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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

STREETS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

STREETS. In 1796 AMOS SPAFFORD† and SETH PEASE† plotted the first lots in the early "walking city" of Cleveland, with town lots west of Erie (E. 9th) St., 10-acre lots eastward to Willson (E. 55th) St., then 100-acre lots. Three main thoroughfares existed: the North Hwy. (St. Clair), Center Hwy. (Euclid), and South Hwy. (later Kinsman, then Woodland). Streets were platted with rights-of-way at 99', with the exception of Superior St., 132' wide. Because of Indian lands and the barrier presented by the CUYAHOGA RIVER, lands immediately west of the river awaited later development. Twenty years later, in 1815, the following downtown streets were noted: St. Clair, Bank (W. 6th), Seneca (W. 3rd), Wood (E. 3rd), Bond (E. 6th), and Euclid. As populations grew, streets were laid out apace, though in much of the downtown area paving was considered unnecessary, as native sands and gravels afforded drainage. By 1832 an ordinance was in place calling for sidewalks 12' wide on ordinary streets, and 16' wide on Superior. Walks were financed with a tax levy, and the ordinance provided fines for vehicular trespass on sidewalks. Late in 1833, Jas. S. Clark, Edmund Clark, and RICHARD HILLIARD† laid out Cleveland Centre in the first curve of the Cuyahoga, known as the Ox Bow Bend. A geometric pattern of streets bearing names such as German, French, and China radiated from Gravity Place.

Crowds converge and stop traffic during the streetcar strike of 1899. WRHS.

By 1837 MacCabe's directory of Cleveland noted that the city could boast 88 streets, lanes, and alleys. These streets were maintained at least in part by citizen corvees, each able-bodied male being expected to contribute "with a good and sufficient shovel to perform two days labor required . . . by law." Though highways (often with tolls) leading to Cleveland were beginning to be paved, pavement within the city seems to have begun only ca. 1842, with the planking of Superior St. Heavy planks were laid crosswise, making a smooth surface until the planks began to wear, rot, and loosen. Local flooding often carried off planked street surfaces with freshets. By Cleveland's 50th anniversary in 1846, Superior was planked from the river to PUBLIC SQUARE, but adjacent streets were noted to be deeply rutted and often muddy, presenting barriers to use by wagons, stagecoaches, rigs, and victorias. New forms of transportation began to become prominent on Cleveland's streets. Beginning with the advent of railroad service to the city in 1849, increased commerce encouraged the development of omnibus horse-drawn routes within the city and between the city and outlying settlements--Kinsman, EAST CLEVELAND, DOAN'S CORNERS, and the west side. The 1850s brought horse-drawn street railways in addition to omnibuses, and the 1860s saw a period of rapid expansion of street railway routes (see URBAN TRANSPORTATION). By 1851 Superior St. was paved with stone and plank, which, when in good condition, was considered fine for travel. In 1852 the term "avenue" was applied to several streets, including Case (E. 40th), Sawtell (E. 51st), Willson (E. 55th), Sterling (E. 30th), and Superior, signifying population growth and the importance of the streets so designated. In 1854 OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO) was annexed, and additional linking bridges were built at Main St. and Seneca (W. 3rd).

Cleveland Mayor Tom L. Johnson inspects a city street repair crew and its work, ca. 1907. WRHS.

Street maintenance is a constant problem, and the city authorities began, ca. 1860, to experiment with use of petty offenders (of all social classes) in a chain-gang system to clean the streets. In the mid-1860s, street-cleaning sprinklers were used to lay down dust, particularly in the hot summer months. By 1860 Cleveland could claim 182 streets, more than 5 avenues, and 3 alleys, but a prominent street such as Superior extended only to Erie (E. 9th) St. until 1865, when it began to be pushed farther eastward. The 1860s brought rapid expansion of the horse-drawn streetcars, with the first route to the west side established in 1863. By 1870 Cleveland's streets included more than 10 mi. of stone pavement and nearly 9 mi. of Nicholson or wood-block paving. An experiment in McAdam (macadam) pavement was begun near Public Square in 1871, and the city purchased a steamroller in 1872. The city engineer preferred, however, to utilize Medina sandstone for street surfacing--a material used to pave Euclid as far as Willson Ave. (E. 55th) by 1875. Growing population and enlarged commerce across the Cuyahoga River put increasing pressure on the "drawbridges . . . [reached from the west side] by a perilous walk or drive down a slippery hill over a group of railroad tracks." Demanded by citizens' groups as early as 1870, the magnificent stone SUPERIOR VIADUCT was opened with great fanfare in Dec. 1878. The stone approaches on the west side, still visible near the DETROIT-SUPERIOR BRIDGE, were joined with Superior, leading to Public Square with an iron swinging span and additional east side approaches. Some 3,200' long and 42' wide, it symbolized Cleveland's rapid growth in this period.

