall hours of discussion on how to use it and when to use it. Especially when the people in the way were holding up what was best for them (i do not at all care for eminent domain).

    I can’t say that I follow every press release or community meeting that went along with this thing, but I don’t ever recall anyone denying that the first and foremost reason is to connect the Circle and the Heights into the freeway system. The obvious side benefit is that a completely cut off and forgotten corner of the city will also benefit from this new connection. While it may seem odd when you consider how close Kinsman is to I 77, but the neighborhood is rather disconnected from highway access. And it has a ton of rotting industrial land with fantastic rail access. The connection to the highway system is a must to ever hope in redevelopment. But I get off subject…

    There are obvious upsides to this project, regardless of whether you approve of them or not. Development in an area that currently cannot give land away is something that a tax starved community can hardly ignore. There hasn’t been a major improvement or new road added in Cleveland proper for generations. And besides Euclid Ave there hasn’t been a street project that has had such an impact on a neighborhood in living memory.

    Cities HAVE to be flexible and change with the needs of the community. Movement patterns change. Investing in new streets and removing old is a necessary part of remaining relevant. This change is an obvious benefit to both the city and its guests who come for business and to work. Especially since the city is fast becoming irrelevant to the larger region.

  • newl

    Although this may not be the perfect solution, it is a good first step. Maybe we could build on the Opportunity Corridor project rather than slamming everything about it and cutting down Cleveland yet again. What’s wrong with bringing suburban people into the city?

  • NoCynic

    While I am against building more highways that increase sprawl, these projects almost always are in the outer suburbs, like Avon Lake. One of the criticisms of these projects for urbanists is that they suck people and money out of the inner city as economic development goes with the highway exchange.

    So, could this argument be used to argue that this project might actually suck people and money into Cleveland? It would also invest state money in the city for a change.

    The “benefits” to the neighborhood must be more than indirect. Creating a complete street plan, designing actual neighborhood-oriented and resident-owned businesses at intersections (e.g. healthy family restaurants, a bike shop, and local bakery) are different than just a string of fast food and gas stations.

    If neighborhood residents were truly engaged in the process, there is a chance that what is created is different than the current non-stop rush of cars on Chester and Cedar. All effort should be made not to duplicate those grade-level drag strips where any bicycler risks their life to traverse.

    Finally, Chester, Euclid and Cedar are all nearly void of residential homes. This road seems more likely that white folks will actually see black folks. To be sure, the opportunity will be lost if it starts with a razed neighborhood along both sides of the corridor.

    Who is working to make sure the worst-case scenario does not occur?

  • Clevelifer

    Absolutely perfectly said, John.

  • Giuliana S

    Just what University Circle needs—a way to get more cars there faster! Mansfield Frazier is 100% right, and the name of the project has always made me retch, part euphemism, part dog whistle. But rather than bitch yet again on this project, I’d at least like to make a suggestion which is to reroute the boulevard so that the GCRTA Red Line station at E 79th—probably the worst station in all of RTA—and the parcel southeast of the E 79/rapid junction could be renovated as an attractive, guarded park and ride stop for shuttling commuters to the Circle. Given the rapids below-grade position, it would be a massive undertaking, but it would be transit-oriented.

    Before you dismiss this as cockamamie, think of this: I don’t know what it costs to park in U CIrcle, but it should not cost less than $12 a day to reflect the ridiculousness of using land for cars. Make this station say $5 to park and get an all-day RTA pass in addition to your parking spot, which amounts to basically free parking. Get the big employers on board. Develop the station like RTA stations used to be, with a coffee shop. Another person I pitched this to suggested auto service, say oil changes and detailing. This is the kind of go big or go home idea that is needed to make a new boulevard something other than the late unlamented Albert Porter’s wet dream to pave over the East Side, and would benefit the neighborhood as well as the commuter. Success depends on it being attractive and safe. Well, more than that—it has to be irresistible, and I believe that this can be done.

  • Nathanael

    Roads with more than three lanes (total) and stop lights are *by far* the most dangerous sort, for both people in cars *and* people on foot. This is borne out by studies. (Probably also the most dangerous for people on bikes, though I haven’t seen those studies).

    So Cleveland plans to build a very large one. I guess this is the “opportunity to get killed” corridor. This is actually a worse idea than an expressway.

  • I was just recently informed this “boulevard” is to include 13 foot noise walls as well. Charming!

  • Nathanael

    Divided boulevards are the second most dangerous form of road (stroad?) after non-divided boulevards. There have been a number of studies and it’s very clear. (It takes some work digging up the studies and I regret not having a list to hand.)

    “a four lane boulevard with a fifth that comes and goes as a turning lane isn’t a massive right of way”
    Yes, actually, it is, and it’s very dangerous.

    I don’t know about Angie, but I oppose most of these oversized roads., including West Blvd, Fairmount Blvd, etc. (Shaker Boulevard is different: it’s basically two one-way streets a LONG way apart from each other.)

    Two driving lanes (one each way) plus the occasional turning lane — pretty safe. Grade-separated expressway — pretty safe. Four-lane road with stop lights and crossings — extremely unsafe. Basically a killer road.

    A lot of our “four lane” roads in the US were actually designed as two-lane roads with two lanes of streetcar in the middle, which is actually pretty safe for various reasons. The conversion to “four lane roads” made them a lot more dangerous.

  • Nathanael

    If this were converted to a street with one driving lane and one parking lane each way, along with sidwalks and bike lanes and good pedestrian connections to the Red Line (and Green Line!) I’d support it. Streets are necessary.

    But this is a road widening project. It sucks.

  • Newbie

    I’ve only lived in Cleveland for a few weeks, but I live not far from this new “opportunity corridor.” I can’t imagine that what this area needs is more roads. Major improvements, yes, but new roads? no way.

  • omaryak

    Sounds like a trojan horse … at some point planners might be able to use traffic delays to justify upgrading the corridor to an expressway

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