detroit-superior bridge open to public use through permit process

Anyone who's ever visited the catacombs-like lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge -- which offers amazing views of downtown Cleveland, the Flats and the Cuyahoga River from a setting that feels like the industrial bowels of Cleveland -- has probably asked themselves, "Why isn't this open more often?"

In response to public demand, Cuyahoga County has made the bridge more accessible. The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) and other partners hosted events here this summer, the Cleveland Design Competition hosted its awards ceremony here last week, and the bridge even had its first wedding.

"My husband and I were looking for a place that was outdoors, public and covered," says Carla Kurtz, who recently got married on the bridge. "One of our friends heard you could use the space for events like this. It was fairly easy."

That's a change from previous administrations, says Terry Schwarz, Director of the CUDC, who is helping to lead the planning process for the bridge's future.

"Bonnie Teeuwen, the Director of Public Works, her philosophy has been if James [Levin] and I can borrow the bridge, she should make it available to everybody," says Schwarz. "There's a process, a permit form and a fee. You describe how you'll use it. I genuinely feel the way we figure out how to use the bridge is by using it."

The biggest challenge, Schwarz says, is that anyone planning an event must hire security. The bridge span is nearly a mile long, and there are plenty of dark, craggy places. It requires seven county deputies to keep it fully open.

Schwarz is now examining design alternatives for keeping the bridge open during regular hours, a process that was funded by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). The focus is on making the bridge a connection between downtown Cleveland and Ohio City for cyclists and pedestrians.

"We're looking at a dedicated path for fast-moving cyclists, because commuters have said they'd use the lower level as a quick cross over the river," says Schwarz. "We're also looking at another multi-purpose path for pedestrians and bikes."

The CUDC is also examining possibilities for anchor development -- market-rate housing is the most likely option - at either end of the bridge. Such development could treat the bridge as a nearby amenity, generating a critical mass of users.

"The development might generate enough of revenue to pay for patrols," she says.

Another option would be to have the bridge open for limited hours. For instance, it could be open from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays for cyclists crossing the river. That connection would be especially valuable in inclement weather or during winter.

"The idea isn't that the lower level is replacing the upper level, which is already bike-friendly, but that it provides an alternative," says Schwarz. "Detroit Avenue is emerging as the main east-west arterial for bikes, and this is a connection."

The CUDC expects to wrap up the planning process early next year and present a final proposal to Cuyahoga County and NOACA. From there, the management entities would need to seek funding to transform that plan into a reality.

Source: Terry Schwarz
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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