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Calls echo for a plan, a budget and a bike czar in Cleveland

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/28/13 @ 2:00pm

Hot on the heels of GCBL’s coverage of “What’s Holding up Cleveland’s signature bike projects?” Cleveland Scene evaluates the city’s effort to improve biking through capital projects like bike lanes.

Connect the west<br />GCBL and Bike Cleveland worked with Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone on a plan to paint bike lanes on Madison Avenue in Cleveland.

The city tells Scene that “every street since 2012 and 2013 has been Complete and Green...but that doesn’t mean every street will have a bike lane.” But, Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone contends that the city needs to do better at painting bike lanes when it resurfaces streets. He refers to a project to get bike lanes on Madison Avenue—a project that GCBL and Bike Cleveland provided Zone support in advocating for bike lanes (sources confirm that businesses on Madison between W. 65th and West Boulevard are in favor of removing on-street parking for bike lanes, and that Zone is working with city traffic engineers to explore bike lanes).

Will it take an intervention by Bike Cleveland or a councilman to fight for bike lanes on every street where they make sense?

Zone mused that Cleveland needs to hire a bike czar. In cities like New York and Chicago, a bike or transportation czar was hired to work on implementing bike projects. Having a “chief” empowered to plan and paint dozens of bike lanes and protected bikeways per year has undeniably elevated those cities above those slower-to-adapt cities.

A different approach to a full-time bike czar is a bike traffic engineer on retainer. Pittsburgh is mentioned in the Scene article for finding a way to produce 50 bike lanes and 100 bike racks in the last couple of years. The difference? Advocacy group, Bike Pittsburgh, approached the city about consulting with their traffic engineer to draw plans for bike lanes. The city accepted the offer to “hire out” bike planning to Bike Pittsburgh who has a traffic engineer with bike planning skills on retainer. This method is credited with greatly accelerating the pace of bike infrastructure in Pittsburgh.

In Scene, Bike Cleveland mentions that the idea was floated to the City of Cleveland. Chief of Sustainability Jenita McGowan responded that the two staff members of city traffic engineering are keeping up with the required complete streets and bike lanes. But the numbers say otherwise. Cleveland struggled to paint 1.5 miles of bike lanes and fell months behind schedule getting the Detroit Avenue bike lanes painted this year.

If traffic engineers are not the bottleneck, then a lack of a benchmark for bike lanes, a plan on the priority routes, and a budget for paint from the $15 million resurfacing budget just might be. On the bright side, all of the attention and focus of advocates on Cleveland’s bike plans has brought more pressure on the city to keep up with peer cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit, which has a goal of 80 bike lanes in 2014. A section of Superior Avenue, Triskett Road and Kinsman will receive bike lanes due to the advocacy of Bike Cleveland. The hope is for the city to adopt a big picture approach—to start building a network. People are far more likely to bike when they know bike lanes connect them to destinations. The Euclid Avenue bike lanes—which kickstarted the 286% increase in biking in Cleveland—illustrate how important it is to link people to destinations —like the big bike commuting populations in the Heights with downtown Cleveland and on the near west side with University Circle.

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