Saturday, January 24, 2015


The following was originally published in the Cleveland Restoration Society's Fa├žade, Issue 94, Winter 2014.
Between January 2010 and June 2013 over 3100 homes and over 200 commercial buildings were torn down in the City of Cleveland. An additional 8,000 city homes identified by inspectors as vacant and distressed will cost approximately $80 million to demolish.  In October 2014 the Cuyahoga County Council approved a $50 million bond issue for additional demolition.

Supported by a James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation Mid-Career Grant, I explored the impact of demolition efforts on Cleveland’s neighborhoods. With assistance from project intern Eugene Basile I used mapped GIS data from NEO CANDO and the City of Cleveland to analyze implementation of existing plans related to rehabs and demolitions and to explore patterns of demolition, rehabs, and density change from January 2010 to June 2013.  I used maps of land use and building form to rapidly identify remaining intact clusters of historic commercial fabric and surrounding neighborhoods.

Building stock is being lost at significant rates in some neighborhoods. Overall, Cleveland lost 2.7% of its 1-3 family housing stock and 1.6% of commercial buildings from January 2010-June 2013. Twelve neighborhoods lost more than 5% of their 1-3 family housing stock during this time, and two of those neighborhoods, Fairfax and Kinsman, lost more than 10%. Within Landmark Districts, less building stock is being lost, but the protective value of the Landmark designation is limited. Eighty-five percent of demolition proposals that went before the Landmarks Commission, and 93% of demolition proposals that went through a local Design Review Committee and then to the Planning Commission, were approved in 2010-2013.

 Whether it is feasible to renovate a property as an alternative to tearing it down depends on the gap between rehab cost and the resulting sales price. Increasing appraised property values will allow the gap between sales price and rehab cost to narrow even for extensive rehabs. The subsidy needed to make up the rehab gap can be compared with the funds needed for demolition.

Increasing property values are a goal of using public funds for both rehab and demolition. In a 2013 study commissioned by the Thriving Communities Institute,[i] in higher priced markets the benefit of demolition on property values was significant, but in weaker markets, which included most of the City of Cleveland, demolition resulted in property value benefits that are less than the cost of demolition. Subsidies for rehab several times greater than the cost of demolition may be justified if rehab is shown to have an equivalent higher impact on property values compared to demolition. More research is needed to quantify this impact. The majority of the community development respondents I surveyed would choose to invest $100,000 of subsidy in one rehab, assuming that it would result in a successful sale, rather than using the $100,000 to tear down ten houses.

I wanted to determine if demolitions were occurring at a rate high enough to significantly affect the density of Cleveland’s neighborhoods. Density is a city’s basic competitive advantage over the suburbs. Dense areas supply enough people to create a sense of energy and liveliness, and they support transit and walkable retail areas close to where people live.  Less car use means less need for parking and more ability to create a pedestrian and bike-friendly environment.  Historic neighborhoods were often built at high urban densities that contribute to an area’s character and sense of place.
The Enterprise Green Communities Standard identifies 10 units/acre as the threshold for urban density, a threshold that 24 of 34 Cleveland neighborhoods currently meet[ii]. Some neighborhoods in Cleveland are transitioning from urban densities to more suburban densities, including Fairfax and North Broadway. Woodland Hills, St. Clair Superior, Stockyards, South Collinwood, North Broadway, Mt. Pleasant, Glenville, Forest Hills, Fairfax, and Clark Fulton all lost 0.4 net units per acre or more from 2010-2013– more than twice the city average.

If a shrinking city cannot sustain high densities everywhere, identifying concentrated areas of density surrounded by lower densities and greenspace is a relevant strategy.  I proposed focusing residential density around historic commercial clusters.

While many isolated buildings are architecturally significant or have storied pasts, they have relatively little competitive advantage to contribute to neighborhood revitalization, compared to historic buildings that are grouped together.  When they are concentrated next to each other they create a sense of place that gives identity to a neighborhood. The effect of an outdoor room is created by buildings that are built up to the sidewalk and enclose the space. With enough storefronts, a sense of vibrancy and community is created that helps support retail businesses. 

Woodhill and Stoughton Historic Commercial Cluster, Aerial View (Credit: Google Maps)

Woodhill and Stoughton Historic Commercial Cluster, Street View (Credit: Google Street View)

A series of historic commercial clusters (HCCs) creates a strong historic district that might be anchored by a theatre or a market, but HCCs can be smaller and still have the critical mass necessary to support urban life. In terms of retail capacity an HCC can be thought of as the size of a neighborhood convenience strip center of 4000 – 20,000 sq ft, unanchored by a grocery store or drug store chain.

I used land use and building footprint maps in concert with Google Street View to identify HCCs within the city of Cleveland. In a departure from traditional historic preservation planning, I focused only on historic building form, and not on architectural significance, condition or historic legacy. Pre-1940 buildings in any state of disrepair, alteration, or use could be renovated and contribute to the sense of place in an HCC. To identify the clusters I looked for commercial buildings with storefronts adjacent to the sidewalk, with 5 storefronts on three corners of an intersection, or with 10 contiguous storefronts on both sides of the street (with a few caveats and variations). The clusters were then verified with an on-the-ground check. Many of the HCCs outside of designated landmark and design review areas are deteriorated and in danger of being lost, with several disappearing between 2011 (when the Google Street View image was taken) and 2014.
Historic Commercial Clusters with 5 minute walk radius, west side Cleveland
(click to enlarge)
Historic Commercial Clusters with 5 minute walk radius, southeast Cleveland
(click to enlarge)
Historic Commercial Clusters with 5 minute walk radius, northeast Cleveland
(click to enlarge)

The idea of focusing rehabs and density in neighborhoods around HCCs received mostly positive feedback from representatives of community development corporations.  The HCCs could each form the heart of a higher density, walkable, historic cluster neighborhood in an area within 1/4 mile radius of the HCC. The walkability of the higher density neighborhoods would support the commercial cluster by providing foot traffic for businesses while the historic retail development would support the sense of place and urban feel of the surrounding neighborhood.

 In the HCC neighborhoods public funds could be directed primarily toward preservation and rehabilitation for both commercial and residential properties. Within these areas code enforcement and design review could be used together with higher subsidies directed toward renovation to strategically raise property values. Outside of HCCs, greenspace improvements could be prioritized and individual significant historic buildings proactively identified.