By 1880 Cleveland could boast 975 streets, 183 avenues, 113 lanes, alleys, and places, and 5 roads. Wood or Nicholson pavements, popular earlier, were rapidly being replaced with Medina sandstone, though the latter was a pavement material found to be hard on riders' bones! Geo. Waring, who in the 1880s compiled a remarkable account of the status of American cities' facilities in 1880, reported that Cleveland had 2.2 mi. of asphalted streets, and 1.2 mi. of asphalt combined with stone--then a new material that later would become, along with concrete, one of the most prominent surfacing materials. At the same time, New York City was experimenting with concrete pavement and was reported to have half a, mile of the street material in 1880. The 1880s were marked by attempts at the development and enforcement of street ordinances, in response to earlier street developments, which often were haphazard, with poor grading and foundations, frequently leading to bottlenecks in increasingly dense traffic flows. The 1-mi. Garden St. (Central Ave.) electric railway in July 1884 heralded the end of horse-drawn streetcars. The first electric streetcars were powered by underground cables energized with a Brush arc-light generator. Soon, however, overhead wires with trolleys (hence the name trolleycar) were found to be more suitable than the troublesome, hard-to-maintain underground cableways. Only the later development of the automobile really enabled the filling in of the interstices in the starfish pattern created by rail-bound transit systems.

1888 saw the first streets (Carroll and Bolton [later E. 89th]) utilizing brick pavements, later a very popular material that could be noted on local streets until well after World War II (only a rare few examples still remain uncovered by asphalt in 1994). In 1889 Cleveland was reported to possess 440 mi. of streets and alleys; yet paving was proceeding at less than 2 mi. per year, lagging badly behind perceived needs. A 1-mill levy imposed in 1889 was seen as a "progressive step." By 1890 Euclid Ave. was compared favorably with Berlin's Unter den Linden and Paris's Champs Elysees, adorned with stately trees lost later as a result of automobile and industry-generated pollutants and commercial development. On the west side, Franklin Ave. was a fashionable area for many leaders in the iron and steel, coal, and shipping industries. By now, many streets lacking hard surfaces were partially planked, leading to controversies about who should give way when vehicles met. Already, the city was criticized for its failure to provide adequately for north-south traffic movement (a problem that still existed in some parts of Cleveland in 1995). Bulkley Blvd. was begun, joining EDGEWATER PARK with Detroit near the Superior Viaduct, forming a roadway precursor to the present MEMORIAL SHOREWAY West along the Erie lakefront.

The automobile's appearance in the 20th century was undoubtedly a predominant influence toward the paving of streets. However, even before the appearance of the automobile in large numbers came a massive invasion of "safety" bicycles in the 1890s. Bicycles accommodate muddy, bumpy streets far worse than do horses, and prior to the 20th century, bicyclists' demands for smoother thoroughfares had some effect. Following demands from bicyclists, early in the 20th century auto drivers began to add their voices demanding better street pavements. Total traffic volume by the 1910s led to demands for broadened arterial streets leading from downtown to residential city and suburban areas. Chester Ave., finally completed to UNIVERSITY CIRCLE only after World War II, was opened as far as E. 21st St., in 1919 and to E. 40th St. in 1926. By 1920 Cleveland could report 2,204 streets totaling 886 mi., of which 601 were paved, along with 384 mi. of street railways. One of the greatest changes in the street system had occurred at little cost in 1906, when, with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce (see GREATER CLEVELAND GROWTH ASSN.), most north-south thoroughfares surrendered their old individualized names in favor of the numbered designations in existence in the 1990s (see STREET NAMES).

