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Thread: Rant: utility lines in Cleveland [Broadband Recommended]

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Rant: utility lines in Cleveland [Broadband Recommended]

    Have a look at the Beeston, Nottinghamshire thread. I dare someone to find one utility pole in any of those photos.

    In much of the United States, especially western states, most utilities are underground in urban areas,. Here in Cleveland and its suburbs, though, it's definitely not the case. EVERYTHING -- electricity, telephone and cable television -- is overhead, even in very prestigous communities like Shaker Heights. If you're lucky, the lines will follow rear property lines, but that's normally not the case. Nothing is buried anywhere, except downtown, university campuses, and the newest subdivisions.

    Municipalities around here tend to have very strict sign regulations, though - maybe it's to offset the wires everywhere.

    Here's the Coventry neighborhood in Cleveland Heights.





    Here's Little Italy in Cleveland.







    ... and oh-so-quaint-and-preppy-OMG-Bill-Watterson-lives-here-somewhere Chagrin Falls.







    Let's compare that to another Rust Belt city. Here's Hertel Avenue in Buffalo.



    or the hip Elmwood Vilalge area









    or the blue-collar Kaiserttown area



    Buffalo isn't cluttered with overhead utilities to the extent that Cleveland is, but in a few neighborhoods there will be lines in the front, along the right-of-way. Massive transmission lines and their tall supporting towers are common in outlying areas, though, thanks to the presence of Niagara Falls and its power plants.

    By the way, like Cleveland, Buffalo doesn't have alleys.

    I noticed that overhead utilities are very common in Toronto. I don't know what it's like in that city's suburbs. In any case, it's not as bad as Cleveland.




    (JNL pic)

    Two items of discussion:

    1) Why are there so few underground wired utilities in the Cleveland area? "Because it's cheaper" is not an acceptable answer, sicne undergrounding is common in the rest of the country.

    2) Are overhead utilities common where you are?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    In Williamsville, which Dan did a post on awhile back, overhead utilities seem to be everywhere. The street I live on is close to 200 years old so obviously there was no need for utilities when it was built. When there was a need I imagine the authorities just decided to place them in the front as that was the easiest to do. Since there are few alleys in my village putting them in the rear would have been quite difficult. The block I live on was actually built in the 1950s and it too was built with the lines in the front. Which doesn't suprise me, there are no curbs, sidewalks were included if the builder felt like it (my block has them, others don't) and our sump pump doesn't actually connect to the sewer but comes out in the back yard.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Tons of overheard wires around here. I don't even notice them most of the time.

    In my opinion they look especially bad in "small business" commercial strip areas. The type of main streets in a lot of older inner ring suburbs, with lots of small retail uses with a single row of parking in front. Kind of like the example below (Framingham, MA).


  4. #4
         
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    1) Can't answer why there are so many in Cleveland.
    2) There are pockets of areas that have lots of overhead lines, however we have ordinance that requires that any new utilities must be underground. A developer cannot put in any additional poles. Also, the City has buried many of the lines at the City's expense, in the historic districts and is still trying bury many more.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Future Planner's avatar
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    1) Only been to Cleveland once in the 1980's so I cant answer.
    2) Here in San Diego, we have a Utilities Undergrounding Program for the older sections of the city. I have seen a few streets where this occured but not many (the city is in crisis - mayoral election repurcussions, pension scandal, budget woes)

    I Wonder if an undergrounding program would work in your city....

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    My guess is that putting lines in front of properties on overheads is simply the cheapest thing to do and they were already in place before the city knew what hit them.

    I'm in a rural area, so the lines are overhead. I've made some rumblings about doing an underground conversion program and requiring underground utilities for new stuff, but haven't really initiated it yet. Our problem is once you did down about 6" (if that far) you hit solid rock that even rock crushers have difficulty with.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Around here overhead utility lines are everywhere and in every city, town or place with electricity or telephone. There are very few municipalities that have enough money to spare to put the wiring underground on the main and most atractive streets and avenues. Valdivia, sadly is not the case; where lots of wonderful german settler architecture is hidden behind a maze of wires.

  8. #8
    I don't have a problem with utility poles. I think the non-aesthetic arguments against them are really weak and the aesthetic arguments are, like all aesthetic arguments, subjective-- after all, I personally don't even notice them most of the time, so how can you say that they are an ugly blight on the community without reducing that to a simple judgment on appearance? I grew up with them on my block, and I really think it's just something you get used to. Or at least it's something I'm used to. In fact, if anything I think their absense gives off a weird emptiness to the sky sometimes. And they're not exceptionally more "cluttered" looking than trolley wires.

    I actually walked into a telephone pole when I was a little kid and it put a big gash in my head that didn't go away until I was a teenager. But I don't hold it against them.

    "Because it's cheaper" is not an acceptable answer, sicne undergrounding is common in the rest of the country.

