On Development: Linden buildings falling down, falling down

The proposed destruction of a century-old retail building to make way for a wider street is yet another example of Columbus designing the city for cars rather than people.
A building at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Hudson Street slated for demolition.
A building at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Hudson Street slated for demolition.Brian Williams

The “problem”: A vacant, century-old, two-story retail building at the northwest corner of Cleveland Avenue and Hudson Street is too close to the roadway for motorists to watch for pedestrians.

The solution (as proposed by Columbus and ODOT engineers): Tear down the building to make the street wider.

It’s just another local example of our 100-year orgy of redesigning American cities for cars instead of people.

The city’s Vision Zero 2023-2028 Action Plan specifically calls for improvements in “communities of interest,” which include areas beset by poverty and neglect of services, as well as communities with dominant African American and immigrant populations. Communities such as Linden – where, on Oct. 28, four people were hit by a car in a crosswalk on Cleveland Avenue and 25th Street, a few blocks south of Hudson.

Three of those struck in the crosswalk were children, and two of them died. The crash occurred around the midway point of a two-mile stretch of Cleveland Avenue identified in the plan as part of a “high-injury network” in the middle of a community of interest.

Why tear down buildings in Linden to widen streets and increase accommodation of automobiles? What’s wrong with this picture?

  • It removes privately owned, tax-generating property and creates more publicly owned, tax-sucking pavement.

  • It theoretically makes it easier for motorists to see people in crosswalks, but makes those people walk further to cross the street in a wider roadway that facilitates faster traffic.

  • It undermines even the lip-service that the city and state give to “Vision Zero,” a fancy name for a fanciful dream of ending pedestrian and bicycle deaths in a city and state that essentially view walking and biking as impediments to the automobile.

Several decades ago, Cleveland Avenue was the Main Street of Linden, populated with banks, restaurants, food shops, hardware stores, movie theaters and other neighborhood businesses that lined the street. We keep hearing that City Hall wants to revitalize such communities. But demolishing buildings and widening streets seems at odds with that vision. Then again, much of our redevelopment arrives in the form of massive buildings occupying several land parcels, built by large companies and filled with chain stores and expensive apartments.

Maybe that will be the result of the demolitions at Hudson Street and Cleveland Avenue, instead of city support for small developers who adapt and reuse neighborhood-scale buildings for local merchants.

ODOT’s process (long in the works and in coordination with the city’s rebuilding of Hudson Street in large part as a bicycle corridor) looked at three options and picked one that likely will require buying 13 parcels of land and demolishing two other buildings, in addition to the one on the corner. The options grew out of a 2019 analysis of crashes in the area – which noted that most were daytime, rush-hour crashes. But the proposed solution would affect the feel of the street – and of the neighborhood – 24/7/365. 

Another bit of historical perspective: For decades, High Street from downtown to Clintonville served as an afternoon “fleeway” – a road allowing commuters to flee their downtown jobs every day, aided by no parking rules on the east side of the road, allowing an extra lane to accommodate northbound traffic. That was when the Short North was a shady neighborhood. Now it’s booming. And the street is narrow. 

Maybe instead of tearing down commercial buildings and adding five feet of pavement on each side of Cleveland Avenue, ODOT could instead try widening the sidewalks by shaving a foot or two of lane width from the street. 

It may sound odd, but there’s data showing that narrower lanes can be safer.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health released a detailed report this month analyzing 1,117 streets in seven cities and concluding that narrower street lanes – nine or 10 feet instead of the more common 12 or 13 – can reduce car crashes, especially on streets with speed limits up to 35 mph.

The study may not be a perfect fit for Cleveland Avenue and Hudson Street because it did not focus on crashes at intersections, while the ODOT demolition and widening aims to accommodate left turns. The three-year ODOT study identified intersection crashes as the most common on Cleveland Avenue; still, these accounted for fewer than one-third of all crashes.

“Lane-width reduction is the easiest and most cost-effective way to accommodate better sidewalk and bike lanes within the existing roadway infrastructure,” said Shima Hamidi, who led the Johns Hopkins study. “Narrower lanes ultimately minimize construction and road maintenance and also reduce environmental impacts.”

Linden, like the rest of Columbus, is facing today’s challenges at a time when tomorrow’s transportation options are changing. And yet, the city is often using yesterday’s tools.

Columbus officials like to talk about their commitment to bike lanes and pedestrian safety. Now it’s time for them to walk the walk.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Matter News