[i] Griswold, Nigel G. et al. Estimating the Effect of Demolishing Distressed Structures in Cleveland 2009 to 2013: Impacts on Real Estate Equity and Mortgage-foreclosure,, Western Land Conservancy Thriving Communities Institute, February 2013. Http://
[ii] Enterprise Community Partners. 2011 Green Communities Criteria, page 28, 2011.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Historic Preservation Can Help Right-Size Cleveland

I am thrilled to have been awarded the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation Mid Career Grant ( for my proposal, “Putting Historic Preservation on the Map: Right-Sizing Cleveland.” My project will start by mapping the story of our current demolition patterns and determining the extent to which historic preservation concerns have influenced demolition in Cleveland to date. I’ll also investigate ways historic preservation can be better incorporated into right-sizing in the future, and identify and suggest protecting pocket historic target areas outside of landmark districts.

For me, historic preservation is about saving the building stock that individually and collectively provides a sense of place and defines the unique character of our city. In Cleveland, with our crisis of vacancy, that means strategically finding alternatives to indiscriminate demolition, rehabilitating houses and commercial buildings, finding better mothballing strategies, and finding ways to keep buildings from deteriorating. If we are going to be tearing lots of buildings down, let’s do that in a thoughtful way that leaves behind resilient and walkable neighborhood villages interspersed with productive greenspace and well connected by transit.

I’m going into my project with some preconceived ideas. I will start from the assumption that neighborhood areas with intact, walkable, transit-friendly urban fabric and historic character are the most likely areas to establish a sense of place, attract new residents, and keep existing residents. Protecting endangered buildings, providing targeted resources, and maintaining densities in these areas is necessary to lay the foundation for redevelopment based on the rehabilitation of historic buildings. While some parts of the city may need to become less dense and less populated, attracting residents to areas with historic assets is an appropriate strategy for right-sizing a city.

The idea that historic preservation should be a key consideration in right-sizing the city has been percolating in the last few years. In 2011 in response to the emergence of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding for demolition the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation convened a task force on right-sizing:  The Rightsizing Task Force visited Cleveland and held a community forum in June 2012.  Donovan Rypkema and Cara Bertron wrote a report for the task force suggesting that historic preservation should have a key role in planning for right-sizing: . Brenda Mahoney has suggested strategies for incorporating historic preservation into right-sizing drawn from her experience working with two cities in Michigan: . Locally, the Cleveland Restoration Society has been engaged in community conversations about right-sizing, including an Ohio Preservation Summit on Vacant and Abandoned Buildings in May 2012.

Cleveland Land Use Map Showing Vacant Parcels in Grey

Asserting that historic preservation should be a focus of demolition planning efforts acknowledges the need for strategic demolition. I’m not opposed to strategic demolition. However, I think that massive spending for demolition has an important opportunity cost. Although spending limited funds for rehab and new construction is more expensive and challenging than demolition, it has a much greater impact. I feel instinctively that rehabbing one house has much more of a revitalizing effect on a street than tearing down several houses on that street. I want to find data to back that up. There are barriers to rehab like a cycle of negatively trending appraisals that lower selling prices below the cost to rehab, and we need new strategies to address these problems. Removing a nuisance property improves quality of life temporarily for immediate neighbors, but the resulting vacant lot does little to increase demand for the neighborhood in the long term.

I’m also not philosophically opposed to the idea of a shrinking city. Places do not necessarily have to grow to be sustainable, wonderful places to live. But as long as we are building new homes in the suburbs while so many houses in the city sit empty, there is an alternative to tearing so many houses down.  We have to realize that sprawl in a shrinking city does not make any sense. A shrinking region must strategically address where this shrinkage should occur – and it should not occur disproportionately in the core of the region where urban advantages are greatest.

There is no doubt that Jim Rokakis, director of the Thriving Communities Institute, and other local leaders have done an incredible job at the national level raising awareness of the vacancy problems in cities like Cleveland and successfully attracting funding to address these problems. I have some comments though, on some of the ways Rokakis frames the vacancy problem in a relatively recent PD editorial (April 21,Demolishing area’s vacant homes will help rebuild the community”).
  • “there are thousands of homes beyond repair,” which are “neither historic nor positioned to operate functionally in the rehab market.” While some homes truly are beyond repair, many homes slated for demolition would be perfect for gut rehabs, which is a common rehab approach that strips the house down to the studs and replaces most of the systems in the house. Cleveland Housing Network, for example, a major non-profit housing organization in Cleveland, has done many gut rehabs. And a gut rehab is an opportunity to make an existing house as energy efficient as the greenest new home.
  • To claim that the thousands of houses slated for demolition in Cleveland are not historic shows a very limited appreciation for Cleveland’s housing stock. A home does not have to be ornate or built by a well-known architect or have had some famous role in history to contribute to the historic character of a neighborhood. Small, plain, worker cottages from the 1930’s and earlier collectively provide a historic fabric that can be one of the most competitive aspects of neighborhoods and cities.
  • “There is much more supply than demand.”   This is a problem that cannot be fixed simply by tearing down enough houses. The supply of homes can shrink and shrink and still be greater than the demand if the demand curve keeps shifting in the negative direction. According to economists, things that shift the housing demand curve include changes in taste, population, income, and expectations. Expectations are especially key in shifting the demand curve for housing. People want to know what their house will sell for in the future and what their neighborhood will be like in the future. Speculation can shift the demand curve in either a positive direction, causing a housing boom, or in a negative direction, causing a housing bust. We need to focus more on shifting expectations in a positive direction to create demand and less on reducing supply. Demolition does not do much to increase expectations for a neighborhood.
  • “It is time for all of us to speak with one voice so that our officials in Washington understand the severity of this problem.” I felt like this sentence was aimed at quelling people like me who have hesitations about pouring so much money into demolition. I think I can see where it is coming from, though. Making the argument for funding for demolition is simpler than trying to get more money for rehab. To get money for rehab you have to tell a more complicated story about how we’re going to get people to buy those homes, why the private market should be subsidized, and why we need money for rehab more than growing cities. It’s a more difficult, but important message.
Historic preservation is sometimes dismissed as a luxury strategy benefiting only the “creative class” elite and lumped into the category of things that would be nice to do if we had extra money, but are not as fundamentally important as other strategies that are seen as directly addressing jobs and poverty, and as helping the majority of Cleveland residents.  I disagree, and see historic preservation as a crucial core strategy that should be at the heart of planning for economic development and sustainability. For example, I believe that historic preservation is an anti-poverty strategy.
  • For homeowners, historic preservation raises surrounding property values. While this may increase the tax burden, for areas with extremely depressed appraisals, increased property values more importantly enables homeowners to obtain home improvement loans for basic home repair and weatherization, refinance at lower rates, and sell their homes. 
  • For renters, historic preservation provides economic opportunity by supporting the long-term health of residents. This may not be immediately evident, but I see connections between preserving our housing and reducing health disparities linked to housing. Code enforcement, a common historic preservation strategy to keep buildings from falling into disrepair, provides a minimum housing standard for healthy housing that directly impacts renters.  Deteriorated, unhealthy housing results in greater asthma rates, lead poisoning, and injuries- health problems that exacerbate poverty and have lifetime costs to tenants and taxpayers. Keeping homes from falling into disrepair, while protecting our heritage, also protects our most vulnerable residents.
Historic preservation, while it may attract desirable new residents, primarily benefits existing residents. It’s an approach to city-making that embraces authenticity and improves quality of life for all of us. It should be an integral part of planning for right-sizing Cleveland.

