A Legacy City’s Fight to Restore Pedestrian Safety
Cambridge, Ohio is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, approximately halfway between Columbus and Pittsburgh. As one of the initial stops of the National Road in the Northwest Territory, Cambridge is steeped in history. An industrial town, Cambridge rose to prominence with the discovery of coal, natural gas, and salt deposits. Many of these extracted resources would fuel the rise of Cambridge Glass, a large manufacturer that peaked in the early 20th century.
With the decline of coal and the closure of the Cambridge Glass factory, the city subsequently declined as well. For the past 90 years, Cambridge has shrunk from a city of 16,000 to just over 10,000. The city was left with a substantial amount of legacy infrastructure, including an overbuilt road system and a deteriorating pedestrian network. Throughout the previous two decades, both the public and private sectors have worked together to revitalize the downtown core, focusing almost exclusively on Wheeling Avenue (US Routes 22 & 40). This left many other corridors underutilized and disinvested. Ironically, it was the resurgence of one of the industries, natural gas extraction, that fueled the reinvestment of other corridors outside of downtown. Beginning in 2013, and rapidly developing in the following years, tax revenues from the natural gas industry filled the city’s coffers and allowed the city engineering department to begin work on rebuilding pedestrian corridors.
The City of Cambridge was one of the first to develop a school travel plan, a prerequisite for the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. This program provided up to $400,000 for the development of safe pedestrian networks, focused on children in grades K-8. These improvements should be made within 2 miles of an eligible school and ideally would directly connect to the school property. Fortunately, Cambridge Primary School is within a mile of downtown, and routes connecting to the school traverse dense residential neighborhoods. Over the past decade, four north-south corridors have been completed between downtown and the school, with another two planned in the coming years.
One major hurdle remained, however, which was Steubenville Avenue. Steubenville Avenue parallels the main thoroughfare of Wheeling Avenue one block to the north. This street marks the boundary of downtown to the northside residential neighborhoods. Through the mid-2010s, Steubenville Avenue was a wide three-lane street. One lane of traffic in each direction surrounded a center turn lane that ran for seven blocks. The posted speed limit was 25 mph, but motorists would attempt to outrun traffic signals, and speeds were regularly recorded in excess of 35-40 mph. Pedestrians attempting to cross the street were also limited to sight distance issues owing to the hilly terrain.
Facing these challenges, and after the extensive public engagement, the city engineer determined that Steubenville Avenue should be reconstructed when it reached the end of its useful life. In 2021, Steubenville Avenue was ground up from the top of the asphalt to the bottom of the base layer. In its place, a new road was designed and poured, but one key difference was evident, the street was narrower. In the redesign, the center turn lane was removed, as most businesses have relocated or closed. Traffic lights were removed, as they were no longer warranted, and the tree lawn was extended to fill in the gap between the sidewalk and the roadway. New LED lighting was installed that lit up the corridor extremely well, allowing pedestrians to feel safer walking, even after sunset. New crosswalks were installed, and the downtown core could now be safely accessed by pedestrians. While there remains work to be done to enhance the urban fabric of the city, Steubenville Avenue is an example of one city’s push to reclaim its neighborhoods from reliance on the automobile and is a step in the right direction to a more sustainable and walkable city.
AUTHOR: Kevin Buettner
Mr. Buettner is an urban planner with expertise in developing long-range transportation/economic development plans, short-range Transportation Improvement Programs, and school travel plans for school districts in eastern Ohio. He has directed motorized and non-motorized traffic data collection, as well as road safety audits, crash analyses, and curve speed studies. Mr.Buettner is a certified planner (AICP), LEED Accredited Professional in Neighborhood Development, certified UAS Remote Pilot, New Urbanist accredited (CNU-A), and a certified Climate Change Professional (CC-P).