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Graffiti, trash an ongoing battle along Cleveland’s Red Line corridor

CLEVELAND — Ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention, local civic and philanthropic organizations pooled together resources to beautify the Red Line corridor, including replacing graffiti with street art authored by renown artists. While the work of those artists remains, the graffiti, trash and debris has returned as Cleveland prepares to host the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

For many, the Red Line corridor serves as a “gateway” into the city, especially for visitors heading downtown from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. With this in mind, local groups including the Rotary Club, the LAND Studio, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and Cleveland Foundation embarked on separate projects to install professionally-painted murals and abate graffiti. Cleanup efforts also resulted in the removal of trash, debris and illegally dumped materials from the hillsides abutting the Red Line.

The cleanup efforts exceeded $2 million.

Some of the trash and debris, in addition to the graffiti, has returned. However, instead of seeing the graffiti as a public nuisance, some RTA riders like Daniel O’Malley see it as a unique public art display.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s a free art show. I know it’s illegal per se, but if the city wanted to do something like that, I think it would be great to give artists a platform. I think that would be great, as long as it was tasteful obviously,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said he is a huge fan of the works of art that were installed leading up to the RNC. The Inter-Urban art displays are still as vibrant as they were in 2016. To some degree, the amateur graffiti that has been added in the years since somewhat overshadow the professional pieces, O’Malley said.

The trash is also a concern.

“It’s absolutely necessary to pick up the trash out there. I think keeping a clean city is very important to us, specifically Cleveland,” O’Malley said. “We have had our problems with pollution so tires, trash, things like that – rivers that catch on fire – I think keeping a clean city is very important.”

Complicating potential cleanup efforts are the numerous entities that hold property along the Red Line corridor. Any one of the bridges, overpasses, sound barriers and other pieces of infrastructure can be under the jurisdiction of the RTA, the City of Cleveland, the Ohio Department of Transportation or the two rail companies, CSX and Norfolk Southern.

That doesn’t even include bevy of buildings on private property that have been tagged by vandals.
One of the more prominent graffiti displays, which sprawls across the sound barrier off I-71 northbound before the West 150th Street exit does not belong to the RTA nor ODOT, officials said.

An ODOT spokesman said the state agency is responsible for bridges and overpasses that carry an interstate. In Cuyahoga County, ODOT sets aside roughly $3,100 each year to purchase 300 gallons of paint that will be used to cover up graffiti.

The RTA hosts massive volunteer-led cleanup campaigns two or three times per year. Like ODOT, RTA will routinely dispatch crews to paint over graffiti on the agency’s property. Train operators are also urged to report graffiti right away.

O’Malley said with the MLB All-Star Game approaching, he hopes even more cleanup is done.

“I can see a lot of people who aren’t from the city using RTA and specifically the rapid to get downtown. Keeping it clean, keeping it nice looking is very important,” O’Malley said.

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