Riding the rails of the (future) Red Line Greenway

The Red Line Greenway, a proposed three-mile bike-and-hike trail and linear park that would be built alongside the RTA Red Line on Cleveland's west side, could be one of the most transformational projects the city has seen in years (take a virtual tour through the photos above).

As the greenway is conceived, it would run from Zone Recreation Center at West 53rd and Lorain Avenue, across the Flats RTA bridge and into downtown. With 13 planned connections to adjacent neighborhoods, gorgeous natural landscapes in an urban setting, the lingering detritus of urban railroad history, not to mention to-die-for views of downtown, the Cuyahoga River and the Flats, this project is a win-win for Cleveland and RTA if it comes to fruition.

The greenway project first got its start in the 1970s when a businessperson, Duane Salls, took the Red Line from the airport to downtown on his first visit to Cleveland. As he looked out the window aghast at the trash, railroad ties, old tires and debris that covered the hillsides, he decided this was a poor first impression of the city and declared war on blight then and there. Soon the Rotary Club of Cleveland and other partners were helping beautify the neglected area.
W25th Station perennial garden
Forty years later, the Rotary Club continues to maintain the area adjacent to the Red Line on Cleveland's near west side. After observing the trend of rail-to-trail and rail-with-trail projects around the country -- perhaps most famously, the High Line project in New York City -- Rotary Club leaders have now begun to work on conceptual plans to transform the excess land around the Red Line into a greenway.

“This is going to allow us to create a new transportation corridor for people," says Matt Koriath, a volunteer with the Rotary Club of Cleveland and one of the founders of the Red Line Greenway concept. "Not only is it a green space and park for you to come and enjoy, but there are a lot of people who don’t have cars, who want to commute by bike. This creates a corridor that’s safe and confined, with high visibility from trains, that allows people to go get their groceries and come home.”

"This is the kind of place you bring a guest from out of town," adds Lennie Stover, a Rotary Club of Cleveland member who has also helped spearhead the Red Line Greenway Project. "With the High Line in New York City, they thought they'd get 300,000 visitors per year, and they ended up getting three million per year."
53rd and 44th looking west
Thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding with RTA, which owns the land, the Red Line Greenway is now getting closer to fruition. Cleveland Metroparks is also now considering assuming management of the trail. Plans have been undertaken by LAND Studio and Vocon Architects. Finally, the project secured a $2.1 million federal grant to be used in Phase I construction beginning in 2020.

However, there's a lot more work to be done before the Red Line Greenway is ready to ride. The entire project is slated to cost at least $13 million, according to Stover. One of the more challenging aspects of the greenway is figuring out how to traverse the RTA bridge that runs over the Flats. Project leaders have proposed a cantilevered trail section, which they say has already been done in Pittsburgh.

Interested in learning more about the Red Line Greenway project? On Wednesday, May 27th, organizers are holding the first-ever public meeting regarding the project. It will take place at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts at St. Ignatius High School (2008 W. 30th St.). The meeting is sponsored by the Rotary Club, RTA, LAND Studio, Metroparks, Urban Land Institute and NOACA.

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.