Don’t let the sunshine in the photos fool you.
It was a cold one in Tremont on Sunday, as temperatures in the low 30s heralded winter’s tightening reins on Cleveland. But the weather didn’t deter over 100 cyclists and pedestrians from rallying in support of a path to connect them to downtown. United States Representative Dennis Kucinich made an appearance, pledging his word for a path with a letter to Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.
From the neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side, a leap over the milky Cuyahoga River, bikers rode and walkers strode to the lawn at Carnegie Avenue and Ontario Street. The broad swath of concrete is one of the largest intersections in the city, linking downtown to I-90 and I-77. Two riders reportedly got flat tires on Scranton Road in The Flats (go figure), the pot-holed tangle of roads along the Cuyahoga River underneath the bridges above.
For several years, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has bristled at including a bike/pedestrian bath in plans for a proposed $450-million bridge over the Cuyahoga River. That’s the I-90 Inner Belt Bridge, among the vital east-west transportation links in the US. After almost a year of lane closures to reduce the bridge’s carrying weight, plus sporadic, complete overnight shutdowns for repairs that are keeping I-90 on life support, the bridge has beset Cleveland’s interstate highway traffic with detours and frustration.
Residents in Tremont, one of Cleveland’s fastest growing neighborhoods, were cut off from downtown when ODOT closed an onramp last year that connected the area to downtown with virtually a straight line.
The bridge is going to be replaced anyway, beginning in 2011. So why not include such a path? It seems rare nowadays that the common sense, the public interest, and federal agency’s directives are on the same page. The Federal Highway Administration’s officially adopted policy for new transportation infrastructure, you would think, makes it easy for ODOT to give the path a green light:
“Every transportation agency has the responsibility and the opportunity to make a difference to the bicycle-friendliness and walkability of our communities. The design information to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians is available, as is the funding.”
ODOT’s main alternative is improving existing roads that snake their way downtown. Easy enough to pitch, especially considering that the agency did not include any plans for a path to begin with, leaving it up to supporters of a multi-modal path to independently come up with a blueprint. The Plain Dealer reported recently that Cleveland lawyer Kevin Cronin, president of the nonprofit ClevelandBikes, filed a lawsuit against ODOT on November 18, “asking the U.S. District Court in Cleveland to stop the state agency from proceeding with the bridge until the needs of bicyclists are addressed.” However, ODOT’s work has not halted.
Aside from the immediate ramifications of ODOT’s refusal of the path (circuitous, potentially dangerous routes; neighborhoods hemorrhaging into the Flats and into each other instead of being funneled downtown, etc.), I’m curious of the long-term precedent ODOT is setting for future projects. Given the scale and scope of the I-90 Inner Belt project, the state and feds cannot afford to be prudent to invest in infrastructure that solely caters to the automobile.
Equal should be the consideration for multi-modal options, particularly in Midwest Rust Belt cities, where the populations have bled into urban sprawl. And if a bike/ped path along the contour of a roaring interstate highway bridge isn’t easy and innocuous enough, then the horizon is bleak for our Clevelands, Detroits, Buffalos and Toledos. (From personal observation, Pittsburgh has done an amazing job reinvesting in the urban core. There are bike/ped paths that seemingly run the lengths of all the rivers in the city.)
At the rally, Jim Sheehan of the Ohio City Bike Co-op encouraged everyone to attend an update meeting on the bridge. Info: 10 a.m. Friday at NOACA, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, 1299 Superior Ave., Cleveland.
As of now, Tremont residents are looking down Abbey Avenue, through Ohio City, via the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge as the easiest route to downtown.
Links to some further reading:
Cleveland Scene (weekly) coverage: http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2009/12/02/a-bridge-plan-too-far
– Nick Wright