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Cleveland narrows options on connecting Downtown to the lakefront, still open to feedback

Cleveland script facing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at North Coast Harbor
Annie Wu
Ideastream Public Media
The North Coast Connector project proposes a park-like land bridge that would stretch over the Shoreway and nearby railroad tracks to better connect downtown to the lakefront, the Great Lakes Science center, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Browns Stadium.

The City of Cleveland held its final Community Visioning Workshop Thursday to get feedback on its proposed North Coast Connector project to connect Lake Erie to Downtown Cleveland.

The project proposes a park-like land bridge that would stretch over the Shoreway and railroad tracks in hopes of better connecting downtown to the lakefront and city staples like the Great Lakes Science center, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Browns Stadium.

A slide with an image of Mayor Justin Bibb and a quote reading "The waterfront an become a source of healing for Cleveland's communities with the guiding principles of racial equity, economic opportunity and climate resiliency."
Cleveland's North Coast
The City of Cleveland
A statement from Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb on the potenital impact of the North Coast Connector project presented during the final Lakefront Community Visioning Workshop on Thursday May 11, 2023.

“The purpose of this project is to … increase connectivity, but not just for anyone in a vehicle, but for all modes of transportation,” Assistant Director for the Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects Keshia Johnson Chambers said. “Whether you are biking or whether you are walking, whether you're taking RTA or any mode of transportation, we want to make sure that you have a means to connect to the lake.”

The North Coast Connector project would provide a five-minute “safe, pedestrian-friendly” walk from Mall C to the lakefront, Senior Principal with James Corner Field Operations Lisa Switkin said, and the larger North Coast Master Plan would make walks to areas surrounding the bridge anywhere from seven to 11 minutes.

“That is about a seven-minute walk … going from the end of the port edge to right before the sort of cut that you see at the North Coast,” Switkin said. “The strip in front of the airport, that kind of long like panhandle that comes out, that's about an 11-minute walk there where the muni lots are.”

During the workshop, presenters explained potential plans for the land bridge, which could either be a North-to-South orientation from Mall C, outside of City Hall, across the Shoreway to Lake Erie, or a diagonal orientation from Mall C though the Key Plaza and Erieside Avenue intersection.

Attendees were asked to consider two additional options: keeping the Shoreway beneath the land bridge as it is now with its 50 MPH maximum speed limit, or converting it to a boulevard with a maximum speed of 35 MPH.

“A boulevard is still in essence a road, it's a wider road, however, with a median down the middle,” Johnson Chambers said. “This median can allow for a turn lane or allow for median [green space] to be in between the roads, the two separate roads, that are traveling in different directions.”

The shift to a boulevard proposed a two-lane configuration from West 3rd Street to East 9th Street and a three-lane configuration from East 9th Street to East 18th Street, Johnson Chambers said.

A boulevard may be beneficial, Director of Cleveland’s City Planning Commission Joyce Huang said, since it allows for intersections while the current Shoreway does not.

When put to a vote, 76% of workshop attendees favored the boulevard conversion, while 24% preferred the current Shoreway.

The city held community engagement sessions in November to get resident feedback on four potential outcomes: building a land bridge over the current Shoreway, building a land bridge and converting the Shoreway to a boulevard, building the land bridge and removing the Shoreway or not changing the area at all.

Following the first round of public engagement, 71% and respondents supported the construction of a land bridge with the conversion of the Shoreway to a boulevard and 66% percent of participants preferred a land bridge while keeping the Shoreway the same according to the city’s findings.

Although 36% of participants favored a land bridge with removal of the Shoreway and 16% preferred the current layout with no changes, Johnson Chambers said those two options are no longer feasible.

“If we don't do anything, obviously we are not making that connection because as it is now, nobody has access [to the lake front], so we wanted to move beyond that” she said. “And not having a Shoreway -- that was another one deemed unfeasible because we do need access. We have the port as that's there that's a very viable part of the economy of Cleveland and just alone the trucks need access. We also have the railway that is there. So, we need some type of connectivity.”

During the breakout groups, attendees emphasized the need for a focus on equitable access to the land bridge that prioritized public transit riders and residents without access to personal vehicles.

A recording of the meeting will be posted online at ClevelandNorthCoast.com, and those interested can take a survey to provide feedback on the project options.

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