The Opportunity Corridor – Can We Do Better?

By Mansfield Frazier

When I posted what I thought would be my last entry of a three-part LandMind series on land use and who benefits, Angie Schmitt, a Detroit Shoreway resident and writer for Streetsblog (a daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities), was the first person to comment on the piece. Her observations were so incisive and intelligent I reached out to her to discuss the issue further. Our correspondence lead to the Q & A that follows.

Mansfield Frazier: Angie, tell me more about Streetsblog.

Angie Schmitt: Streetsblog is a national transportation reform advocacy group that is based in New York City, but I live in and work out of Cleveland. We’ve covered the movement to transform our cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and improving conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. Our reporters have broken important stories about transit funding, pedestrian safety, and bicycle policy from day one. And our writing makes arcane topics like parking prices and induced traffic accessible to a broad audience.

You mentioned in your comment that you couldn’t believe this project – the Opportunity Corridor – was happening in 2013. Can you explain what you meant?

Sure. Let me give you a little background. The “urban renewal” era is considered the primary black eye of the urban planning profession. During this time period — the 1960s mostly — there was a government-led, nationwide campaign of “slum removal.” Many low-income, minority neighborhoods that were, in retrospect, thriving, were intentionally leveled in this campaign, often to be replaced by highways. Thousands of people were displaced, without remuneration. Some of those neighborhoods have never recovered.

With stop lights and a 35 mile per hour speed limit, planners have been careful to design the Opportunity Corridor to be less intrusive than a limited access highway. But I still can’t help but think that this project seems oddly reminiscent of the 1960s. In fact, I am surprised that any city in this day and age would propose a new highway through a largely black urban neighborhood by the use of eminent domain.

But this project is being described as a boulevard, not a freeway, right?

Although they are careful to call this project a boulevard — and the way it is being designed, I think it’s fair to call it that — its function is most certainly to extend the freeway system. In contrast, many cities around the country right now, from Milwaukee to San Francisco to, just recently, Niagara Falls, New York are actually tearing down urban freeways, recognizing that they drain the life out of urban neighborhoods and provide little by way of revenue return to cities. So many of Cleveland’s neighborhoods have already been carved up and profoundly damaged by urban freeways. An analysis by Dallas-based planner Patrick Kennedy found that Cleveland already has the fourth highest number of highway miles per capita of any city in the country.

Highways occupy hundreds of thousands — indeed millions — of acres in cities around the United States that don’t return a cent of revenue to their host municipalities. The homes and businesses that will be demolished for this project will represent a loss in tax revenue for the city of Cleveland. There is no guarantee they will be replaced. If they are replaced, it may be by businesses that do more to benefit distant corporate shareholders than neighborhood residents.

The project has been touted as one that will provide jobs. What’s your take on that?

Sure. Project sponsors hope the road will lead to new development along the corridor. But a lot of highway-side development is sort of inherently low-value to local economies — gas stations, chain retail establishments, which provide little more than a few minimum wage paying jobs and certainly no long-range investment in the community.

I understand this project is being sold as an economic development scheme. But I think it is a very dated one indeed. Highway expansions are the silver bullet projects of the 1990s. More enlightened local economic development strategies now focus on “placemaking.” Around the country more and more people are demanding walkable urban neighborhoods, as an alternative over the erstwhile ideal of car-centered sprawl. Adding highway miles in Cleveland will only entrench lifestyle patterns that are going out of style — and further the region’s dependence on expensive, imported fossil fuels. The healthiest cities — the Seattles, the Minneapolises — are taking the opposite approach … building walkable, active, integrated communities that produce economic opportunities for residents and city coffers alike.

What impact do you think the road will have on neighborhood residents?

I think this project raises some clear equity concerns. In the neighborhoods the highway will bisect, more than a third of residents do not drive or have access to an automobile. Not only will these people not enjoy the primary benefit of this project, their mobility may be reduced. The road will be fairly wide and fairly high speed — although it could definitely be worse — and represent an obstacle to those who travel by foot. Thirty-five miles per hour is the type of speed where, if a car hits a pedestrian, it’s likely to be fatal. And as we all know, a 35 mile per hour speed limit is an invitation to drive 45 miles per hour.

I think you, Mansfield, brought up a good point in your land use article for Cool Cleveland. Who is this road for? I do think the designers of this plan truly hope and believe it will uplift the neighborhoods it bisects. But primarily it will benefit suburban commuters and the Cleveland Clinic. The hoped-for benefits to the surrounding neighborhoods would only be incidental to the movement between the suburbs and the Clinic. Table scraps is really what the neighborhoods are being offered — the meal is for the people that “really matter” in our economy: suburban commuters.

Imagine, what would a transportation scheme look like that was truly designed to uplift these neighborhoods?

Are there other heath concerns?

Yes, there are. There will also be environmental consequences borne primarily by the residents of the neighborhood. Environmental Health Watch reports that 22 percent of black children living on the east side of Cleveland have asthma. Just to underscore the seriousness of that situation, 8 percent of these children eventually require hospitalization for this illness. Any project that channels additional commuter traffic through these neighborhoods will aggravate those problems to some extent — despite what ODOT’s rigged-to-support-highway-development models may say.

