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What the Innerbelt Bridge can be

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/05/09 @ 1:40pm

Join advocates of sustainable transportation this Friday (11-6) at the Cleveland Planning Commission hearing, 9-11 a.m. at Cleveland City Hall where ODOT will present ideas on how the Innerbelt Bridge should look and feel. It's a good opportunity to express your desire for a bridge that's a source of pride for the community.

GreenCityBlueLake posed the following question to the Ohio Department of Transportation:

Has any thought been given to a bike path on one of the Innerbelt bridges? Now that there will be two bridges with a total investment of $274 million, it seems that there would be a lot of design flexibility to incorporate a cool bike facility with great views of the Flats and downtown. It could be a special loop route of the Towpath Trail.

 Senior officials at ODOT respond that they will study the bike/ped path, but there are issues that need to be resolved. "Not the least of which is how to get cyclists or pedestrians up to and down from the bridge level," says ODOT District 12 manager Craig Hebebrand.

Yet, examples of bike paths on highway bridges (separated by concrete barriers and security fences) exist all over the country. Most recently, Charleston's signature Cooper River Bridge (pictured below) was built with a 12-foot wide bike/pedestrian path (pictured left). Letters, testimony, and even a local bumper sticker campaign worked to add the bike/ped component into the bridge design, the South Carolina Department of Transportation touts in its public relations. And Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, Jr., lauded the bike path in his recent 2007 State of the City address, saying, "A wonderful surprise has been the way our community has taken to the bike and pedestrian lane on the new Cooper River Bridge."

The Innerbelt Bridge crossing is on the City Bikeway Master Plan, Martin Cader at Cleveland City Planning Commission confirms.

"It's been on there since the bridge issue came up several years ago," he says. "I agree that it would be a great Towpath Trail connection to Jacobs Field/Q-arena/Downtown."

Federal policy suggests that ODOT must accommodate bike/ped travel if they're connecting two streets that are legal for cycling, unless the cost increase is greater than 20 percent of the total project, says EcoCity Cleveland transportation manager Ryan McKenzie. "Even if the cost is greater, [ODOT] must invest in more cost-effective alternatives for bikes and pedestrians."

Bike and pedestrian access may work better on the existing bridge, confirms a senior city planner. "This may actually be the better place to do it since there will be extra capacity once the westbound traffic is removed. I see bikes and (pedestrians) on the southern edge of the bridge entering with the W. 14th entrance ramp and exiting at Broadway or Ontario with the exit ramp ? it should not be that complicated as they only need to get across the river, not continue beyond the first exit ramp."

In fact, Pittsburgh successfully added a bike/ped lane to an existing bridge and included an ADA-accessible ramp to solve the need for a less steep entrance (see photos at right).

The federal policy of accommodating new bike/ped amenities in new construction is often overlooked - unless a groundswell of public support drives the process. Make your voice heard for a bike path on the Innerbelt Bridge by emailing ODOT Innerbelt Project Manager Craig Hebebrand or by leaving a comment here.

Reasons for including a bike/pedestrian path on the Innerbelt Bridge

  • Situated in one of the poorest cities in the country, an Innerbelt Bridge Path can add a safer, more affordable transportation option for Clevelanders, and a tangible sign that the region and the state are truly committed to affordable transportation choices. Low income people are already risking their lives to walk the bridge now. Why dismiss their need in a project of this scope, cost and multi-generational importance?
  • Walking distances on the bridge are significantly shorter than alternative routes, so going by foot will become viable for daily commutes, trips to the ballpark, and even for lunchtime and post-game walks from downtown to Tremont's many restaurants.
  • The Innerbelt Bridge Path provides an express connection to Jacobs Field and the central business district from the planned Towpath Trail extension, making it a seamless off-road solution for millions of trail visitors each year, as well as daily bicycle commuters from throughout central and southern Cuyahoga County.
  • The Bridge route is free of the steep grade changes and high-volume intersection crossings that make current alternatives such a deterrent to people who would otherwise consider walking and biking into downtown.
  • Our region can offer a quality of life amenity that promotes public health through increased physical activity, decreases household spending by making low-cost commuting more viable, and provides a major recreational and tourism benefit ? showcasing views of the downtown skyline and Cuyahoga valley.
  • The Innerbelt Bridge Path is a low-cost, high-impact infrastructure upgrade that will help improve Cleveland's air quality while reducing our country's dependence on foreign oil.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people driving over the bridge daily will be educated about sharing the road with cyclists (bike education)

Recent GCBL coverage 2009 April ? "A new direction for the Innerbelt" 2008 July 6 ? ODOT's response to the bike/pedestrian path on the bridge (pdf 138 KB) Sept. 28 ? EcoCity Cleveland responds to ODOT's opinion to put a bike/ped path on bridge (pdf) Oct. 5 ? ODOT seeks comments on Innerbelt Bridge design types and a bike/ped path by October 20. ODOT is making a final bridge type selection in December 2006. Oct. 23 ? ODOT announces it will delay the entire Innerbelt Project by at least two years to address design problems that impact downtown. ODOT's argument against a bike/ped path are addressed here. Nov. 20 ? ODOT rejects EcoCity Cleveland's call for a better, safer bike/pedestrian accommodation on the Innerbelt Bridge. Dec. 12 ? EcoCity answers with true costs and benefits for well-designed bike/ped path on the Innerbelt Bridge. 2007 Jan. 17 ? Bike/ped path on bridge could be "Shortcut to Tremont", Cleveland Free Times. Jan. 22 ? Cleveland Planning Commission support for bike/ped path on bridge, WCPN reports Jan. 29 ? ODOT outgoing administration's last letter on bike/ped accommodation on the bridge March 6 ? Ohio City Bike CoOp letter in support of bike/ped path on Innerbelt Bridge.

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