In the category of be careful what you ask for you just might get it, Kent asked for help in the 1970’s from ODOT with the train traffic downtown and they got the Haymaker Parkway which did indeed help cars get over the upper tracks but it also lived up to its name dealing a haymaker blow for downtown Kent. And just to rub salt in the wound I’m told that shortly after the new Haymaker crossing was built, the train traffic on the upper tracks dropped back signficantly. It figures. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Haymaker Parkway, actually it’s a great facility and it carries a lot of traffic quickly across town but it’s a bit unusual having a limited access highway cut right between the downtown on one side and Kent State on the other leaving both a short distance but long way apart — which isn’t good for either.
I’m actually a fan of highway bypasses, they’re a great way to avoid getting caught up in downtown traffic jams but they usually go around the outside of the city rather than up its middle splitting it in two. Again, the city was asking for help so I understand how the Haymaker facility came into existence but it remains a very real physical barrier to cross today separating the student body with the downtown.
The worst part is the students need the stores, restaurants and entertainment options and the stores, restaurants and entertainment options need the students — they both need each other — they just can’t seem to really get connected they way they should be in a small town like ours.
I think that’s what’s so frustrating; the Haymaker Parkway feels out of place — it feels like a big city solution to a small town problem — and as a result it’s taken a toll on our small town sensibility and character. Here we all are in comparatively small town, which favors walking and biking, but we have a thoroughfare that cuts our heart right out. Ok, perhaps that a bit dramatic but I’d bet you know what I mean, the Parkway just doesn’t fit with everything else we have on both sides of it.
There’s been a lot of great ideas to tunnel under or cross over the parkway to allow students to easily walk from campus to downtown. I’ve also heard talk of dropping the roadway down below grade so that there can be a pedestrian crossing at grade (which is my favorite idea). We can talk a lot about options but to be honest all of these options are very pricey which is why none of them have been done yet.
Forever the optimist I’m hopeful that whatever we end up doing with the downtown redevelopment we can begin to bridge the Haymaker Gap either structurally or perceptually by adding enough destinations downtown to help people forget about the traffic separation.
All this rambling started because Gene Roberts was responding to a request for information from a resident who wondered about the history of the Parkway and it got me thinking. In classic Gene form, I thought he offered great insight with his comment that by building the Haymaker Parkway we solved our East – West disconnect (caused by the railroads) only to create a new North – South disconnect.
Here’s Gene’s comments:
Mr. Ruller asked that I respond to your email regarding the SR59 (Haymaker Parkway) questions. The improvement plans are dated 1973 and the construction of the project was not by the City of Kent but by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). The project was developed to relieve the traffic congestion of SR59.
Prior to the project SR59 ran through downtown Kent on East and West Main Street. Having grown up in Kent I’m sure that you are aware of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad tracks (a.k.a. “upper tracks”) which run north and south through downtown. During the sixties the rail traffic was heavy and interrupted the flow of vehicle traffic along the SR59 / Main Street corridor effectively cutting the City in two. The problem for Kent was not only vehicular traffic congestion but emergency response by both Fire and Police. At the time Kent’s Police Department and main Fire Station were both located on the east side of the tracks. Although Kent had a second fire station (where it is currently located today at the corner of Rockwell and Mantua) the station could respond to a fire or other type of emergency call the primary response came from the main station on Depeyster. What happened, on an all too frequent of a basis, was the Fire Department response to a west side emergency was blocked by train traffic. This problem also hampered the Kent Police when they needed a large contingent of officer response to the west side of Kent they were blocked by the rail. What had happened over time was what had developed Kent as an important railroad town was now creating traffic congestion and emergency response problem for the City.
I was not employed by the City of Kent during the discussions of this problem but I do remember from reading the newspapers and my personal experience of the traffic congestion daily as I drove between Cuyahoga Falls and Ravenna, it created a lot of debate as to how the City would resolve this problem. As a good starting point I would refer you to the Record Courier and possible KSU archives to review the newspaper articles during this time period (1971 and 1972). Regarding the cost of the project I need to refer to ODOT as the project was built by the state. In my 15 years with the City I have not uncovered any documents in the City which discussed the cost of the project and to be honest given the thirty plus years since construction I’m not sure how much information would be available at ODOT but it may be worth a try. Although the City does not have any records regarding the cost for land acquisition what we do have is a copy of the original plans for the project from which the number and locations of the properties taken for the project can be investigated.
As you complete your background for your paper please contact me as possibly I can point you in the right direction to find additional information and I’ll provide you with a place to work at the Service Department to review what information is available in the City’s Engineering Division. What I would ask in return is a copy of your completed work. You would be providing a great service to the City if you can gather all the information that might currently be available and a copy of the found documents for archive with the City’s Engineering Division will be a great value.
The reason that this issue is of major importance is as much as the City needed Haymaker Parkway as it corrected the problem of cutting the City in two, east and west, it in no small way cut the City in two, north and south. As the City continues to redevelop itself we will need to revisit the Haymaker Parkway corridor in an attempt to open it up for better access and crossings for both vehicles and pedestrians, to bring the City together.