When Fleet Avenue in Slavic Village is scraped down to its original red brick, and reconstructed this fall it will be Cleveland’s first project under its 2011 Green and Complete Streets law. The $7.7 million rebuild includes bike lanes from the I-77 overpass to Broadway, and a $1 million ‘green infrastructure’ project paid for by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. This wonkish term is essentially means using plants and basins along the street—or in this case—on vacant property to slow stormwater.
The Sewer District in recent years has funded pilot greening projects on vacant land, but this will be its first foray in to the design of a large-scale piece of green infrastructure alongside a street project. The District estimates it will keep 1 million of the 44 million gallons it agreed to remove with green infrastructure from Lake Erie (the balance of the 90 billion gallons will be removed by giant underground pipes).
There’s also an expectation it will grow as a public space.
The green infrastructure (GI) being explored by the city includes planting bioswales in crosswalk areas and in a median down the center of the road using native, salt resistant plants, and new trees in the sidewalk. For its part, the Sewer District will follow EPA’s very specific (some might say, rigid) rules on building GI and convert two vacant lots on Fleet into pocket parks with large scale but “aesthetically pleasing” stormwater basins.
The Sewer District’s first concern has to be controlling large amounts of stormwater, says Manager of the District's Watershed Program, Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, of the EPA consent decree. But, could the reuse of vacant land as both GI and public space become part of the Sewer District’s larger contribution to the design of recovering neighborhoods?
“There is a basic theme of retooling vacant or underutilized properties as some sort of stormwater basin, in the nicest sense, on our GI projects,” says Dreyfuss-Wells. “We want to create a neighborhood amenity, but we also need to control large volumes of stormwater.”
The District’s strategy to design GI to control large volumes includes the vacant land reuse on Fleet and Union avenues, and on vacant property adjacent to the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone on Kinsman near E. 81st Street.
The District also has funded projects like the massive permeable paver and cistern under the Courtyard at Marriott in University Circle. And this week it announced a $118,000 agreement to fund Mitchell’s Ice Cream stormwater harvesting system at its new headquarters in Ohio City.
“Those things don’t have to meet the same rigid rules,” she says.
The land-based strategies are in the Mill Creek watershed which has one of the highest CSO volumes flowing in to the Lake. All follow behind existing projects in a support role, Dreyfuss-Wells says.
By contrast, Cincinnati’s Sewer District last week approved a $192 million Lick Run Project, which will ‘daylight’ a former creek through the heart of a neighborhood and create a linear park that officials say will convey stormwater and natural drainage to the Mill Creek. This project alone is estimated to reduce overflows into the Mill Creek, from the largest CSO in the system, by 624 million gallons annually.
Dreyfuss-Wells says Northeast Ohio has the same consultants as Cincy who have been “looking long and hard for our Lick Run. We just don’t have one.”
Cleveland joined in 2001 an elite group of cities like Seattle and North St. Paul trying to fit green and complete streets elements, such as bike lanes, in the same space. These cities deserve credit for taking a wider than an old-school engineer’s view that streets are pipes for cars.
When Craig Williams of Alta Design was speaking about his work on Cleveland’s Street Typologies, he said the goal is to make more “8-80 Cities.” He’s referring to an attention to detail in design. To seeing the street and a public realm through the eyes of an 8- and an 80-year old.
“Complete streets increase the roadway capacity, improve quality of life, save money, build strong local economies,” Williams states.
For Cleveland, Fleet Avenue is an example of using its authority to act on its Climate Action Plan, which includes a goal to reduce its ecological footprint (resource depletion, water pollution, urban heat island effect).
Fleet will be an important test of the limits of GI to meet neighborhood aspirations. Can bike lanes and bioswales add up to an attractive place? At a public meeting on May 23, a group of residents and stakeholders voiced concern that the complete street is also beautiful. They were concerned that the generic street furniture, signs and decorative elements didn’t have a deeper connection to the area’s history. And if money were no object, they wanted to bury power lines and uncover the brick road (or at least recycle it in the project). Few objected to trees or bike lanes, although concerns were expressed that the design of the vacant lot was going to attract negative use.
The tension between engineering complete streets and creating beautiful, memorable places is also on the minds of architects Victor Dover and John Massengale. In their presentation at Congress for New Urbanism, the pair dissected the best examples of urban streets and places. Allowing the engineers to design the space, even if it includes bike lanes, rarely produces beautiful streets.
“Innovation (for engineers) would be drawing the buildings in when you draw the road,” Dover says. “We need a few places where the car is not the king. Draw the buildings in to get a sense of proportion, but also, to try to reveal something about it, the street, and its user.”
When they show images of the most well designed streets—like the “skinny streets” in Melbourne which look a lot like our E. 4th Street—next to complete streets of recent vintage, it makes their point that complete doesn’t produce beauty—not without the context of the buildings and intention to detail that an eye toward making a memorable place requires.