The Euclid Corridor Project: Unintended Consequences Revisited

by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed July 21, 2006

Six years ago, when the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project was in its beginning stages, we questioned the concept of limiting automobile traffic to one lane in each direction to accommodate bus-only lanes. The RTA more or less answered our concerns at the time.

Now it's mid-2006, the Euclid Corridor project is well underway, and a proposal that could have an even greater impact on motorists is in the works. It comes not from the RTA, but from the Cleveland Clinic, which wants to eliminate automobile traffic from a 20-block stretch of Euclid so it can build a pedestrian-friendly campus center. Buses would still be allowed.

In a Reed's Read report of October 19, 2000, we cited the example of Chicago's State Street. The bustling thoroughfare was turned into a transit-only mall in 1979. Instead of revitalizing the street, the opposite happened. It didn't take the city long to realize it had made a mistake, and it removed the mall and reopened the street to traffic in the late 1990s.

We admitted then that we were comparing apples to oranges. The ill-fated State Street mall banned all car traffic, while the Euclid Corridor plan would merely limit it. Now, we're back to comparing apples to apples, when it comes to that stretch of Euclid between East 86th and East 105th streets.

The plan would divert automobiles to Carnegie and Chester Avenues, which already carry a heavy volume of traffic. For people coming from downtown, Euclid is a more natural route to places such as Severance Hall or Little Italy.

The issue is complicated by the fact that Euclid is part of U.S. 20, and it would require government approval to change that. If any changes are made in the Euclid Corridor plan, they will have to be made fairly quickly. Construction on that stretch of the project is scheduled for March or April of next year.

The Clinic is still in the early stages of planning and is working with the city and the Ohio Department of Transportation, according to Eileen Sheil, executive director of public and media relations. The goal, she says, is to make the campus more inviting and pedestrian friendly, with creative landscaping and other features. A statement issued by the hospital goes on to say: "The Cleveland Clinic and the City of Cleveland are committed to a thorough review of this plan to insure that it is in the best interest of the community and development of the region."

This is where the phrase "unintended consequences" comes in. The idea of turning major streets into pedestrian malls was in vogue in the 1970s. But many of the cities that jumped on the bandwagon have now jumped off.

Chicago's experience is instructive. Without automobile traffic the street looked deserted, especially at night after office workers left. As the Chicago Tribune's architectural critic Blair Kamin wrote when State Street was reopened to traffic: "The reality is that nearly all great American streets are enlivened by the presence of cars - not only the whoosh of sound they make, like white noise in a room, but also the sense of scale and visual variety they introduce in contrast to oversized, look-alike buses."

The Euclid Corridor plan is an attempt to provide dedicated lanes for high-tech buses and still allow ordinary motorists to use what has been called Cleveland's Main Street. Any changes to that mix should be weighed very carefully.

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Copyright 2006 Tom Reed