    I think it's basically this simple: Where the streets/buildings existed before the utilities, poles are more common. Where the streets/buildings were laid at the same time as the utilities, they're more often burried. Where people have put the money into burrying them, they're burried too. So that leaves the old and ignored. Cleveland just never got their act together to put money into burrying them, most likely. I'd look into Buffalo, since you use it as an example. See if you can get in touch with some old-timers who would remember when they burried their utilities on their block.

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    I've lived in Cleveland for 22.5 of my 23 years, and these poles have just faded into the scenery for me.

    Here's a piece of anecdotal pro-pole evidence:
    My mom (from Wickliffe, in a pole area) moved into a non-pole area of Seven Hills in the 70s when she got married, always complained that every time it rained the power went out. Once my parents got cable, that too would go out when it rained. Has anyone else experienced these sorts of problems? By the way, my parents got divorced and my mom currently lives in Wickliffe. She has a general tone of resentment toward any part of the Seven Hills area, so her recollection may be biased.

    I also think the sky looks empty without them.

    p.s. I live in suburban Toledo now, Sprawlfield (Springfield Twp) and it's pretty gross.

  10. #10

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    San Francisco is generally overwhelmed with power lines, except in a few elite suburban-style "residential parks" like St. Francis Wood. Not only do you have the typical power and telephone lines, but much of the bus system runs on overhead electric, so you have quite a mess of wiring along most streets.

    I'm now kinda used to it, so...

    My town of employment is new enough that few neighborhoods have overhead lines. We have a few alleys in the pre-war neighborhoods (the handful that exist) where the power lines run. Along the city's main commercial spine, Texas Street/North Texas Street (it makes a huge "J" from one end of town to the next), the overhead lines have been largely-but not completely banished.

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    Quote Originally posted by Dan
    Have a look at the Beeston, Nottinghamshire thread. I dare someone to find one utility pole in any of those photos.

    In much of the United States, especially western states, most utilities are underground in urban areas,. Here in Cleveland and its suburbs, though, it's definitely not the case. EVERYTHING -- electricity, telephone and cable television -- is overhead, even in very prestigous communities like Shaker Heights. If you're lucky, the lines will follow rear property lines, but that's normally not the case. Nothing is buried anywhere, except downtown, university campuses, and the newest subdivisions.
    Although certainly not to the extent of the some of the pictures you posted Dan, we do have a certain issue with overhead lines here. Cable TV is undergrounded but most telephone and electricity lines are over ground. One of my personal bugbears is with the major electricity lines; the National Grid, which distributes power across Britain. These massive structures march over many National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and dominate the view. The excuse is because the expense in undergrounding them makes it prohibitive, especially with the massive voltages they are carrying and the necessary insulation required if they are put underground. Still very ugly though...

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    My immediate thought was that I have not been to a single western city that had most of their power lines buried. San Francisco immediately came to mind.

    The SLC area has a ton of overhead power lines. Most of them run mid block, along people's rear yards, so they do not have the same visual impact on the street. Occassionally there are some lines that run down the street. The biggest problem I have with them is in older neighborhoods with mature trees. The power company absolutely butchers the trees, so they end up U shaped, with the poer lines running down the middle. I guess it is better than removing the trees to bury them.

    We require new subdivsiions/commercial buildings to bury their bury power lines.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Ha! I had been thinking of making a photo essay of ugly utility wiring around the city where I live to send to the utility cos. and mayor and council. A lot of it is very sloppily done, poles are jerry-rigged, they have coils of wire hanging from them, are canted at angles sharp enough to make them look like they'll fall over, etc. A lot of the poles are 50-70 yrs. old, and are showing their age. As a contributor to civic ugliness, I think they're not given enough weight. I think utility crews should be given some training in how to make their installations look a little better. I once had a cable guy run cable right through a window frame, directly to a TV in my rental apartment. No socket in the wall...very sloppy. I guess they just want to do it quick and dirty. I made them come out and fix it.

    Another issue I have with them is that they butcher the trees that they run through. I would much rather have a sky cluttered with the fractal geometry of tree barnches than wires. With the wires underground, you don't have to worry about falling tree branches taking them down.

    Have you ever seen pictures of Tokyo where there are wires going everywhere? Sometimes you see these beautifully crafted modernist buildings in Japanese cities in architectural mags, but when you look at them in context, it looks like hell with the hodgepodge of buildings and wires everywhere.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  14. #14
    Buffalo's wires are still mostly overhead. You do not see them because they are mostly run through the back yards (which really cleans things up). I do not know how they maintain them though since Buffalo is very densely built and many houses do not have driveways to the back yard. The major streets are mostly underground.

    Looking at Cleveland I always had a sense that there was something very different between Buffalo and Cleveland even though there are major similarities. Its those wires.

