The reaction as Cleveland attempts to build a complete street on West 65th to The Plain Dealer story revealed a gap between public understanding and expert opinion on bike lanes, still a relatively new phenomenon in cities. Readers took issue when this author re-stated findings that bike lanes create a safer space in the road since they offer predictable zones for cars and slower-moving bikes.
Evidence suggests that bike lanes are a good investment, but the reaction to them in the reader comments in the PD sheds light on a topic that needs further discussion: There's a level of mistrust of bike advocates. When advocates call for bike lanes, some readers assume that we’re “only looking out for hard core bikers,” and that bike lanes “exclude families.”
Complicating matters, not all bike advocates—including the head of the region’s bike advocacy group nor the city councilman—agreed with the position that bike lanes can fit on West 65th (I have great respect for both, but their support of a $2.5 million off-road bike path versus a bike lane that will cost a bucket of paint is puzzling). Coloring theirs and the public’s view is ODOT which was quoted in the piece stating that bike lanes would not be allowed on W. 65th Street, information that the agency has since retracted.
Let’s address both—the idea that bike advocates on W. 65th are not acting in everyone’s best interest, and the inaccuracy from ODOT, which has weighed heavily on the design of the W. 65th project to date.
It is tempting to think that an off-road path on W. 65th would be safer than a bike lane—even for the less experienced rider. Experience suggests otherwise. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is a standards setting body which publishes specifications, test protocols and guidelines which are used in highway design and construction throughout the United States.
AASHTO discourages the use of a bike path on a busy city street with lots of cross streets cutting in because:
- Stopped motor vehicles on side streets or driveways may block the bike path
- Some cyclists may find the road cleaner, safer and more convenient, setting up a situation that frustrates drivers who will not understand why bikes are in the path and on the road.
- A bike path along an urban street has greater potential for crashes between cyclists riding in the path and motorists turning and crossing from side streets. Motorists are less likely to see a biker in this situation.
Where bike paths do work well in urban areas is along busy stretches of road that cross few streets. GreenCityBlueLake is in favor of using bike paths in those cases.
In fact, we’re advocating for the city of Cleveland to paint a two-way cycle track in the wide sidewalk area in front of Progressive Field and the Q Arena on Ontario which is currently being resurfaced. It makes sense here as a link between downtown, The Bike Rack, the Lorain-Carnegie bike path and the future Towpath Trail ending at Carnegie. Plus, an Ontario cycle track costs little more than a few buckets of green paint.
The PD hasn’t printed a correction yet, but after the story ran with ODOT spokeswoman Amanda Lee stating that 12-foot lanes are the required minimum on W. 65th, local urban designer, Christopher Lohr, contacted Lee and staff at ODOT Central for clarification.
Lee’s response opens the door for the city if it wants to pursue bike lanes on W. 65th.
“In a situation where a roadway is on the National Network of Highways, there is a rule that states the lane width must be a minimum of 12 ft. (see this document). Because W. 65th is not on the National Network of Highways—since it is not a state route it can’t be—but it is a federal aid route as it is an arterial street. Therefore, the minimum required lane width for an arterial less than 50 mph is 11 ft. This is the minimum the lane width that is acceptable on this type of route.”
Lohr also asked for comment on a street design (see above) that shows W. 65th with bike lanes. His “section” drawing shows two, 11-foot lanes and removing on-street parking on ONE side in order to make it work.
“The typical section that you provided is an acceptable cross-section for this type of roadway,” Lee confirmed. “This would be allowable for a 40’ pavement width on an arterial street.”
The cost to the city of a bike lane on W. 65th would be significantly less than maintaining another lane for cars. When all of the externalities like air pollution and wear and tear are factored in, says “Bikenomics” author Elly Blue, each car drains $3,000 from the system. Biking instead, Blue says, contributes money back to the system that can be used for pay for painting up a whole city with bike lanes.