Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mayor Jackson Wants to Close Public Square to Cars, Build Park (Updated)

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 2:52 PM

A previously rejected design for Public Square, but this could be similar to what Jackson has in mind.
  • A previously rejected design for Public Square, but this could be similar to what Jackson has in mind.

Update: The idea was floated initially back in October of last year when Mayor Frank Jackson said he wanted to close off Public Square to traffic, quartering off Superior and Ontario and creating a unified, 10-acre park. Jackson's Group Plan Commission hired a consultant to run through the data — there's a lot going on here, from RTA traffic to foot traffic to displacing vehicle traffic to other streets — and make a recommendation. It was unveiled this week: just close Ontario, create two quadrants, and focus on limiting Superior traffic to mass transit.

That's far from final, of course, as Jackson and his staff consider the options and the analysis with an eye toward making Public Square something other than the unofficial home for loitering, casino cigarette breaks, and a glorified bus depot. Both Jackson's spokesperson and RTA had some thoughts. Via Cleveland.com:

"We understand that the facts are the facts," Silliman said in an interview Wednesday. "The people selected to do this study are very capable, and they're simply analyzing the traffic and making recommendations. We accept that. But we fully support the further data review."

Brennan said the firm explored the possibility of closing Ontario and Superior, but doing so would clog other nearby intersections and cause severe rush hour delays. It also would displace nearly 18,000 bus passenger pick-ups and drop-offs daily. That would amount to a $2.6 million increase in yearly operating costs for RTA, which would have to fuel idling buses in traffic jams or add routes to keep schedules.

Closing only Ontario would cost RTA an extra $1 million yearly and move 8,500 passenger boardings and drop-offs to adjacent blocks.

RTA spokeswoman Mary McCahon said Wednesday that the agency has participated in discussions regarding the street closures and trusts that the consultant understands the city's public transportation needs. McCahon, however, said she could not comment on whether RTA endorses the firm's recommendations.


Sunday's Plain Dealer had this bit of news: Mayor Frank Jackson tells the paper that he wants to close Public Square to traffic and make the forlorn, antiquated area a public park.

Round of applause, sir. As Cleveland Mag notes, it might take Jackson a helluva effort to actually get this done, but for now, here's what he's thinking: Close Superior and Ontario to form a 10-acre park, a open space that will be more useful than its current purpose, which seems to be nothing more than an RTA hub. (As the article notes, there are 3,200 dropoffs by RTA at Public Square now. Those would all have to happen elsewhere.)

“I want to see one big square,” Jackson told the paper. And when questioned about possibly closing just one of the streets, he said, "“We could make it two halves, but that’s not a square. A square is one piece.”

The goals here are two-fold: create something more usable for pedestrians and bicyclists, more "green" if you will, and to tie together the various districts in downtown — casino, Warehouse, E. 9th, ballparks — as big-ticket projects like the Flats, Med Mart, and convention center move toward completion.

Last year, spurred by plans for the convention center, medical mart and casino, Jackson appointed a new Group Plan Commission to explore ways in which the downtown Mall, Public Square and other spaces could be enhanced.

The commission - which included leaders of the city’s largest banks, sports teams and real estate companies - reflected a growing realization that the city’s tired and gray public realm needs serious attention.

“We really are beginning to think of ourselves as a travel destination, and that’s begun to change our thinking about how we view public space,” said Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, a business consortium.


“If cities are going to be competitive over time, they need to think about transit, bike amenities and a walkable downtown,” said Tom Brennan, the firm principal leading the Public Square study.

Traffic is obviously a concern, as is the aforementioned RTA issue, but for anyone that doubts the power of shaping cities with public spaces, for anyone who thinks moving away from a car-centric traffic-congested city plan isn't practical, we'd point you toward this NY Mag profile of New York City's Transportation commissioner, a woman who remade a city by closing major, major streets (Broadway, lanes through Times Square), and not only made a more usable, resident-friendly, beautiful urban vision, but actually reduced congestion and traffic.

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