RTA community meeting answers questions, raises more

A rendering of what the front of the station will look like.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority hosted their community meeting regarding the design of a new Red Line rail station at University Circle on Tuesday, June 9 to a crowd of riders and residents.

Mayor Edward J. Kelley opened the meeting, reminding the crowd that the new station is going to be “the gateway to Cleveland Heights.” He encouraged those who attended to be accepting of the current design but to also provide feedback to the planners and architect so that the station could better serve their needs.

The station, which is a central point for public transportation, has seen a large increase of customers over the years and is the reason for the more extensive look at the particular station, said General Manager and CEO, Joe Calabrese. He said the focus for the station was about what it does for the community.

The station is a highly inter model transfer station that is used by nearly 1,800 people a day for bus-to-rail transfers, said Director of Planning Maribeth Feke. For anyone who has passed or used the current station, it is evident that parking and congestion are its biggest problems, Feke said. To improve the congestion, extensive pavement work is required.

The design process, which has been in the works for over a year, has cost $962,750 with foundation funding totaling $250,000. The contributing foundations include: The Cleveland Foundation, University Hospitals Health Systems, Case Western Reserve University, University Circle Incorporated and Little Italy. The project is not ADA funded and the funds come from capital money that goes directly to RTA.

The design process is estimated to finish in early 2010 and construction, which is set to cost $10 million, will begin in fall 2010, Feke said.

The designers are looking to achieve a Gold or Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certification for the station when it is completed, Feke said.

Design architect Mehrdad Yazdani took the floor for most of the meeting, presenting and explaining endless slides of designs and plans.

“This is a very exciting process,” Yazdani said, expressing that designing a station for Cleveland was a change from his usual L.A. comfort zone.

The theme of the night seemed to be “gateways” and Yazdani stressed the concern of making the new station a community landmark that would stand out both to residents and visitors to the city.

The current plans for the station will move the majority, if not all of the stops, to the North side of Cedar Road in an attempt to make the station more user friendly.

The entrance, which will face Cedar Road, will be an extension of the nearby park. It will be an underpass with a green-roof and this will give it the illusion that it is an extension of the park. The inside of the entrance will feel more open. This will be achieved by using glass to let light into the area.

More importantly, Yazdani stressed that the plaza in front of the entrance will be one of the more important aspects of the station’s design. The sidewalk, which will be extended to 10 feet on the North side, will allow more room for both bikers and pedestrians.

“We want the plaza to be open, with benches, shaded areas and no vertical objects. It could be a place for concerts or just for rest, but we want it to give back to the community somehow,” Yazdani said.

There is also a potential for public art to be incorporated in the station was well. The area underneath the platform could become a place for the display of public art from neighboring institutions, such as Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. It will be backlit, making it safer for pedestrians and bikers in the nighttime. This will add to its “unique and identifiable” presence, Yazdani said.

Canopies will be incorporated in bus drop-off areas along with benches. There will also be an extension of the head house, the passenger waiting area. The head house itself will be enclosed and more spacious for those waiting to board the rail line. The glass walls will allow those waiting to easily see when their train is coming, Yazdani said.

He assured the crowd that the structure would hold strong, even in the harsh Cleveland weather. It will include air conditioning for the summer and heating for the winter.

So what did the public have to say about the presentation?

Perhaps the best question of the night: what is the station being made out of? For those who have seen the distinct bright orange layout, it’s hard to not be curious about what exactly that is.

The materials include glazing, aluminum and fiber reinforced plastic, which is a locally produced material, Yazdani said. The company that produces the material is also working on the Terminal Tower. The material is said to maintain character and color in harsh weather and will be coated with an abuse resistant gel. The bright orange color is actually a paint used by ships, ensuring that it won’t fade or chip easily, Yazdani said.

Another member of the crowd asked the planners to address the situation of the smell in the current station.

“It’s no secret that the station smells of urine, and trust me, there is no amount of mango scent that can fix that,” Feke said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Yazdani stepped in to say that he believes when the station is finished that the community will take pride in it. His experience in the past has led him to believe that the graffiti and vandalism will stop upon completion of the project, he said.

It’s also no secret that Cleveland has terrible weather and bad luck with rain and snow. Although the planning and design process is still in the works, an interesting question arose that put a confused, yet understanding look on the planners' faces. Could there be a way to ward off the snow and flooding? Are heated sidewalks a possibility? Will the drain system be effective? Possibly the best criticisms of the night were not answered but clearly were being thought about.

The station will be ADA accessible and the biking routes will be fixed to ensure better safety for both pedestrians and bikers, Yazdani said. The planners want the station to be as technologically advanced as possible to make things easier for its users, he said.

As for the South side of the street, it was hardly discussed. Questions were posed, but dodged most of the time by the speakers. There will be more green space added but for now the South side bus stop will remain in the past while its brother across the street moves into the future at full speed.

Jeremy Hebebrand is a summer intern for the Heights Observer and a senior magazine journalism major at Kent State University.

Read More on Features
Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 11:41 AM, 06.17.2009