These views are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer or of the Fitch Foundation. The James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation encourages new thinking and original research in the field of American historic preservation. To achieve this mission the Foundation awards grants to mid-career professionals who have an academic or professional background in preservation or a related field.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ODOT Strikes Again

How we could save a landmarks district building from being destroyed and make a connection to the lakefront more pedestrian and bicycle friendly

Streets are places, and some of Cleveland’s neighborhood and downtown places are lately being designed by the state department of highways, aka the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). Local groups are continuing the fight for complete streets that make economically successful, great places but ODOT keeps proving time and again they don’t get it. I’d like to share one more frustration: the east end of the Shoreway Boulevard project.

As far back as the 2006 presentations of the boulevard, ODOT was showing monstrously huge intersections along the corridor, particularly at W.25th St and W.28th St (in seven different configurations). At this point we should have collectively stood up and said, “Wow, ODOT, are you kidding us? This is not at all what we meant by pedestrian friendly connections to the lake!!!” But ODOT kept talking about multi-modal connections as if they understood what we wanted, and as if they felt that it was possible to make it happen. I believe that it is not too late to stand up to prevent one particular anti-placemaking disaster in the corridor from happening, and that this is a battle worth fighting, because if you take the time to figure out what is going on, it is clear that there are alternatives.

If you’ve lost track of the Shoreway project lately, you may be surprised to learn that all the at-grade intersections have been taken out. That’s right, the project that was supposed to better connect neighborhoods to Lake Erie with new pedestrian connections at traffic lights amounts to some new and improved tunnels, and in Phase II, some landscaping. Don’t get me wrong, the new and improved tunnels are a good thing, and the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood will get an important new connection to Edgewater Park. But what we are getting overall falls tremendously short of what was originally advertised. Worse, the side streets leading to the Shoreway are actually going to become less pedestrian-oriented and neighborhood-friendly than they were to begin with.

I’m not a traffic engineer or a journalist. All of the information here I took from reading documents on a CD that ODOT sent me, material on ODOT’s website, and resources that ODOT referenced (plus a little research on truck sizes). There is missing information and quite possibly some inaccuracies on my part. My purpose is to start a conversation.

The Impending Disaster
I’ve been paying particular attention to the W.28th Streetand Detroit intersection area, because the changes here involve taking out a beautiful four story building in the Ohio City landmark district. It’s a sad little story, because the Jamestown building is a historic building that clearly adds character to the street and the gateway between Ohio City and downtown Cleveland will suffer from its loss. Linda’s Superette and the Jamestown, as well as another little building to the east, have been on the chopping block on ODOT maps since at least 2006. ODOT has refused to recognize that they are historic properties on its maps. The Environmental Impact Statement for the project concluded that no historic properties would be affected. The Ohio State Historic Preservation Office signed off on it. So much for federal and state safeguards.

The buildings have to be taken out because ODOT plans to:
  • Widen the intersection of Detroit Ave and W. 28th St to accommodate the traffic
  • Widen Detroit Ave between W.28th St and W.25th St. to accommodate the new traffic plan.
I’m assuming you are reading this because you know that widening streets to accommodate traffic is terrible for neighborhoods and for making walkable places. So I don’t have to convince you of that. I’m going to make the argument that widening the roadway and the intersection here is not necessary even for the purpose of smooth traffic flow.

The engineering drawings for the intersection show the proposed design in dark solid lines and the existing condition in a lighter dashed line. I shaded in the footprint of the existing buildings and the existing curb cut to make this more clear.

The Neighborhood
W.28th is the extension of Fulton Road in Ohio City and after it crosses Detroit Avenue it goes into the Lakeview Terrace public housing development. On the northwest corner of the W.28th and Detroit intersection is a parking lot for a bar called Bounce. Next to Bounce is a historic building renovated into market-rate apartments, with diagonal parking off of Detroit Across the street are various offices and some more parking.  I would call this street a functioning part of a neighborhood. A few years ago I was involved in a block-club initiated planning process for this end of Detroit Avenue which emphasized creating a neighborhood character here while retaining existing industries. On Cleveland’s Lakefront Plan, W.28th is designated as a pedestrian connection that winds its way down to the lake, eventually connecting to Whiskey Island and the towpath trail. intersection is a parking lot for a bar called Bounce. Next to Bounce is a historic building renovated into market-rate apartments, with diagonal parking at the edge of Detroit Avenue.

The historic buildings that ODOT wants to take out to widen Detroit Avenue and the W. 28th St. intersection are Linda’s Superette and the Jamestown building on the northeast corner of the intersection. The Lakeview Terrace residents often walk up to Detroit Avenue to Linda’s Superette, as it’s the only convenience store close by. Linda’s Superette is a cute little historic building, in my opinion, and has the potential to be restored. Next to Linda’s Superette is the Jamestown building, which is the last remnant, on the north side of the street, of the commercial buildings that used to line it on both sides. The Jamestown building has a presence on the street that frames the gateway from Ohio City to the Detroit Superior Bridge at W. 25th St. a block to the east. Both the Jamestown and Linda’s buildings are in the Ohio City Local Landmarks District, which means the City of Cleveland Landmarks Commission has the authority, if it chooses, to prevent buildings from being torn down. Between the Jamestown building and W. 25th St. is mostly parking and a park (there’s one more little building), and this area has been targeted as a good redevelopment site by the City of Cleveland Lakefront Plan.  The success of redevelopment here, particularly residential development, will be dependent on creating a walkable environment. Widening Detroit Ave here will detract heavily from the ability to create an environment conducive to development.

The Design Problem
Right now you can get on the Shoreway going west at W.25th and going east at W.28th.  The eastbound onramp at W.28th is terribly designed with a short blind merge into the left lane of traffic, and it’s adjacent to the off-ramp, so there is a congested area of cars and pedestrians there. With the highway redesign, the onramp going east will disappear. All good so far. But also, on the other side of the street, a new onramp going west will be built adjacent to a new offramp going east. This replaces the on/off ramps at W.25th, which are removed in order to open up an additional small area for redevelopment next to the parking lot and park. Any traffic, including truck traffic coming out of the flats,that used to get on the Shoreway at W.25th to go west will need to go over to W.28th, and all eastbound traffic that used to get off at W.25th will need to use W.28th.

