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In-Depth: Bizarre crash highlights need for complete street redesign, councilman says

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Posted at 4:53 PM, Dec 28, 2020

CLEVELAND — In the end, no one was injured but officials said a bizarre crash Monday morning near West 45th Street and Lorain Ave. on Cleveland's west side is emblematic of a growing problem and the need for a long-term fix.

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Around 10:30 a.m. on Monday, the driver of an SUV that appeared to be going east on Lorain Ave. inexplicably veered hard to the left, smashing into the scaffolding that had been erected outside the corner barber shop. Mary Rosario and her son were in the direct path of the oncoming vehicle and narrowly escaped serious injury.

"All the sudden we saw this big truck heading toward the barber shop. I freaked out. My son was running," Rosario said. "Next thing I know, [the SUV] was shoved in there."

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Rosario said the male driver and his passenger then ran from the scene, leaving Cleveland police officers and firefighters tasked with trying to figure out what caused the driver to lose control and how to remove the SUV from the mangled heap of metal.

"I was just scared at first. It could have easily gone in the barber shop," Rosario said.

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Crashes and near misses involving cars and pedestrians have been a growing problem for city leaders and concerned neighbors, said Councilman Kerry McCormack (Ward 3). The concerns are especially felt in busy and growing thoroughfares like Lorain Ave. McCormack said this particular stretch of Lorain, which has seen significant business development and growth in recent years, is a target for a complete redesign.

"The point of it is instead of making it just a cut-through for cars, let's make it friendly for people to spend time in," McCormack said. "[The plan will] physically calm the street by removing lanes of traffic, adding things like bike lanes and shrinking the lanes so you have to drive slower. It's important for our community so we don't have the car accidents that we see today."

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The estimated $15 to $17 million complete street redesign of Lorain Avenue between West 20th and West 65th streets would reduce the corridor to one driving lane in each direction. With the additional space, sidewalks would be widened, a buffered bike lane would be constructed and pedestrian-friendly "bump outs" would be built. Roughly two-thirds ($10 million) of the project has already been funded.

The implementation of these traffic-calming measures, which have been built elsewhere in Cleveland as well as other cities nationwide, have been shown to work by reducing speeding and hazardous driving.

A Federal Highway Administration review found that these complete street designs, which are built to accommodate pedestrian, bicycle and other modes of transportation, have significantly reduced pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Other studies have found that complete streets reduce car crashes as well.

In the end, it comes down to human psychology, McCormack said.

"Speed limit signs, stop signs, all that is great but unfortunately people don't always abide by them. But you know if you are driving somewhere and that lane shrinks down and there are lots of people around, you say to yourself, 'okay this is an area where I need to slow down,'" McCormack said. "For too many years, we've only built streets for cars. It's time that people had the opportunity to be safe when they're walking down the street. We want to make sure it's a city wide initiative not just here on Lorain Avenue."

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In late summer, McCormack introduced the so-called Complete and Green Streets ordinance, which, if approved, would require city planners and the director of capital projects to consider and implement these traffic-calming devices when planning for major road projects in the future, when feasible. The ordinance as written would also create an eleven member committee that would adopt a process for prioritizing capital improvement projects on city roads and streets. The ordinance would also require city designers to implement green technologies like permeable pavers into their proposals.

By implementing these policies, McCormack said future road projects, including the Lorain Ave. complete street re-design, will have an economic development component built in. Those that stop to smell the roses are more likely to pull over and buy them, he said.

"Lorain Avenue used to have street vendors and street cars. It used to be a much more vibrant place," McCormack said. "If you just have cars driving through all day that's doing nothing for your local businesses."