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Fighting to make the Innerbelt Bridge a Complete Street

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/28/09 @ 10:46am

For latest updates on upcoming public meetings on the bridge design visit: http://www.gcbl.org/innerbelt

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A standing room only crowd of advocates for sustainable urbanism were witnesses at the Cleveland Planning Commission meeting last week with half of the people there in support of including bike and pedestrian accommodations on the rebuilt Innerbelt Bridge.

After a year of considering a bike lane on the new Innerbelt Bridge and laying out reasons for it, including attracting a younger generation to Cleveland, members of the planning commission appeared to be split on whether the issue was resolved.  Commission chair Tony Coyne pointed out that the city and ODOT would like Abbey Avenue bridge-the connection between Tremont and Ohio City-widened and a 5 ft. bike lane on each side plus two 5 ft. sidewalks added.

Coyne blames the Federal Highway Administration for standing in the way of a separated bike lane on the bridge. But, FHWA has lent support to state departments of transportation in 30 other cases where bike and pedestrian lanes were added to bridges, and also sponsors an extensive document library on bike and pedestrian implementation activities.  The point is, if the region is to get serious about meeting the reality of climate change it will have to accommodate members of the community other than motorists in its transportation investments. We need not make this another example where the planning commission and the city defer to the transportation agency. We need to check ODOT's statements and assumptions.

For starters, too many flaws can be seen in ODOT's plan to reroute bike and pedestrian traffic to Abbey Avenue. The biggest flaw is ODOT's plan to cut off its design where the Abbey bike route meets W. 20th Street-without giving a clear reason why. West 20th is THE connection to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, where the agency expects cyclists and pedestrians to go. If this is a preferred surface street route, then W. 20th today is not suitable-its 27 ft. width means it is not wide enough to add a five foot bike lane from Abbey.   (See Google Maps Streetview of Abbey Ave.)

"I'm pleased to see ODOT make an effort with Abbey, but it's important not to see it in isolation," commented Chris Alvarado. "I encourage ODOT to work with the neighborhoods to ensure a pedestrian and bike connection."

One solution might be to retrofit W. 20th as a one-way 'bicycle boulevard'-that is, if the goal is to make a suitable, safe route for cyclists coming from Tremont to Ohio City and downtown (W. 21st, Gehring and other streets provide plenty of redundant infrastructure to do this without disrupting the flow of cars).

"Maybe you take a leadership role and figure out how, if (the Innerbelt Bridge project) connects the city and neighborhoods, that this isn't just about moving cars over the river," added Commissioner, Lillian Kuri.

Commissioner Joe Cimperman likened the situation to RTA's inclusion of bike lanes on the Euclid Corridor. Initially, RTA said it could never be done because ODOT wouldn't let them. But, the city took a stance that it had to happen or they wouldn't approve the design.

In order to see the Innerbelt Bridge as a new kind of bridge, it will take the city stepping up and convincing ODOT that we're on the same team rather than allowing ODOT to continue to operate from a defensive stance, Cimperman added. If the Federal Highway Administration is 'the other team' then we need to adopt a 'can do' attitude about how to design for better outcomes.

"I remember when Mike Shipper of RTA swore we would never have bike lanes on Euclid," Cimperman said. "(The city) threatened to veto at 90% design review. Mike found a way. We shouldn't have such a hard commitment to 'no' when good ideas come out."

How many Euclid Avenue bike lane fights do we have to have before it bakes into the city and ODOT and the state leaders that we're serious about cycling as real transportation and that infrastructure investments that are considered alternative today are the preferred option in the future?

There is still some inherent confusion that bike advocates want bikes and cars travelling in the same space without a safe way of separating them with a concrete barrier. Commissioner Norm Krumholz questioned the safety of the idea, but he seems to be stuck in a 1950s idea of transportation or, perhaps like many of us, just hasn't witnessed what a dedicated bike/pedestrian path on a bridge can be (pictured is a recent example).

What's striking about ODOT's 'hard no' on the Innerbelt Bridge is how money was found for two 17-foot break down lanes. These fatty shoulders and the cost for 34 feet of pavement and decking could easily be put on a 9-foot diet with the remainder dedicated to a separated bike lane. Meanwhile, ODOT has not provided cost estimates on what it would take to do this. Guidelines state that bikes and pedestrians should be accommodated when federal funds are being used to build roads unless it exceeds 20% of the total cost of the project-at $400 million for the Innerbelt Bridges, we don't know but can only guess at what is a reasonable cost to slim down the break-down lanes-we can still have a break-down lane and a bike/pedestrian path just like they do in Washington, D.C. (pictured right)

ODOT may claim it's a matter of cost, but what is the real reason they're defensive about this? Is it because they do not accept the premise that bikes and pedestrians belong on the bridge? Until someone with authority is willing to step in and take a strong stand that we're serious about Complete Streets and we're building our infrastructure for the next 50 years, then ODOT will continue to rule the conversation.

If you are one of the 25% of Clevelanders who don't have a car and who choose to commute to your job by bike, you are excluded from the Innerbelt Bridge ? are the infrastructure choices being made by your leaders helping you get to work in an efficient manner?

It's time for all of us to move collectively to change our future for the better. We control how we want our city to look. ClevelandBikes and other advocates need you to turn out in collective force and demand that our leaders take a stand, demand that we use the power of Cleveland's cabinet of Sustainability and our recently reelected Mayor Jackson to see this as a once in a generation opportunity to put the stamp of sustainability on something as large and meaningful as the place that hundreds of thousands of us will gather, one day, on foot, by bike, by wheelchair-enjoy the view and snap a few photos as you watch the sun setting over the lake and the city.

Here is an example of what bike and pedestrian access could look like.  Click on photos to see more images:

Make your voice heard.  Consider contacting the individuals and entities below to let them know that you support complete streets in Cleveland:

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