When ODOT says in its update that it is widening the intersection and the roadway to “accommodate the traffic,” it is being really vague. I requested all the meeting notes and modeling documentation on this issue from ODOT and discovered what the justification boils down to: 
  • Detroit Avenue needs to be widened because it was decided that there needs to be an additional lane, a left turn lane, added at W.28th.
  • The intersection of W.28th and Detroit Avenue needs to be widened because the curb cut for the right hand turn from Detroit westbound to W.28th Street northbound is now going to be designed with a 40’ turn radius.
  • W.28th north of Detroit needs to be widened because it needs to go from 4 lanes… to 4 lanes.
Let’s look at and maybe debunk each of these justifications. 

Detroit Avenue Does Not Need To Be Widened
Looking at the engineering drawings it seems clear that at least the Jamestown building could be saved, with no other changes, if Detroit Avenue does not have to be widened. This moves the necessary curb cut and turning radius south away from the buildings. If Detroit is not widened it will also be really positive for any new development that goes in, because the street will have a much more livable and walkable character.

The idea of widening Detroit Avenue first appears in the online public record in notes at a January 11, 2007, Lakefront West Subcommittee meeting, and again at a December 2, 2008 subcommittee meeting. It’s first announced to the public in the two-page December 2008 project update document, where it is specifically stated that Detroit Avenue will be widened between W.25th St. and W.28th St. However, this statement is not included in the December 11, 2008 public meeting PowerPoint presentation, and that presentation includes detailed intersection maps showing Detroit Avenue remaining the same width with four lanes.  It is not included in the PowerPoint presentation to the Cleveland Planning Commission on December 19, 2008, which still shows four lanes on Detroit. I’m not sure exactly what version of the plan Cleveland Planning Commission adopted on January 9th, 2009 because that presentation’s not on the ODOT website[1].

What happened to make ODOT think Detroit Avenue has to be widened? First of all, sometime in 2007 - 2008[2] ODOT did some modeling and realized that in order to try to get Level of Service (LOS) D or better on the Shoreway corridor as a whole, some intersecting side streets, including W. 28th St., would have to be widened to six lanes and they still weren’t working at a “D” during peak hours[3].  Even ODOT realized that more than six lanes is a nightmare scenario for neighborhood streets that are intended to be pedestrian-oriented. So this was a key decision moment. One possible decision would be to leave the side streets at the existing width and accept LOS E or F at the side street intersections. This theoretically could be a feasible option. If traffic got too bad, people could take alternate routes. The scheduled Innerbelt project would be limiting routes at the same time and ODOT was determined to maintain capacity on the Shoreway.  ODOT decided, after three years of going along with it, that the whole idea of connecting the side streets at intersections where people could walk across the Shoreway to the lakefront didn’t work after all. So the ramps were put back into the plan all along the route.

Months after the signalized intersections were taken out of the plan and the Planning Commission approved the plan in January 2009, an analysis of the W.28th street area was conducted. The results were presented in a technical memorandum on June 24, 2009. The memo makes it sound like the assumption is at this point that Detroit Avenue will not be widened and that W.28th St. configuration options are the main consideration. In all four scenarios, Detroit was modeled as not being widened, but W.28th has either 4 or 5 lanes. 
  • The memo said the modeling showed that four lanes on W. 28th St. will cause levels of service E and F at the signal at the W. 28th St on ramps, during peak pm traffic only.  It also showed that all the scenarios with either 4 or 5 lanes caused cars to back up too far from the signals (lane storage problems).
  • A new twist, which had not appeared in any presentations to this point, was that Detroit westbound was shown with one right hand turn only lane (the other lane was shown as a combined left/straight lane). Prior to this Detroit Avenue westbound had always been shown with one left/straight lane and one right/straight lane.
There was a meeting on July 9th, 2009, to respond to this memo, at which all options still seemed to be on the table. This was a small meeting with ODOT reps, Baker (the consultant), and two engineers with the city.  The notes from the meeting say:
The issues with W. 28th Street accommodating the ramp traffic to and from the Shoreway are: the amount of traffic is projected to require 6 lanes, the required lanes impact the existing structure, the lanes do not line up at the intersection with Detroit, and the storage length is substandard between the ramps and Washington as well as between the ramps and Detroit.

Baker reviewed the traffic memo dated June 24th which showed that a four-lane section is not projected to accommodate traffic, and that the five lane scenarios have several storage length issues which cannot be resolved due to geometric constraints.

At this point all options for the intersection are still on the table for discussion including a no-build condition. The meeting notes say:

Four options for W. 28th St. were discussed:
1. A “no-build” scenario that improves the existing condition aesthetically but leaves operations the same, except for the closing of the eastbound onramp from W. 28th St. due to safety concerns. 
2. Moving the ramps to W. 28th St. (westbound on-ramps and eastbound offramp),but closing
W. 28th St. north of the ramps (south of Washington). Based on ODOT Central Office analysis, this allows traffic to be accommodated with a reduced number of lanes on the ramps and W. 28th St. It was also discussed that this could negatively impact the Lakeview Terrace area by routing the West 28th traffic to West 25th. 
3. Moving the westbound on-ramp from W. 25th St. to W. 28th St., maintaining the westbound off-ramp at W. 28th St, and restricting the eastbound on and off movements to W. 45th St.
4. Moving the ramps to W. 28th St., but closing the eastbound on ramp for safety.

It was decided that option 1 provides the best condition for carrying traffic, followed by option 2. ODOT Central Office will conduct traffic analysis on the options before the design team makes a decision on what exactly to recommend/include in the PES.

The City requested that eastbound and westbound left turn bays be examined at the Detroit Avenue intersection with W. 28th St

Additional meetings were held with CMHA to discuss the closing of 28th St to through traffic north of the ramps, and it was decided this was a feasible option, at least in part. The December 17, 2009 engineering drawings show only one lane northbound connecting W.28th with Lakeview Terrace.

To summarize the July 9, 2009 meeting:
  • The group believes that the plans are such a mess that the best thing to do is to leave everything like it is currently, except close the eastbound onramp.
  • The next best thing to do is to continue on with the plan except close W. 28th through to Lakeview Terrace. This is what they ultimately decide to do. It is vetted with CMHA and the southbound access from Lakeview Terrace is removed.
  • The City asks for a left turn lane to be added on Detroit, which will require widening the road. It really seems like widening Detroit is something that is not in the plans until this point, since the memo that caused them to reconsider everything is based on a model that does not widen Detroit. This doesn’t explain why the December 2008 project update specified widening Detroit. Are you as confused as I am?
Baker wrote me an explanation for why Detroit Avenue has to be widened:
The westbound left turn lane at the intersection of Detroit Avenue @ W. 28th Street has been included in the preliminary engineering design to address a potential operational issue involving blocked traffic. Intersections along Detroit Avenue have two lanes which can accommodate through traffic and turning traffic. At all of those locations, through traffic can pass stopped left turning vehicles by utilizing the travel lane which isn’t being blocked. Since the Detroit Avenue westbound approach at W. 28th Street requires a right turn lane which extends to W. 25th Street, only one westbound through lane is provided. Thus, not providing a left turn bay on this approach would create an issue with stopped left turning vehicles blocking the Detroit Avenue westbound through traffic, which could result in significant queuing issues, particularly during the evening peak period. This potential operating issue could also create a potential safety issue. Vehicles blocked by left turning traffic may attempt to utilize the right turn lane as a through lane, thus creating an unsafe condition.

