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New bike coalition forming in Cleveland: The need is great

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/16/11 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Biking, Transform

Bike advocacy has been around for years in Greater Cleveland, so why does it feel as though the last few have been so much more energizing? Perhaps it can be attributed to a massive culture shift taking place in America today? Is social media amplifying the cause, giving credence to cities as magnates for those turned on by innovation? Once this many minds have been expanded-by news of Portland turning side streets into bike boulevards or, closer to home, direct experience with the transformative stripes of paint designating bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes on Euclid Avenue-its unlikely you'll turn back the tide. Hearing about cities like Paris buying 20,000 bikes (20,000!) for anyone with a swipe card to use, any time to go anywhere emboldens the rest of us who don't yet have bike share. It makes bike share possible for 'cold weather' cities like Denver and Minneapolis, fueled by the energy of a new constituency who value free movement and are restless in America from waiting all those years in the wings.

Transportation advocacy seems to be on an upward arch in Greater Cleveland. Sometimes advocacy has meant finding local answers to the exciting developments happening around the world. It has also meant learning hard lessons. Parsing through why very well funded transportation projects are doing very little in developing an efficient, 'multi-modal' city and region for one. Small victories of the recent past – the cajoling from the likes of EcoCity Cleveland's Ryan McKenzie and former Cleveland Planning Director Chris Ronayne to prevent skeptics from erasing the Euclid Avenue bike lanes – are still with us.

They helped set the stage for an important moment in 2009 when city of Cleveland's '2019' Summit gathered 600 people to share their vision for a sustainable future including leaders from government and business. Advocates formed ongoing efforts like the Sustainable Transportation Action Team (STAT) to bear the standard with a roundtable for bike and pedestrian issues. STAT brought together smaller groups like ClevelandBikes and the Ohio City Bike Co-op, and attracted many graduates of CSU Levin College's Urban Planning program, Gen Y singles and Gen X families who moved back to the area but chose to live close enough to the urban core so they can take advantage of transit, walking and bike-able places.

Bike/ped advocates in Cleveland had a busy year trying to shape opinion for making the new Innerbelt Bridge multi-modal and convincing Cleveland leaders that its time to adopt Complete Streets legislation. They are on the verge of claiming some wins. Those efforts are leading to the formation of a new coalition, BikeCleveland, which aspires to unite the interest representing health, sustainability, urban but also the frankly very broad interests within each into a stronger, permanent light in the civic firmament.

They want to know, what is in the future for sustainable transportation in Northeast Ohio? And who is meeting the present need for a vision that encourages more than one form of transportation? Who will influence the policy, ensure that funding is equitably split, and catalyze public and private actors to get excited about a new vision for cities and how people use them.

The STAT group met yesterday-it was an occasion to celebrate some milestones but also find answers for why the region is still spending most of its transportation funds without addressing the need for moving people and not only cars in the most efficient manner possible. In the celebration category: The Bike Rack, the city's first bike station, is now open to the public from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. providing indoor bike parking, hot showers, lockers, even a bike repair shop and rentals. The station's manager John Sirignano, who also does the tune ups and repairs, says the station will offer 24-hour video surveillance and swipe cards for monthly users to gain access to the bike racks at all hours-extending the use beyond bike commuting (you can bike down to a ball game or E. 4th-the station is right there for a safe, convenient trip to the city by bike).

The group discussed the Complete and Green Streets legislation under consideration by Cleveland City Council. Gund Foundation Program Officer and STAT participant John Mitterholzer commented that council's position that it make the legislation stronger than what came out of the Mayor's Administration is a sign that "council is really driving this. Council is really willing to lead on this issue." STAT was invited by the mayor's Chief of Sustainability to have a seat on the committee that developed the legislation, and, Mitterholzer added, STAT's advocacy to strengthen the bill was justified by the backing it received at city council. As an example of issues the STAT group identified: a $1 million cap is not standard order of business for cities with Complete Streets and should be removed. Another, raised again yesterday, is a procedural suggestion-for the oversight committee on exemptions to Complete and Green Streets to review projects as soon as they are introduced (to help identify potential issues before they arise).

The group did discuss the well-publicized 11th hour absence of Public Service Committee chair Eugene Miller in August after the joint Health and Environment and Transportation committee hearing approved the legislation-noting that supporters of the bill feel that Miller is in favor and hope that for whatever reason he was holding out can be discussed or resolved internally by other councilmen. Miller's committee meets on Monday, September 19 at 11 a.m. on the second floor of City Hall (bike and pedestrian advocates are encouraged to attend).

As an aside, Mitterholzer mentioned that Lakewood City Councilman Tom Bullock is prepared to sponsor Complete Streets legislation in the west side suburb, but that it will be introduced after it is presented to Parent-Teacher Associations.

BikeCleveland's Jacob Van Sickle gave a recap of the newly forming advocacy group's strategic planning summit last weekend. 125 people from across the region participated in the two-day summit, he said, and they formed the beginnings of a new organization-their board will adopt the mission and set of principles and goals developed at the summit soon.

Cleveland City Planner Marty Cader led a discussion about the quandary that the city of Cleveland now faces with a decision to gut the West Shoreway redesign of funding for a Chicago-style multi-purpose path along the lakefront. Pressure is mounting on Mayor Jackson's Administration to explain why $6 million was taken from the path to pay for one intersection, at W. 73rd Street, which has escalated from $19 to $34 million ("and that estimate is without putting a single shovel in the ground," Cader said.) The major shift in the project comes without a scheduled public hearing to consider the best options, STAT members offered. The next best opportunity for advocates to keep the multi-purpose path (with access points at W. 25th, W. 49th and at W. 76th and at Clifton) is next Wednesday, September 21 at 161 South High Street in Akron when the city of Cleveland seeks funding from ODOT (through its TRAC process) for the West Shoreway. Cader says it is possible that the city will not ask for additional funds for the multi-purpose path at that meeting. What that indicates here is the West Shoreway is becoming a bottomless pit-the city and ODOT don't know the extent to which this one tunnel and marginal road project at W. 73rd is going to cost them. At what point does the city realize this is madness – that you cannot let the whim of the Battery Park developer and a councilman and community development group looking out only for their narrow interests dictate the loss of a regional amenity for the gain of so few condo residents?

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