Veterans Memorial Bridge's long-dormant lower level could open with input from the public
Cuyahoga County is set to host an effort dubbed Rediscover Veterans Memorial Bridge this weekend with activities centered around community planning for future use of the span's long-dormant lower level.
The public is encouraged to join city leaders and residents Friday evening for dinner and to participate in a conversation about creating a space for public access to the underside of the bridge. Residents and visitors are welcomed to come back on Saturday for a self-guided tour.
Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne said the goal is to "permanently make for a public space that everybody can enjoy."
“We want to follow the public’s ideas, but we’ve heard from a lot of cyclists who have said having essentially a bike boulevard will help people get to and from and be protected,” he said.
The lower level provides a thruway from Downtown to the Near West Side in Ohio City where cyclists could have a protected lane.
Saturday’s tour includes taking a focus group on bicycles across the bridge to hear from riders about where bike lane connections could be placed.
“You can kind of imagine what it would be like to visit Irishtown Bend and kind of take your bike or walk up a ramp to get on the lower level of the bridge and cross the river to the other side,” said Terry Schwarz, the director of Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.
In 1912, construction began on the 2,880-square-foot bridge, spanning above the Cuyahoga River between the Flats and Irishtown Bend, and finished in 1917.
Streetcars were one of the main modes of public transportation at the time, but they were slowly phased out as automobiles became popular. A staircase still remains on the lower level at West 25th Street and Church Avenue where people once walked down to catch a streetcar. It was the last ramp to offer service until it closed in 1953.
The bridge, formerly known as the Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge, was the first of its kind over the Cuyahoga valley that didn’t have a moveable swing section and had 100 feet of clearance between the underside and the river.
“All of the ships using the river for navigation, such as going up to the steel mills, upstream from here, were able to pass underneath without having to swing a section of bridge and delay traffic,” said Rick Sicha, a historian with Cleveland History Days.
In 2018, the southernmost lane outside of the bridge's arch was converted into a bike lane, leaving three driving lanes. Schwarz said that many pedestrians and cyclists she’s talked to over the years have been curious about the lower level.
She’s ridden it a few times.
“You can hear the trucks above," Schwarz said, "but you don’t have to worry about vehicular traffic and just feel safe.”
More information about Rediscover Veterans Memorial Bridge can be found here.