What's the Deal With Dead Man's Curve in Cleveland?

Ralph DiMatteo

Dead Man's Curve Cleveland

Cleveland's Dead Man's Curve: Unfortunate Nickname or Accurate Warning?

So what could possibly go wrong with a sharp, almost 90-degree highway turn with a speed limit of 50 mph (when it opened to the public)? Well, the designers of Dead Man's Curve found out almost right away, and tales - some accurate, others a bit embellished - have been told ever since the first Cleveland drivers tried it out in 1962.

The idea was simple: build a “go-around” stretch to ease some of the downtown traffic. Conventional wisdom would seem to be that drivers just were not familiar with such an oddly conceived design and spent the first three years of its existence in and causing a variety of accidents. Some were severe and sadly fatal, while others were as simple as hubcaps popped off by the stress of the tight curve.

So let’s take a look at a history of the measures taken to address the problem and see if it’s done anything to help shed the infamous stretch of its unfortunately earned reputation.

First, it is important to point out that the actual beginnings of the project go back to 1944 with actual construction in sections at a time not beginning for ten years. It seems a little odd that with all the time for planning and design that no one seemed to sit up at the table and say, "We might want to alter this design just a bit, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.” Of course, that’s speculation on my part with it being 70+ years ago, but even then it just seems strange it wasn’t caught by someone.

After three years of waiting to see if drivers could figure this out on their own, the speed limit was lowered to 35 mph in 1965, and although this did help quite a bit, there were still far too many instances of drivers losing total control through the curve. To be fair, traffic through the area continued to increase and a large part of the problem could very well have been drivers encountering the curve for the first time. The scariest stories of the time were those of people actually flipping their vehicles and trucks jackknifing.

Rumble strips and flashing lights were added in 1969. I am a lifelong Clevelander and worked downtown from 1980 through 2005 and have seen these simple additions to the stretch improved and enhanced several times throughout the years, and the statistics clearly indicate their impact on improving safety through the turn. Sadly, as serious accidents did still occur from time to time, they overshadowed the positive impacts the improvements made.

To this day, improvements are still discussed to ease the angle of the turn, but many Clevelanders - maybe a bit surprisingly - are in favor of leaving the turn as it is. Perhaps, in a bit of an odd way they see it as just something else that makes Cleveland unique.

Cleveland has many roadways that statistically are far more dangerous than Dead Man’s Curve, but we can only conclude that because of its unique design and immediate challenges to drivers, it will quite possibly never shake the image of being considered the most dangerous roadway in the area. The tight turn has claimed its hubcaps, side mirrors and, sadly, lives to be sure, but the bottom line is that if while driving you are always aware of your surroundings, you should easily be able to survive your encounters with Cleveland’s Dead Man’s Curve.

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