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Roadblock ahead! ODOT thwarts Cleveland on Complete Streets

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/26/13 @ 9:00am  |  Posted in Transportation choices

The Circle-Heights Bike Plan aims to improve the connection for people walking, biking and taking transit between east-side suburbs and University Circle. The plan recently concluded that more and better infrastructure would attract new riders. The city of Cleveland Heights has followed up on one of the plan’s big recommendations. In March, it applied for federal grants for a bike path on Cedar Hill and through its Cedar-Fairmount business district. The trail will be paved from grassy space on the south side of Cedar-Glenn Parkway, providing a bike connection to the RTA Rapid Station at the base of the Hill. It will also connect to a new green space when the Cedar-University Rapid Station’s south side headhouse and bus loop are demolished. This new pocket park and the Cedar Hill trail will continue efforts to build a east-side/University Circle bike network which got a boost in 2012 with the completion of the Lake Erie-to-Shaker Lakes Bike Trail. Cleveland Heights City Council approved a grant application for a local match to their $375,000 request to NOACA for the streetscape improvement and the new trail.

Share the road<br />Many cities across the U.S. are retrofitting roads to fit bike lanes and parked cars. Fitting in<br />Can the City of Cleveland make complete and green streets come alive considering budget and plans, for example, on W. 65th for off-road bikeways and green infrastructure?

Circle-Heights shares a common bond with the W. 65th St. redesign on Cleveland’s near west side. The design for both was funded through NOACA's Transportation for Livable Communities. This should bump them up in line for Transportation Enhancements, federal money for bike/ped improvements. These “TE” funds help pay the lion’s share when cities are trying to implement Complete Streets laws and are required to follow through on plans for bike infrastructure and ‘green streets‘ ideas.

Funding for complete streets is one perennial issue that Cleveland will face. The other is federal guidelines that restrict bike lanes on roads because of space issues.

A federal rule has been cited by ODOT that has removed bike lanes from the W. 65th Street plan, because it would narrow lanes to 10 or 11 ft. rather than the standard issue 12 feet. With on-street parking, it is admittedly a challenge to fit a five-foot-wide bike lane on W. 65th Street. But FHWA has a guideline for bike lanes with on-street parking, if cities are really interested in having both. FHWA notes that narrowing lane widths is within road engineering standards, especially on streets that have moderate traffic. It's why FHWA routinely sees cities apply for exemptions to these federal edicts. The Feds grant these exceptions because they recognize that in urban areas, the context of the street should hold greater value. Because they defer to cities that want to fulfill goals of calming traffic, improving safety and comfort for all users on the road.

What does that mean for W. 65 Street? A more common sense and more cost effective solution—bike lanes on the roadway—are being ruled out because a federal law is being cited as inscrutable and beyond discussion.

So, there's a rub. Cleveland is saying it wants W. 65th to be safer for all users. ODOT says a federal rule takes bike lanes out. The city replaces it with an expensive trail (acquiring land for a trail is always more expensive than using some of the road). If cost were not a factor, that would be a fine idea. But it costs around $1 million per mile to build a bikeway. The stretch of W. 65th Street from Denison to Detroit avenues under the plan is 2 miles, and with the city capping Complete and Green Streets projects at $1 million, something will have to give.

The city may have to intervene here before the wonderful ideas in the W. 65th Street plan get “value engineered” out. In cities with a Transportation Chief, like New York and Chicago, it would be their job to see these conflict points ahead of time, and steer clear.

There will always be a roadblock of rules. The irony is, the Federal Highway Administration is ahead of Ohio Department of Transportation on this issue. FHWA, with its “context sensitive solutions” recognizes that it's people who use the street and their lives will be impacted by its design. When ODOT accepts the word from its boss in Washington is anybody's guess.

For Cleveland that may require one of the mayor’s many chiefs to write FHWA for a local exception. Or, to say, 'this W. 65th Street bikeway and green street is one of our big community development priorities' and find the matching funds for both a bike trail and green elements like bioswale curb bump outs (the weakness of this position is it soaks up all of the funding in one project).

The preference would be for Cleveland to have the latitude to explore the option of bike lanes on its streets without the interference of a rule in a book in Washington that, frankly, is an impediment to progress.

