W. 73rd Street underpass brings new access to the city's greatest asset: Lake Erie

 Cleveland has been criticized – often by residents themselves – for not making the best use of perhaps the city's greatest natural asset: Lake Erie. While other cities like Chicago embrace their prominent waterfronts, Cleveland lingers in a postindustrial past.
That is beginning to change with the opening of the W. 73rd Street underpass last month, which connects the Detroit Shoreway with gems like Battery Park, Edgewater Park and the Lake Erie coast.
As part of the second phase in the Lakefront West Project, the new W. 73rd Street extension opened to the public on Saturday, Dec. 12 with a ribbon cutting ceremony that drew dozens of people, eager to be some of the first to access the lakefront from the underpass.
The $34.8 million project extends West 73rd street under one of the region’s biggest railways, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, along the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, to connect residents with better access to Edgewater Park.
A decade of planning
Cleveland has put in major time and money to reshape its historic districts like Tremont, Ohio City and the Flats – all of which have taken years to plan and execute. More recently, in the Detroit Shoreway and the Gordon Square neighborhoods, residents can now see physical evidence after years of planning and envisioning.
For decades, the Detroit Shoreway created a barrier between West side neighborhoods and the shoreline of Lake Erie. But now residents, city leaders and visitors are embracing a new-found access to the Lake.
As a long-time resident of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood and a member of the city’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee, Cleveland city councilman Matt Zone has advocated for better access to Lake Erie for more than a decade.
Since the city’s adoption of the Waterfront District Plan in 2004 and the construction of the W. 73rd underpass in 2013, the vision to shape the lakefront as a destination and the efforts needed to reintegrate it into the daily lives of Cleveland's residents became a mission for city officials like Zone and community organizations.
The W. 73rd Street extension takes the vision full circle.
"This project will create new connections between the Gordon Square neighborhood and our greatest natural resource – Lake Erie – bringing public spaces and pedestrian walkways that will benefit current and future generations,” says Zone. “The Lakefront West Project was the city’s first lakefront development project. The whole plan was to provide better connectivity from neighborhoods south of the West Shoreway.”
Chris Ronayne, former chief architect of the Waterfront District Plan, leader of the public planning process to reconnect people to Lake Erie and current president of University Circle Inc., explains that proposed new development projects have always wanted to use the lake as a main feature in urban planning.
“In 2004, there was a lot of high hopes for development that had mixed use of nature, connectivity to the lake, a respected park land and fun,” says Ronayne. “What comes to mind is when the Marous team, who developed Battery Park, had it in their sites that the development would only be complete if there was access from the park to the lake. The other one at the time was Scott Wolstein's vision for the East Bank Flats – whose vision would only really pop if it had a waterfront feature. So 10 to 12 years ago, as these were shaping up to be visions, they always had sites with a water feature.”
A noticeable transformation
The construction of the tunnels hasn't only changed transportation routes, but the backdrop of the Detroit Shoreway and Gordon Arts Square District neighborhoods.

Jenny Spencer, managing director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, has seen the landscape change when old, abandoned factories were replaced by high-end housing spaces, while local artists and entrepreneurs filled in empty commercial spaces.
“The 73rd underpass is the first time you see multi-mobile characteristics,” says Spencer. “It is as if the city grid is getting put back together. The fabric of our neighborhoods that was once cut off is now coming together with the tunnel access to the lake.”
Residents can now take advantage of the easily accessible route to Lake Erie, either by car, bike or foot. With public art displayed inside the tunnels on W. 65th, W. 76th and now W. 73rd Streets, the atmosphere is friendly, and inviting for passersby.
Spencer says there has been a lot of positive feedback from community members. “The tunnel is very inviting so I am anticipating a lot of curiosity and new connections between the neighborhoods and the lake,” she predicts.
Michael Graham, a resident of Gordon Square for 15 years, say it has been a long process to get access to the lake. When he bought his house back in 2001, there was no Battery Park, just the factories that were still intact. Now he has seen his neighborhood go through a transformation.
“It is a great asset – more connectivity to the lake and Edgewater Park is a huge benefit for people like myself who live in the neighborhood,” says Graham. “The 73rd tunnel in particular is a more pleasant experience in accessing the park itself."
Graham has already grown fond of the underpass itself. “It is open, it is light, the air comes through it more easily,” he says. “I've run through it, rode my bike, and walked through it with my wife and two children.”
Aside from the recreational benefits, Graham says businesses can also benefit from the additional routes in and out of the neighborhood.
There was a lot of smart planning that went into the project. “Once the underpass has proper signage, it will help businesses in the neighborhood attract visitors coming from the east and west,” Graham says. “I know one of the concerns was the amount of traffic getting on and off the [Shoreway] ramp, but I think traffic calming solutions are continuing conversations with the community and city officials.”

Future planning
The third phase, transforming the freeway into a scenic, tree-lined boulevard, is still in the planning process. Reduction in the speed limit from 50 mph to 35 mph, while maintaining the original three lanes will add over a minute of total travel time for commuters.
Looking to the future, Zone says that as a result of the project the city will start to see major private investment along the North Coast. He cites Breakwater Bluffs, the second-largest residential housing project in the city, being developed by NRP Group, as a prime example.
“The private sector wants to invest where they know the public sector is committed to investing,” says Zone. “We are starting to see that all over our neighborhoods including Battery Park, Detroit Shoreway and all the success that is happening along the Gordon Square Arts District. “
Zone says he is pleased to see the ideas becoming realities. “We stayed true to our vision tying in the lakefront with our community,” he says. “There are many communities that have not utilized assets that are currently in their community, and we have clearly taken advantage of that with the lake.”

Read more articles by Kaylyn Hlavaty.

Kaylyn Hlavaty is a freelance journalist based in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to relocating back to the states, Kaylyn reported about humanitarian, social, cultural, and refugee-related issues in the Middle East. Her work has appeared in The Washington Times, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Magazine, Al MonitorBELT Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, MIT Tech Review, among others.