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Cleveland needs to "name and claim" bike progress

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/13/13 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Transportation choices

Cleveland will paint more bike lanes this summer than at any time in its 217-year history. It may be premature to call it a bike boom, but it is appropriate to call it by some other name.

Bikes Belong<br />Cleveland will paint in bike lanes going up and sharrows going down Edgehill Road in Little Italy this summer. Image: GCBL.

This Friday, Cleveland will complete the resurfacing and bike lanes started by Cleveland Heights up Edgehill Road (sharrows will be painted on the downhill side). After "The Avengers" finishes wiping evil off the Shoreway and side streets, the city will paint bike lanes on Detroit Avenue from W. 25th Street to Lake Avenue.

The city has signed off on bike lanes for W. 41st and W. 44th streets in Ohio City, on E. 22nd Street through the campus of Cleveland State University, on Fleet Avenue and on Triskett Road, to name a few.

Bike advocacy created a voice for this change, and bolstered the city when it faces opposition. When Bike Cleveland and GreenCityBlueLake advocated for bike lanes on Madison Avenue and on W. 65th Street this spring, reception to the idea — and the possibility that they’ll get done — are far more real today than in the past. The city should take credit for its recent evolution and open mindedness to bike facilities. Since the passage of Complete Streets, a new attitude is emerging at the city — what appears to be an acceptance that bikes belong on the road. For example, realizing that city crews will be painting sharrows on Edgehill Road this Saturday, GCBL, Bike Cleveland, and University Circle, Inc. asked if they could continue painting sharrows on Cornell Road to connect with Euclid. The city responded quickly and positively.

It helps to have a growing corps of support for more access on Cleveland streets via bike lanes, cross- and side walks and better transit stops. It also helps to have an Office of Sustainability pushing for the implementation of complete streets.

But the city has been mum on setting a big goal — like reducing vehicle miles traveled and lowering carbon emissions — with bikes or transit as the vehicle. Observers note that the city's recent Climate Action Plan is a first step in adopting such a goal. That would be a welcome evolution in how the city expresses its views about bikes (when the Plain Dealer wrote last year about why Cleveland slipped from the national list of most bike friendly cities, city officials sounded defensive or non-committal about bikes).

Cleveland can turn that defense in to an offense by “naming and claiming” what it’s already doing to promote biking and walking. First, Cleveland can create a “name” for all of their efforts. Compared to peer cities like Columbus — where the mayor can be seen riding a bike and declaring goals to make it a bike friendly city — Cleveland can take some quick and easy steps to show it “likes” bikes.

While branding their Bike Friendly Cleveland effort, they will ensure the cooperation and “atta boys” from the growing ranks of bike commuters. They can build good will in the “choir” by periodically calling attention to their efforts. This could prove to be a far more effective strategy than the current one which, from the outside, appears too passive.

It can start with the city naming all of its current progress and plans — in a public way. A high ranking official other than the Chief of Sustainability should voice support for the momentum. He or she can claim the city’s share of advances — including a suite of policy from complete streets to bike parking ordinance— to its bike infrastructure in the works.

The city’s mode tends to be cautious, born out of a concern of not wanting to over promise and under deliver. They may have learned these lessons the hard way, in projects like the lakefront where more than a year passed between the mayor’s announcement of a master development and this week’s announcement that the city and county will invest millions in creating the infrastructure for better lakefront access from Public Square and the Mall downtown.

Government can test the patience of the public which expects speedier cycles of “customer service.” The challenge of quickening the delivery of services mounts within a city struggling to balance its budget.

All the more reason for Cleveland to re-package its bike and pedestrian strategy. Bike infrastructure can be an inexpensive way to build up immediate good will. In the case of doing road diets and improving access and safety while promoting cleaner forms of transportation—for a huge segment of the population without a car—Cleveland can deliver by tweaking its road resurfacing process just a little, and claiming it as part of a larger vision.

In order to make it stick, though, the city will want to consider some firm goals, and, to be frank, it is still missing the larger vision (again, the naming it part of the equation). Cleveland has been timid, compared to cities faced with similar circumstances, in giving its efforts a name beyond a map for its bike plan.

Would this change if complete streets were part of the economic team? We’d like to see a press conference with the mayor or his chiefs — riding a bike touting the benefits of transit-oriented developments (like the W. 25th Rapid Station TOD announced this week) built on a complete street.

It is a natural for the city to promote its complete streets plan at the same time it is soliciting RFPs for the next TOD projects, both as a competitive advantage and a way of gaining support from developers. We would like to hear the city’s economic team cite the data from cities that added bike lanes in commercial redevelopment and saw faster growth in retail sales than those served by cars alone.

Bikes and complete streets are not panaceas for the city’s problems, but they are helpful in getting a bigger dialogue going, and getting people excited about the possibility of improving where they live. Imagine where it could lead with a signal from within that it is also excited to see a city where everyone who wants to bike, walk or take transit has that choice.

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Last of...
9 years ago

Thanks for the clarification. I'm trying to stay positive, but I can't wait to see how the city tries to connect westbound cyclists with a bike path south of North Park. I hope it doesn't turn out like the very dangerous Lakes to Lake Trail section south of Fairhill (with its multiple driveway crossings, blind spots and channel turns to contend with)

GCBL
9 years ago

I know which trail you're referring to -- the Lake to Lakes Trail originally was built to cross Rudy Rogers park and connect the two sides of Fairhill (or whatever that road is called). What appears to be a NEW trail spur is being built off that main trail heading up to MLK near North Park. I believe it's the city's intention to direct cyclists using the bike lane on North Park to this off-road path that connect to the Lake to Lakes Trail. I don't think they want to be responsible for putting bike lanes on Fairhill.

Last of the Blackberries
9 years ago

Thanks for the follow-up, GCBL. The Cleveland section of the Lakes to Lake Trail through the Boy Scout park is complete. The improvement that I'm referring to, however, is on North Park Boulevard, heading west. The problem is that, like many bike paths, it abruptly ends, in this case just past Harcourt. It appears that there is no way to connect the North Park bike path to the section of the Lakes to Lake Trail in the Boy Scout park, without having cyclists cross multiple lanes of extremely fast traffic. Does the North Park bike path end because it reached the Cleveland border and Cleveland has not stepped up to finish it or does it end because Cleveland Heights was unable to find away to extend it to the bottom of the hill?

GCBL
9 years ago

I believe that Cleveland is building a trail right now through Rudy Rogers/the Boy Scout park that connects the Lake to Lakes Trail to the bottom of North Park (where it circles around on MLK).

We're hearing that the city of Cleveland is set to paint the bike lanes on Detroit Avenue as soon as Captain America leaves town. Sources confirm that the city was scheduled to paint the bike lanes on Detroit before the filming, but then decided to delay it until after.

The same sources tell us that the city has proposed a bike trail carved out of the wide tree lawn on West Boulevard. But I'm not sure what happens to the trail in that segment around the Rapid Station to the highway.

Last of the Blackberries
9 years ago

Why does the westbound bike lane on North Park Boulevard stop at Harcourt in Cleveland Heights, well before cyclists get to the bottom of the hill? Does it end at the Cleveland border and, if so, is Cleveland going to step up and extend or connect it to the bottom of the hill to the Lakes to Lake Trail?

Bike parking
9 years ago

So, is Cleveland hooking up westside cyclists with anything special for taking so long to paint the bike lanes on Detroit Ave? I thought they were going to be painted at the end of last year. A complete streets rework of the Cudell/West Blvd intersection of death would be a good start --- and it would have the added benefit of making the area more pedestrian friendly for local residents using the rapid station.

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