The decision by the Ohio Legislature in 1825 to make Cleveland the northern end of the Ohio & Erie Canal opened the village to the economy of the outside world. The canal made Cleveland a transportation hub, and can be credited with bringing people, commerce, and industry to the area. The influence of transportation routes in defining the shape and character of the city would continue to play a pivotal role in Cleveland's rise to prominence and eventual decline as an urban center. Clues to uncovering this history can still be discovered by examining the landscape of the city.
Cleveland has constantly adapted to technological advances in transportation throughout its relatively short history; the accommodating infrastructure developed as new modes of movement through the city became economically viable. Railroads quickly replaced the dominance of canals as the preferred method of shipping goods. Horse-drawn cars were out-shined by the efficiency and speed of streetcars, the latter of which were phased out in part due to the freedoms of navigation offered by buses and automobiles. Each transition to a new mode of transportation allowed for further expansion away from the urban center, and promoted commercial and residential development adjacent to the newly laid infrastructure consisting of rail lines, bridges, roads, airport terminals, and freeways. By the late 1920's, the contrails from airplanes departing from and arriving at Cleveland Airport could be examined by the city's first commuters as they waited in traffic as part of their daily routine.
Changes in transportation methods and routes touched upon every aspect of urban life, and were accompanied by a host of economic, social, and political implications. Just as the development of new transportation routes provided access to and promoted development in one section of the city, the choices made to the placement of these passages also had the capability of drawing traffic away from existing commercial districts and destroying residential neighborhoods. Conflicts emerged over who had the right to define these pathways, where routes were needed, and the underlying motives of the individuals/organizations promoting their construction.
Advances in transportation methods also had negative consequences for Cleveland. The cost and accessibility of transportation to residents created an increasingly socially stratified and racially segregated city. The construction of freeways following World War II not only destroyed existing neighborhoods and communities, but funneled residents, businesses, and industry away from the urban center; while proving disastrous to Cleveland's economy, these freeways promoted incredible growth in the outlying regions of the city and have provided inroads to new residents and visitors.
More recently, questions have been raised about the environmental impact of transportation choices, and the need to redefine methods and routes to create a more ecologically-conscious and pedestrian friendly city.
By exploring the history of bridges, roads, canals, railways, and airports in Cleveland, one has a chance to reflect on the impact of transportation routes and technology on the development of cities. The decisions we make about transportation continue to shape the urban landscape and the lives of Cleveland residents.