Late in the 1920s, a major survey was made of roads and streets in the Cleveland region by the Bureau of Public Roads. Some of its findings suggest that by the late 1920s, Cleveland was firmly in the grasp of the automobile, and that future changes in the city typically (as in most American cities) would be made to suit the convenience of the automobile, rather than responding to other needs to keep the city on a human, accessible scale. Buses were introduced, and their number grew rapidly. By 1927 many motorists were not taking the most direct routes from the eastern suburbs to downtown, noting that problems with the most direct routes included poor pavements, narrow streets, streetcars and their loading platforms, slow and faulty traffic control devices, parking, and bus and truck traffic. Auto traffic was predicted to increase by 45% in the 1927-32 period, and a full 100% from 1927-42. Though the Depression intervened, it appears that auto traffic did not diminish significantly during that economic slump. Lakefront road development was predicted and recommended in the report, with traffic flow at the low-level Main Avenue Bridge already at 7,000 cars per day in 1927. Other density data included the Detroit-Superior High-Level Bridge (56,000 cars/day), and Superior and E. 55th St. (33,000 cars/day). Suburb-to-city traffic was the focus and the problem--in contrast to the present-day emphasis on resolving traffic flows from suburb to suburb. Road conditions remained a problem, the survey rating nearly half the paved regional roads as being in condition to be serviceable for less than 10 years. Interestingly, weekend automobile traffic in city and suburban areas greatly exceeded average weekday flows. Sunday counts were 145%, and Saturday traffic 122% of average Monday-Friday numbers. Motorists appear to have taken streetcars and buses to work, saving their driving and joyriding for weekends.

The beginnings of the present freeway-beltway system appeared in the 1930s, with the planning and building of the Main Ave. Bridge (completed 1939) with PWA assistance, along with the first segments of lakefront freeways, in the form of Lakeland Freeway east to GORDON PARK (completed 1938) from the bridge and a revised Bulkley Blvd. extending westward. Hence, major street projects proceeded even during the Depression. The 1930s saw surprisingly great roadbuilding activity, despite the Depression; the 1940s were years of planning, combined with, delays following American involvement in World War II. Willow Cloverleaf was opened in 1940, as part of the WILLOW FREEWAY planned to reach from the southern part of Cleveland to downtown; in 1940 the voters approved a large bond issue to include work on the Lakeland Freeway, Rocky River Bridge, Willow Freeway, and continuation of Chester Ave. toward Univ. Circle. Plans were developed for the INNERBELT FREEWAY system designed to reduce traffic congestion downtown, but serious attention to that set of projects had to await the conclusion of World War II and the arrival of massive amounts of federal funding in the form of interstate highway and other road subsidies related to the Federal Highway Act of 1956.

The Innerbelt was completed from Memorial Shoreway East to Chester Ave. in 1959 and to W. 14th St. in 1961; it was connected to the Willow Freeway (I-77) in 1965. I-71, stretching southwestward toward Columbus, was built. The massive extension of I-90 westward from the Innerbelt was undertaken with enormous destruction to established neighborhoods, prior to the present period in which impact analyses and statements are required prior to approval of the environmental and social incursions often occasioned by major roadbuilding activities. Outside Cleveland itself, more interstate segments were put into place, such as I-271 to the east and I-480 to the south. By 1970 the bulk of the interstate system links had been completed, and since that time few new increments have emerged. Plans for very substantial additional intracity freeways were strongly pushed by county engineer ALBERT PORTER†. Citizen opposition to these plans, particularly to a proposal for a freeway that would have eliminated or diminished the SHAKER LAKES area in SHAKER HEIGHTS, ended in their being abandoned. What has emerged, however, is a new set of traffic problems with implications for both downtown Cleveland and its suburban surroundings. Paired with a decline in Cuyahoga Valley heavy industry has been a movement of residential population outward from Cleveland itself, along with the resettlement of many firms to outlying suburbs, occasioned by a complex of factors including crime and perceived decline in city services and general environmental quality. One result has been a decline in commercial activity in the central city. Another is the growth of traffic jams related not to suburb-to-city but rather to suburb-to-suburb intercourse, as drivers move from residence to shopping area to job, largely ignoring the older shopping and work environments downtown. Since roads were built in response to historical data about traffic flows, new directions in flows were difficult to anticipate and often baffled the most competent of highway engineers and designers. To paraphrase a wise philosopher, "We must know and predict the future, but we can only know the past."

Willis E. Sibley

Cleveland, State Univ.

Bluestone, Daniel M., ed. Cleveland (1978).

Cleveland City Planning Commission. Cleveland Today . . . Tomorrow (1950).

Watson, Sara Ruth, and John R. Wolfs. Bridges of Metropolitan Cleveland (1981).

Last Modified: 26 Nov 1999 08:15:00 AM

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