What do you think the city should do instead?

In my opinion, Cleveland — including the Cleveland Clinic — would be far better served investing the $300 million proposed for this project in improving transit service to the growing medical campus, as well as biking and walking connections. Not only would that type of solution truly serve the surrounding neighborhoods, it would contribute to community health and social equity and a degree of true integration between these major employers and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Whenever I take the Red Line to University Circle, I am blown away by how few University Hospital employees are taking advantage of that stellar transit amenity and how many instead choose to drive by themselves – taking advantage of the ample concrete provided to them on wide thoroughfares like Cedar Road and the massive parking garages the hospital has built. These transportation investments – wide roads, parking garages – serve as an incentive for those employees to drive, not avail themselves of the more environmentally and socially friendly alternative – transit. What I am trying to say is, constantly investing in infrastructure for cars and starving transit only produces more drivers and creates the need for more road infrastructure – it’s a vicious cycle, and it’s very costly.

Are there other hidden costs the average citizen might not be aware of?

Yes. Taxpayers foot the bill. The State of Ohio — which means my tax dollars and yours — should not be continually called upon to assume greater and greater financial burden to promote uninterrupted automobile access to a private institution — as we have already seen in Avon, Twinsburg, and nearly every new sprawl-generating interchange on our suburban fringes. There are far more efficient and economic alternatives at hand that deserve more serious consideration than they have received.

There is a whole field called Transportation Demand Management that is concerned with finding cost effective ways to reduce how many people drive to specific destinations. There are many cheap or even revenue-positive strategies that would benefit the Cleveland Clinic more in the long term than a new road that will simply serve as a funnel for an endless stream of automobiles.

For example, the Cleveland Clinic could use variable parking pricing – raise prices for parking during peak commuting hours – to encourage carpooling and transit use. They might also see big savings – in terms of their investment in parking structures – if they offered some very small monetary incentive to employees to bike or take transit to work. From what I hear, this company – which is ostensibly in the business of health – does not currently even allow part-time bike commuters to take advantage of a discounted parking rate. Instead they are asking taxpayers to intervene on their behalf. In my opinion, they should first exhaust their internal options.

$300 million is a very high price to pay to shave a few minutes off a suburban commute, yet we’ve made these kinds of investments so many times it’s as if we’ve forgotten that there are alternatives. How many times have the residents of the East Side neighborhoods that this road will bisect been asked to accept transit service reductions or fare increases over the last few years? Why don’t we in this region have the same sense of urgency about those transportation issues? What kind of economic impact would investing an additional $300 million in our local transit system have? Has anyone really investigated that seriously, how it would compare? Of course not.

Public funds for infrastructure projects are becoming more and more scarce. Indeed, we may have to borrow the money for this project from future generations – future Turnpike revenues. Before we ever invest $300 million in any project in this region – especially funds we have borrowed — we owe it to ourselves to ask, how will this project benefit not only our economy, but our environment, our public health, our social cohesion, future generations?

Thank you, Angie, for your very enlightening answers to my questions.

Read the rest of the LANDMind series here:

Part One: Billy Tell’s Last Laugh

Part Two: Planned Abandonment

Part Three: Who Wins in the Land Use Lottery? Not the People



From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting







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13 Responses to “The Opportunity Corridor – Can We Do Better?”

  1. Bill Hutchison

    I do not live in the city, but I see what freeways have done, along with the misguided urban renewal projects of the ’50’s and ’60’s. I lived in St. Louis and saw Pruitt-Igoe built. They demolished a fine neighborhood to do that and it turned into a crime-ridden mess. Freeways destroy neighborhoods and this road will do the same. I hate injustice and I don’t know why people in these area don’t rise up and demand better from their city and state.

    Ohio spends all of its money on roads, whether people can drive or not. A lot of people can’t afford to drive and reach jobs in the ‘burbs. It’s a travesty. Ohio proposes to spend $7 million on transit, while it spends $3 billion on roads. It’s an insidious form of discrimination against minorities, handicapped, poor people who can’t afford a car, milennials and seniors who don’t want to drive and others. These people are pushed to the margins of society.

    I hope organizations who represent these groups demand better. Ohio ought to be sued under civil rights and ADA statutes. The City of Cleveland needs to start thinking outside the auto.

  2. Andre LeBlanc

    “Highways occupy hundreds of thousands — indeed millions — of acres in cities around the United States that don’t return a cent of revenue to their host municipalities.”

    /* Sarcasm On */

    The Linndale Police Department would like to put forth an objection to this assertion.

    /* Sarcasm Off */

  3. CONCRETE LOBBY…sad to say…thou suspect even with mass transit THAT requires lot of concrete,infrastructure…

    Car thing….way our society,etc.etc. spread out,setup,etc. gets tooo $*82 to try and piecemeal rapidtransit schedule together… problem… GOT HOW much burb housing….WHA expect folks to do…walk away from their homes,bldgs,investments as were….