This is what I get out of Baker’s response:
  • The right turn only lane, which appeared suddenly in the June 24, 2009 memo and was included in all of the options analyzed, is taken as a requirement, but it means that a vehicle turning left will block traffic[4] going straight unless a new lane is added.
  • Perhaps city engineers identified this problem as soon as they saw that right turn only lane in the modeling and that’s why they asked for the new left turn lane at the July 9, 2009 meeting.
  • Baker says that left turning vehicles would particularly be a problem during the evening peak hours. This statement reveals that Baker is not familiar with current operating conditions at the intersection. Left turns onto W.28th from Detroit westbound are not currently allowed during am or pm peak hours. There is a sign in place stating this. Nobody from the public has ever asked for the ability to turn left there during rush hours as far as I know.
ODOT, if pressed, may be able to come up with a logical reason why there needs to be a right-turn only lane. Presumably, it helps keep traffic from backing up on Detroit. But there is a serious doubt, in my opinion, that this justifies tearing up historic buildings and widening Detroit Avenue. I asked ODOT for any further traffic analysis done after June 24, 2009, but have not received anything. I haven’t been able to meet with ODOT to discuss these concerns. It’s not clear if any additional analysis was done looking at the need for the right turn only lane after it was decided W.28th Street was to be closed southbound north of the ramps, which clearly had a major impact on the traffic flow.  It may be that the need for the right turn only lane is lessened. If the right turn only lane can return to its current condition as a right turn/straight through lane there is no need for the new left turn lanes  -- and the justification for widening Detroit goes away.

Let’s assume for a minute that there has to be a right turn only lane because otherwise traffic will be too backed up to tolerate. Traffic turning left from Detroit Avenue westbound will then block traffic unless the road is widened. Would it be so horrible to put up a no left turn sign? Already, you cannot turn left there during rush hours. There are many places in the city where you cannot turn left. That is one strategy for dealing with traffic in an urban environment. You can turn left at W.25th St., and you can turn left at W.29th St. Isn’t putting up a simple sign better than widening the street and attacking the neighborhood character? This is a question that the public has never been asked.

Fast forward to a public meeting February 23, 2010. The last time the public has seen the plans Detroit Avenue was not shown as being widened.  This presentation focuses on landscaping along the corridor. It shows the new intersection configurations without calling attention to the changes. The presentation shows four lanes on W.28th north of Detroit Ave and five lanes on Detroit Avenue, including a left turn lane westbound on DetroitDetroit to W.25th. This is also the first time the right hand turn only lane onto W.28th northbound is shown to the public. In the preliminary engineering report in December 2009, updated April 9, 2010, ODOT says:
  • Further modifications were made to Option J during the final phase of alternative development. The recertification of traffic indicated that West 28th Street between the ramps and Detroit would need to be six lanes for an acceptable level of service. It was determined that restricting access to northbound traffic between Washington and the ramps would allow West 28th Street to function at acceptable levels with four lanes.
There is no explanation for widening Detroit in the report. There has not been any opportunity for public input or discussion on widening Detroit other than at the February 23, 2010 public meeting, where it was barely mentioned.

A 40’ Turning Radius Is Not Needed
The widening of the intersection to accommodate a larger design vehicle turning radius is a trickier subject, because it is a subjective and political decision. ODOT’s guidelines are really flexible on turn radii:
401.8.1 Curb Radii
The radius used at urban and suburban locations at both signalized and unsignalized intersections, where there may be pedestrian conflicts, must consider the safety and convenience aspects of both the motorist and pedestrian. The radius should be the smallest possible for the circumstances rather than design for the largest possible design vehicle, which often accounts for less than 2 percent of the total users. A large radius can increase the speed of turning motorists and the crossing distance for pedestrians, creating increased exposure risks.[5]

Note that a vehicle can get through an intersection that is not designed perfectly for it – this happens very frequently on city streets, even on dedicated truck routes, and requires a brief encroachment into adjacent lanes as a big truck is turning. That’s why ODOT does not require that an intersection be designed for the largest vehicle possible.

ODOT’s general guidelines on turning radii state:

401.5.2 Urban
Corner radii at street intersections should consider the right of way available, the intersection angle, pedestrian traffic, approach width and number of lanes. The following should be used as a guide:
o        15 to 25 ft. [4.5 to 7.5 m] radii are adequate for passenger vehicles and may be provided at minor cross streets where there are few trucks or at major intersections where there are parking lanes.
o        25 ft. [7.5 m] or more radii should be provided at minor intersections on new or reconstruction projects where space permits.
o        30 ft. [9 m] radii or more should be used where feasible at major cross street intersections.
o        Radii of 40 ft. [12 m] or more, three-centered compound curves or simple curves with tapers to fit truck paths should be provided at intersections used frequently by buses or large trucks[6]

On the engineering drawing there is a 40’ turning radius marked at the northeast corner of the W.28th and Detroit intersection that cuts into the historic buildings. I have found two explanations for this turning radius. One explanation appears in meeting notes and a different explanation was given to me by Baker.

At that previously mentioned July 9, 2009 meeting with city engineers, Baker, and ODOT, the design vehicles were determined for this intersection as stated in the notes:
  • Use WB-62/Aircan truck[7] from Shoreway westbound to 28th, to Detroit.
  • Other movements use WB-40/fire truck
According to these notes, the design vehicle for the turning movement from Detroit westbound to W.28th northbound is the WB-40 design vehicle. When this designation is made, according to federal AASHTO standards, a 40’ turning radius should be designed.

AASHTO standards define 4 sizes of semi-truck design vehicles (WB- 40, WB – 50, WB-62, and WB-67). The WB-40 is the smallest semi-truck. The other three are larger semi-trucks and the standard for these vehicles is a larger 45’ turning radius. Some fire trucks and city buses are considered to be WB-40 vehicles. Federal guidelines acknowledge that the AASHTO standard turning radii can be modified to create a somewhat tighter curb, using software that more precisely models turning movements.

