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In search of a haven, less nervy bikers look to green lanes

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/19/13 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Biking, Transportation choices

Grist.com recently visited bike capital Copenhagen; They came back with a bunch of lessons for America. The big one? Make biking safe for everyone—not just the young and fearless—if you want more people to try it.

Rise of the green lane<br />A protected bike way in Chicago. Mayor Emanuel promised to build 100 green lanes. Image: StreetfilmsKid friendly<br />Green lane on Prospect Park West in New York is popular with kids.Double your pleasure<br />New York located a bike share station on a cycle track.Green lane in CLE<br />A pop up brought a temporary, two-way green lane to ClevelandThe Midway<br />A proposal for transforming Cleveland's streetcar avenues with planted center medians with bike paths. Image: John McGovern and Barb Clint.

Part of the attraction of Copenhagen and Amsterdam is in watching nearly half of the population ride a bike. In opinion polls, they say biking is convenient, safe and good exercise (reducing carbon is secondary).

They feel safe in Europe because their taxes are going to build bike lanes separated from traffic by physical barriers—like a row of parked cars, a curb or bollard. “Not just a flimsy line of paint,” Grist says.

Does a physical barrier truly matter? Consider America’s bike capital, Portland, Oregon where 6% of people commute on a bike. A poll found that 60% want to ride but need encouragement.

Enter the protected bike lane; finally, coming to America. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently promised to build 100 miles of green lanes aka "cycle tracks" (and has already started). They’re getting a boost from Project Green Lane, an initiative of Bikes Belong, a non-profit started by the big, for-profit bike companies. Their goal is to build 200 protected bike lanes by the end of 2013 in Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Washington, Austin, and Memphis. Green lanes have ignited the popular imagination of biking European-style here so much that cities are lining up to be part of the next round of pilot cities, Angie Schmitt reports in “The Rise of the American Protected Bike Lane.”

New York City’s green lane on Prospect Park West was an early test case on our shores. Reviled by the elites who live on the street, the bike community nonetheless prevailed. Protected only by plastic bollards, the green lane attracts thousands of kids and families who now feel like they have a biking option. Another dividend: Retailers along that stretch have experienced faster sales growth relative to the rest of the city. They are champions of the protected bikeway, it turns out, because it brings in more customers.

The grassroots are starting to move minds in Washington. The Federal Highway Administration announced last week that it will study protected green lanes as an official option for roads.

Could it give a boost to efforts in cities like Cleveland that are not on the cutting edge like those mentioned above?

Actually, a flag was planted here in 2011 when Cleveland Urban Design Center introduced the city to a green lane. During a “pop-up” Complete Street project, hundreds of people tested how it feels to ride a green lane on Rockwell Avenue, a side street behind the Cleveland Public Library. It was a temporary project, though, and after two weeks, the city decided to remove it.

There is a history of testing concepts for cycle tracks that dates back even further. When she worked for Slavic Village Community Development Organization, Barb Clint says they nearly succeeded in painting an early form of a cycle track down the middle of Fleet Avenue. In 2002, the city did paint a prototype center median with cross-hatched white lines. It provided some evidence that motorists could live with narrower lanes, Clint says, and that cyclists will ride in the street provided their own slice of pavement.

But a business owner who couldn’t turn left from his drive complained to the councilman, she says, and a permanent center bike lane was killed. (Clint credits Slavic Village’s current director, Marie Kittridge, for being a champion of cyclists. Fleet Avenue is now being rebuilt as the city’s first Complete and Green Street project, and will have a planted center median and bike lanes).

Today, Clint is teaming with bike advocate, John McGovern, on a plan they call “The Midway.” They would like the city to consider the legacy of the streetcar lines as an opportunity to attract cyclists waiting “on the sidelines.” The legacy of the streetcars lines removed from Cleveland are some incredibly wide avenues. Many are located in more sedate parts of town, like St. Clair Avenue between E. 55th Street and Rockefeller Park. Clint and McGovern’s idea is to re-claim some of the center lanes where streetcars used to run and plant center medians (for stormwater retention) that have a bike path running through them.

“It turns out, the center of the road is the best vantage point for a cyclist,” Clint says. “They can see the cars and what they intend to do better from there.”

