Building A Vision For The Cuyahoga River Valley In The Heart Of Cleveland

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There are two weeks left for you to weigh in on the future of the stretch of the Cuyahoga River valley from Harvard Avenue north to the Flats and Lake Erie.

The City of Cleveland, the Port of Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, and Cleveland Metroparks have spent more than a year collecting ideas to guide the long-term design of a riverfront for everyone.

Stand at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in the Flats and you’ll see pleasure boats buzzing by, kayakers paddling, the Goodtime III cruising. And while a tugboat is pushing a barge out to Lake Erie, two party boats with bars on board drift by, music blaring.  

All these watercraft mixing together – what could possibly go wrong? 

That's just one part of a puzzle that makes up Vision For The Valley, an effort to draw up a comprehensive plan for the last seven miles of the river.

Find The River

Arthur Schmidt is with OHM Advisors, a consulting company spearheading the effort by holding public meetings for input.

“Some of the things we were asking individuals were: Do you know where the river is? And we’re standing there in Public Square and we’re asking the question: ‘Do you where the river is? Can you can you point me to the river or can you, you know, direct me how I would go to the river from Public Square?’” he said. “You'd be surprised at how many individuals could not direct me or direct us, to the river.”

Educating people is one thing, but Vision For The Valley planners also want to open up the view so people in Downtown Cleveland can see the river and walk to it. That could mean zoning that restricts the height of some buildings.

Developers have lots of ideas for the valley, but Aaron Domini, a principle with OHM, said this Vision document is meant to ensure public access and public space.

“So you know it really sets the guide for all of that future investment,” Domini said. “And it allows the city and the other project partners to have a defensible platform from which to create, you know that direction.  Because without the plan, you know as change happens, we've just reacting.”

The plan, partly based on public feedback, proposes opening up the river to more people with biking and hiking trails – east to Slavic Village and Cuyahoga Community College and west to Tremont and Old Brooklyn. The now-closed Eagle Avenue Bridge could become a pedestrian crossing.   

The plan also calls for more water access, which is good news for Dan Hudak’s company, River Cruiser Kayaking. As he’s loading boats onto a trailer near Merwin’s Wharf – right across the river from Irishtown Bend, the slumping hillside due to be converted into a park – Hudak explains that right now, paddlers have to go way too far before they can get in or out of the river.

“That's why I'm offering a nine mile trip and I'm not even putting in at the next access point. I'm putting them halfway between,” he said. “Next access point from here is Rockside Road. They need at least two more: Scranton Flats would be a good one and Harvard Road will be another good one. Wendy Park on this side before we get to the lake. So at least three more, in my opinion.”   

Water Traffic

Human-powered boats are more popular than ever, according to Laurie Dittoe. Her company, Great Lakes Water Sports, rents boats and kayaks in the Flats. Her vantage point on the river offers a direct view of the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge, the last gateway from the river to Lake Erie. Something should be done about that so-called iron curtain, she said.

“The issues develop when that bridge is down for an extended period and the boats just congregate waiting for it to go up and then as soon as it does, it's – it's bedlam, and it's dangerous. It's dangerous for the kayakers, it's dangerous for everybody because there's no lines on the road out there, they just go anywhere.”

That’s in the plan. The hope is to centralize control timing of all the lift bridges, plus install digital lighted signs to warn everyone. There are also designs for some “hideouts,” including one near Tower City, where smaller boats can find shelter when a 600-ft. ore carrier needs to get through.

“They're strategically placed in areas that they do create safe harbor for people on the river,” Domini said. “Because right now if freighters are coming down, there's really not many places to get off and find that safe harbor and allow the freighter to pass.”

Some planned new access points are as far south as Big Creek, a tributary that joins the Cuyahoga south of Harvard Avenue. The heavy industry may seem like a strange place for recreation, but Hudak has paddled a lot area waterways and finds it to be “cool.”

It's industrial but it's a good type of industrial,” he said. “I’ve done all the rivers in this watershed and it's one of the nicer ones. I mean, you don't have a lot of this really heavy industrial feel. It's very unique compared to the other six rivers in the watershed.”

Land Traffic

And then there’s the traffic on land. Steel mills, stone quarries, salt mines, factories located along the Cuyahoga River mean large trucks come rumbling through.  

“Try and fix the roads,” urges Dittoe. “Because the truck traffic and everything, they're so heavy that these roads are awful. And the bikers, you know, everybody struggles with them.”  

There are plans to build a bridge over the freight train tracks, to get cyclists and pedestrians to Wendy Park safely and easily. Other considerations include rerouting dump trucks away from Lakeview Terrace apartments.

Domini expects industrial valley users will remain as residential and recreational users grow.

We think about now shifting from what just was historically trucks and industrial activity to now, residential and people needing to move through the valley,” he said. “So there's got to be more of a complete streets approach to those roads and that the plan does speak to that.”

The Vision For The Valley plan would separate industrial traffic from residential when possible and in wide places like Center Street, build buffers to separate bike lanes from trucks.

OHM Advisors’ Schmidt said the stakeholders not only appreciate the industrial history of the valley but want to highlight it. That could be literally – with new LED lights on the lift bridges.

“I think there's ways that we can celebrate it, that we can embrace it, and be part of it,” he said. “I think something that we really want to see as part of this plan is how can all of these uses, how can this really be a true mixed-use river valley.”

You can still take am online survey to offer suggestions for the Vision For The Valley plan.

The Vision for the Valley partners will hold four more virtual public meetings online over the next two weeks:

  • Land Use & Focus Areas: 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., Aug. 5
  • Purpose Lens, Engagement & Plan Framework, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., Aug. 10
  • Mobility & Connectivity, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., Aug. 11
  • Public Space, Environment, & Branding, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m., Aug. 12
  • Open Forum, 6-8 p.m., Aug. 13,  a general session to ask questions related to the planning project as a whole.

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