Exploring a neighborhood's struggles and possibilities

This yearlong, monthly series about Linden explores the North Side neighborhood's struggles and possibilities. In the ninth part of our series we look at Columbus' plans for Linden's infrastructure and new recreation center.

New rec center among infrastructure improvements planned for Linden

John Lathram says the craters that have opened up in some of Linden’s worst streets are otherworldly.

Hudson Street is a mess, he said. Weber Road is pocked with potholes.

“That’s just like riding on the moon,” said Lathram, chairman of the North Linden Area Commission. “I think it’s worse, actually.”

Poorly maintained streets long have been a problem in Linden, Lathram said, but residents have new hope that roads and other city infrastructure are on the verge of vast improvement.

The One Linden community plan that Mayor Andrew J. Ginther rolled out this past fall is full of projects and promises: more sidewalks, better-lit streets, special lanes for public transit, and reconstructed and safer thoroughfares.

“A lot of the things we need are in line with the One Linden plan. The expectation to get these needs met are great. I believe it’s feasible,” said Michelle Jamison, a member of the South Linden Area Commission.

In July, the city will break ground on a new Linden Community Center that officials hope will be a centerpiece for the neighborhood. Other infrastructure projects will funnel around it, making it easier to reach the community center, but another goal is to make the neighborhood safer, several city officials said.

A rendering of the new Linden Community Center at Linden Park. Courtesy of the City of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department

The new recreation center and 20-acre renovated Linden Park at 1254 Briarwood Ave. will cost $20 million to $25 million. At 50,000 square feet, the new center will be double the size of the existing one built on the same site in 1951. It will have a gymnastics room, a performance stage and a teaching kitchen, better lighting and a “spray ground” water feature in the park.

Nonprofit and government agencies, along with private groups, all are in discussions to have dedicated space in the “opportunity center” so that they are closer to the Linden residents they serve.

“Our department feels how important this is. We feel the magnified importance of making sure we serve the Linden neighborhood,” said Tony Collins, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

Many of the other projects in the plan will be built with the new recreation center in mind, including better lighting, pedestrian access and roads.

Since 2012, the city has spent about $42.5 million on major road projects in North and South Linden, said James Young, city engineer.

The city is designing the reconstruction of Hudson Street between Interstate 71 and Cleveland Avenue, to the south of Linden Park. That $11.7 million project could include sidewalks on the north side of the street and an “urban greenway trail” on the south side of the street, providing a rare east-west connection to the city’s major bike trails, which run predominantly north and south.

“It’s a road project, but this is a pretty important component. Ten years ago, would folks have been that keyed in on how important this trail is? I don’t think they would have been,” said Letty Schamp, chairwoman of Central Ohio Greenways.

Lathram said that traffic on Linden’s streets is dangerous for bicyclists. Drivers speed along cut-through streets, and Cleveland Avenue doesn’t have bike lanes.

Linden has about 59 miles of streets, the vast majority of them local roads. The city is analyzing traffic and parking patterns on those streets as part of its “Slow Streets” initiative.

In Linden and on the Hilltop, the city has gotten requests for “traffic calming” devices that slow cars on neighborhood roads, said Reynaldo Stargell, Traffic Management Division administrator. A consultant will give the city data to help decide which one-way streets — where speeds tend to be higher — can be adapted for two-way traffic.

But that could be difficult in Linden and other older neighborhoods, where streets tend to be narrower. The city also must account for the space needed to provide on-street parking, Stargell said.

“In some older areas, some of these homes don’t have garages, don’t have driveways, so they’re forced to park on the streets. The parking demands tend to be different in older neighborhoods,” he said.

When the city can’t switch a street to two-way traffic, it can use traffic-calming measures such as speed humps and chicanes, he said.

In 2022 or 2023, the city expects to use state funding to install more crosswalks on areas of Cleveland Avenue where it has found higher numbers of pedestrian-involved crashes, Stargell said.

Ginther’s administration plans to ask the City Council to approve a contract with a company that will look at how the neighborhood can be brighter at night, with more streetlights potentially overhanging sidewalks, said Emerald Hernandez, assistant director in the Department of Neighborhoods.

It also plans to kick off a program that would install porch lights on houses. The city would pay for the installation, and residents would pay for the electricity for the lights to stay on from dusk until dawn, she said.

The city will start to fill in areas where sidewalks are missing this year, Hernandez said, but the timeline for the streetlight changes will be dictated by the design. The One Linden plan suggests $1.2 million will be needed for street lights on Cleveland Avenue between Chittenden and Hudson avenues alone.

Aging infrastructure in older neighborhoods, including Linden, also is contributing to sanitary-sewer overflows into streams and rivers. The city is spending millions to mitigate those overflows by building rain gardens to absorb rainwater runoff from roads and other hard surfaces.

It also is working with property owners to redirect downspouts, line older sanitary lines that could collapse, and install more sump pumps in basements, said Leslie Westerfelt, a Columbus Public Utilities spokeswoman.

The department has started installing rain gardens in Clintonville, and it will begin building them in Linden this year, she said. Residents have expressed concerns about how the gardens could affect on-street parking, and about maintenance of the plants. Westerfelt said the gardens could help with street flooding in some cases.

“Blueprint is not going to solve all street flooding. Our goal is to at least not make conditions worse and improve conditions where we can,” she said.