Marc Lefkowitz | 08/13/13 @ 11:00am
The uncommon speed among peer cities with which Cleveland Heights is moving on its Circle-Heights Bike Plan is significant of...something. Already, the plan—which was funded by a NOACA Transportation for Livable Communities (TLCI) grant and released earlier this year—has led to the Edgehill bike lane.
But TLCI planning grants have a poor track record of follow through, as covered in this previous blog post. It boils down to a disconnect between the grant and city capital budgets (where ideas gain purchase). Not helping matters is a undersized funding pot from the regional transportation agency, NOACA.
In recent times, TLCI has produced plans that, if funded, would translate to miles of new bike lanes, cross- and sidewalks, street trees and bus shelters across the Northeast Ohio region. Where cities can do better is approving capital budget matching funds for TLCI projects. The bigger problem is they are competing for too few funds.
Cleveland Heights was lucky to win a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternatives fund to build a 10 foot-wide bike path on Cedar Hill. Bike projects like this often take years, if ever, to get built because they compete for thimble-sized funding pots known as Transportation Enhancements (TE). The city also applied for $92,896 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which has a trail fund, and $10,000 from Bikes Belong, a non-profit supported by the bike industry. ODNR's and Bikes Belong's funding are non-federal sources and would reduce the city's $375,000 share which is the required 20% match.
In 2012, all 50+ cities in NOACA competed for $8 million in TE or less than 1% of the transportation funder’s total budget.
The remaking of streets as a canvas for new- or re-development is viewed by lugubrious regions as exactly that—an enhancement or window dressing. By contrast, places that are experiencing new growth in jobs and an influx of college grads—Columbus, Minneapolis, Memphis, Denver, Salt Lake City—invest more in Complete Streets because they view it as a talent attraction strategy.
Cleveland Heights applied for grants as it was completing the Circle-Heights Plan, in December, 2012. The city has eyed this bike path on Cedar Hill for years, but waited until the Circle-Heights Plan to link with a (previous TLCI) study for the Cedar-Fairmount District, said Cleveland Heights Planning Director, Richard Wong.
The path will be built in a grassy area on the south side of the Cedar-Glen Parkway, a six-lane road, from Harcourt Road to Ambleside Drive, the border with Cleveland. Cleveland is also competing for TE funds to complete the path all of the way down the hill to a new pocket park that will replace the decrepit bus / Red Line station being rebuilt, and connect it with the new Lake to Lakes Trail.
The big issue with off-road paths is the price tag—land, engineering and construction are all very costly. While a path makes some sense on the highway-like Cedar-Glen Parkway, a more sustainable solution is to build bike facilities in the existing roadway.
Since it’s unlikely the state of Ohio will increase its TE funds to cities soon, cities might seek to do more “road diets” during road construction projects. This is where car lanes get a little skinnier so that bike lanes can be added. It’s the course Cleveland pursued when it approved its Complete and Green Streets legislation. NOACA following suit—as its counterpart in Columbus, MORPC, has in requiring all of its funded projects to be Complete Streets—would go a long way in turning the pretty pictures from its TLCI plans in to real, complete streets.