Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Cleveland

“Highway Removal” Project in Cleveland Looks an Awful Lot Like a Highway

It is an oft-lamented fact, both locally and nationally, that the city of Cleveland hasn’t taken full advantage of its position on the shore of Lake Erie. The national media, in its seemingly boundless enthusiasm for stories about the declining fortunes of the city where I live, is quick to point out that we haven't taken advantage of what may be our best asset.

The West Shoreway is no place for pedestrians -- and it won't be any more welcoming after the re-do. Photo: ##http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/01/west_shoreway_project_gets_a_b.html##Thomas Ondrey/Plain Dealer##

Whether the publication is Forbes (Most Miserable City, Sixth Fastest Dying City) or Portfolio Magazine (Third Most Stressed City), the attention can start to feel like a cheap shot. Inevitably, they turn the blame for the city’s problems onto itself with observations like this one: Why hasn’t Cleveland developed its lakefront into an asset like the city of Baltimore or San Francisco?

Now NPR has run a story on the “teardown” of the West Shoreway freeway, highlighting plans to turn it into a tree-lined boulevard and break down a major barrier to the lake. The reporters liken the project to Milwaukee’s rejection of the Park East Freeway and San Francisco’s refusal to rebuild Embarcadero Freeway, turning high-speed roadways into parks.

But what’s really going on in Cleveland is a little less revolutionary. Ironically, the city is getting positive press for a project of debatable merit.

NPR may have jumped the gun when it said the city was converting the freeway into a "slower, tree-lined boulevard." So far, project sponsors have been unable to get the speed limit reduced legislatively. Other important attempts to make the road more pedestrian-friendly -- such as the addition of stoplights and crosswalks -- have been thwarted at the state level. It's not clear just yet that the angry driver quoted by NPR has anything to worry about.

Currently, Cleveland’s lakefront is occupied by a massive public park, a private airport, the port, a water treatment plant, and the Cleveland Browns’ stadium. All of this is cut off from downtown and the city’s neighborhoods by a limited-access highway: Route 2, or the East/West Shoreway, as it is known locally. West-siders and downtown visitors hoping to access the lake must use one of a handful of poorly lit, deteriorating pedestrian tunnels that run under the highway. Otherwise, they can drive to the park via an exit on Route 2.

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.

One of four pedestrian tunnels under the West Shoreway. Photo: ##http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/02/west_76th_street_pedestrian_tu.html##Cleveland.com##

Planners returned to the drawing board. What they came back with, and what NPR is now celebrating, bears a strong resemblance to what the roadway planners set out to replace. And the big losers, predictably, are pedestrians.

Rather than installing traffic signals, the city will invest $2.7 million in rebuilding and improving its pedestrian tunnels. Plans to redesign the highway with boulevard-style medians and the addition of trees are moving forward, but most of the aspects of the plan that would make the lakefront more accessible have been removed.

Although the addition of a bike and pedestrian trail survived, since it will be located on the lakeside of the highway, even bicyclists will have to access the paths through one of the tunnels.

Still, City Planning Director Bob Brown sees the plan as an improvement. He envisions the redesigned Shoreway as a near-replica of Chicago’s Lakeshore Boulevard. And perhaps his vision will coalesce. Cleveland’s Route 2 is undoubtedly already one of the state’s most scenic highways. The problem is those who currently benefit most from Cleveland’s prime position on Lake Erie are suburban commuters. The state’s policies advance the notion that Cleveland is a place to drive through, not a place to live.

The next time Cleveland appears on a national list — poorest, saddest, most-maligned — you might check for a few other likely targets: Cincinnati, Toledo, Youngstown, Dayton. When the writers point the finger of blame back at the cities, it’s worth considering their common thread: beyond sharing an industrial heritage, they’re all part of a state with a set of policies that actively undermines cities. The fact that the state of Ohio, in the form of a highway, is standing between Cleveland and its lakefront just goes to show how difficult a position these cities are in.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

The Paris Plan for Olympic Traffic? Build More Bike Lanes

A push to make Paris fully bikable for the Olympics is already paying dividends long before the opening ceremonies.

July 25, 2024

Thursday’s Headlines Face Our Fears

What happens if Republicans win the trifecta in November? Judging by the GOP-controlled House budget, a lot less money for transit, Smart Cities Dive reports.

July 25, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines Are in a Good Place

How should we react to public indifference about the danger cars pose to society? Perhaps a sitcom has something to teach us.

July 24, 2024

Opinion: Is Kamala Harris ‘The Climate President We’ve Been Waiting For’?

Kamala Harris fought hard for a better transportation plan in the San Diego region despite big political risks. If elected president, will she do the same for the country?

July 24, 2024

America is Setting Micromobility Records — But That Boom Could Go Bust Without Public Funding

Shared bike and scooter trips soared 20 percent in a single year. So why are so many U.S. systems shutting down — and what will it take to keep the revolution rolling?

July 24, 2024
See all posts