WB-40 vehicles can and do navigate smaller turning radius curbs on a regular basis. Does the current curb configuration, with a turning radius of about 10’, and similar to countless others in our neighborhoods, prevent fire trucks and city buses from turning? Of course not. These vehicles temporarily encroach into the other lanes slightly just as they have always done in neighborhoods across the city[8].

Here’s the other explanation for the 40’ turning radius notation, from Baker’s response to my questions. Baker provided me with a table that shows the design vehicle for each turning movement at the intersection. The table shows that the design vehicle for the turning movement right from westbound Detroit is a WB-62 vehicle, with the notation “(Access to Water Dept and Great Lakes Towing).” The AASHTO standard for this vehicle is a 45’ radius. In the table, the design radius is listed as Three Centered Curve: 150’- 40- 210.’  Baker provides the following explanation:
The minimum turning radii for WB50 and WB62 trucks (attached) are for 12’, right turn lanes. These minimum radii were used as starting points, and minimized even further when possible utilizing AutoTURN software, which is able to draw in design vehicle turning paths into the design basemap. Radii were reduced on the Detroit westbound W. 28th northbound movement based on the multiple lanes available to turn into. Other curb radii at the intersection are smaller than “standard” due to the multiple lanes to turn into on Detroit Avenue and W. 28th Street north of Detroit Avenue as well as the parking lane on Detroit Avenue west of W. 28th Street that adds width to the turn and reduces the actual curb radius.

So is the design vehicle a WB-62 or is it a WB-40, and if it is a WB-62, why did it change since the all important July 9, 2009 meeting? The Preliminary Engineering Report revised April 9, 2010 has a table of multiple design vehicles used at each intersection but does not indicate which design vehicle is used for each turning movement. It seems most likely that somewhere along the way the decision was made to increase the design vehicle size to WB-62. The table Baker provided also notes that the design vehicle for the movement turning left on Detroit from southbound W.28th is a WB-62, and the design vehicle for the movement turning right on Detroit from southbound W.28th is a WB-40.

I don’t know the rationale behind choosing the design vehicles so it is tough to argue against it. I don’t have truck counts. A lot of the truck movement from the flats travels south to I-90.  Looking at the truck route map it seems ODOT is more concerned with trucks getting off the Shoreway than getting on it[9]. The primary truck movements shown on the truck route map are trucks coming off the Shoreway from the east to go down into the flats, and trucks coming out of the flats to go back eastbound on the Shoreway. The access to get on the Shoreway eastbound at W.28th will be closed and moved to W.45th St, so trucks will only be turning right on W.28th to get on going westbound. How much advantage is there to trucks to get on the Shoreway westbound at W.28th, for a short distance, rather than staying on Detroit Avenue? I admit there is benefit to keeping the trucks away from the neighborhoods as much as possible. Another option is the trucks could get on westbound at W.49th St.  Considering all this I don’t see a strong justification for changing the curb radius in question based on truck traffic.

Baker was able to reduce the curb radius from the standard for the WB-62 vehicle using software, so presumably they would be able to do the same thing for a smaller design vehicle. It is not clear that Linda’s can be saved even if the turning radius is shrunk to 30’, or 20’, even in conjunction with not widening Detroit Avenue . But it could be saved, and the intersection would be more pedestrian friendly, if the curb radius was not changed or changed only slightly.

There are no hard and fast rules that say that ODOT cannot leave the curb radius the way it is. Look at the other side of the street, by Bounce. Here traffic is getting off the Shoreway and turning right onto Detroit Avenue. According to the table provided by Baker, ODOT chose the design vehicle for this movement to be a WB-40. Yet according to the drawing and the table, this curb radius is staying approximately the same as it was before – 10’.  Can they do that? Of course they can. They could leave the whole intersection the same if they wanted to, or if the public told them that was what they wanted.

We, the public, have not realized that we have this opportunity. We think that ODOT’s use of standards is unquestionable. The truth is ODOT’s own guidelines emphasize that the standards are very flexible, and should be used only while also considering overall priorities. 

West 28th St. Does Not Need To Be Widened 
West 28th St. is presently four lanes wide. It was shown in the plans at five lanes at one point, with six lanes threatened, but it is back down to four lanes in the plans, thankfully. In the plans, though, the road is widened to accommodate wider lanes (13 foot outer lanes and 11 foot inner lanes, compared to 12 foot middle and 11 foot outer lanes on the Shoreway itself). This necessitates Linda’s being torn down. I don’t know what the rationale is for this. There has been no explanation. When a building in the landmarks district is being taken out, we deserve an explanation. I believe that when the explanation is given, we will see that there are alternatives, just as there are alternatives to construction a large turning radius and widening Detroit Avenue.

And then there’s W. 25th St
Meanwhile, the W.25th Street intersection, according to the plans, gets about 30-35 feet wider in diameter than it is today. Yes, incredibly, this already pedestrian-unfriendly (yet regularly traversed by pedestrians) intersection gets widened even further. A big swath of the park at the corner gets wiped out to create a larger turning radius. The would-be-comical-if-it-weren’t-so-serious kicker is that this intersection is the neighborhood terminus of the pedestrian-bike path that runs along the length of the Shoreway.  It is hard to imagine a more inappropriately designed entrance to what has been touted as a major connection to Cleveland’s lakefront.

Let me repeat that I don’t have all the information. I’m a concerned citizen with a planning and design background, not a journalist or a traffic engineer. I’ve been trying to understand the documentation that ODOT has given me, but I may have missed some things or gotten things wrong. I encourage ODOT or others with more information to correct me or add to the story. Despite this caveat, I am pretty confident in drawing two conclusions:
  • TheW.28th street intersection is being blown wide open, Detroit Avenue is being widened, and buildings that are supposed to be protected by the landmarks district will be torn down  -- because of ODOT design decisions that are not based on strict standards and require judgment calls. ODOT has relied entirely on its own judgment in making these decisions and has not asked the public for specific input.
  • ODOT’s design decisions on this intersection occurred long after the Cleveland Planning Commission approved the overall Shoreway plan. The current intersection design details have never been approved by the city.
So what can we do? It is my understanding that at some point, the demolition of the landmarks district buildings will come before the Landmarks Commission, and that they have the power to deny or delay the demolition. I hope when this does happen that people will come out to make comments and fill the room. But I think it is a mistake to wait until this point to take action. ODOT most likely is moving along in the process leading to the start of construction. The further along they get, the more political willpower it will take to stop them. If you share my concerns about the east end of the Shoreway corridor, please express these concerns to City Planning Commission members, Landmarks Commission members, Councilman Joe Cimperman, and Ohio City Near West community development corporation. Let’s ask political leaders to press for ODOT to take the following actions:
  • Hold a public meeting focusing on the W.28th St.and W.25th St.intersections.
  • Draw and model design alternatives that emphasize safety for bicycles and pedestrians, including  four lanes on Detroit Avenue with a combination right/straight lane at Detroit Ave westbound to W.28th St., a no left turn sign at W.28th St. on Detroit Ave westbound, and a 10’ turning radius at the northeast corner of W.28th St. and Detroit Ave.
Thank you for taking the time to read my concerns.  Thank you for your support for holding ODOT to the higher design standard that the city deserves, for your support of better access to the lake, and for your support for complete, walkable streets that preserve our heritage and make great, economically thriving places.

