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opportunity corridor could be missed opportunity without better planning, advocates say


Opponents and proponents of the Opportunity Corridor, a 3.5-mile planned roadway that would connect I-490 with University Circle, don’t agree on much. Opponents say that the road is a glorified highway that will encourage drivers to bypass east side neighborhoods without providing much local community benefit. Proponents say the roadway will connect low-income communities with transportation networks and jobs while spurring new development.

“We think this is an example of outdated planning,” said Angie Schmitt of Clevelanders for Transportation Equity at a forum on the Opportunity Corridor, held at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “For decades, we’ve built a highway system and been told that prosperity would follow. A lot of times, this has been way oversold.”

Schmitt believes that the Opportunity Corridor could “entrench auto-dependency” and hurt neighborhoods, and says younger workers want pedestrian-friendly development.

Yet Vicki Eaton-Johnson of Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation says that the Opportunity Corridor is a true opportunity if done right. “Our neighborhood has planned with anticipation of this roadway for 10 years,” she said, pointing to the proposed New Economy Neighborhood on E. 105th Street as a benefit.

“Fairfax’s responsibility is to leverage what happens for community benefit,” she added, arguing that the medical and technology businesses that the Opportunity Corridor is expected to attract will provide some jobs to community residents. 

However, there is increased consensus that the Opportunity Corridor must be better designed or it will be a missed opportunity. Panelists said it should be a truly multi-modal roadway that not only maximizes development opportunities, but also works for cyclists and pedestrians while making the area more attractive and vibrant.

“I am a proponent of getting this right, and we need to create complete neighborhoods and complete streets,” said Chris Ronayne, President of University Circle Incorporated.

Schmitt criticized a proposed 10-foot-wide, multipurpose path on the south side of the roadway as a “bone” that was thrown to cyclists in order to pacify some vocal critics. The car lanes are 12-13 feet wide like a highway, which will encourage speeding, she argued. She also said the intersections are not designed to be pedestrian-friendly. Moreover, Schmitt argued that there aren’t enough intersections (13 are planned).

Although Opportunity Corridor proponents refuted Schmitt’s notion that the roadway represents dated thinking, some agree that more planning is needed to get it right. “Angie is right that we’ve got to plan this thing at the intersection level,” Ronayne commented, lamenting a short timeline and lack of funding for alternative plans.  

Architect Jennifer Coleman commented that the City of Cleveland needs to develop a form-based zoning plan for the area in order to foster the kind of development that will lead to community revitalization. “We can do better,” she said in response to drawings showing single-story, office-park development on the vacant land around the roadway.

Moderator Steve Litt called on panelists to lead a community-based planning process and present an alternative plan to the Ohio Department of Transportation, which has awarded $331 million to the corridor. The project is expected to start in fall of 2014.


Source: Angie Schmitt, Chris Ronayne, Vicki Eaton-Johnson, Steve Litt
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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