The city of Lakewood, Ohio released a draft of its BikeLakewood plan. It sets a course for gently reshaping busy main avenues and narrow residential side streets into a system that encourages a growing number of residents using bikes as transportation. The plan started with a community survey – the 200 responses offered snapshots: 64% of trips to school are made by walking and biking, because there's no busing system in Lakewood. 25% bike to work while 61% bike for recreation. It will be interesting to see how these numbers shape the city's decisions, and help set priorities.
In some ways, the survey gives credence to the plan's ambitious goal of making Lakewood the Bike Capital of Northeast Ohio. Marketing that slogan on billboards and introducing a sign system for new bike parking in busy commercial districts would raise the visibility of this fairly hidden but important mode of transportation. The city acknowledges its lack of bike parking at destinations like downtown Lakewood, and recommends that the city adopt legislation (similar to the city of Cleveland's bike parking law) that any new development would need to provide bike parking. It also suggests co-funding with businesses bike racks and bigger 'bike corrals' they kind that RTA introduced at Rapid stations like the W. 117th Red Line.
It is a victory for a suburb of Northeast Ohio to start gathering information on preferred routes, to conduct its own bike counts and proposed bike parking investments. That said, the plan doesn't offer much innovation or build from its assets as a streetcar suburb (broad east-west avenues with a huge grid of redundant north-south residential streets). For example, it discusses bikeways, or streets that can be enhanced to accommodate bikes safely – but it avoids the harder but potentially more rewarding opportunity to select a few key north-south streets and consider if they would work as bike boulevards. StreetsWiki defines a Bicycle Boulevard as:
"Lightly-trafficked streets that prioritize bicycles. Although many routes have no bike lanes, bicyclists are free to use the middle of the street, sharing road space with cars. Motorists on these routes expect to see bicyclists and therefore travel with caution. Designated streets should be distinguished with uniformly colored signs and bold pavement markings."
Instead, the vision for a bike network comprised of Shared Use Lanes i.e. "Sharrows" is pragmatic if not game changing. The Northeast Ohio region has been introduced to Sharrows, but their long term efficacy in establishing a place as a 'bike capital' is less well known.
Speaking of a pragmatic approach to bike facilities, I attended the public meeting last night for the S. Taylor Road resurfacing project in Cleveland Heights. City Manager Bob Downey explained that it couldn't get a "beautiful plan" with a multipurpose path, street trees and wider tree lawn for pedestrians on the residential side because the state wouldn't fund 80% of the $7 million project. So it erased the path, the trees, benches, and proposed keeping the tree lawn the same width which irked a whole roomful of residents who try to walk here all year round (but are met with giant snow mounds in the winter).
Citizens wanted an explanation why the project won't help pedestrians on the west side of the road with a wider buffer? Downey and design consultant from the firm Wade Trim and the office of ODOT 12 explained that the road slopes and the water lines are 12 feet from the existing curb – which eliminated the possibility of taking out a curb lane on the west side of the road. Instead, the city, in an honest attempt at a road diet (S. Taylor is seven wide lanes) plans to fill in two car lanes with dirt and grass on the Severance Center side.
I commented that the money the city plans to put into the 24 feet of treelawn extension and moving sewer catch basins may have been applied to figuring out a wide treelawn solution to the more complicated west side of the road (cost of extending aprons was also a deciding factor, although the budget includes re-building 43 aprons). Move the curb in on the east side of the road but rededicate the pavement as a separated bike facillity known as a two-way cycle track geared to cyclists of all abilities. Better still, make the first 12 feet next to the road a bioswale, to reduce the stormwater runoff, and the next 12 feet the cycle track. Reallocate the funds for dirt, grass and moving sewer catch basins to a wider tree lawn on the west side.
Residents complained that there's no creativity in the plan, that it ignores the context of who lives here.
The S. Taylor project reveals some big cracks in the process-the city significantly changed the scope of the project without soliciting public feedback and made decisions as emergency resolutions (these are the basis of a pending lawsuit). Last night, I restated that I agree with the position of the Cleveland Heights Bike Coalition that the city Public Works and Planning directors could benefit from a technical advisory committee who would inform resurfacing projects with the latest thinking around Complete Streets (other ideas would be to train them on the latest in urban road design for complete streets).
As an aside, I met Public Works Director Alex Manarino who is approachable and seemingly open to feedback. After the meeting when I was seeking to have a pedestrian crosswalk added on the north side of the Euclid Heights Boulevard and Taylor intersection (into the mall), Manarino said, "Yeah, we can do that. We can paint in a crosswalk and put some solar lights in the pavement like on Lee Road. I'm just excited to get this road project going."
I was actually suggesting an ADA compliant count down pedestrian signal. That will require the sign off from the chief of police, and for the city to pay for it, I was told.
That brand of ad hoc pragmatism emerges when the design consultants and ODOT continue to tell cities that federally funded projects cannot include bike lanes or new crosswalks without expensive new studies (which is what I was told). That is an out of date view that needs to change in our region. Plenty of federally funded projects are adopting complete streets-when the locals insist on it (this also underscores a need for Complete Streets legislation in Cleveland Heights)-especially with the updated goals to balance road building projects to include bikes and pedestrians coming from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Instead, we'll have a resurfacing and the city will come in after and stripe in a bike lane on the east side, Downey promises. In the end, is the result the same? Or could a comprehensive approach that coordinates the Planning, Public Works, Police Chief and City Manager with an eye to a complete street set the stage for a more integrated, less piecemeal (i.e. less expensive) roadway project that isn't designed for car use only?