[1] The Preliminary Engineering Document updated April 9, 2010 states that the final alternatives, including widening Detroit Avenue, were presented to the public, the steering committee, and the planning commission in December 2008. However, this is incorrect.
[2] The timeline is a little unclear here. The removal of the signalized intersections from the plan was first discussed by the subcommittee December 2, 2008. The subcommittee had not met for almost 22 months, not since February 9, 2007. The Preliminary Engineering Document updated April 9, 2010 states: The design team became aware of issues with the level of service not being acceptable after the traffic was certified in March 2007. The traffic analysis, the construction budget shortfall, and the project not being approved by Planning Commission led to a temporary design delay. During this delay, ODOT and the City of Cleveland had a series of meetings to discuss the Options and potential phasing opportunities.
[3] ODOT likes to see levels of service (LOS) for vehicles at “D” or better, although many transportation agencies routinely accept LOS of “F” on urban streets, particularly in areas designated as walkable places or neighborhoods. All an F LOS means is that during peak rush hour there may be some back-ups and vehicles may have to wait more than one light-cycle to get through an intersection.
[4] Baker gave me the estimated traffic volumes, which gives a sense for the design problem:
The traffic volumes along Detroit Avenue west of W. 28th Street are projected to decrease by 7% during the AM peak hour and increase by 9% during the PM peak hour. The traffic volumes along Detroit Avenue east of

W. 28th Street are projected to increase by 82% during the AM peak hour and increase by 167% during the PM peak hour. The W. 28th Street traffic volumes are projected in decrease south of Detroit Avenue (10% during the AM peak and 6% during the PM peak) and increase on the north side of Detroit Avenue (109% during the AM peak and 116% during the PM peak).
[7]. A WB-62 truck is a semi-truck with a 48 foot trailer. National Network interstate highways have to allow this size truck according to federal law. About 55% of all semi-truck trailers are smaller than 48 feet, about 30% are 48-52 feet, and 15% are 53 feet or more. (“Review of Truck Characteristics as Factors in Roadway Design,”National Cooperative Highway
Research Program Report 505, 2003).
[8] There are a number of buses that currently travel southbound on W.28th to Detroit and then turn left but none that turn right from Detroit to W.28th

Friday, January 1, 2010

Build the Thread but Not the Hill

I remember the day in 2002 when ParkWorks and the Project for Public Spaces held a forum on improving Public Square and a large group walked around Public Square with the streets that cross the square, Superior, and Ontario, closed off. As I recall, the public input mostly suggested closing the streets permanently. I mean, at first glance it seems pretty obvious that this is the problem – just look at the picture of the square from above, and compare to the great squares of the world: . That’s why, when I saw the recent designs commissioned by ParkWorks for the redesign of the square, I was dumbfounded that none of the designs showed both these streets being closed.

The three designs, by Field Operations, the firm that designed New York’s awesome High Line Park, and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative are intriguing and thoughtful. However, the design most popular with the design steering committee, called the “Thread” and featuring an artificial hill bridging the streets, is based on the assumption that the streets need to remain as they are in order to accommodate cars. And that's a really unfortunate and uninspired assumption.

I’m going to state two basic claims about making good cities and good city places:
1) Making things inconvenient for cars makes a better city.
2) Making things more pleasant for pedestrians and public transit riders makes a better city.

You can find these ideas over and over again in any good book on urban sustainability, transit oriented design or new urbanism. Pedestrians make good places. Lots of people walking around in a space results in a vibrant, business-attracting place. And this only happens when streets and gathering places are designed for pedestrians, public transit, and bicycles, not for cars.

The Aalborg Charter on local sustainability, for example, signed by more than 600 European cities and towns, says, “We know that it is imperative for a sustainable city to reduce enforced mobility and stop promoting and supporting the unnecessary use of motorized vehicles. We shall give priority to ecologically sound means of transport (in particular walking, cycling, public transport) and make a combination of these means the center of our planning efforts” (see )

Jane Jacobs, (in the classic work The Death and Life of Great American Cities ) also says that we have to choose between encouraging pedestrians and encouraging cars and explains why. The problem with encouraging cars is that “the more space that is provided cars in cities, the greater becomes the need for use of cars, and hence for still more space for them.” This furthers a process of erosion of good public spaces, and ultimately results in less people in the public spaces. The reverse process, discouraging cars, Jacobs calls attrition of automobiles. “Attrition of automobiles operates by making conditions less convenient for cars. Attrition as a steady, gradual process… would steadily decrease the numbers of persons using private automobiles in a city… It is probably the only realistic means by which better public transportation can be stimulated, and greater intensity and vitality of city use be simultaneously fostered and accommodated.”

The traffic studies by the firm Wilbur Smith that have explored closing Superior and Ontario where they cross through the Square show that closing the streets results in traffic levels of service (LOS) of grades E and F on surrounding streets at certain times of the day. According to Wikipedia,

  • “LOS E is a marginal service state. Flow becomes irregular and speed varies rapidly, but rarely reaches the posted limit…LOS E is a common standard in larger urban areas, where some roadway congestion is inevitable.
  • LOS F is the lowest measurement of efficiency for a road's performance. Flow is forced; every vehicle moves in lockstep with the vehicle in front of it, with frequent slowing required. Technically, a road in a constant traffic jam would be at LOS F…Facilities operating at LOS F generally have more demand than capacity…
  • While it may be tempting to aim for an "A" Level of Service, this is unrealistic in urban areas. Urban areas more typically adopt standards varying between "C" and "E", depending on the area's size and characteristics, while "F" is sometimes allowed in areas with improved pedestrian, bicycle, or transit alternatives. More stringent Level of Service standards (particularly in urban areas) tend to necessitate the widening of roads to accommodate development, thus discouraging use by these alternatives.”

LOS F is common on urban streets, for examples see this map of Raleigh, NC. or Columbus: . Some municipalities aren’t using LOS and traffic congestion as the main standard for street design anymore, according to this blog: As you might expect, San Francisco has discarded strict use of LOS criteria in favor of a “Transit First” strategy. But other cities are doing it too. For example, the article notes San Jose identified three areas, including Downtown, that are now exempted from its LOS standard.

