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Hang out in Cleveland long enough, and you’re likely to hear “Dead Man’s Curve” talked about in hushed tones. The sharp curve in downtown Cleveland has claimed lives, and it’s still pretty dangerous. Let’s take a look at the history of this notorious scary spot on the highway to find out why it has made such an ominous name for itself.
Dead Man’s Curve is a harrowing, almost 90-degree angle in downtown Cleveland, where I-90 curves as it approaches Lake Erie. It was built during the ill-fated Innerbelt Project (which included the Innerbelt Bridge, an arch over the Cuyahoga River that was eventually dismantled in 2014 and replaced by the Voinovich Bridge) in 1959 to alleviate the city’s traffic, and was initially set with a scary-high speed limit of 50 mph (80 km/h).
Drivers weren’t able to slow down in time to complete the curve safely, and the poorly designed roadway led to fatal accidents almost immediately. The curve claimed a number of lives in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, sometimes making national and even international news.
It quickly gained a reputation as a highly dangerous area, with many motorists avoiding it at all costs. Dead Man’s Curve became so notorious that a local artist, Joe Gierlach, even proposed a statue to be called “The Ghost of Dead Man’s Curve” that would serve as a sort of guiding light, guardian angel, and warning for drivers. (The idea wasn’t too well received.)
The speed limit on the curve was eventually lowered to 35 mph (56 km/h), and Dead Man’s Curve was amended in the 1960s to include rumble strips and better signs. Still, fears of the road have persisted, and accidents continue.
Since the 2000s, Cleveland’s Dead Man’s Curve has been much safer, with no fatalities along the sharp right turn since 2001–2002. But according to the Ohio Highway Patrol, nearly 200 accidents have occurred there since the structural changes, including several trucks flipping over—meaning it’s still one of the state’s most hazardous roadways for motorists.
In many ways, the story of Dead Man’s Curve is also a story about Cleveland’s complicated infrastructure and troubled economic roller coaster ride over the years. Although many improvements have been made since the curve’s initial construction, many other changes have been proposed that could potentially provide a smoother, safer ride for Ohio drivers.
But despite the Ohio Department of Transportation’s best efforts, funding and the construction of the surrounding roadways have stalled any potential improvements, leading to widespread debate and differing proposals about where to proceed from here.