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Metro Parks awarded TIGER grant for trails

Posted August 12, 2016 in Articles

Author: Steven Litt, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio - For years, it has seemed that slow-moving, long-awaited bike and pedestrian trail projects planned near downtown and Lake Erie have been competing against one another for cash and moving ahead without a sense of how they should connect to form a comprehensive network.

Say goodbye to all that.

The big, brilliant idea behind a nearly $8 million federal TIGER grant won by Cleveland Metroparks in late July is that the agency packaged five separate trail initiatives as a single new project called "Re-Connecting Cleveland: Pathways to Opportunity."

The much-needed money will help fund discrete segments and structures needed to stitch together other, larger trail and recreational projects already under way after years of development and community support.

Those bigger pieces include the 101-mile Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley; the 1.3-mile Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail, also known as the Lake Link Trail; and the new West Side section of the Cleveland Lakefront Bikeway, a project that accompanies the reconstruction of the West Shoreway.

The Metroparks application for the TIGER grant, shorthand for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, appears to have emerged from a "duh!" moment in which planners realized that the aforementioned projects weren't designed to connect without gaps. And that made no sense.

"This put a lasso around a lot of different projects we've been working on, and it tied them together," Sean McDermott, the chief planning and design officer for the Metroparks, said in a recent interview about the TIGER grant.

Conceived with the Trust for Public Land and the nonprofit LAND Studio, the Metroparks grant request is a masterpiece of collaboration and dot-connecting.

It underscores the value the Metroparks has brought to Cleveland since it took over management of the city's lakefront parks from the state of Ohio in 2013.

The feds apparently agreed, awarding roughly 85 percent of the $9.45 million requested by the Metroparks, or roughly half of the $16.45 million needed to complete the trail segments identified in "Re-Connecting Cleveland."

The remainder of funding will come from sources including the state of Ohio, local foundations and other private sources. The segments covered by the grant should be all completed by 2020, Metroparks officials said in recent interviews.

The upshot is that an alternative transportation network near the lakefront and the Cuyahoga River should be finished within the foreseeable future.

Most of the trail connections will be off-road, which should help alleviate longstanding conflicts between trucks, bicyclists and pedestrians that have stymied development in the Flats for decades.

The terrain involved is complicated. It includes the "peninsula" portion of the Flats near downtown, where curves in the Cuyahoga River create a ruggedly beautiful and lovably complex landscape of meandering riverbanks flanked by housing, industry, entertainment venues and recreation spots including Rivergate Park, where rowing clubs are located.

The individual pieces funded by the TIGER grant include:

- The Wendy Park Bridge. Designed by Boston architect Miguel Rosales with DLZ Corp. and Schlaich Bergermann, the 365-foot bridge will provide a vital bike and pedestrian connection between the Willow Avenue Bridge and Wendy Park on Whiskey Island.

The good news here is that it appears that the Metroparks has preserved the original design intent of the elegant truss bridgeconceived by Rosales. The agency is also working separately with the city of Cleveland on how to modify the Willow Avenue Bridge, now used heavily by trucks, to carry bikes and pedestrians safely.

The bridges will connect to the northern end of the Lake Link Trail, designed to extend south through the west bank of the Flats to the Towpath Trail at Scranton Road Peninsula.

- The Whiskey Island Connector. A 1.25-mile, $3.1 million trail will be built along Ed Hauser Way on Whiskey Island to connect Edgewater Park to Wendy Park at the east end of the so-called island, which is really a lakefront peninsula.

The new path will separate bikes and pedestrians from vehicles on the narrow roadway, which is hemmed tightly with chain link. The path will also safely skirt the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District's Westerly Wastewater Treatment Facility.

- The Cleveland Lakefront Bikeway Connector. A 0.15-mile, $530,000 path will be built on the north side of Main Avenue and partially under the Main Avenue Bridge between West 25th Street and the Lake Link Trail at Mulberry Avenue on the west bank of the Flats.

This will provide safe passage for pedestrians from the east end of the Shoreway portion of the bikeway connector to the Lake Link Trail along a road heavily used by trucks originating from industries in the Flats.

- The Canal Basin Connector. A 0.35-mile, $220,000 segment will join the future Canal Basin Park on the Columbus Road Peninsula to the Center Street Swing Bridge and the Lake Link Trail at Detroit Avenue on the west bank of the Flats.

- The Red Line Greenway. Metroparks sought and received $4 million for this $6.6 million project, bringing it within $520,000 of complete funding.

Initiated by the Rotary Club of Cleveland, the 2.25-mile greenway will parallel the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's rapid transit Red Line from West 53rd Street at Zone Recreation Center east to an overlook above the Cuyahoga River on the RTA viaduct. Spurs will also connect to local streets along the way, and to the Lake Link Trail.

Some big thinking went into the trail segments listed above. Among other things, they'll surmount terrible barriers created by previous infrastructure investments, including roads, bridges, highways and railroads, that have cut off Clevelanders for decades from Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River.

The payoff could be significant. The Metroparks grant application estimates conservatively that the $16.45 million needed for the five parts of the TIGER grant will generate $54.6 million in economic benefits, a return on investment of 3.3 to 1.

All city and county residents will benefit, but that's especially true for roughly 2,000 residents in nearby public housing complexes operated by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, who will have far better access to the river and lake.

Meanwhile, apart from the projects funded by the TIGER grant, related trail and park projects are also moving ahead.

Last year, for example, the city unveiled a framework plan for the 20-acre Canal Basin Park on Columbus Road Peninsula, conceived as a jumping-off point for the Towpath Trail and points far south of Cleveland along the path of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

The city estimated that both the park and the final, northernmost segments of the Towpath Trail would be finished by 2019 with price tags of $34.65 million and $54 million, respectively.

Cleveland Metroparks, meanwhile, plans to start work this fall on the $2.1 million northern segment of the 1.3-mile Lake Link Trail on the west bank of the Flats, bringing life back to a long-disused rail bed that cuts across properties from the Stonebridge Towers condominiums north to River Road at Mulberry Avenue.

Last year, Metroparks completed the southern segment of the Lake Link Trail, which splits from the Towpath at Scranton Road and curves across Scranton Road Peninsula for a third of a mile to Columbus Road on the west bank of the Cuyahoga.

The city estimated that both the park and the final, northernmost segments of the Towpath Trail would be finished by 2019 with price tags of $34.65 million and $54 million, respectively.

Cleveland Metroparks, meanwhile, plans to start work this fall on the $2.1 million northern segment of the 1.3-mile Lake Link Trail on the west bank of the Flats, bringing life back to a long-disused rail bed that cuts across properties from the Stonebridge Towers condominiums north to River Road at Mulberry Avenue.

Last year, Metroparks completed the southern segment of the Lake Link Trail, which splits from the Towpath at Scranton Road and curves across Scranton Road Peninsula for a third of a mile to Columbus Road on the west bank of the Cuyahoga.

Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman eagerly awaits the outcome of that study and appears determined to complete the Lake Link Trail.

"We're trying to meet expectations," he said.

That's good. After years of planning, land assembly, design and fundraising, Clevelanders deserve the optimal trail network on the river and lakefront that's finally emerging.

Original Article: http://www.cleveland.com/architecture/index.ssf/2016/08/big_brilliant_ideas_that_led_t.html

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