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Do better than the Opportunity Corridor

2013 November 10

I’m not certain when I first heard of the proposed “Opportunity Corridor” development targeting Cleveland’s east side, but I probably first took notice of the idea back in June. I probably just skimmed this article, and then went away with a generally favorable idea of the plan based largely on established biases.

I’ll admit it. I’ve grown tired of people and movements—found at various points around the political map—who seem to offer nothing more than a perpetual “no” to everything. Development opponents included. My years as a hobbyist San Francisco watcher have probably been particularly influential in this case; the city by the Bay seems to have gone so far beyond the NIMBY of yesteryear as to require a new term, BANANA, for “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.” I find this tedious and stupid. Opposition to the OC proposal seemed to fit the same pattern.

Give the OC opponents credit, however, for a smooth little coup that not only got me to take a second look at their case but, upon reflection, says something more general about the actors involved here. In August I learned that the domain name having gone unregistered, activists had taken the initiative to purchase it for themselves, and it’s now home to regularly updated news and arguments against the plan.

By all means, go and visit for yourself, but for what it’s worth, I did so and found myself coming around to sympathy with the objectors. The reasons are various; I found the argument against building a big splashy new “corridor” when plentiful existing roads are falling apart for want of maintenance especially persuasive. I have also been increasingly turned off by what seems to be the fait accompli mindset of ODOT and other community Powers That Be. And this ties into what, I realize, is a measure of symbolism in the domain-name story: proponents seem entirely focused on barging ahead with bulldozers, while opponents actually gave thought to how can we promote a dialogue with the community, instead of taking it for granted that everyone who “counts” is already lined up.

Now, for some caveats. First of all, I’m not exactly part of the relevant community; true, much of the money and pressure behind the OC are coming from regional and state-level sources, but I do feel kind of weird butting into this eastern Cleveland project too aggressively from my stubbornly independent west-side suburb. And I acknowledge that there is a basic, “common sense” argument for the OC, even if it too relies to some extent on a fait accompli, in this case decades old. If you look at I-490 on a map or, particularly, if you drive out to its eastern terminus, it’s obviously an unfinished connector that, with all apologies to Slavic Village etc., stops some distance away from any kind of “destination” area. Right now, there is no really ideal way to speed from the freeway system to University Circle, and the fact is that for good or ill, greater Cleveland long ago adopted a cars-first model of transportation.

I don’t think this can really be ignored, though personally I don’t find it sufficient justification for going ahead with the OC; even a car-centric perspective trips up on the additional fact that, as noted, we need maintenance for the miles and miles of existing roads more than we need a big ribbon-cutting.

For what my own perspective is worth, I would like to think beyond a car-centric perspective, anyway, and from any perspective I think that OC opponents’ best argument may in the end be “is this really the best we can do for $325 million (not counting the inevitable cost overruns)?”

That said, I do kind of wish that opponents had a bit more to say in the way of what they advocate, instead of focusing so much on what they oppose. I can see strategic arguments for and against offering a rival plan, rather than seeking a simple referendum on the OC plan… but in this case, with the money lined up, I think an “if you don’t have any better idea, doing something is better than doing nothing” bias will be influential.

If nothing else, I think maybe a page for or prominent link to some kind of general alternative vision for development and transportation for the region—I presume that plenty of such already exist—would be a good addition to Accompany that with a brief list of specific ways that the relevant funds could be spent to advance such a vision; no need to commit to one of them, but at least have a list of possibilities that you would happily support. [Update: This is a fine example, I think.]

That said, I as I draw to a conclusion here I want to repeat that the OC opponents have done commendable work already, and have in many senses presented a much more thoughtful message than the pro-OC forces. It’s 2013; have this many people really been so out of contact with decades of rethinking transportation and development models that their big idea is “let’s build another big road so motorists can get where they want to go more easily”? Sadly I must presume that the answer is yes, either that or a lofty indifference, cynically deploying the now-familiar promise of “jobs” that gets grafted onto every scheme from casinos to corporate-welfare-via-port-authority. I am happy to report that I am not the only one to notice the hollowness of such promises, so that’s something; maybe one of these days it will be enough.

2 Responses
  1. November 10, 2013

    Thanks for the thoughtful write up. I am part of the opposition group. We would rather see the money spent on transit and local roads, so that is what we are “for.” One alternative we have discussed is using Woodland Avenue as the corridor, this was an “alternative” that was considered by ODOT and one that ODOT admitted had a lot of advantages. If an existing road were used as the corridor, it would help overall road conditions, improve existing neighborhoods and avoid displacing residents. We also believe the cost would be much lower, and there would be money to make corresponding investments in transit and walking and biking. This project has really become more of a land development scheme than a transportation project in the eyes of a lot of opponents. That’s why they prefer an entirely new road.

  2. Matt permalink
    November 11, 2013

    Thank you, many times over, for your great work on this issue, Angie! I really admire these efforts.

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