Tiffany Beatty and Matt Ui of Massillon had some time to kill in the Montrose shopping district recently and decided to try something many people would consider just too dangerous to attempt.
“We were going to see if we could cross 18 to get over to Barnes & Noble,” she said.
That’s the seven lanes of Medina Road, otherwise known as state Route 18. Traffic studies show almost 38,000 cars use that stretch of road each day.
Even on a sunny day, crossing 84 feet of pavement before the light changes would be a challenge to two young, healthy people who just wanted to entertain themselves while waiting for their car to be repaired.
They both smiled when the task was compared to playing Frogger, the old video game in which a frog must dodge traffic. It took a lot of skill not to get him squashed.
Beatty and Ui were talking to Jason Segedy, executive director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, and a reporter who were in Montrose to learn about the challenges of walking through the area.
“What we are looking at are [providing] better connections as far as pedestrian access,” Segedy explained.
While only a few shoppers walk in Montrose, many employees in the shops there do. Metro RTA records show hundreds of people get off at bus stops in the area.
The most popular stop on Flight Memorial Parkway was just a curb and a grassy area last fall. Now it’s largely mud.
“The poor people just get out on the road there,” said Helen Humphrys, Copley Township trustee. “There isn’t a sidewalk, there’s green there.”
Jamil Agnew of Akron explained his travels to the Montrose area while standing at that bus stop. Previously, he had been standing on a part of the area that’s still grassy, listening to music.
He goes there four times a week for a job at a restaurant on Montrose West Avenue, the street that goes up the hill west of Interstate 77.
Agnew picks up the bus near the Akron Zoo and eventually is dropped on Flight Memorial. From there, he takes the Montrose Circulator to the restaurant. That’s a bus that takes a continuous loop around the shopping district. The whole trip takes the better part of an hour.
When Agnew walks from home to downtown Akron, he walks or rides his bicycle because there are sidewalks. But he said there is no way he could consider walking on Route 18 to get to what is known as restaurant hill. That would include going under the I-77 bridge where there are no sidewalks and traffic often travels 50 mph.
Agnew said adding sidewalks along 18 would change the way he gets around.
“Yeah it would,” he said. “Big difference. I want to walk to Medina some time.”
The problem has been noticed.
“It’s so like the concrete jungle,” said Humphrys.
She wants the area to be safer, prettier and more likely to remain profitable for the businesses there. That’s why she and Bath Township Trustee Elaina Goodrich successfully convinced AMATS to do a $50,000 study of pedestrian travel in the area.
They see it as vital to maintaining the district’s economic viability.
“We both believe that we need to make the Montrose area safer,” Humphrys said. “We want to make sure, whatever money it is generating, it will generate years down the road. This isn’t a flash in the pan development.”
She also is in the initial stages of trying to establish a business district that includes the townships and Fairlawn.
Walking anywhere in that area to shop or go to work is not something Humphrys is likely to do herself.
“I shop at several of the stores there,” he said. “I don’t know if I would carry a bag that I get at Hallmark and cross the street and get an ice cream cone without driving over. … Right now I wouldn’t try to cross 18 on a bet. I don’t even like to drive on 18. So that’s what we want to do, make it more accessible.”
No such place
Montrose isn’t even a place in any formal way, and that helps explain how it grew to what it is now. There was a time when it was a drive-in movie, a church, a swimming club and little else. Then it grew quickly without the benefit of planning by any single local government.
AMATS noted the problem in its previous study on the closing of Rothrock Road:
“The normal negative ramifications of retail sprawl, such as traffic congestion, an unappealing design aesthetic, and poor transit and pedestrian connectivity, have been further exacerbated by the fact that, in reality, there is no such place as ‘Montrose’. What local residents call ‘Montrose’ is in fact portions of three local communities: Fairlawn, Copley Township and Bath Township.”
“What this means is that, in effect, ‘No one rules the ‘‘wild west’’ of Montrose.’ There is no one political or governmental entity in charge of producing a comprehensive land use plan for the entire retail area, ensuring that it is zoned in a consistent manner, or that it follows a unified design standard. Similarly, no one entity is in charge of establishing and implementing a detailed transportation improvement plan for the area.”
Humphrys said the townships asked the Ohio Department of Transportation to include sidewalks when Route 18 was widened to serve the rapidly growing shopping district.
“They said it wasn’t in the plans, nor did they have the money, then they asked, ‘Who would maintain them?’ ” she said.
Meanwhile, walking shoppers like Tiffany Beatty and Matt Ui are rare.
“I don’t recall seeing a crosswalk over 18,” she said as they walked down Flight Memorial. “There might be one, but I just didn’t notice it.”
There was none.
She eventually walked about a quarter mile west to cross at Route 18 and Springside without the help of a walk signal or crosswalk.
They made it safely.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or email@example.com. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.