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.
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."