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Campus District joins call for GCRTA to 'loop' rail service from waterfront to East 34th Street Station

Posted at 3:54 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 19:20:29-05

CLEVELAND — Streetcars are a big part of Cleveland’s history, moving residents and visitors around in the first part of the 20th Century when the city was a center of industry.

Clevelanders prepare for one of the last rides on the city's streetcars on January 24, 1954.

Later decades saw falling populations, leading to the final streetcar rides in 1954.

Streetcars cross the intersection of East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue in 1925.

But as 2021 starts, the old idea has become new again, with the Campus District sending a letter to GCRTA telling General Manager and CEO India Birdsong that the District’s Board of Directors, “voted to join with All Aboard Ohio in endorsing the reevaluation of the proposed Downtown Loop as an extension of the Waterfront Line,” according to the letter.

“This could be something that changes the look and feel of our neighborhood and all of downtown in a lifetime,” said Campus District Executive Director Mark Lammon.

The idea itself isn’t new.

RTA’s Waterfront Transit Line Phase II Major Investment Study laid out the potential for a light rail line running from the end of the Green and Blue Lines, south into downtown, on East 17th Street, between Playhouse Square and Cleveland State, snaking through the Tri-C campus, eventually connecting with the Red Line stop at East 34th Street.

RTA's 2000 study showed it was possible to run a streetcar line up the hill from the waterfront into the city's street grid.

Stops along the way would make it much easier for residents and workers on the eastern side of downtown to get into the heart of the city.

Lammon says there is a lot to be proud of with Cleveland’s current RTA Rapid system, but one area where it could improve is access within downtown.

“It’s not a circle,” said Lammon. “We lack some downtown stations and it goes right through our neighborhood.”

A streetcar makes its way down Euclid Avenue near Public Square in 1947.

That assessment rings true to downtown resident Wincy Wong, who works downtown and does not own a car.

“I think a lot of people right now avoid public transportation because there’s always that long walk to the train or I have to connect,” said Wong.

She says a connection on the east side, closing the loop from the waterfront to the Campus District would open up a part of downtown most people don’t realize they avoid right now. Won says that’s especially important as more people move into downtown Cleveland every year and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance works to make Cleveland a “15-minute city,” where everything is 15 minutes away by foot, scooter, or public transit.

Images from the 2000 study show streetcars and buses running along traffic in this cross-section of the Euclid Avenue, East 17th Street intersection.

“I think it’s a connection that a lot of us need and probably told ourselves in the past that we didn’t need because it didn’t exist,” said Wong.

RTA tells News 5 there are a lot of priorities ahead of these requests, including a massive project to replace the system’s existing rail cars.

Still, the plan is being talked about in a completely different environment two decades later.

Cars and cyclists share an intersection that one day could have a streetcar line running north and south through it.

“I think you could probably use the same metrics of the study but what you’re plugging into the study would be radically different from what was in 2000,” said Lammon.

First, Downtown Cleveland has many more residents and apartment buildings than it did two decades ago, packing more people who need to be connected to a wider area.

Second, RTA’s HealthLine along Euclid Avenue in 2008 proved that huge investments can follow transit upgrades. RTA estimates the $110 million investment opened the door for $9.5 billion in economic development along Euclid Avenue. That would include revitalization in MidTown Cleveland, in Playhouse Square, and University Circle.

Nearby investment from businesses and RTA with the Healthline are making an expensive, massive renovation around the corner possible.

Lastly, in Lammon’s Campus District, warehouses are being turned into even more apartments and offices, with people to fill them following soon.

“This could be something that changes the look and feel of our neighborhood and all of downtown in a lifetime,” said Lammon.

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