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Introducing Cleveland to cycle tracks at next week's pop up block

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/12/12 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

Yesterday at the Cleveland Urban Design Center we previewed Pop up Rockwell, a weeklong 'Green and Complete Street' makeover of a well-located, lightly traveled road in downtown Cleveland. A team of design students from Kent State projected plans that will be unveiled at a launch party 5-7 p.m. on April 21 with street musicians, food trucks and lively conversation.

The students are brimming with ideas that challenge the very notion of what a street can be. In a rapid prototype environment (like the SmartHome), Rockwell 'pop up' introduces Cleveland to new ideas of what a city designed for people looks like.

One big attraction is a two-way cycle track-a bike lane separated from car traffic, in this case, by Astroturf and planters that the students are building. It will protect a ten-foot wide temporarily painted bike lane (both directions run on the same side of the street).

The idea with a cycle track is to attract a wider audience-namely, families-to feel comfortable riding a bike on the road. One of the biggest opportunities for biking in Cleveland is to entice novices who would ride more if they had safe, dedicated spaces. The pop up team, along with BikeCleveland volunteers, will measure the use of Rockwell Avenue before, during and after the cycle track is installed – to provide a baseline for a separated bike lane. Downtown is actually an ideal place to test cycle tracks – outside of rush hour, traffic is really light (Tulsa's mayor makes the same case here.)

Could cycle tracks-like those in Montreal, Davis and Long Beach, and Vancouver -become a permanent way of encouraging thousands of downtown residents and workers to get around on a bike?

With a little imagination and fulfillment of city of Cleveland's Green and Complete Streets ordinance, we can imagine the wide avenues in downtown Cleveland made calmer and more people friendly with cycle tracks for the less skilled rider (in addition to improvements like smooth curb lanes and Share The Road signs for experienced cyclists who may not choose to ride in a separated lane).

Rockwell is a good choice as laboratory – it has light traffic but is strategically positioned to connect the Near West Side cycle commuters plus Flats and Warehouse District residents with the core of the business district (it is a one-way road just north of Superior that connects the Warehouse District, Public Square and the Mall/E. 9th Street. Planners see it as the link, with W. 9th Street to Frankfort, from the Detroit-Superior Bridge's bike lane. At the east end, it connects with E. 12th Street which forms a loop that connects to the Euclid Avenue bike lane).

As an aside, representatives from Homeland Security, GSA and the city were there yesterday. GSA and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland are located between Rockwell and Superior, and favor the cycle track because it creates defensible space. Cycle tracks are a welcome addition to cities for that very reason-they create buffer zones between vehicles and sensitive buildings like the GSA and the Fed, but they do it without deadening the block.

Another original design idea emerging from Pop Up Rockwell is a Bioretention Bench. Students will fabricate and install benches mixing wood palettes and natural rain water collection devices. Observers noted they might have a patent worthy idea, a dual function city bench.

Pop up blocks are meant to foster a can-do attitude-something that can be in short supply in some corners of Cleveland. Chalking in crosswalks where none exist (but should) and cycle tracks is a fun way to get a conversation going. The hope is these little interventions open minds-from City Hall to living rooms to corporate boardrooms. It says, here's what a little ingenuity and elbow grease can produce. Now imagine how vibrant Cleveland's streets will be with corporate/citizens acting in a common cause frame of mind.

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