The Flats water taxi of the '80s and '90s that ferried riders from the east bank of the Cuyahoga River to the west bank could be reborn as soon as summer of 2015 -- and in its new incarnation, it will connect not only spots in the Flats but also places along the river and lakefront.
Imagine biking or taking the RTA to the new Flats East project, having a beer by the boardwalk, then hopping a water taxi to Nautica or Rivergate Park – bike in tow -- and you're starting to see the full picture. Eventually, organizers say, you'll be able to take a boat from the Flats to Voinovich Park, enjoying the splendor of Lake Erie and a vista of downtown along the way.
A team of Leadership Cleveland graduates is working with the Cleveland Metroparks, Trust for Public Land, Bike Cleveland and other entities to figure out a feasible plan for reviving the water taxi. That proposal, which is expected to be completed by June, will include logistics, cost estimates and potential funding sources. The Metroparks and Trust for Public Land will take the lead from there.
"We are in," says Brian Zimmerman, CEO of the Cleveland Metroparks, which assumed management of the lakefront parks last year. "We are playing a role [in bringing back and also managing the water taxi], as well as other agencies."
"When we looked at the Metroparks strategic plan, certainly connecting communities and places became one of our core themes," he adds.
Phase I of the project likely will involve transporting people between the east and west banks and Rivergate Park, which is now under construction and about 25 percent complete. As the taxi rolls out and demand increases, additional destinations like Voinovich Park could be added to the mix.
Zimmerman says a property on the east bank has been identified as a possible multimodal hub. The facility could house a bike share program and be a port of entry for the water taxi. It's conveniently located along the Waterfront Line.
It's premature to talk about costs or even funding sources, he adds, since those are issues that the Leadership Cleveland team currently is working on.
Pam Carson, Director of the Ohio office of the Trust for Public Land, says the water taxi is essential to implementing a plan to connect a system of parks and paths along the river and lakefront. TPL is in the quiet phase of a $30 million campaign that will help to complete the Lake Link Trail and a pedestrian bridge to Whiskey Island.
"This is part of a whole network that will light up and create vibrancy for the Flats, Ohio City and Tremont," she says. "It's a system of trails and parks that will give residents, tourists and employees places to go play and recreate."
"Think about it -- it's sweet!" she adds. "The water taxi is such a beautiful thing."
Carson believes that there also is further development potential at Flats East and other stops along the water taxi route. She envisions an ice cream shop, for instance, at the Flats East entry point, similar to what exists along major trailheads in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The project definitely will require public and private subsidy, not only to get it up and running but to operate it long-term, Carson says. Whether or not the service will be free or not is up in the air. A small fee might be charged, such as $2, but organizers also want to maintain access for low-income residents.
Source: Brian Zimmerman, Pam Carson
Writer: Lee Chilcote