Maze of closed sidewalks, detours make walking downtown a potentially dangerous challenge for some

Posted at 9:24 PM, Sep 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-18 09:43:44-04

CLEVELAND — While much of downtown Cleveland gets a big face lift in the form of renovated buildings or new construction, pedestrians are feeling the effects.

Many construction projects throughout downtown have changed the sidewalks that pass by in some way, either with alternate routes or sidewalks that are closed completely.

"To be honest, I try to avoid this area," said Jess Wallace, in her wheelchair at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 12th Street in downtown Cleveland.

The closed sidewalk on the north side of Euclid diverts the crowd towards The Athlon on the south side of the street. Scaffolding on that newly-opened stretch of sidewalk is narrow enough that pedestrians generally have to move to the side to let each other pass.

Even when she isn't navigating that scaffolding, Wallace is dodging uneven stretches of sidewalk elsewhere.

"Rather than go in one straight path, I have to wind around holes in the sidewalk," said Wallace.

Just a few blocks from where she works downtown, stretches along Euclid Avenue, Public Square, and West Superior Avenue offer different challenges.

When temporary sidewalks are provided, they often create an obstacle course for Wallace willed with little else but dangerous pitfalls.

"I do have a brittle-bone disease so it is very dangerous for me," said Wallace.

Wallace has a seat belt to keep her in her wheelchair, but even just being jostled around on rough ground could break bones. If her wheelchair were to topple over, it could be a very serious problem.

"It frustrates me," said Services for Independent Living Executive Director Kathy Foley. "Our agency is all about accessibility and access to the community and I see people being cut off."

People who would normally use the sidewalk are pushed to makeshift, changing routes to cover downtown, marked by cones and arrows on construction signs.

"For us, that's just not safe," said Foley, pointing out that blind pedestrians would struggle to find changes in construction detours, and deaf walkers wouldn't be able to hear traffic behind them when diverted into the street.

The signs' arrows point pedestrians towards a future where millions of investment dollars will have made thousands of new apartments for the city's new residents.

So far, the payoff has been months of construction on Cleveland's sidewalks.

"This is all very positive for Cleveland," said Wallace, referring to the increased number of people who will soon live downtown. "So I just have to keep my eye on that prize."

Eventually, the sidewalks will be easier to use for everyone to use.

"But in the short term, it's not allowing people to go to the theater and to wherever they want to go to access downtown and the makes it an issue," said Foley.

Wallace says she's been working with city leaders to more clearly define what construction zones should be required to provide for pedestrians.