by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2018) A newly formed group, Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge, is working to gain community support and additional funds for an effort to make major improvements to the railroad bridge on Lake Avenue between Desmond Avenue and Viking Road, just east of the Shoreway entrance.
According to group member Nikki Hudson, Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge sees the condition of the bridge and the neglect of the area around it “as a barrier between our neighborhood and Edgewater Park.” Hudson says members of the group, Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge, are “dedicated to the restoration and repair of the historic railroad bridge which sits on Lake Avenue, just south of the Shoreway near Edgewater Park.”
“We have been working with Councilman Zone and Cudell’s CDC to leverage improvements to the bridge and have organized several clean ups at the site. One of our members, Julia Van Wagenen, applied for and received grant money for a public art project at or near the bridge as well,” says Hudson
Julia Van Wagenen says she asked about the bridge at the ioby fundraising meeting last winter. (ioby is a community led positive change organization that helps with fundraising.) ioby then helped connect her with one of her neighbors, Morgan Taggart, who had also raised the issue of the deterioration of the bridge. Together, they started a discussion about the condition of the bridge at an Edgewater Parke Block Club meeting in the Spring of 2018. The block club serves the area between W. 85thand W. 95thbounded by Detroit Avenue, Lake Avenue and Desmond.
From those initial contacts emerged a core group of Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge whom have been attending long and short-term planning meetings. The group includes: Nikki Hudson, Julia Van Wagenen, Ted Ferringer, Morgan Taggart, Anne Armstrong, Michael Armstrong, Bobbi Reichtell and Gary McNamara. In addition to the core group, Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge has additional supporters who have helped with clean-ups, donated funds and joined the group’s Facebook page.
Last winter Van Wagenen filed a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) which resulted in a follow-up inspection of the bridge. PUCO Inspector Randy Johr contacted the owners of the bridge, Norfolk Southern Railroad, and the railroad sent out a Hi-lift vehicle to remove decorative steel pieces and loose concrete and clear the sidewalk beneath the bridge of debris. In the follow-up to the complaint, Inspector Johr informed Van Wagenen that the railroad advised him that “no major rehab plan for the bridge was scheduled.”
However, a major rehab plan for the bridge is exactly what Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge would like to see. Hudson has researched the history of the bridge using resources at the Western Reserve Historical Society and other sources. She found that back in the early 1900s, residents of her neighborhood pushed the City of Cleveland and the railroad to replace two narrow, dark and dangerous tunnels under the railroad tracks that were shared by trolley cars, early automobiles and pedestrians. The residents wanted a bridge that would allow for a wider street. The City of Cleveland rejected the first design for the bridge, and the city and residents pushed for a more suitable design for an area near the Lake Avenue entranceway to Edgewater Park.
Hudson, through her research found that “local architect Frederick Striebinger was hired to design an artistic bridge that was more in line with the City Beautiful movement.” Hudson learned that Striebinger was both an artist and an architect and had attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Hudson said Striebinger added an artistic element to the bridge – the wrought iron artwork that still decorates the bridge today.
Hudson’s research notes that the ornamentation cost an additional $10,000, with 65% of that cost born by the railroad and 35% born by the city of Cleveland. She also learned that through an agreement between the railroad and the city of Cleveland, both entities bear responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge. The construction of the bridge was completed in 1912.
Hudson and Van Wagenen say, Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge would like to see the historical architectural elements of the bridge preserved. The group hopes to place the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places.
Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge would like the railroad to address a major drainage problem on top of the bridge and repair leaks in the bridge walls. They would like the bridge to be cleaned, restored and strengthened. Their hope is for the area under the bridge and the surrounding area to be a safe place to walk and ride a bicycle.
So far Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge have engaged in a number of clean-ups of the area under and around the bridge. They have removed graffiti from the bridge; have developed plans for public art and landscaping around the bridge; and spoke to nearby property owners such as Cleveland Metroparks, Don’s Lighthouse, McNamara’s Pub, and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District about ways they can collaborate.
The group advocated for light bulbs to be replaced under the bridge, a request which Cleveland Public Power has responded to. The City of Cleveland also agree to place a trash bin on the Northeast end of the bridge and empty it once a week. Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge agreed to monitor the can and empty it if it is overflowing between city pick-ups.
With the help of IOBY, Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge raised $9,000 for their efforts. Half of that amount came from matching funds from the Cleveland Climate Action Fund. Hudson and Van Wagenen said Ward 15 Councilman Matt Zone has agreed to match the funds they raise to assist their efforts.
A Neighboring Grant of $250 from Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization secured by Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge resulted in a one-day Art in the Park program this summer where neighborhood children engaged in making art in the shape of fish to scan and print on aluminum panels. The program was led by Julia Van Wagenen. In late October, Van Wagenen installed the blue and white panels on the fence on Viking Court, by the Don’s Lighthouse parking area.
The group also plans to plant native plants on and behind the fence on Viking Court. Don’s Lighthouse, which purchased the property from the railroad a number of years ago, is collaborating in this project.
On Friday, October 19th, Friends of Lake Bridge members Julia Van Wagenen and Bobbi Reichtell used some concrete mix to repair a wall on the Southeast corner of the bridge. Reichtell thanked Chris Cardina of General Preventive Masonry for giving them lessons so they could patch the wall.
While Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge plan to paint the portion of the wall they are repairing, they also hope their work will show the City of Cleveland and Norfolk Southern Railroad that the neighbors care about the bridge. Van Wagenen said that estimates to fix the concrete on the bridge are over $30,000. She said, “The idea is to start one small part. We are starting something for people to see. Hopefully, Norfolk Southern and the City of Cleveland will step up and complete the job.”
Hudson and Van Wagenen said when streetscape plans for Lake Avenue were being developed, Anita Brindza of Cudell Improvement told them she hoped the bridge would be included. However, because the bridge is owned by Norfolk Southern, it has not been included in the planned streetscape for Lake Avenue.
Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge would also like the area around the bridge to be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists. They note there is no crosswalk on Lake Avenue between W. 74thand four-way intersection by the entrance to the Shoreway. They said over two years ago at a block club meeting, neighbors were promised there would be a crosswalk placed at W. 85thand Lake Avenue. They would like to see more crosswalks on Lake Avenue and perhaps some speed bumps and pedestrian crossing signs.
Currently, in order to use a crosswalk going to Edgewater Park, pedestrians must use the only crosswalk at the dangerous corner by the Shoreway where Lake, Clifton, Baltic and the Shoreway intersect, said Hudson and Van Wagenen. They said a memorial sits on that corner where a cyclist was killed a couple of years ago.
Once across that intersection, a pedestrian has to go down a sidewalk, next to the Shoreway entrance, to get to the tunnel going to Edgewater Park and the multipurpose trail. Van Wagenen said she would like to see a guardrail, or a barrier placed along that sidewalk to prevent cars entering the Shoreway from jumping the curb and hitting a pedestrian or cyclist.
Hudson and Van Wagenen say they feel that when the West Shoreway project was planned, “they totally disregarded our neighborhood.” While the plan was supposed to increase access to Edgewater Park, significant barriers in their neighborhood, to safely access the park, still exist.
Recent news in mid-October, that the City of Cleveland was doing more work on the W. 76thpedestrian tunnel to Edgewater, made them feel left out again, wondering when the City of Cleveland will respond to their requests for improved access to Edgewater in their neighborhood, and the restoration of the Lake Avenue Bridge.
Editor’s Note:Friends of Lake Avenue Bridge plan a Bridge Beautification Day on Saturday November 3rd. Weather permitting, the group plans to meet at the bridge at 1 p.m.