In early 2020, west side residents celebrated the completion of a new, long-awaited, $8 million streetscape on Fulton Road in Cleveland’s Ohio City and Clark-Fulton neighborhoods. Yet now, a year after the orange barrels were hauled away, the number of crashes have increased by 20% and some residents say that the road is less safe.
According to crash data from ODOT’s GIS Crash Analysis Tool provided to The Land by Bike Cleveland, vehicle crashes on Fulton increased from 29 in 2019 to 36 in 2020, after the project was completed. The number of crashes was 33 in 2018 and 31 in 2017. There were two crashes on Fulton Road from Vega to Lorain from October 2017 to January 2018, but from October 2019 to January 2020, there were 10 crashes.
According to a survey by nonprofit community development organization Ohio City Incorporated (OCI) of more than 160 area residents completed last year, nearly half (46%) said that they felt the road was less safe, 26% said they felt it was more safe, 17% weren’t sure, and 11% said it was the same. More than 70% of those who felt less safe said it was because of speeding.
The main problem, many neighborhood residents say, is that during the project the city removed several traffic lights south of Lorain against community objections and failed to implement traffic calming measures. As a result, Fulton Road south of Lorain has become a dangerous speedway, endangering pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike.
“I lost count of how many close calls I’ve seen,” said 52-year-old Edwin Luciano, a social worker at MetroHealth who grew up in the neighborhood. He currently lives in the family home on Fulton Road with his 80-year-old mother. “With no light until Bailey, the cars don’t have any reason to stop. They’re flying down. Sunday is the only day when it’s quiet and calm here.”
On April 16, 2019, following the completion of Phase I, OCI executive director Tom McNair sent a letter to Cleveland planning director Freddie Collier expressing his concerns.
“Fulton Road and West 28th Street is a vital north-south connection through the Ohio City neighborhood,” McNair wrote. “The corridor also has the potential to provide a safe multi-modal connection to the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. However, Ohio City Incorporated has a few concerns about the current plans including the removal of two traffic signals, disconnected bike infrastructure that alternates between bike lanes and sharrows, and wide painted bike lanes that we fear will be used as driving lanes.”
“Based on the feedback we have heard from the community at various public and stakeholder meetings, I have outlined below key changes that Ohio City Incorporated is requesting to improve the safety conditions for vulnerable roadway users along this corridor:
· Reduce the driving lanes from the proposed twelve-foot wide lanes to nine-foot wide lanes;
· Install bike lanes that are separated by a physical barrier where possible, including the bridge on Fulton Road and West 28th Street between Franklin Boulevard and Detroit Avenue;
· Extend the proposed bike lanes from West 30th Street to Franklin Boulevard;
· Install additional traffic calming and/or pedestrian improvements at the Chatham Avenue and Monroe Avenue intersections where signals will be removed;
· Work with the state to lower the speed limit on Fulton Road, south of Lorain Avenue, to 25mph; and
· Create a more meaningful bike connection with a commitment from the City of Cleveland to: a) Develop a bike connection from Detroit Avenue to the Cleveland Lakefront Bikeway and Lakeview Estates, which is outside of the current project area; and b) Develop a future bike connection from Monroe Avenue to Lorain Avenue, connecting to the funded Lorain Avenue cycle track.”
After OCI expressed its concerns, nothing changed, according to Ashley Shaw, economic development manager for OCI. The Land also reached out to the city of Cleveland to request an interview, but did not receive a response.
Ward 3 council member Kerry McCormack expressed his appreciation to the city for completing the project, which was sorely needed, especially its handicap-accessible sidewalks, the new underground infrastructure, and the traffic calming features at Franklin Circle. However, he noted, “We have fallen way short from a traffic calming perspective. In my opinion, the signage and the blinky signs, they don’t work. You have to install physical changes to the roadway to make sure people slow down.”
McCormack said the problem could be easily remedied through adding traffic calming features such as stop signs, but the city has so far not agreed to them. “We need to build roads that are much more conscientious for vulnerable road users,” he said, noting also that “the most dangerous streets in Cleveland are generally in low-income areas.”
“The city of Cleveland has a long way to go in realizing real, complete and green streets,” he added. “It’s extremely frustrating when plans don’t include them or include a watered down version. It’s a question of equity and economic development. We don’t have to study the issue. In places that have prioritized complete and green streets, like Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, it has helped to spur connectivity for people. We are unacceptably behind in Cleveland.”
McCormack helped to draft new Complete and Green Streets legislation last summer, but since then, it has been stuck in the mayor’s office under administrative review. McCormack said that the city is stalling the legislation, and he is working with council attorneys to identify options for moving it forward.
The city did implement crosswalks with flashing beacons (known as RRFBs or rapid rectangular flashing beacons) after OCI advocated for them, but residents say that cars frequently don’t stop because they don’t see them or are going too fast. “The city removed crosswalks and ADA ramps at W. 28th & Church, Fulton and Chatham, and Fulton and Monroe,” said Shaw. “Each were constructed before we knew they were removed and with our advocacy, they were reinstalled. Each time we caught this, it required them to tear up the work they’d just done to reinstall the crosswalks.”
Many families who live in the area don’t own cars, Shaw said, and the area can be dangerous to get around while walking or biking. This is a problem that disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities, not just in Ohio City, but throughout the city of Cleveland. The speed limit on Fulton south of Lorain is 35 miles per hour, whereas the northern section is 25 miles per hour because it is considered a business district.
“South of Lorain tends to be lower income,” she said. “We need to connect the north and south parts of the community. We need to make sure all parts of our community have access to amenities.”
Lee Chilcote is a freelance writer and editor of The Land.