More immediately, though, the W. 65th Street example makes the case for adding a staff person at the City of Cleveland tasked, full-time, with implementing its Complete and Green Streets ordinance. His or her CV will include dealing with the intricacies of federal and state guidelines and still successfully building out a bikeway.

In the future, the road will be littered with these conflicts as the city attempts to complete its Bikeway Plan (which W. 65th is a part of) and fulfill its Complete and Green Streets law.

Right now the solution seems to be kick it to the curb—with expensive off-road bikeways or less effectual sharrows. Adding an expert traffic engineer/planner well equipped to handle the byzantine nature of laws that thwart complete streets and, armed with experience designing urban streets from the latest, nationally recognized design manuals, is quickly becoming a priority for the city.

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Considering the Heights
1 year ago

Thanks for the clarification regarding University Circle Inc.'s involvement. But how will the Cedar-Glen Bikeway connect to the bike lanes east of Fairmount Boulevard? Will there at least be bikes-may-take-full-lane sharrows? I understand that local residents were asking for bike lanes through that stretch of Cedar, but the idea was shot down. If that's the case, what's the plan for helping local residents achieve their vision for their neighborhood, if it won't be acheived at this point in time?

GCBL
1 year ago

The Circle-Heights Bike Network Plan of which University Circle, Inc. and the City of Cleveland Heights were partners does recommend bike lanes on Cedar Road (east of Fairmount Blvd.) and on Edgehill Road (going up between Murray Hill and the Derbyshire intersection). The blog post you're referring to was one that we wrote critiquing the plan for recommending Sharrows ahead of bike lanes on roads such as Edgehill which, with further study, probably have the space for them.

Considering the Heights
1 year ago

Thanks, "Not even done planning." I thought that University Circle Inc. blocked the bike lanes on Cedar Road and other bike improvements in Cleveland Heights, despite the desires of local Cleveland Heights residents. Are the Cedar Road bike lanes still included in the project?

Not even done planning
1 year ago

My read on the Cedar-Glen bikeway is the City of Cleveland Heights has just approved going after grants that would cover their local match. If they get it, and NOACA money, for design and engineering, the project will move to the next step (implementation). I'm not sure about how far east it will go. I'm assuming it ends in the Cedar-Fairmount District. The Circle-Heights plan calls for bike lanes up Cedar Road starting just east of Fairmount Boulevard.

Considering the Heights
1 year ago

What's the scheduled completion date for the Cedar-Glen Bikeway? How far east will it extend?

Digging some more
1 year ago

I appreciate your insight on the national guidelines. I've been digging in to the Ohio Department of Transportation design standards (will have a follow up blog post on that coming soon). From what I can tell, the problem is a narrow and frankly inexplicable reading of the national design standards going on in Columbus. The second big problem it seems is ODOT doesn't share how it interprets the design guidelines. Cities like Cleveland are left in the dark. More to come.

John
1 year ago

This sounds like ODOT rules to me, not federal rules. The only national guidelines (not rules or requirements) on lane width are in the AASHTO Green Book, which is quite clear that 10-11 foot lanes are acceptable on lower speed streets. There is no evidence whatsoever that 12 foot lanes are safer than 10 or 11 foot lanes at speeds below 35 MPH.

Some insight on rules
1 year ago

I shared the question of narrowing traffic lanes and fitting in bike lanes with on-street car parking on W. 65th Street with Rob Mavec, Commissioner, City of Cleveland Traffic Engineering. Here's his initial take (some more investigation of this issue is needed):



















"It really depends on the funding source, classification of roadways and who is to review it. 10 foot lanes are generally never permitted, 11 foot lanes are acceptable in most cases and 12 foot lanes are desired. Having said this many funding sources dictate design standards, I am not 100% sure of the classification or designation of West 65th Street..."

Seeking answers
1 year ago

I've shared your questions with Cleveland City Planning. While they deferred specifics to city traffic engineers (who I have also asked to respond), here's what city planning said: "It's complicated a bit...it depends on the type of road (e.g., a designated truck route) and the distance from a curb or a median planter."

John
1 year ago

What federal rule are they citing? I design bike lanes all the time with travel lanes that are 10-11 feet wide. I don't believe there is any such rule.

Angie Schmitt
1 year ago

Did you know ODOT -- which is pretty much out of money -- requires wider lane widths than the feds? 12 feet to Aashto's 11. I wonder why ODOT would do that? Oh right, their director is a former asphalt industry lobbyist!

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