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Innerbelt campaign pivots to $7 million complete streets project

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/19/10 @ 2:23pm

For the first time publicly Ohio Department of Transportation acknowledged that citizen participation in the Cleveland Innerbelt Project impacted their decision to invest in cycling and walking facilities in the city.

The historic moment came at last night's meeting to consider enhancements to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge ? an alternative to a bike / pedestrian path on the Innerbelt Bridge ? and as a direct result of the Access for All advocacy campaign.

"Advocates helped ODOT understand the community's goals," said ODOT spokesperson Marie Keister. "While we decided it's not practical to put a bike/pedestrian lane on the Innerbelt Bridge, we're funding a solution to provide a safer, more user friendly bike/ped Lorain-Carnegie bridge that symbolizes Cleveland's commitment to sustainability."

ODOT is prepared to invest $6-7 million in bike/ped enhancements, Keister said. That includes Lorain-Carnegie, but also widening and placing bike lanes on Abbey Avenue-from Sokolowski's in Tremont up to the W. 25th Rapid Station in Ohio City-and improving side street connections to Lorain Avenue, the main thoroughfare.

More than 50 citizens and sustainable transportation groups met with ODOT to figure out how to make Lorain-Carnegie a safer, calmer street that connects on the east end to the Central Business District (through Gateway to the downtown bike station and the Euclid Avenue bike lane) and on the west end to neighborhoods of young families and cyclists living in Ohio City, Detroit-Shoreway and Tremont.

In the weeks leading up to last night's meeting, advocates dug into ODOT's options. They put pen to paper figuring out:

  • What is the best reconfiguration of vehicle lanes, bike lanes and sidewalk space on the bridge?
  • They researched best practices for bike/ped facilities on bridges
  • Drew up plans including how to widen and barrier separate a bike/pedestrian path,
  • What are better looking options? And how to improve safety with new, low-cost solutions like sharrows and bike boxes painted on the lanes.

But most concerning to advocates is how improvements to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge connect with and improve the system of transportation. Some said that the goal should be to make all improvements mindful of serving even the least experienced.

ODOT began the session by stating that options for concrete barriers and railings (separating car lanes from a raised, multi-use path) and pedestrian-scale lights are available, but in some cases limited by ODOT's preexisting menu of what's currently approved. When asked if examples seen around the country ? such as this separated multi-use path in Brooklyn, New York ? could be adopted as an exception based on reciprocity of engineering standards, ODOT representatives said it may be possible but that they would have to look into what it would take.

In general, comments stressed that ODOT should place a special emphasis on better design aesthetics on the bridge to include goals of calming traffic, enhancing comfort and experience (such as enjoying views of downtown), eliminating conflicts between cyclists and motor vehicles and improving connectivity on both ends of the bridge.

At the end of break-out sessions, it became clear that these two options for reconfiguring the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge were getting the most attention. Both re-allocate two feet of vehicle lane and repurpose the existing 6-ft. bike lanes into wider, raised and barrier-separated multi-use path.

Option One puts the path on one side and can make it as wide as 15 feet ? at that width it's possible to stripe two lanes of bike traffic and a lane for walkers.

Option two puts 10-ft. multi-use paths on both sides of the bridge.

Multi-use paths would be more attractive to less experienced cyclists, such as families with children. Transportation cyclists would lose the on-street lane, but could gain sharrows and bike boxes-which are painted boxes at intersections placed in front of car traffic, giving bikes a priority zone (as an aside, ODOT mentioned that its possible, with city approval, to install a bike signal so that cyclists in the box gain a few seconds head start at the green light).

Brad Chase says his group preferred one multi-use path on the north side of the bridge because of:

  • Fewer conflicts with car traffic (the south side will have a new driveway for buses entering the Fire Museum and the highway ramp to contend with)
  • Better views of downtown
  • Better connectivity to a multi-use path on the north side that ODOT plans to build for the route crossing (at Eagle Avenue) Ontario Avenue to the stadia and courtyard at Gateway
  • Savings from barriers and railings on only one side might lead to higher quality designs and materials. "That's money that can go into making this a world-class crossing," said Chase, GreenCityBlueLake program manager and active participant in Access for All, which is working on sustainable transportation between the near west side and downtown but also on every street.

Advocates for multi-use paths on both sides said that not crossing to the north side at Tremont and at the east end a proposal to extend the Towpath Trail to the Flats includes a connector leading into the Flats and to Slavic Village that could connect to the south side.

"It's important that moving forward we think through the ramifications of each route," Chase said. "How are most people going to arrive and leave the multi-use path? We need to make this as safe as possible for the majority of movements, to increase the number of people willing to walk and bike in this area."

In general, advocates agreed that multi-use paths with a high quality barrier and lit by pedestrian scale 8-ft. lamps, sharrows and bike boxes on the bridge, and careful consideration of the conditions at intersections will be a win for sustainable transportation.

To see ODOT's proposed enhancements to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge go here (605KB pdf) and here (2 MB pdf).

* * *

Another aesthetics improvement that is up for consideration is completing the lighting of the "Guardians of Transportation"-the giant Berea sandstone sculptures at both ends of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. While Cleveland Public Art has a grant to revisit the schematics of lighting design that were first considered during the city's Bicentennial, it is a great but unfunded idea. Many opinions were expressed that ODOT should prioritize a new fund to pay for the implementation of the lighting.

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