Rapid Transit in the Cleveland Area

The process of connecting the different parts of the city with Rapid Transit has evolved over the years. “It took the largest wrecking program in the city’s history to clear the land for Terminal Tower, Higbee’s, the old Cleveland Hotel (then changed to Stouffer’s Inn on the Square and now the Renaissance Hotel) and the three adjacent office buildings on Prospect – the Republic, Midland and Guildhall. Despite lawsuits, arguments with city leaders and many other problems, the brothers built their Terminal complex; Shaker Heights, the first such development of its kind in the nation, and the rapid transit railroad needed to carry the new suburb’s residents between their homes and downtown offices and businesses.”

Transportation and commerce in Cleveland developed around Downtown.  The Cleveland Railway Co. managed the train systems beginning in 1910.  There were also shipping concerns with the docks Downtown as well as surface transportation that began with wagons and eventually developed into highways with trucks and automobiles.  The rapid transit system as we know it in 2012 began in 1955.  It was very controversial at the time because CTS (Cleveland Transit System) eliminated many bus routes in conjunction with the opening of the rail lines in an effort to try and encourage riders to partonize the rapid.

A big step occurred in 1975 with the formation of the Regional Transit Authority.  The RTA was the result of a merger of the Cleveland Transit System and the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit.  The Shaker portion also had ties to the Van Sweringen brothers who conceived of the Terminal Tower Project.  They developed Shaker Heights and had a large home there.  The combination of these two projects set the stage for later links with the areas of Cleveland to Downtown.    In 1981, Harry Alexander, President of the RTA Board of Trustees, commented about the importance of the system to the Cleveland area.  “RTA serves the 1.8 million people who live in Cuyahoga County.  On an average weekday, the system provides about half a million rides on one or another form of RTA service – bus, rapid, or Community Responsive Transit – and the service is available to thousands more who use RTA on an occasional basis.”

999094-Timothy Misny-RTA

Union Terminal Destination

The Van Sweringen brothers wanted the best equipment for their terminal and transportation system.  In 1928, they issued a call for “the most modern electric locomotives in the world”.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland Memory

Rapid Traisit to the Airport

Cleveland was the first city in the U.S. to have a Rapid Transit link to their Airport. The Red line was completed in 1968.  This allowed residents from as far east  as Shaker Heights to reach Hopkins Airport on the west side of town.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Memory

Cleveland Transit System

The Cleveland Transit System (CTS)  took over public transportation in 1941 as the use of trains gave way to different automobile systems.  By 1954, the streetcars were eliminated in favor of buses and trackless trolleys.  This developed into the system that expanded service from Downtown to the Airport in the 60s.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University.  Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Green Line Rapid

The Green and Blue Lines developed out of the Shaker Heights system and are the east side lines for the system leading into Tower City in Downtown Cleveland.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Memory

Westside and Downtown

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority celebrated the 20th Anniversary of rapid transit service to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in 1988.  To mark the historic event, and to point out that Cleveland was the first city to have a rapid transit link from its downtown area and its major airport, RTA offered its riders free fare from Hopkins . I spend more time getting to the airport than in flight, was the universal plight of the air traveler prior to introduction of the rapid transit.  That was all changed with this important addition, proving that in the United States the future is always just around the corner and in public transportation, Cleveland had landed there first.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Memory


RTA’s General Manager, Leonard Ronis  commented on the future of the system.  “We still have important work to do,  such as completing the unification of the system, finishing the upgrading of the total system and completing the planning process for an expanded rail system.”

Image courtesy of Lisa Alleman

Tower City Rapid Station

In 1994, Jacobs Field and Gund Arena opened and Tower City became linked to both sites by walkways making for convenient use of the Rapid system to attend sports events.  In 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum opened and a Waterfront line was added to the Terminal station.  Even in January 2012, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium opened and is accessible by using the Rapid Lines.

Image courtesy of Lisa Alleman

Tunnels Under Terminal Tower

The lesson has been learned that rapid transit, whether by steam or electricity or cable, requires greater caution by everyone than slow transit by mules or horses.  Despite these risks, Clevelanders continued to embrace rapid transit in various forms over the years.

Image courtesy of Lisa Alleman








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3 Responses to Rapid Transit in the Cleveland Area

  1. Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

    This site is more problematic from a historical standpoint in that it omits large chunks of the most important events. I still think the better approach is to make this site “Rapid Transit” as opposed to the entirety of RTA. The benefits are that you can go beyond the existing RTA site and focus on the rapid rail aspect more closely.

    The creation of the rapid transit system in 1955 is lost here. It was controversial at the time because CTS cut many bus routes in conjunction with opening the rail lines to try to force riders to patronize the rapid.

    The airport rapid story is lost in this, including in the caption mention. No date is given (it was 1968), and the image caption mentions only a 20th anniversary, presumably in 1988. The image to which it pertains appears to be from the 1960s, possibly when the airport rapid made its first run (or perhaps before that — I see Erieview Tower, completed in 1964). If this was from the first airport run, it needs to be stated as such. The anniversary is less important in my mind than the opening itself.

  2. Avatar of cciullafaup cciullafaup says:

    I thought this site to be unique to research. Overall, a good read. It got me thinking a lot about the Veterans Memorial Bridge and the tunnels underneath…wondering if there was room to incorporate info on that? Some fantastic images. I especially thought the postcard was cute, and the snapshot through the window was creative.

  3. Avatar of hfearing hfearing says:

    Lisa, this is so GREAT! I love it and really enjoyed reading it. The only two things I got confused over what the date that they started clearing all of the buildings for the train? Was it 1910 or earlier? I feel like a date in the opening paragraph would clear things up. And then the caption that reads: “I spend more time getting to the airport than in flight, was the universal plight of the air traveler prior to introduction of the rapid transit.” Does it need quotation marks or maybe rewording? Like “The universal plight of the air traveler prior to introduction of the rapid transit was that more time was spent getting to the airport than in flight.” or ” ‘I spend more time getting to the airport than in flight!’ was the universal plight of the air traveler prior to introduction of the rapid transit.

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