While Clint and McGovern build support for The Midway, regional bike advocacy group, Bike Cleveland, is also promoting a cycle track. They are working with Ohio City, Inc. to take a second look at the plans for Lorain Avenue. A new Lorain street scape is calling for bike lanes. Bike Cleveland and some Near West Side residents whose primary form of transportation is a bike see an opportunity to consolidate the bike lanes on both sides into a two-lane cycle track on the north side of Lorain.

Ohio City, Inc. is having its consultants take a look at a two-way green lane on Lorain Avenue, from W. 25th Street to W. 80th Street, confirms Thomas McNair, Ohio City, Inc. Director of Economic Development & Planning. The non-profit developers have been meeting with business owners up and down the avenue to shore up the case.

“A two-lane (cycle track) could work because if you look at the way (Lorain) functions, the commuting patterns have very little turning with the exception of W. 44th Street and Fulton Road,” McNair says. “Only six curb cuts are on the stretch of Lorain between W. 25th and W. 44th and two are shared by St. Ignatius.”

Plus, it would provide a nice link to the bike path on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge that connects Ohio City to downtown.

"Recently, Cleveland was designated a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists,” comments Bike Cleveland director Jacob Van Sickle. “One piece of feedback from the League was to increase network connectivity. As we work towards this goal, we need to think of bike facilities that will encourage more people to comfortably bike. Protected bikeways are working across the country to grow the number of people biking for transportation and recreation."

In other words, they would provide moms, dads and kids—like those who rode recently in a fun “kid-i-cal” mass ride in Ohio City—more safe spaces to bike, trike, cart food home from the market.

"Cities that are seeing the highest growth of bicycling are investing in protected bike lanes,” Van Sickle adds. “They make riding a bike stress-free and appeal to a larger percentage of people who bike."

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Marc
4 years ago

North Park Blvd. -- I shared your question with Richard Wong, Cleveland Heights Director of Planning and Development, who responded:

Thank you for the idea. I do not recall if cycle tracks were discussed for North Park; the idea is interesting, innovative, and would require a lot of investigation.

The City needs to prioritize its infrastructure expenditures and use of funds efficiently. The paved multi-purpose trail from Shelbourne to Coventry is ridden by inexperienced bicyclists. Narrowing vehicle lanes to an 11' width with a painted 3' buffer between the 5'-wide bike path on each side of North Park should encourage bicyclists.

The recent Circle-Heights bicycle study contemplated modifications along one or more of those side streets between North Park and Cedar to encourage bicycling to the Cedar-Fairmount district and beyond. I do not know if it would be possible to cleanly connect the cycle tracks to the many side streets and to the Cedar Fairmount commercial district, but connectivity would be important. Given my lack of knowledge about cycle tracks, I called Nancy Lyon Stadler. She liked buffered bike lanes and a multi-purpose trail extension from Coventry to MLK. If you know of other engineers with other views, I would be happy to learn from them, too.

I wondered if a physical barrier sturdier than bollards would be needed for comfortable cycling in the opposite direction on North Park since motorists are driving at 35 miles per hour or more in a setting that is very open. I would anticipate needing specialized traffic signals, restrictions on motorists' right-on-red movements and probably specialized snow removal procedures since the street snow plows would not fit on the cycle track.

Shaker Heights was planning for continuation of Lake to Lakes on the south side of Shaker Lakes, too. Cleveland Heights would connect to their path at Coventry. It would help to evaluate a plan showing these alternatives.

North Park Blvd.
4 years ago

In addition to creating a buffer between the motor vehicle lanes and bike lanes on North Park Boulevard, did Cleveland Heights ever consider eliminating the westbound bike lane on North Park and creating a cycle track on the south side of the roadway, which could be easily separated from motor vehicle traffic with bollards? That cycle track might create a great connection to the bottom of the Lakes to Lake Trail, if the MLK/North Park mess of an intersection is ever calmed.

Bikist
4 years ago

With its 14' super-wide motor vehicle traffic lanes and 4' skinny bike lanes, North Park Boulevard in Cleveland Heights is a great candidate for protected bike lanes.

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