Map of the proposed Opportunity Corridor
Transportation planning is tough. Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes. Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit). Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates. We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities. Check out more about our inspiration here.
As our inspiration post notes, Michigan is currently in the midst of a major highway debate, and we are not alone. In other towns and cities across the country and world, similar conversations are taking place about the future of our road systems and our neighborhoods.
One such conversation concerns the “Opportunity Corridor,” which is being developed by the Ohio Department of Transportation as a new road through southeast Cleveland. Its primary purpose is to connect University Circle – an east side neighborhood of world-class cultural, medical and educational institutions, and an important economic sector – with I-490, a major arterial. ODOT has been planning since 2005 (original completion slated for 2012), is still developing the scheme, and completion is now expected in 2019. The current plans call for a three-mile long, 35-mile per hour route, varying from four to six lanes, with a landscaped median.
Proponents of the Corridor point to two primary benefits: improved transportation and support of economic development in the areas the corridor travels through. This area is known as the “forgotten triangle” because of disappeared industry accompanied by white flight, which left toxic waste, blight and poverty (sound familiar?). Major advocates of the plan, ODOT and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (the region’s influential chamber of commerce and business coalition), promise life-changing economic growth for the area, turning it around after decades of neglect. Economic modeling done in 2011 (by a corporate real estate services firm for the Greater Cleveland Partnership) projected 2,300 permanent jobs, 3,300 full-time jobs and a payroll of $1.1 billion from new development.
Public meetings were held to gather input from stakeholders, and a steering committee of residents from all affected neighborhoods was put together to represent local interests and participate in the development processes. Opportunity Corridor planners have been open about the fact that some 90 homes, businesses and other structures would be demolished (some estimates put that number substantially higher), but some feel that the notion that this project is for the neighborhoods it will run through is pure propaganda. The project, originally named “Access to University Circle,” was renamed the “Opportunity Corridor” in an effort to sell it to residents, but many of them are left wondering, “Opportunity for whom?”
Opponents of the project say it is essentially the gouging of a path through poor, primarily African American neighborhoods. They claim the project would require the use of eminent domain – the power of the state to take ownership of private property for public use – an historically troubled practice used during mid-century urban renewal projects that displaced primarily poor people of color. They point to the “Fix it First” approach as a more effective and cost efficient way to use the estimated $324 million needed to complete the project. Opponents don’t agree that the way to reverse the years of neglect in the area is to tear it up further and build a road through it, and they are waiting for more tangible evidence the new road would revitalize the poor neighborhoods. Instead, they propose, renovating storefronts and failing buildings, improving local streetscapes and other public amenities like parks, or investing in transit-oriented development.
While the project has and is receiving much negative attention – there are certainly aspects of the plan that are on the right track. ODOT plans to test for environmental hazards as part of the process, potentially removing health risks for residents who are not displaced. The plan also includes lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, and stoplights to make for easier pedestrian crossings.
As you can see, Michigan isn’t the only state struggling to balance the many demands that our roads must serve. We’ll continue to watch the conversations in Cleveland unfold for any lessons we can use in Michigan as we design roads that work for communities.
Map of Opportunity Corridor Plan, from Ohio Department of Transportation website.