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Rectifying Cleveland's (in)Complete Streets

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/24/13 @ 10:45am  |  Posted in Transportation choices, Projects

Cleveland's Office of Sustainability hosted a workshop on "Streets Typologies" yesterday that took another step toward the Rosetta Stone for the city's 2011 Complete and Green Streets law.

Complete and Green Street<br />Fleet Avenue in Cleveland will be rebuilt with bike lanes and bioswales. A multi-modal corridor<br />Cyclist uses bike lane on Euclid Corridor, ClevelandLower Euclid Avenue and free RTA trolley<br />Bikes on bridges<br />A grassroots group started a community dialogue about bikes, pedestrians and transit in 2009 that led to a multi-use path on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.Bikes belong<br />Clevelanders test ride a bike lane at Pop up RockwellBike capital<br />Groningen is a city in The Netherlands where half of the people bike on a daily basis.

Street typologies will help Cleveland make the case that a road behaves differently in an urban area. Dissecting the elements of a successful urban street will help the city implement its Complete Streets law.

And participants did just that, categorizing streets like E. 4th, W. 25th in Ohio City, Mayfield in Little Italy, Clifton Boulevard and Chester Avenue with colorful names like Festival Street, Walk Your Car, Main Street, Transit Street or Commuter Runway. In small groups, they called out the attributes that will emphasize more cycling, walking, social and commercial interactions.

The prescriptions will be aired at a public meeting, vetted at City Hall and become the source for a complete street design manual, Craig Williams, a consultant with Chicago-based firm, Alta Planning, predicted. Alta will then apply the street typologies to all city of Cleveland streets in an attempt to remove any ambiguity about the city's priorities.

Since it will be the Bible for city traffic engineers, and companies hired to build roads in the city, let them be strong recommendations from this group, said Cleveland City Councilman, Matt Zone, who introduced Complete and Green Streets legislation in Cleveland.

Context is king on city streets where buildings are often densely packed and set close to the street. Lorain, Detroit, Broadway, Superior, E. 105th—the list is long. They offer a sense of enclosure that sets up well for slower speeds.

Where Complete Streets come in is allowing municipalities to exert local control on street design ahead of ODOT's one-size-fits all rule book.

"Complete Streets increase roadway capacity, safety for all users, reduce air and water pollution, provide social equity and beautiful public space," said Williams.

"Why don't people walk, bike or take transit more often?" he asked. "Because many streets are unsafe and uncomfortable for walking and biking. It's why people will drive across the street. That's not really fair. Particularly if you are walking across the street with a walker. You ought to be able to get across that street."

On many city streets, cars moving at maximum speed are of less concern than seniors and kids safely crossing or bikes comfortably sharing space.

In the evolutionary cycle of cities, Cleveland is coming full circle back to what early 20th century residents enjoyed without realizing it.

Safety and comfort will be the new priority in the city's quest to design streets that move from single-serve to multi-modal. What this means practically is an urban street design manual that translates the intent of the Cleveland's complete streets law. It will spell out, in no uncertain terms to traffic engineers, how to arrange the many tiny parts not just the big pipe of the road that cue drivers to slow down and yeild to other moving bodies on the street.

Complete streets has to play in the engineers' sandbox or the law will be too easily sidestepped with excuses. All the talk of bold crosswalks, bike lanes, extra wide curbs that are planted with rain gardens, street trees, and more! need ironclad rules and in Cleveland's case a buck-stops-here leader like the mayor or a leutenant (in New York City, that's Janette Sadik-Khan Commissioner of the Department of Transportation and in Chicago the "transportation czar" is Gabe Klein)—who walks (not always) softly and weilds a big stick. Cleveland lacks a Commissioner of Transportation.

Barb Clint leads YMCA's program, Steps to a Healthier Cleveland, which paid for Alta's training session. She likes the health focus of Complete Streets.

"Partners in the Y's Healthy Communities program are focused on making the healthy choice the safe and convenient one," Clint said. "In Cleveland, we are faced with high rates of lifestyle-related diabetes and heart disease. By improving our built environment, we can also improve our collective health."

Cleveland will emphasize the use of green elements as traffic calming because the city also passed a green streets ordinance.

"In Cleveland, you really have a need for complete and green streets," said Williams. "They tie in to the Sewer District's work to reduce combined sewer overflows. You have this Clean Water Act settlement, so you need to incorporate opportunities to clean up the water."

Attendees included representatives from nonprofit organizations like University Circle, Inc., BikeCleveland, RTA, ODOT Local Projects Office out of Columbus, and county traffic engineers working on their own complete streets inititative. And while key city engineers were not present at the workshop, the law mandates that they figure out how to make city streets accommodate all users equally.

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John McGovern
9 years ago

Along the lines of returning the streets to the people, I really like what the City of Mpls is doing to implement traffic calming elements. They are conducting real world testing by using parking blocks and jersey barriers to test traffic calming and or enhanced bike/ped infrastructure. Such an arrangement allows all users of the street (peds, cyclists, transit riders, & motorists) to actually see/feel how a piece of infrastructure affects or enhances their life before it is implemented. Would love to see a similar policy enacted in CLE. It may be seen as a threat to traffic engineers as it does remove some of their power, but it also affords them much improved feedback; which in turn should improve design.

John McGovern
9 years ago

Why on earth weren't the engineers in attendance?

Are not they the ones whose responsibility it is to design our streets?

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