Council unveils first draft of Brecksville’s connectivity plan

by Melissa Martin

Brecksville residents received their first look at the city’s connectivity plan during a March 23 public forum and slide show hosted by city council’s Streets and Sidewalks Committee.

Committee Chair Daryl Kingston told members of the public the city envisions a 10-year plan focusing on sidewalk and trail improvements to make the community more connected for pedestrians, runners and cyclists.

“Our city’s connectivity, sidewalks in particular, have been an ongoing discussion in our community for a while, and I believe now is the time to bring this discussion to the forefront and work toward some real resolutions,” Kingston said.  “The draft that has been submitted to this committee is a great first step in creating a plan that will provide solutions for gaps in our non-motorized network in planning for the future. … Moreover, the draft lays out an ongoing, evolving connectivity plan for our city.”

Kingston said four high-priority projects have been proposed, all of which are in various stages of design. He said as the plan develops, it will include large- and small-scale projects and serve as a guide for decision making concerning the city’s infrastructure.

“With Brecksville being a bedroom community spread out over 20 miles, obviously not all urban concepts will transfer over of course,” he said, adding that the city has 90 miles of sidewalks covering approximately 40% of the city. “I hope this will help us come up with some make-sense projects to incorporate into future planning to help Brecksville become a safer place to live.”

Kingston said that Brecksville has spent the past decade focusing on building the city campus from the ground up, but he envisions the next 10 years being spent “focusing on the ground level and below.”

“When the fieldhouse is completed, which will round out the Blossom complex, we’re effectively done as a city building structures of a grand scale,” he said. “For the first time in a long time, we are not planning and budgeting for any big-ticket facilities and there is nothing in our five-year capital plan for right now.”

Top-priority connectivity projects identified:

Blossom Trail is a multipurpose pathway that conects Valley Parkway in the Cleveland Metroparks to Oakes Road via the Blossom Hill property. Pending easement acquisition, a sidewalk will continue west on Oakes through the intersection of Glenwood Trail and the main driveway of the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Elementary School and Blossom Fieldhouse.

Mayor Jerry Hruby said the trail changed location because of a belief that people walking, running and bicycling through school property during school hours, particularly during recess, would create a safety issue.

“Common sense said it can’t be there,” Hruby said, noting that as part of the agreement between the school, Cleveland Metroparks and the city, the trail has been relocated to run through Blossom Hill, along Oakes Road and then to the intersection of Glenwood and the new school.”

Another part of the plan addresses sidewalks along Glenwood Trail, which Kingston describes as a “sister project” to the Blossom Trail project, as it will connect state Route 82 to Valley Parkway.

Kingston said city officials agreed last year, when the city was awarded a $1-million grant for sewer improvements along the roadway, it would make sense to install sidewalks at the same time, especially with the new school and fieldhouse on the horizon. The street will be widened to 28 feet with curbing on both sides. Additionally, bike lane markings and sidewalks will be installed the entire length of the street.

The Route 82/Chippewa Road project will affect the portion of the roadway just east of Emerald Woods to Riverview Road. As part of the $5-million project, 75 residences will be converted from septic systems to city sewer. The underground utilities portion of the project, Kingston said, will take place in 2022. Road and sidewalk improvements will include repaving Route 82 between Heinen’ supermarket and Riverview Road in 2023.

Kingston said the city will conduct a multi-modal study at Valor Acres. The cooperative study, which will involve Cuyahoga County Planning and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, is expected to address trails, sidewalks, public transportation and vehicle and bicycle travel.

The study is expected to include a list of recommendations concerning pedestrian crossings, visibility, lighting and signage, plus an emphasis on highlighting the area’s natural features.

Eventually, Kingston said the city plans to identify gaps in the existing connectivity network and consider the addition of bikeways and bike lanes.

“We’re going to focus on smaller projects first until funds can be budgeted for larger-scale projects,” he said, defining smaller projects as existing sidewalk maintenance or creating crosswalks and moving stop signs to make intersections safer.

Oakes Road

Kingston welcomed public input on constructing sidewalks along Oakes Road to coincide with the opening of the new elementary school. The city and school district initially balked at the idea of installing sidewalks from the school entrance along Oakes Road, but public outcry has triggered a re-evaluation.

The city granted the school district a variance from mandated sidewalks because there were only seven children living within a mile of the school and two within a half-mile radius. But residents in the area contend that information is inaccurate, possibly by as many as 100 students. They pointed to information in a recent Safe Routes to School study which indicates 104 students live within a mile of the school.

City officials said they will look at actual numbers to help determine whether the project should be a priority.

Resident Connie Ritter pointed out that Oakes Road is already a cut-through for traffic whenever issues arise on Brecksville Road and Route 82. She also said there are few streetlights, several hills and a 35-mph speed limit, despite the lack of sidewalks.

By comparison, Ritter said several non-residential streets with sidewalks have 25-mph speed limits.

“There is a lot of traffic already on Oakes Road that is not conducive for walking small children, the elderly or even a small dog,” she said. “You’ve made it very dangerous for people to even live on Oakes Road anymore. I’ve seen kids almost get hurt on Oakes Road and God forbid it come to that point before we even get sidewalks.”

Hruby said he would explore the possibility of lowering the speed limit on Oakes Road but explained the road is rural by definition and could sustain a higher speed limit, according to state traffic guidelines.

During school hours, Hruby told residents Oakes Road will have a 20-mph speed limit in the school zone.

Ritter said she hopes the city follows through to make Oakes Road safer as well as the connectivity plan. She told council she is tired of the city’s “empty promises,” including the Oakes Road bicycle path promised years ago. She said Brecksville was granted an easement to build the trail, and her property was taken and never returned, even though the bike path has never been built.

“We gave to our city our land and got nothing in return but disappointment,” she said, adding she was recently asked by a councilperson whether she was willing to pay for sidewalks along Oakes Road. “You know what? I thought I already did when I gave my land away.” Kingston said additional discussion of the Oakes Road sidewalks will be forthcoming. He added that his committee plans to host several meetings about the connectivity plan as it is updated, allowing residents to weigh in. ∞