Detroit vs. Cleveland
May 24, 2012 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Detroit vs. Cleveland -- without a car

I'm planning an extended car-free trip around the U.S. and had it in mind to stop over in Detroit and Cleveland because I wanted to see these cities that used to be booming, fell into a depression, and are now making a comeback with urban renewal. For instance, Ohio City Farm, located in Cleveland, is of great interest to me because it is one of the largest urban farms in America.

I've since tacked on other cities on my trip and will now need to drop one of the aforementioned cities.

Potentially Influential Factors:

Single female travel. No car. I'll be using megabus or greyhound to get to the city from Pittsburgh and then move on to Ann Arbor straight after. Willing to rent a bicycle. Only staying for two nights. I plan to couchsurf in these cities so hopefully I'll be staying with a local who, even if they don't have the time to show me around, can point out which neighborhoods to avoid.

Not interested in sports, am interested in street art, walkable/bikeable areas, urban farming/parks, and evidence (either in the arts, transit, infrastructure, etc.) of how the city is making a comeback. Advice on which city to visit, what parts to visit, etc. are much appreciated.

posted by bluelight to Travel & Transportation around Ohio (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I used to live in Cleveland and now live in Ann Arbor.

Cleveland is much further along on the "urban renewal" front than Detroit is. When I go back to Cleveland now, the part that amazes me is how many unoccupied buildings have been torn down and replaced with new businesses, and in general how much things have improved since I lived there. That's something that's going to be kind of hard to see just visiting the place, so you might need some extra information like "this neighborhood here used to be as run down as that neighborhood there" to see the improvement.

With Detroit, every time I go there I'm amazed just how empty the downtown area is. I see stories all the time saying how many vacant houses there are, but I always kind of assumed that that was just one or two parts of the city until I went down there (on unrelated business) and as soon as I get off the highway, vacant houses left and right. I hear there are some particular areas that have had new businesses move in, but I haven't sought them out so I can't comment.

Bottom line, if you want a city in a later stage of recovery, go to Cleveland. If you want a city more in the "blight" stage, go to Detroit.

As far as public transit, Cleveland is great. Megabus drops off by Tower City, right downtown, which is the center of the rail lines in Cleveland. The Cleveland RTA runs the buses and trains (trains ubiquitously known as "the rapid"). Here is a map of the rail system. My recommendation would be to take the train to University Circle on the East side. From there there's plenty of places to walk to, art museum(s), "Little Italy", etc. Very neighborhood-y, it's not like a downtown. It's also not a very "grassroots" renewal, since the area has been anchored by two big institutions, the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University, but it's still really nice. Also, I just remembered that there's a new bus service from downtown to University Circle straight down Euclid avenue (new bendy buses, dedicated bus lanes, entire length of the road and sidewalks were renovated). I've never taken it myself, but it might be a good way to see more of the variety of conditions in Cleveland than the train. The train track is not underground, but kind of down in a trench for most of the length.

I'm sure other people will have opinions on other neighborhoods, but I'm not very well informed about them.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:16 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lived in Detroit (sort, of on an Expense account) and also had a 12 hour -forced layover in Cleveland.

Cleveland, definitely. I saw people using Ipads on the rail-- would never see that in Detroit. Plus there are some decent districts around that feel safe, and the food is better.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:28 AM on May 24, 2012

Don't mean to be too much of a downer about Detroit, but trying to see the things you'd like to see without a car will be a huge challenge. It is a spread-out city, with its layout influenced by The Big Three - lots of freeways, not so much public transportation (as in, no subway or light rail - unless you count the People Mover which runs in a circle downtown - it's pretty much buses only).

The neighborhoods are more like islands these days, lots of open space in between. And that phrase "open space" is often quite literal, not just blocks and blocks of vacant homes, but blocks and blocks of no buildings at all. There are interesting things to see here, but without a car, you will miss a lot of them.

If you're bound and determined it has be Detroit, the Mexicantown area may be a good bet. It's compact, vibrant and reasonably walkable.

Further reading

(Ann Arbor will be easy without a car. Very, very much easier.)
posted by agentmitten at 7:31 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

We lived in Cleveland for about 5 years, but left a couple years ago.

Downtown will be interesting, for a "failed development strategies" point of view. You will find the white elephant-ish football stadium (which basically sits vacant for all but a dozen weekends) and the Rock Hall and the Science museum. All of these are disconnected from the fabric of the city, in that you have to hike over I-90 to get there. You'll also find the Gateway District, which is where Jacobs Field and Quicken Loans arena are. But that area only really comes alive on game days. All of these were built during the 1990s, when Cleveland was being touted for its come-back from its industrial decline, but really haven't succeeded in their aims (e.g., the city is still paying off loans for the underused giant parking structure in the Gateway District, last I looked). There's also the Flats, which was a big party area (featured on the opening for the Drew Carey Show), but it had fallen into disrepair as people began staying away from the rowdiness and the hazards of drinking next to bodies of water, as well as competition from the Warehouse District bars, and, more recently, East 4th Street.