    Buffalo is a tough blue collar town but it was built with a lot of elegance and wealth so it is possible that the early leaders knew that the wires would have a major impact on the easthetics of the city. Buffalo was one of the first electified cities(possibly the first) so its electrical infrastructure and patterns have been around very long time

  15. #15
    Cyburbian PlannerByDay's avatar
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    Overhead wires are a problem her in My Fair City as well. We are doing a corridor study on a street which leads into Downtown and one of the recommendations is to bury the over head wire.

    The proposal for the entire 1.7 miles was $12.7 million of which the estimate to bury the overhead utilities was $4 million.







    Last edited by PlannerByDay; 01 Mar 2005 at 1:10 PM.

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    Growing up in a pre-war northern Ohio neighborhood, I didn't even know that utility wires could be below ground, and to this day I don't notice them. They are obvious, however, in the pictures. There is no doubt some sort of psychological explanation for the phenomenon of subconsciously filtering out the overhead wires. By the way, I believe that Cleveland was the first city that was electrified, or at the first with electrical street lights.

  17. #17
    -600 BC Static electricity observed by rubbing amber

    -1600 The word electricity invented

    -1882 First commercial power generator NYC

    -1879 First commercial arc light system Cleveland

    -1890 Buffalo native Wm. Kemmler first to be exacuted in the electric chair at Auburn Prison.

    -1895 First large scale single source power production at Niagara Falls. Power transmitted to remote location (Buffalo) 1896

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    PBD showed some of his city, mine (just to the south) is the same way for the old parts, but any new construction requires them to be underground, and when roads are rebuilt, the lines now get buried too. It will take forever, so who knows.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

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    we built this city

    Dan, welcome to the land where the electric utility helped drive the city into default. The local utility formerly known as Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company held sway over Cleveland for most of the last century. Wires, smoke stacks, noise and smell were all emblems of progress and prosperity. Curiously enough only the remnants of the street cars managed to completely dissapear, with the exception of the powerhouse in the flats. Steel, shipping and other vital industries depended on the power company and they made sure everyone knew it. Their headquarters was the first modern skyscraper on Public Square, casting a literal shadow over city hall. Dennis Kucinich's notorious term as Mayor blew up over his refusal to decomission the public electric utility. The competing power companies, plus telephone and cable all contribute to the overhead clutter. Things aren't much better underground. There have been regular disruptions of all utilities due to water main breaks, gas line ruptures and other manifestations of neglect. Need I mention the midwest power blackout from a couple of years back, which originated with FirstEnergy, the former CEI?

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    Member Nor Cal Planner Girl's avatar
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    Oh those wires!

    I guess some of us who grew up in cities- like San Francisco- are somewhat accustomed to them... I even wondered at one point if they (the wires) provided the people who were underneath them (pedestrians) some sort of unconscious sense of enclosure.... like creating a sense of bringing things down to a human scale... weird- I know- and all the planners that I've ever mentioned that thought to gave me a funny look (smile). Anyway, in our designated scenic areas (major roadways and hillsides) developers are required to underground new utilities.

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Nor Cal Planner Girl
    I guess some of us who grew up in cities- like San Francisco- are somewhat accustomed to them... I even wondered at one point if they (the wires) provided the people who were underneath them (pedestrians) some sort of unconscious sense of enclosure.... like creating a sense of bringing things down to a human scale... weird- I know- and all the planners that I've ever mentioned that thought to gave me a funny look (smile). Anyway, in our designated scenic areas (major roadways and hillsides) developers are required to underground new utilities.
    I grew up in a city with sidewalks so narrow that one had to jump into the street when walking by a telephone pole, and they were everywhere. I still can't stand them. When searching for a house last year, my wife and I listed "no telephone poles" as part of our requirements for our new street. In Boston, that is not hard to find as most utilities are burried downtown and strung through the middle of the block in other neighborhoods. The house we ended up in has wires along the rear property line and none in the front.

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    Poles in Cleveland

    I asked my mom your question. She is an area manager for First Energy(North East Ohio's electric utility) She says that First Energy is a Franchise-overhead-utility, which means they only put in utility poles because it is the cheapest way to build the infrastructure. The reason newer developments have underground wiring is simply because the developer paid to have this done because it is more aesthetically pleasing. Under this system you the customer are responsible for anything that happens or goes wrong with the wire underground between your house and the electric transformer. In the overhead system the utility takes care of all lines and wires.

  23. #23
    I even wondered at one point if they (the wires) provided the people who were underneath them (pedestrians) some sort of unconscious sense of enclosure.... like creating a sense of bringing things down to a human scale... weird- I know- and all the planners that I've ever mentioned that thought to gave me a funny look (smile). Anyway, in our designated scenic areas (major roadways and hillsides) developers are required to underground new utilities.
    i've had the very same thought on many occasions. after all, when neighbourhoods string up banners and lights on wires over the street for the summer months, it gives the street a very tangible sense of enclosure. electrical wires are no different.

    the poles are another matter. i've never experienced a neighbourhood were the sidewalks were so narrow that one has to sidestep a pole. if that's the case, what's the point of even having sidewalks?

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