In 1920, Cleveland’s Shaker Rapid Transit line — the predecessor of today’s Green and Blue Lines — went into operation. At East 55th Street, the line was served by a low-level island platform with a wooden stairway to the street. When the CTS Rapid Transit Line — today’s Red Line — was built in 1954, high-level side platforms were added to the low-level platforms to accommodate the subway-style cars.
Since then, East 55th Street has been at the heart of Cleveland’s rail service network. It is one of only three stations in the system with both heavy and light rail connections, and every train put into service passes through it. The station also serves the Rail Headquarters and Maintenance Facilities of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA).
The 1954 station was largely hidden from view, with no head house or inviting entranceway at street level. Bus line connections were awkward, and stopped buses in the southbound right lane of East 55th Street were a chronic cause of congestion. After 50 years of service, the station was nearing the end of its useful life.
A new station would have to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Maintaining service during construction was critical. In addition, the site was located on poor-quality soil, including lake-planed moraine, ground moraine till, and outwash.
The RTA retained Mott MacDonald as the prime consultant for a design team that included an architectural firm and several Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) subconsultants. Design services included all architectural, civil, electrical, and mechanical elements for a complete station design, including a bus terminal and parking.
The new station is located on the northeast corner of Interstate 490 and East 55th Street, providing easier access for pedestrians and vehicles. The scope of work included the following:
- Track realignment
- Overhead contact system changes
- Station architecture
- Park’n’Ride lot
- Rail and traffic signals
- Public involvement
Because of poor soil conditions, the head house was supported on drilled caissons equipped with sleeves to prevent them from bonding with the soil. A light rail boarding area was designed with different levels for eastbound and westbound trains to accommodate an existing difference in track elevation.
The new station was designed to be a visible icon in the Slavic Village neighborhood, which was hard-hit in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Pedestrian access was improved so that potential riders would feel safe approaching the station, and a security room allows police to monitor the facility.
The stone façade was chosen to suggest the many churches in the area, and the head house offers a view of the Cleveland skyline. Public art includes a mural called “Space, Speed and Time” and colored glass panels suspended from the ceiling of the passenger bridge.
Speaking at the groundbreaking for the new station in August 2009, RTA CEO Joe Calabrese said, “This station will give neighborhood residents a gateway to the rest of the world. Every RTA train, from 5 am to well after midnight, will stop here, and give residents easy transportation to downtown jobs, cultural facilities at University Circle, and flight service to other cities from Hopkins International Airport. It will provide both an anchor and a centerpiece for this community, and encourage further economic development.”
In September 2013, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Slavic Village area was seeing signs of revival. “Power saws whir and hammers clang on streets where innovative recovery projects are breathing new life into haunted houses…. New factories and steel plants have opened in a working-class enclave that always stepped to a time clock if not a polka beat.”