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Cleveland to remove 'eyesore' concrete barriers from Public Square ahead of high-profile events

Construction vehicles line up near Cleveland's Public Square before removing concrete barriers that have lined the square since 2017.
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
The city of Cleveland held a ceremony on Mon. March 23, 2024, to kick off the "soft phase" of a project at Public Square to install retractable traffic safety barriers known as Raptors and replace concrete barriers with metal bollards along the portion of Superior Avenue that cuts through the square. The project, which also includes the installation of an elevated crosswalk and other improvements, is expected to be completed by June or early July 2024, according to the city.

The city of Cleveland kicked off the second phase of its Public Square transformation project Monday, announcing plans long underway to remove concrete barriers that have dotted the square for about seven years.

Phase one, completed in 2016 brought a redesigned Public Square focused on safe public access. Phase two will bring underground utility and sidewalk repairs and will replace the problematic Jersey barriers with small metal poles called bollards.

The concrete barriers "were originally intended to protect those that were walking in and around the square from bus and vehicle traffic in the event there was a terrorist attack," Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said. "So the new design, takes all those safety considerations, as part of the new protocol."

Bollards will be installed along both sides of Superior Avenue and at the northeast, northwest and southwest corners of Public Square. The redevelopment will also add an elevated crosswalk at the center of Superior Avenue along with retractable safety barriers called Raptors at the east and west ends of Superior Avenue and Public Square.

The project is expected to maintain public safety in the square, while also achieving the aesthetic look the city hoped to accomplish in phase one, Bibb said.

"Our goal was to make sure that as we remove the barriers and did a new design, that it was as close as possible to the original design that we all had for Public Square's renovation."

A forklift lifting a Jersey blind toward a flat bed truck, as a contractor guides the barrier to the truck on foot.
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
The Jersey barriers were installed as a safety measure when bus traffic resumed on Superior Avenue through Public Square in 2017.

Preparing for big events at Public Square will be much easier with the barriers gone, Greater Cleveland CEO India Birdsong-Terry said.

"We will be able to work with the city and the county — all of the other special event vendors — to transform the square in a matter of minutes versus days and sometimes weeks and months, which we endure right now," she said.

Maintaining public transit service in and around Public Square will remain a priority, Birdsong-Terry said, given the high volume of ridership in the area.

"It's our number one transfer location for buses and trains," she said. "Approximately five thousand people board buses every day in and around Public Square — most of them transferring from one bus to another or through the Rapid."

While campaigning in 2021, Bibb promised to remove the concrete Jersey barriers from Public Square that he said limit public access to the area.

The barriers were installed on both sides of Superior Avenue in 2017 under Mayor Frank Jackson's administration, after a battle with the Federal Transit Administration that, at the time, demanded Superior Avenue remain open to bus traffic.

A year earlier, the city had completed a $50 million renovation project to transform the area into a unified public gathering space, but some felt the barriers defeated the purpose.

"When the city originally put the Jersey barriers up, it really undermined the user experience of Public Square. It made it less walkable, and it made the square just uglier in terms of the original vision that we wanted," Bibb said. "When I was campaigning, there was so much outcry from residents and tourists and folks who were walking or biking in and around the square that they didn't love having the barriers in place."

Barriers are being removed throughout the week ahead of upcoming events like the Total Solar Eclipse and the NCAA Women's Final Four, according to the city. Utility work, sidewalk repairs and light installation will commence on April 9, and is expected to be completed by early July, according to the news release.

Parts of Public Square will remain open during construction, including the fountain and splash pad that will open April 1. Superior Avenue through Public Square is closed during the construction process.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.