CH takes the high road to complete and green streets

We applaud Cleveland Heights for a recent national honor. Out of 66 plans adopted during 2018, the city’s Complete and Green Streets policy was named best in the country by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a project of Smart Growth America. (See related article on page 9 of the print issue.)

In particular, the policy garnered praise for attention to detail, binding language, and balancing the needs of all users, according to WCPN-FM.

We’re highlighting it here because its creation and adoption were driven by citizens, ably supported by CH City Council and staff.

Adopted by city council on May 16, 2018, the policy requires the city to consider the safety and convenience of everyone who uses our sidewalks, roads and parking lots—pedestrians, cyclists, public transit riders, children, the disabled and the elderly, along with motorists and drivers of service, delivery and emergency vehicles.

Complete streets advocates often talk about “traffic calming” and “road diets.” These concepts involve such design changes as narrowing lanes or reducing the number of lanes, adding turn lanes and buffered bike lanes, and making crosswalks shorter and more prominent. All these elements encourage drivers to slow down and be more conscious of sharing the street, leading to safer conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Citizens appointed by CH City Council to the [then] newly formed Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) launched the city’s complete streets initiative in 2015. TAC members, led by former co-chairs Marc Lefkowitz and Howard Maier, worked closely with Planning Director Richard Wong and Council Member Mary Dunbar to develop the policy.

They chose to add “green” to “complete” so that, in addition to prioritizing “ease of travel, comfort and safety for [the] most vulnerable users,” the policy requires minimizing stormwater runoff and coordinating sewer line and road improvements. This should help as the city works to bring its sewers into compliance with EPA regulations. One oversight: We wish the policy had promoted the use of native plants in public landscaping.

Wong listed eight completed or ongoing projects that bear the stamp of Complete and Green Streets so far.

The gradual creation of streets that belong to everyone can only enhance the city’s famously walkable neighborhoods.

A major missed opportunity occurred with the repaving of Noble Road, when the county declined to include bike lanes, on the grounds that the cost of painting and maintaining them would be prohibitive. Lefkowitz suggested that a formalized communication process between the city, the county and its engineering consultants could lead to more effective problem-solving in the future.

The policy requires a detailed, annual report to the TAC, city council and the public. Wong hopes to complete reports for both 2018 and 2019 by January. We look forward to reading those.

It’s not unusual in many cities for progressive legislation to result from resident-initiated campaigns, which gradually wear away municipal government resistance.

The three years it took to bring Complete and Green Streets from idea to passage suggest some sort of snag. Nevertheless, that’s better than council taking five years to pass foreclosure bond legislation, not to mention 23 years to amend our landmark ordinance so it finally meets Ohio historic preservation standards for Certified Local Governments.

Despite the long time frame, we commend the collaboration of a council member, a city planner and a committee of dedicated, knowledgeable residents that has earned national recognition for a plan to make the city a safer, more welcoming and environmentally friendly place to live, work and visit. That’s something to celebrate.

Now it is up to the TAC, staff, council and watchful residents to make sure that the high standards of this award-winning policy are upheld.

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg

Deborah Van Kleef and Carla Rautenberg are longtime residents of Cleveland Heights. Contact them at

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 12:09 PM, 06.27.2019