Paved Paradise, Put Up A Parking Lot....
A recent report by the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium confirms what we have witnessed in our region over the last few decades. The signs are everywhere.
Driving on I-90 through Avon, one cannot help but notice the vast tract of defoliated land along the highway. The acres and acres of destroyed clean air green space and loss of wildlife habitat appear a wasteland. It will soon be replaced with mortar, asphalt and flat-roofed boxes that will consume energy, generate more heat under the summer sun, create more air pollution, cause pollution-laden fast moving water run off into Lake Erie, and generate more vehicles and traffic. And for what?
There is no need for this wasteful development. We repeatedly read that there is no real population growth in our region. We are just rearranging people and consuming more land and natural resources.
Developers profit from flawed government transportation policy that adds more and more lane miles to highways that are then filled with more cars. We are reaping the results of guaranteed, dedicated highway taxes that are dependent on high fuel consumption and are gobbled up by construction companies that, along with trucking, oil, and other lobbies, make huge donations to politicians.
Yet wealth is not really being created, it is being shifted. The highways have scarred established cities that have bled people and wealth to the gain of former rural areas. We have the same number of people spread over growing square miles that we support with taxes, utilities, and fees. Artificial “life style centers” try to recreate the genuine downtowns and cities this process has decimated.
In the 1960s, Lakewood’s Clifton Park sacrificed its midsection, cut in half for the convenience of commuters to the west via the Clifton Bridge and its approach. How ironic that Rocky River has now chocked down Lake Road to make it more a residential and less a commuter route.
Lakewood’s next sacrifice was in the late 1960s; the huge gulley known as I-90. A prime residential neighborhood in the southwest corner of our city was gutted. Cleveland’s west side and Rocky River were victims as well, to the initial benefit of the Westlakes and now the Avons. Similarly, the old Parkview corner of Fairview Park was placed on the ODOT altar in the 1980s. The new buzz word is “regionalism,” which often plays better to those areas that benefit from this continued sprawl at the expense of places like Lakewood.
In and around Cleveland, neighborhoods have been damaged and adjoining areas devalued. Initially, the second ring suburbs benefited, and now the flow benefits the first ring counties. And it is not just in Cuyahoga County. The cities of Lorain and Painesville in Lorain and Lake counties have also suffered from the economic siphon of I-90. Similar losses occurred along I-71 and I-77.
Building more highways, generating more traffic which requires more highways is not economically, environmentally, or energy (oil) sustainable. Our environment, land, green space, air, and water are finite, as is oil. We cannot keep paving, widening and polluting.
We are creating crushing future debt with miles and miles of added highway infrastructure that we cannot afford to maintain. Older sections of the 60-year old interstate highway system are already in shambles and need complete rebuilding. What we are going through just on the Innerbelt Bridge will be repeated over and over.
Even more collateral damage is done when school districts grow and shrink due to population relocation. This further confounds Ohio’s already defective school funding process and facility needs, which affects the overall cost of education. The cost of medical care is affected by hospitals closing, downsizing and building anew while chasing moving customers. The Cleveland Clinic just opened a multimillion dollar facility along I-90 as they reduce services at other sites, such as Lakewood Hospital. (Another very serious issue for Lakewood.)
Utility companies rush to add these moving customers to their grids while maintenance of older infrastructure is deferred. Regionally, it is basically the same number of customers, just spread out and requiring more wire, poles, and pipe. Look around and see the above ground deteriorating electric structure. Rotting poles and frayed wires abound in the central city and first ring. On Hilliard Road a broken, splinted pole that was stuck by a car several years ago still awaits removal. Likewise, the underground natural gas system is failing, as evidenced by recent explosions and fires.
There is no doubt we all benefit from the interstate highway system. However its inherent unfairness is that some communities pay and suffer for the creation and prosperity of others. At some point, the “donor” cities, like Lakewood, should be equally and proportionally served. We need to rethink this unsustainable transportation policy to more traditional modes such as commuter rail, which quietly and cleanly anchors cities and communities rather than moving or bypasses them. Existing roads in urban areas need to be repaired and improved to the benefit of existing communities. Utilities must repair and maintain existing facilities to the same level as the new add-ons.
Last, but not least, we as individuals need to change from the Post World War II mentality of bulldoze, pave, drive, consume and sprawl. There is a limit to how much land we unnecessarily consume. We need to slow this erosion then anchor and reinvest in existing communities. Especially where there is previously developed and now vacant or otherwise available land that can be reused.
 "Sprawling From Grace: The Consequences of Suburbanization" was presented on CNBC in April 2011. It can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPS1y81b1Bw
Retired Sergeant Lakewood Police
Lakewood Board of Education
Marine Patrol Officer