GCRTA’s new East 79th rail station is an Opportunity

A brightly lit passenger waiting environment at the rebuilt East 79th Blue/Green Line Rapid station in Cleveland will also create greater safety and a stronger street presence for the rail station. City and transit officials said they want this station near the Opportunity Corridor to help attract more development to the adjacent neighborhood (Bowen). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Station to continue Kinsman’s momentum

Planning and design work has advanced far enough on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) new East 79th Street Blue/Green Line light-rail station to where renderings are being shared publicly. NEOtrans secured a copy of the designs and is publishing them here. But the plans are part of something larger — a growing investment in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood.

There has been a rail transit station here since 1920 when a predecessor of the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit built a new, grade-separated Trunk Line from Shaker Square west to Broadway Avenue at East 34th Street to speed streetcars from the new, tony suburb into the central business district and back.

The current station was built in 1981, shortly after GCRTA took over the city-owned Cleveland Transit System and suburban-owned Shaker Rapid in 1975. GCRTA promised to rebuild the Shaker Rapid’s faded infrastructure and rusty railcars. Four decades later, the Rapid is getting updated again.

In the past decade, GCRTA invested $50.3 million into rebuilt stations, renewed tracks and modernized signal systems along most of the Trunk Line from Shaker Square west to near East 55th Street where the Blue/Green lines join the Red Line for the path into downtown Cleveland. Hundreds of millions of dollars for new trains plus additional state-of-good-repair infrastructure improvements are planned in the next few years especially east of Shaker Square where the Blue/Green lines split.

The proposed new East 79th Street Blue-Green Line station looks nothing like the crumbling, four-decade-old station it is about the replace. At the bottom of the image is the existing Hillside Community Park. The station is in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood (Bowen).

Construction of the rebuilt Green/Blue Line station at East 79th is estimated to cost $8.1 million. Design is to be completed in October with 18 months of construction expected to start in March 2025, GCRTA officials said. GCRTA won an $8 million federal All Stations Accessibility Program grant in December 2022 to design and build the new East 79th Blue/Green Line station as the old facility had reached the end of its useful life. GCRTA is funding the remaining costs including design.

Improved accessibility is why the new station plan won federal funds. The lack of an elevator or ramp to get from the street up to track level meant that the station was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1991. Adding insult to injury, the stairs that did provide that access are falling apart, making the climb or descent for an able-bodied transit rider a challenge, too.

“There’s no reason that 100 percent of our transit systems shouldn’t meet or exceed ADA standards and I’m proud to have pushed for legislation that will get us there,” said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown who co-sponsored the passage of the All Stations Accessibility Program. “This funding will allow the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to improve station accessibility for anyone, no matter what disability they may have.”

“As a provider of public transportation, we are committed to the ideal of improved accessibility and mobility options for our ADA customers,” said GCRTA CEO India Birdsong Terry in a written statement. “Financial support from our state and federal partners is invaluable.”

Ramps between tracks and the street will make the light-rail East 79th Street station accessible to everyone, for the first time in its 104-year history. There is also a stairwell in the background that provides more direct access for transit riders (Bowen).

The new station will have ramps and rebuilt stairs up to track level, improved lighting and tactile edges on the trackside platforms. It will also have shelters and canopies above the trackside platforms. GCRTA plans an ADA-compliant crosswalk of East 79th and shelters so passengers making connections to the hourly, weekdays-only No. 2 bus route linking Steelyard Commons with Glenville won’t have to stand in the rain or snow.

The replaced East 79th Blue/Green station is part of GCRTA’s overall planned rail investments, and follows the $6.7 million reconstruction of the East 79th Red Line train station just up the street. Intersecting East 79th between those stations is the new $331 million Opportunity Corridor Boulevard that opened in October 2021.

In the early 2010s, both rail stations on East 79th were so lightly used that GCRTA had considered closing or relocating them. But after hearing input from the community, GCRTA agreed in 2015 to rebuild the stations on East 79th if the city and the Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. (BBC) would promote redevelopment of the area

Four decades ago, the rebuild of the light-rail system was unable to slow the free-fall of the Kinsman neighborhood. Nearby factories were closing and once populous city blocks were emptying out, leaving only a few scattered homes left standing. But today, the public-sector transportation investments are happening as a neighborhood reboot is underway.

Last updated 43 years ago, a stairwell and its shattered canopy at the East 79th Blue/Green Line station will be replaced with an ADA-compliant ramp up to track level from the street, at right. A streetside waiting area, better than having connecting bus passengers sitting on a garbage container, will also be provided (Wikipedia).

Long-vacant factories like the old Van Dorn plant are finally being leveled with their land cleared and cleaned for potential new users. Light-industrial and commercial facilities are being built new or are expanding. That includes the Miceli Dairy’s ongoing expansion on Buckeye Road and a new $30 million cold storage warehouse led by Orlando Baking Co., now open on the Opportunity Corridor at East 79th.

Right across the street from the East 79th Blue/Green Line Rapid station, Federal Equipment Co. is adding a 10,000-square-foot office to the north side of its 131,894-square-foot warehouse and production facility. The $2.5 million investment will accommodate several dozen workers in the expanded office spaces, according to plans submitted to the city.

New housing is also popping up around the station but is taking longer than the commercial investments. In the late 2010s, Burten Bell Carr (BBC) Development Inc. led the development of the Colfax Family Homes on Colfax Road and Minnie Street between East 69th-79th streets. There, 36 single-family homes ranging from single-story ADA accessible units to three-story homes with basements were constructed for $8.5 million.

BBC also led the construction of the four-story, 60-unit Heritage View Homes IV senior apartments at East 79th and Kinsman. The $6 million project was completed in 2016. The development corporation also completed a land use masterplan for the area showing additional apartment buildings farther north along East 79th near the Rapid stations but those have yet to progress.


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