Most Clevelanders live within 15 minutes of a freeway entrance, making their work commute very accessible. And as you can see from the chart below of US cities with best & worst traffic, commuters in NE Ohio don’t really even know what traffic jams are compared with many cities in our country where commutes eat up to 2 hours of your day. And as other business districts have cropped up (Beachwood’s Chagrin Boulevard, Independence’s Rockside Road, University Circle, Westlake’s Detroit Road, etc.), downtown is just one area that commuters head to for their work day.
Many residents of NE Ohio have the option of avoiding the freeways altogether and using secondary roads to commute to work, which isn’t as easy in other big cities. We joke that rush hour in Cleveland means you wait through two red light cycles instead of just one. A recent client who relocated to Cleveland from California thought our radio traffic reports were “adorable” as they are typically 30 seconds of fluff with no problems to report. “Traffic reports in LA are broadcast 24/7 and sometimes take 3-5 minutes to cover all the problems”, she laughed!
According to GPS maker TomTom, in their 2013 Traffic Index, Cleveland ranks a comfortable 60th out of all of the cities in the Americas for traffic congestion. This report compares travel times during rush hours. Leading the pack, no big surprise, is Los Angeles followed by San Francisco and Honolulu, but always ranked as more congested than Cleveland are: Raleigh, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle.
INRIX, the world’s largest provider of global traffic intelligence (using mostly GPS’s from long distance truckers) charts the best & worst traffic cities in the US every year and the Cleveland Metro area always scores as one of the easiest commutes!
US Cities with Worst Traffic
Los Angeles, CA
San Francisco, CA
New York City, NY
US Cities with Easiest Traffic
Salt Lake City, UT
Oklahoma City, OK
Kansas City, MO
And according to USAToday’s list of the states with the worst drivers, we aren’t even in the top 10!
The heaviest part of rush hour in NE Ohio is 7:30 – 8:30 am and if you avoid that time slot, you generally have an easy commute unless there is an accident or snow storm. Here’s The Daily Beast’s list of America’s 75 worst commutes (NE Ohio mentioned for the I-90 Innerbelt and the I-271/I-480 interchange southeast of Cleveland). And here is the list developed by NOACA (the region’s transportation planning body) that shows the top 10 trouble spots for Cleveland rush hour. All these sources might help you plan where you’d like to live on based on where your job is and whether you prefer backroads or freeway commute to the office.
Cleveland has 3 major east/west freeways:
I-9o – northern most freeeway, close to Lake Erie (also known as The East Shoreway from downtown to I-271)
- I-480 (cuts through the southern suburbs of Cleveland)
- I-80 (AKA The Ohio Turnpike), has this is further south and is a toll road in Ohio. E-Z Pass fares are significantly cheaper than paying in cash (trying to incentivize us to go digital?). There are 12 exits between the far westside of NE Ohio (Vermillion/Sandusky islands area) to the Pennsylania border where you can continue due east I-80 thru central PA, or connect to I-76 (Pennsylvania turnpike) which angles southeast to Breezewood aiming for DC, Delaware, Maryland.
Cleveland has three major north/south freeways:
- I-71, southwest from Cleveland to Columbus and beyond
- I-77, due south from Cleveland to Akron/Canton and beyond
- I-271, due south linking I-90 on Cleveland’s eastside down to to I-480 and I-77
Quirky things newcomers might not know about:
The Innerbelt is the Cleveland interstate system where I-71 and I-90 merge just west of downtown and I-90 and SR 2 merge just east of downtown (I-77 also hits it northern terminus here). It is under a major multi-year renovation to replace the 1950’s Innerbelt Bridge with two desperate bridges, one for eastbound and one for westbound traffic. Thousands of Clevelanders got up at the crack of dawn to watch the once in a lifetime controlled explosion that brought down the old span in August, 2014. Crews reopened the first new bridge in November 2013 and it is temporarily carrying traffic in both directions until the 2nd bridge is complete in late 2016. This is the largest project in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) history,
Dead Man’s Curve – despite it’s scary sounding name, this 90 degree turn along the Cleveland Innerbelt claims m0re
hubcaps and 18 wheeler loads than it does human lives. The re-do of the innerbelt will straighten this crazy curve out to accommodate the 50 mph cars whizzing by, but not for awhile as construction is not scheduled until about 2022. Until then, take the 35 mph signs seriously!
