Let’s Test an Anti-Racist Street Design

By Josh Jones

Our city’s street designs contribute to our racial inequities, so we should test an anti-racist street design that reduces inequities.

I am reaching out to residents, especially those who live or work along St. Clair Ave. or Payne Ave., who might be interested in joining a community organizing effort.

During this time of COVID-19 and renewed demands for racial justice, I have been among residents from Downtown, Hough, Central, MidTown, AsiaTown, St Clair-Superior, and Glenville who are organizing for safer street designs that connect our communities.

We are being honest about Cleveland’s racial segregation and inequity in the process. Anti-racism asks us to identify and eliminate racism by changing the systems that perpetuate it, so this effort calls for a change to the unsafe street infrastructure that currently serves to divides us.

I find it helpful to specify racism as both interpersonal and structural, as others have often explained for me.

Interpersonal racism, for example, describes a business owner choosing to report a Black resident for riding a scooter on the sidewalk. Structural racism describes the street design that makes the sidewalk the only safe place for riding, as well as the mostly-white business community’s power and access to City authority.

For the last four years, I have lived at E. 12th and Chester, at the edge of Ward 7.

I have personally experienced the racism of our environment when walking or biking from my apartment. The street designs west of E. 12th, with prominent crosswalks, wide sidewalks, and slower automobile traffic, sent cues to stay Downtown and never venture to businesses in communities of color to the east.

When I would bike to Sheliga Drug or visit friends on the east side, it felt dangerous to ride on streets designed mostly like highways or drag strips (St. Clair, Superior, Payne, Chester).

In June, when the Mayor enacted a curfew that restricted residents’ movement following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the police and National Guard used the I-90 Innerbelt as a ready barrier between my apartment and the east side.

These patterns are not accidental and, like poverty and most other outcomes in Cleveland, continue to match the racist redlining maps of the 1930s. These street designs are also harmful.

We have data from Cleveland’s Vision Zero initiative and the Ohio Department of Transportation that show too many injuries and deaths on the streets east of Public Square.

Many residents believe Cleveland must be intentionally anti-racist in its street designs. Together we envision an anti-racist street that:

*Counteracts Cleveland’s racial segregation to better connect our communities.

*Makes it safer to walk, bike, scoot, roll or drive.

*Intentionally protects Black and non-Black people of color’s lives and reduces injuries, Coronavirus spread, and police encounters.

*Is kid-friendly and family-friendly.

*Is beautiful and welcoming.

*Is accessible to those who are disabled, both physically and mentally.

*Generates and redistributes wealth into neighborhoods that have endured years of disinvestment.

We are seeking short term action, in the form of a temporary “pop-up” street design, while also building a long term vision.

We have been collecting ideas through a short survey, which I encourage you to complete: surveymonkey.com/r/9NYDTM9

You can read the survey results here.

So far we have responses from more than 50 people, and of those who shared their race and ethnicity, the majority identify as people of color, with almost 50% identifying as Black.

Ideas submitted for an anti-racist street design include: narrowed lanes to reduce speeding, bike/scooter lanes, improved transit waiting areas, public art by Black artists, inclusive and anti-racist messaging, wider sidewalks, visible crosswalks with wheelchair accessibility, more trees, and green space, public restrooms, seating, more space for Black businesses, and some good old-fashioned litter clean-ups.

Of course, these are not new ideas, but together they form a vision whose time has come. We believe addressing the racism embedded in our street designs is overdue.

Cleveland has also declared racism a public health crisis and must take action, large and small, including in our Streets department.

Finally, the Coronavirus pandemic has made our wide, empty roadways, with speeding drivers and narrow sidewalks, more obvious and more dangerous.

What’s next?  Crossing I-90 is important for reconnecting communities of residents that our government racially segregated through redlining and highway construction.

Based on recommendations from City Planning staff, our pop-up design should avoid streets with highway ramps because of engineering challenges. This narrows our best options to St. Clair and Payne. Most residents involved thus far are interested in testing a street design on one or both of these streets.

If this effort interests you, please take our survey and then reach out to Rachel Oscar, Director of Programming & Community Engagement for the Campus District, at roscar@campusdistrict.org or 216-505-4815.

We are also committed to supporting Black individuals who want to take on leadership roles.

Along with residents, who else is involved in this effort? Professional staff from Cleveland City Planning Commission, Campus District Inc., Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation / Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation, MidTown Inc., Famicos Foundation, Bike Cleveland, and Ingenuity Cleveland have also been assisting this effort.

Thank you!