According to the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, who partnered with ParkWorks to sponsor the latest designs for Public Square, and also previously partnered with them to commission the Wilbur Smith traffic study, “Results showed that closing either Superior
Avenue or Ontario Street to traffic during the peak business hours was not a feasible option.” ( ). But the design consultant Field Operations’ presentation slide on the traffic studies first points out (in very small letters on the slide) that the concluding opinion of Wilbur Smith’s study was that Superior and Ontario should be closed through Public Square, with an exception for bus and truck traffic. Hmm –the study recommends the streets should be closed to cars. Then in large letters on the slide the consultants write: “The Wilbur Smith Traffic Analysis provides a good foundation for understanding vehicular movements through and around Public Square. However, the study’s recommendations should be applied with a caveat in that they are intended to privilege the vehicle over the pedestrian.” And in even bigger letters the consultant says: “In order to truly transform Public Square, the pedestrian must have priority use of the space.”

A survey says that most people at least agree that the cross streets need to be narrowed and closed some of the time ( ). In 2007 economics students at Case Western Reserve University interviewed 567 people about a plan for Public Square. The plan would close Ontario and Superior except during morning and evening rush hours. It would narrow the streets and make them more pedestrian friendly. More than 75% of respondents liked the plan.

But the underlying assumptions of the current designs as stated in Field Operations’ presentation are:

“Roadways remain unchanged
Only Ontario is shown as either periodically or fully closed
Current transit system and drop-off/pick-up spots retained
Obviously there are more possibilities if roadways are narrowed, reduced or closed, and if transit is revised – any such recommendations would require more study and analysis”

Let’s quickly go through each of the designs. You can view the consultant’s presentation to the steering committee here: . “The Frame,” scenario 1, closes Ontario to cars during non-rush hour times. “The Forest,” scenario 2, closes Ontario permanently. This enables the street to be removed and replaced with greenspace. “The Thread,” scenario 3, has two options. One option closes Ontario permanently and one leaves Ontario open. The predominant feature of the Thread is it creates a hill bridging the intersection of Superior and Ontario, separating the pedestrians from the streets and the public transit below. This design was the favorite of the steering committee, but it has some big problems.

The first problem with the Thread/hill design is it separates pedestrians and transit riders. That makes no sense, because transit riders ARE ALSO pedestrians. In fact, the main activity right now on Public Square, as pointed out by the consultant, is walking to bus stops and waiting for bus stops. Good places need density of people and activity, particularly at the edges, which is where the bus stops are. Why would you want to take that activity away? Pedestrian density should be maximized as much as possible. People in a space attract more people. The bus stops should be integrated into public spaces, so that you cannot tell who is waiting for a bus and who is simply enjoying the sunshine.

The Thread/hill design also makes it less pleasant and convenient to hop on the bus, at least for people riding the buses that stop on Ontario and Superior (the Health Line / Euclid Corridor buses travel around the edge of the square). The cross street bus stops will be located under what is basically a giant pedestrian overpass. It may be possible to enliven the space under the bridge with public art and retail and activity. There is only so much activity to go around, though, and there is a great danger that this space will be pretty dismal. Burying the bus stops under an overpass is not likely to encourage suburbanites to come out of Tower City and hop on a bus. The design literally elevates people picnicking or walking to a downtown business meeting while relegating people who ride the bus to a lower position, out of sight.

If you make riding the bus more difficult or unpleasant then less people are going to ride the bus. That means more people are going to drive, more space has to be allocated to cars, and there will be less emphasis on the pedestrian. There will be less people walking around, and it will be harder to create good places. It is not possible to have things both ways and create a good space for pedestrians while also giving cars maximum accommodation. A design choice has to be made between people and cars. For Public Square, once the decision is made to leave the streets the way they are, priority is given to the cars.

The nice part about the Thread/hill design is that it creates a green gathering space in the center of the Square, where the intersection between Ontario and Superior is now. This is great. This could be done without the hassle of building the hill and underpass if both the streets were closed permanently. If the streets were closed, we could have the Thread without the hill.

Jane Jacobs tells a little story about Washington Square Park in New York City. Washington Square Park was chosen as one of the top 12 public squares in the US by the Project for Public Spaces: ( ) Until 1958 Washington Square Park had a road cutting through the center of it. In the 1930s parks commissioner Robert Moses wanted to remove this road but he proposed widening the perimeter roads to accommodate the diverted traffic. The widening of the perimeter roads was unpopular and the proposal was defeated. Then in the 1950s Moses had a new idea – to widen the cut-through road and make it into a depressed highway. A couple of local citizens proposed a counter-idea: to close this road completely and not make any provisions for diverted traffic. Here’s Jacobs:

“The city officials insisted that if the roadway were closed – a step they appeared to think insane – the only possible alternatives must be to widen the streets at the park perimeter, or else bring them to a state of frantic and frenetic congestion. The Planning Commission, after a hearing, turned down the proposals for closure…the streets surrounding the park, they said, would be swamped with diverted traffic. The traffic commissioner forecast an immediate annual increase of millions of cars in the nearby streets. Mr. Moses predicted that if the community got its way, the citizens would soon be back begging him to reopen the road and build a highway, but the mess they were in would serve them right and teach them a lesson.

All these dire predictions would likely have come true if compensating provisions had been made for cars diverted from the park. However, before any alternate arrangements were made…the community, by exerting rather tough political pressure abruptly, got the park road closed, first on a trial basis, and then permanently.

None of the predictions of increased traffic around the park were borne out… Every traffic count taken around the park perimeter since the closing has shown no increase in traffic; most counts have shown a slight reduction…Far from bringing new problems of congestion, the obstacle resulted in slight relief of previous congestion.

Where have the traffic commissioner’s annual millions of cars gone instead? This is the most interesting and significant part of the story. They have not noticeably gone anywhere else instead…For just as there is no absolute, immutable number of public transportation riders in a city, so is there no absolute, immutable number of private automobile riders…If properly carried out – as one aspect of stimulating diversity and intensifying city use – attrition would decrease the need for cars simultaneously with decreasing convenience for cars…Attrition of automobiles by cities is probably the only means by which absolute numbers of vehicles can be cut down.”

Here’s another story. In 2004 Detroit closed and rerouted a bunch of major streets to make a great public square, and it’s reported to be a terrific success. You can read about it here: That’s right. Of course New York City did it, but Detroit did it too.

So here's some suggested New Year's Resolutions for downtown's leaders: Step up to great city design. Make the decision to create a grand place instead of providing maximum convenience for cars. When ODOT tells us we can’t do it, tell ODOT we’ll do it anyway. Choose a sustainable city that attracts people to downtown businesses. Make Public Square a true public square.