2014 HAS BEEN A YEAR where Cleveland saw pockets of progress in a historically overlooked and crapped upon region. It was a year of cycling, LeBron James, Republicans, gay athletes, and an oversized lighting fixture. Some say it was the year Cleveland came back from the dead. Huzzah! We did it!

Setting a plan for 70 miles of bike lanes by the end of 2017

Cyclists have been the Rodney Dangerfields of the road in Cleveland. The work of some guerilla bike lane painters finally forced the city to stop dragging its feet and show results. 2014 had a promising start for two-wheeled travelers when the city announced plans to add 70 miles of bikeways by 2017, 45 of which would come over the next two years. Should everything go according to plan, this car town could look (and smell) completely different, with a 200 mile network by 2018.

Extending the towpath trail just a bit more

The Towpath Trail has been in the works for a decade, a 110-mile cycling route from Cleveland through Canton, Ohio tracing the nearly 200-year-old route used to pull canal boats as part of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal.

This summer, the dream came a bit closer to reality when the 0.8-mile Scranton Flats portion was completed. Even better, in November developers estimated that the Cleveland portion could be completed by 2019 with the final leg in Tuscarawas County coming the following year.

Nabbing the RNC convention in one of the most liberal cities

Most thought it was a joke when Cleveland announced the city was interested in hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention. This being the same region that handed President Barack Obama his second term in 2012.

However, Republicans were reportedly impressed with the Cleveland comeback story. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that Cleveland was willing to put up $10 million in public money to host the convention.

In other words, the Republicans are coming to Cleveland, principles be damned. But we’ll still happily take their money while they’re here.

Bringing the gay games to an anti-gay marriage state

On the other end of the political spectrum, many marriage equality advocates questioned bringing the Gay Games to Cleveland over a city like Boston where same-sex partners can actually tie the knot. In 2004, Ohioans approved a change to the state constitution that defined marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Others, however, saw it as a challenge. Why not head to Ohio and help foment change? And what better way to quash outdated stereotypes than by displaying a level of athleticism homophobes could only dream of from their couch?

In the end, the 2014 Gay Games were by most accounts a tremendous success, and a challenge to Ohio’s constitutional ban against same-sex marriage could be on the ballot as early as 2015.

Mending fences with LeBron James for all the right reasons

Number 23 jerseys were burning on national television when LeBron James infamously announced his departure for “South Beach.” An infamous comic sans rant by a billionaire with a toddler’s temperament followed shortly thereafter.

My, how things have changed.

LeBron James and Cleveland famously mended fences this past summer when he opted to return to Cleveland in the form of an essay. “The letter,” as it’s now known, showed Clevelanders that James finally understands what he means to the region. Not just for the bars and restaurants of the Gateway District, but more importantly to the young men and women of Cleveland and Akron who look up to him.

Peaceful Tamir Rice protests

When the situation in Ferguson, Missouri sparked nationwide protests, 12-year-old Tamir Rice lost his life in a west side Cleveland neighborhood. An officer shot and killed the child before the police cruiser even came to a complete stop. It was later discovered that said officer was noted for poor handgun performance by superiors in suburban Independence. The Department of Justice followed up with a condemnation of Cleveland Police’s pattern of resorting to excessive force.

Despite it all, organizers of Cleveland’s protests managed to maintain the calm as they effectively (and brilliantly) shutdown important highways and roadways to peacefully garner the attention of their neighbors, commuters, and city leaders. Questions unfortunately remain unanswered, but Clevelanders can be proud of the way in which they got the region’s attention.

Building the world’s largest outdoor chandelier

Some called it a gimmick, others the icing on the cake of Cleveland’s comeback story — a story Clevelanders on all sides of the debate love reading and talking about.

Nevertheless, Cleveland did manage to build the world’s largest outdoor chandelier in the heart of one of the city’s most trendy districts. Others, of course, might simply know it as the giant lightbulb protesters laid down underneath during the aforementioned protests.

The Sax Man

Cleveland has had its fair share of icons over the years. Bob Hope (born here), Tim Conway, Arsenio Hall, Halle Berry, and the man who popularized monopoly before it became a board game of forced family interaction, John D. Rockefeller. The latest to join the Cleveland lexicon of icons is Maurice Reedus Jr., better known as The Sax Man.

Locals and visitors alike know him as the musician playing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” after an Indians game, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” outside of Tower City, or any number of Christmas carols throughout the holidays. Reedus finally had his claim to fame in the summer of 2013 when he rejoined the Sly, Slick & Wicked at the House of Blues in Downtown Cleveland. A documentary production on Reedus filmed the event, and it became the climactic scene of the appropriately-titled The Sax Man, which premiered at 2014 at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

The Sax Man can still be seen around town, taking full advantage of a law named in his honor protecting street musicians.

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