The West Shoreway (AKA Rt. 2) – this four mile stretch of freeway hugs Lake Erie from E. 9th Street in downtown Cleveland to its terminus in the Edgewater Park neighborhood to the west, And, although the Westinghouse manufacturing plant closed in 1979, the curve at W. 45th Street is still referred to as The Westinghouse Curve by traffic reporters (as they report the standard “slow downs due to sun glare hitting windshield as they head east”). Plans to turn this into a 35 mph boulevard lined with trees to provide more access between Lake Erie and the near west suburbs are underway. The main roadway reconstruction is expectd to begin in the summer of 2015 and be complete by the summer of 2017. For more info on that, click here.
The Opportunity Corridor – the one spot in Cleveland that is devoid of quick freeway access is the University Circle/Heights area. (To understand a bit of context on why that happened, read this fun David and Goliath story about how a group of women defied political pressure that wanted to put a freeway right through the middle of the Shaker Lakes and helped keep the Heights free from freeways by choice). To help move traffic from the westside to the busy business district of University Circle and then up into the Heights, master planners for the city of Cleveland have been discussing an extension of I-490 (a small feeder highway that connects I-90 to I-77 and the E. 55th Street corridor) since before most of us were born! However, the project has found viable funding and the $300M+, three mile long boulevard, mostly through the Kinsman neighborhood of Cleveland seems to be a reality now.The project has been divided into 3 sections 1) widening existing E. 105 between Quebec and Chester Avenues – in progress; 2) construct a new roadway from Quebec to E. 93 – will begin summer 2015 and; 3) construct a new roadway from E. 93 to the I-490/E. 55th Street intersection – expected to begin in 2017. Designed as a 35 mph boulevard, NOT a freeway, the hope is that this will bring new life to a hard hit area of Cleveland known as The Forgotten Triangle that is one of the poorest areas in the region. With more than a dozen traffic lights along it’s path, to encourage neighborhood development on each block. As with any major public project, there are those who love this idea for what it can bring to the core of the city desperate for jobs and activity and those who hate the idea because they see it as an urban cut through street that will not return this area to it’s neighborhood roots.
The Euclid Wickliffe spur – where I-271 and I-90 join on the border of Lake & Cuyahoga Counties on the cities eastside.
Within the city of Cleveland, numbered streets (E. 3rd, W. 9th, etc.) start at Ontario Street in Public Square and fan out east and west. The higher the number the further you are from the center of town and Lake Erie. And even in the suburbs, the higher the streeet address, the further the building is from downtown Cleveland.
OTHER COOL FACTS ABOUT STREETS & TRANSPORTATION IN THE REGION:
Cleveland has more brick roads than any other city in the US (many claim they are
less expensive to maintain, slow the traffic and add charm to residential neighborhoods).
Hessler Court in the University Circle neighborhood is the only remaining wood block street in Cleveland and is worth driving down, even once, just to hear how it sounds under your tires.
Street lights were invented in Cleveland by Charles Brush and the first public street to be illuminated was on Public Square in 1879 (to an astonished crowd). Cleveland as a result was the first city in the world with street lights! A replica of the very first street light hangs on the side of KeyBank’s headquarters on the corner of Ontario & Public Square and is beautiful piece of cast iron Art Nouveau public art.
Lighting invention is just one reason GE Lighting Division is headquartered in Cleveland. The company’s Nela Park is located on a campus in East Cleveland and provides a fabulous Christmas light show every holiday season.
Ohio has live traffic updates from its network of cameras and road chips that could be helpful to look at before you jump into rush hour traffic each day.
And finally, Cleveland’s roads are well salted and kept clean in the winter, in no small part because of the salt mines under Lake Erie where road salt is mined and used locally and shipped all over the northern US. Most winters we use 60,000-70,000 tons of salt
to make winter driving less hazardous. Huge underground salt deposits, the remains of an ancient sea that existed before the glaciers carved out the bowls that became the Great Lakes.