  4. the ABOVE comment by Leblanc…apparently SOMEONE has a tiff with Linndale… IF any value to this project…if knocks down some real rentawrecks then HEY… got ENOUGH of THOSE…ONE way to do demo… SURE enough people gonna get selves into trouble,go to jail,more media coverage,etc.etc. but just part of the jazz…. warped way ONE way out for poo grannies tired of fooling around with their places…

  5. Far as David A above… hey..OWN intersts do SAME thing…..up right up Orange to Ontario TO happyland… DRAWING at straws here..IN A SENSE cant blame cities…THEY KNOW CERTAIN attractions ATTRACT $$$ and folks gonna coalesce around THat… I DONT want to name names but certain entertain establishments…let THEM do their thing and go on from there…. if folks get JOBS JOBS JOBS!!! the OFT mentioned reason for lot of support for all this stuff when peddled at ballot box,Cityhall,etc. and pay taxes of all kinds then all semi happy….AND ‘THEY” know all that….

    HOW much of old line industries downsized,merged,bought out,automated,etc.etc.and well hey city,ciitizens,etc. hung out to dry and NOW what….which FEEDS on self and before know it half the city scrapped out,zinging some slob on way to Downtown w/traffic tickets and all that not so happy jazz…

  6. ACTUALLY Mansfield are right in assessements….actually spot on…as weird as THEY may sound… some burbs or majority of em JUST recreate WHA DID have in older cities,sections…just newer bldgs…in a perverse weird roundabout way REcreating burbs IN THE CITY…. Hey….

  7. Problem is WE have WHAT WE have now and so spread out,funky schedules,and all that hard to put Jeannie back in the bottle as were…

  8. LOT of it is the culturecrudconflict meets crackcentral meets rest of it and sorta now down to BIG islands of Yuppies,GBLT,and other with rest of it flung in… LOT of it was folks wanted OWN new space,etc. THINK back to WW2…guyz come marching home…PARENTS living in old places… good ol Feds offered up FMHA and rest of it…let alone banks,developers were offering…WHAT WOULD YOU do? SERIOUSLY….back THEN MOSTLY valuable housing across MOST of city…WHO was gonna lowball,sellout and all that….

  9. IndyCA35

    According to Google Maps, it takes 13 minutes to drive the 4.4 miles from the end of I-490 to the Cleveland Museum of Art right now. the Cleveland clinic is closer because you drive right past it on Carnegie.

    I think that spending $300,000,000 to improve this by a slight amount with 35 mph speed limits and stop lights would be a waste of money. I gotta agree with Mansfield.

  10. FridayBob

    I DO live in Cleveland, in the Glenville neighborhood. I also attend all the Opportunity Corridor (OC) steering committee meetings.

    – That I-490 crash zone at 55th street has to change, and the I-77 north to I-90 eastbound interchange is another nightmare.
    – The traffic backed up on I-77 northbound every morning is spewing untold amounts of pollution into the east side and the acceleration and braking at traffic lights on both Chester and 55th add to that pollution.
    – University Circle is the biggest center of private employment in the city and the current routes to get there (E. 55th or Chester) are pedestrian target ranges.
    – New housing is being built to bring more people to University Circle, and they will add to the traffic moving in and out.
    – Opportunity Corridor will reroute and relieve traffic and all its associated dangers from both 55th street and Chester.
    – The OC will use modern traffic control measures to increase residential, pedestrian and motorist safety while reducing commute times and fuel use.
    – There will be mass transit using the same road, for those who need it.
    – Dozens of businesses, some large and some small, will develop on both sides of the OC.

    What’s not to like?

  11. I’m of mixed opinion on this.

    On my Feb 23 post (at my blog) I called BS on the specious claim that any economic development will occur along its route.

    While I detest the penetration of automobile culture into our city, or anywhere, I have to remain a realist. There could be benefits to this corridor, but not without some balance.

    Yes, this is for getting suburbanites to the Hospital for work quickly, without having to deal with any urban citizenry.
    It could also assist emergency vehicles for access from the west and south sides of town.

    Now, what could make this partly beneficial is for there to be implemented a redesign of Carnegie and particularly Chester Avenue into a true boulevard that is supportive of what could be a great residential neighborhood.

    Speeds could be reduced to 25 MPH. Chester is a very wide Right Of Way that has a very wide array of design possibilities.

    Let’s discuss that.

  12. Lily Miller

    Forest City is scheduled to receive 50 east side houses from the county land bank with the possibility of receiving hundreds more. What a scam. Targeted gentrification for years. Nit picking on petty housing code violations for some less connected folks, but the land bank president’s shell LLC property looks like a damn war zone. No cases for violations filed.

    Filing thousands of delinquent property tax lien foreclosures with a much greater impact on east side property. Forcing out mostly black property owners, and the land bank president’s shell LLCs have not paid property taxes for years.

  13. Bill Hutchison

    @Friday Bob: Yes, let’s build roads for a neighborhood where most people don’t drive. BTW, I don’t live in Cleveland anymore, but I am intimately familiar with it.

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