There was a fair bit of money flowing into the Euclid Corridor project (connecting Downtown to University Circle), so you might have some newer shiny buildings there (especially near the Clinic), but this hasn't been that deep. Go a few blocks off Euclid and you'll run into fairly run down neighborhoods. Go past University Circle a bit into East Cleveland, and you will find seriously run down neighborhoods. This has been more top-down development, with the goal of creating something like Boston's biotech incubators between MIT and Harvard, but I'm not sure how well it has succeeded in attracting talent, as it's a hard job convincing prospective biotech entrepreneurs to move to Cleveland over Boston. As with Downtown, there's a bit of top-down development mentality that's hard to break.

For more grass-roots sort of revivals, look a bit west of the river to the Tremont area. Lots of nice restaurants, etc., have sprouted up on their own. And, as kiltedtaco notes, the University Circle area is fairly nice, especially if the art museum has finished its renovations (they were finishing when we left).
posted by chengjih at 7:54 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gotta say, Detroit without a car is very difficult. I dont know about Cleveland, but in metro detroit with the exception of Ann Arbor as mentioned (I am in Ypsi now, but was born in Detroit and have lived in the area my whole life) you have to have a car to go anywhere. The bus system is pathetic, and doesnt reach most places, and isnt timely.
Really reconsider Detroit if you can't have access to a car. There are some cool areas popping up in Detroit, but they would be difficult to reach without a car.
Just wanted to add, until Detroit becomes more accountable and stronger leadership in addition to financial improvements, it will pretty much stay crippled. Its incredibly sad, and a very complicated issue.
posted by handbanana at 7:56 AM on May 24, 2012

Oh, biking in Cleveland: it's not bad, and has gotten better. There's a bike lane on Euclid Avenue, and most of the surrounding streets are fairly calm (or, perhaps, desolate), so the ride from Downtown to University Circle is easy. Going across either the Carnegie or Detroit bridges to cross the river (i.e., from Downtown to Ohio City or Tremont) is fairly easy.

The main tricks have to do with the escarpment marking the boundary from Cleveland and Cleveland Heights: Cleveland itself is fairly flat, then you have to climb a big hill going east. For recreational riding, it's fine. For commuting, it's an annoyance. Cleveland itself is pretty flat between the river and the escarpment, then you go over the bridges, and it's still pretty flat.

The other main trick is that Cleveland (and it's eastern ring suburbs) was designed around a trolly system, so the east-west roads are bit radial, but are also main arteries for cars (I'm thinking of Cedar and Mayfield). These are not wide roads with big shoulders/bike lanes, and Cleveland car drivers aren't used to seeing bikers, so you will get honked at from time to time. You're sort of forced to go along these main arteries because the other east-west secondary roads tend to wind up in dead ends or t-intersections sooner or later. Basically, trollies moved along those arteries, and those arteries were the primary way to commute to the city, and there aren't that many other options that don't involve meandering around on side roads.

I didn't bike that much on the west side, so it's harder for me to see how it feels, but, driving-wise, it's a number of relatively narrow, unpleasant-for-bikes roads that you sort of have to go down.
posted by chengjih at 8:16 AM on May 24, 2012

Detroit Ave dented my rear rim real bad, as I biked west to east through Cleveland, but I would still recommend it... And I'll join the chorus warning against Detroit metro. The inner ring suburbs on the west side of Cleveland, esp. Lakewood, are pretty interesting and reasonably vital. Poncy cheese shops and chocolatiers etc. (go to Malley's ice cream parlor if you make it out there)
Cleveland is still a shell of its former self, but there is a heartening determination to reshape and build different in some areas.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:37 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: Come to Cleveland.

When you get off of the Megabus, you can either make a beeline for The Bike Rack, Cleveland's Bike Station which is a short walk away. You can rent a bike (get the cruiser), get cleaned up, and they may let you store some stuff in a locker if you don't need it while you are in town (give them a call first). You can also take a scheduled guided tour.

You can certainly check out University Circle: it is a 25 minute easy ride from Downtown. Since you are interested in bike/ped-oriented revitalization, Ohio City is definitely a must-see. Tremont is also a national leader in using arts and walkability in urban renewal (though it is a little tough to bike there presently with construction on Abbey Avenue, the main link between Tremont and Ohio City.

However, you should definitely visit the Gordon Square Arts District to see what Salon just highlighted as the right way to create an urban entertainment district.

For more resources on biking around Cleveland, visit the Bike Cleveland website. Feel free to email me for questions.

Full disclosure: I am a Bike Cleveland board member.
posted by Avogadro at 10:21 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: going to cleveland. thanks!
posted by bluelight at 11:45 AM on May 24, 2012

Also check out Cool Cleveland to find out what's happening around town. They usually keep a great and comprehensive listing, with a skew towards arts, food and festivals.
posted by slogger at 12:49 PM on May 24, 2012

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