Filed Under Transportation

The Downtown People Mover

How Cleveland Returned a $41-Million Federal Grant

Envision walking out of Tower City Center, ascending an escalator, and boarding a driverless train that whisks you around downtown fifteen feet above the streets below. The monorail, dubbed the Downtown People Mover, represented progress and modernity. In 1976, Mayor Ralph Perk submitted Cleveland’s Downtown People Mover proposal to the federal government. The DPM proposal portrayed Cleveland as the ideal city for a monorail.

The various attempts at developing an effective system to circulate people through downtown led to the development of the Downtown People Mover. In 1969, the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA), created five years earlier amid a flurry of Great Society legislation, funded a People Mover project for Morgantown, West Virginia. The people mover successfully transported students and faculty throughout the West Virginia University campus, avoiding the traffic congestion in the city, but the concept was slow to progress to the next level. Accordingly, the federal government set aside $220 million to test the abilities of People Movers as downtown transportation in the spring of 1976 and held a national competition in which a number of cities submitted proposals.

The Plain Dealer characterized the unveiling of the winning cities as being as “suspenseful as an Academy Award show.” U.S. Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman announced the grant recipients at a news conference by revealing downtown maps of the winners. Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles and St. Paul won portions of the federal grant, while Detroit won a portion of funds from an earlier people mover grant.

Downtown transit circulation was an important concern in Cleveland as in other U.S. cities, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century. In the 1950s the Cleveland Transit System (predecessor of today’s RTA) had twice failed to achieve a downtown circulator subway to serve as the hub for a revamped rapid transit system serving the metropolitan area. Cleveland;s downtown consisted of dispersed retail locations, government centers, and office buildings, which the DPM planned to connect with its 2.2 mile loop, elevated fifteen feet above Cleveland’s streets.

Many opposed the construction of the DPM, including Thomas E. Bier, then an assistant professor at the Institute of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University. The proposed route would have run along Euclid Avenue, stopping at East 6th, East 9th, and East 13th Streets. At lunchtime, the area of Euclid Avenue between Public Square and East 9th brought together a variety of people in regard to class, race, and age. Bier reasoned that building the DPM fifteen feet above street level would further promote separation of the affluent, largely white pedestrians from less affluent, particularly African Americans. The lower-income shoppers of Euclid Avenue between Public Square and East 9th would have had little use for the DPM, therefore separating them from the higher income shoppers traveling further down Euclid Avenue to reach Halle’s and other upscale retailers.

Norman Krumholz, the City Planning Director in Cleveland at the time, also opposed the DPM. Krumholz concluded that the DPM conflicted with the transportation needs of 87 percent of RTA bus riders. The DPM’s free fare would undermine the twenty-five-cent fare that RTA had promised to uphold for three years. Armed with the information from Krumholz, Cuyahoga County Commissioners Robert Sweeny and George Voinovich also opposed the building of the DPM calling it “unnecessary . . . and the potential ruination of downtown.” Sweeney and Voinovich requested that Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams take back Cleveland’s Downtown People Mover grant, a premonition of what the future held.

Much like the failed Cleveland subway system, Cleveland did not build a DPM. Elected mayor in 1977, Dennis Kucinich requested that U.S. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams withdraw Cleveland’s application for the federal DPM grant. Richard Page, the director of UMTA, expressed his surprise. The UMTA had never been turned down for a federal grant by a mayor or city government before. Kucinich stated three objections to the DPM. First, the DPM violated an agreement with the RTA against such systems. Second, Kucinich expected the cost of the DPM to exceed its estimate. Finally, Cleveland’s existing transit system would be negatively impacted by the DPM.

Both Detroit’s DPM and the Morgantown People Mover exceeded their initial budgets by millions, legitimizing Kucinich’s fear of cost overruns. Cleveland’s DPM was expected to serve 46,500 riders per day. Morgantown’s People Mover transports 10,000 people per day. Detroit’s DPM transports the same number, even though it was estimated to move 55,000 passengers per day. Would the Downtown People Mover have proved popular enough to move 46,500 Clevelanders per day through downtown? Cleveland will never know, but if Detroit’s DPM is any indication, the answer is unlikely.


Proposed DPM Route, 1976 The proposed loop of the Cleveland People Mover consisted of specialized nodes as stopping points. Creator: Richard L. Bowen & Associates Date: 1976
Original ALWEG Monorail at Disneyland, 1963 In 1959, Disneyland opened the first monorail system in North America as a sightseeing ride in Tomorrowland. Source: Wikipedia Creator: EditorASC at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, Date: Original ALWEG Monorail at Disneyland
Monorail at Seattle World's Fair, 1962 In addition to its iconic Space Needle, the Seattle World's Fair included an ALWEG monorail system similar to the one at Disneyland. As this city street map cover image shows, monorails, like world's expositions, heralded the urban future. Source: Allen on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0, Creator: Chevron Date: 1962
Seattle Monorail, 1963 Westlake Mall, shown here with twin monorail tracks overhead, was created in 1961 for the Seattle World's Fair the following year. Source: Seattle Municipal Archives Photograph Collection Date: 1963
People Mover in Morgantown, WV, 2015 Downtown Public Rapid Transit in Morgantown, West Virginia, serves the students and faculty of West Virginia University. Source: Library of Congress Creator: Carol M. Highsmith Date: May 2, 2015
Cleveland DPM Concept Art, 1976 Concept art for Cleveland's Downtown People Mover station. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Richard L. Bowen & Associates Date: 1976
Cleveland DPM Concept Art, 1976 Concept art of the Downtown People Mover, shown here in front of the May Company department store on Public Square, looking east up Euclid Avenue. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Richard L. Bowen & Associates Date: 1976
Elevation Schematic for Cleveland DPM, 1976 This elevation concept drawing for Cleveland's Downtown People Mover shows a typical station with escalator to street level. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Richard L. Bowen & Associates Date: 1976
DPM Plan for Los Angeles, 1979 Los Angeles was among five cities, along with Cleveland, Houston, Miami, and St. Paul, to receive new allocations from UMTA for DPM systems. This photo shows a superimposed rendering of the guideway and station at Pershing Square. Creator: Urban Mass Transportation Administration, Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Downtown People Mover, Los Angeles, California, 1979, via Google Books Date: 1979
DPM Plan for Miami, 1980 Miami's planned DPM is shown in this rendering of Biscayne Boulevard. Along with Detroit, Miami was the only large city to build a federally funded people mover, now called the Metromover. Creator: Urban Mass Transportation Administration, Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Downtown People Mover, Miami, Florida, 1980, via Google Books Date: 1980
Detroit People Mover at Renaissance Center, 2016 The Detroit People Mover, like Renaissance Center, which was completed in the 1980s, was part of the Motor City's attempt to arrest downtown decline. Creator: Mark Souther on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Date: October 1, 2016


Downtown Cleveland, OH | The Downtown People Mover was never built.


Natalie Neale, “The Downtown People Mover,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 5, 2023,