"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big."
—Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1846-1912)
A plan to transform Lorain Avenue from an unwieldy two-lane road with lots of weaving cars into an ordered and attractive “complete street” with space for cars, bikes, pedestrians and—with a little more work—transit riders was introduced by Ohio City, Inc. and Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman last night.
When it presented Lorain’s streetscape improvement plan last year, Ohio City, Inc., a community development group, was asked by residents and bike advocacy group, Bike Cleveland to aim higher. Instead of five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road, they asked Ohio City and its design firms, Beinke and Baker to look at consolidating them into one “cycle track”—a 10-foot wide bike lane protected from traffic by a physical barrier.
Ohio City, Inc. (OCI) went to work on the design and building consensus among the business owners along the north side of Lorain. Some of the business owners’ comments at a public meeting last night indicate there are details that still need to be hammered out. But the general outpouring of support and the very presence of the plan surviving to this point indicates that no major objections were raised in the scoping.
The plan calls for putting Lorain on a road diet. Similar to what Cleveland and RTA accomplished with the HealthLine on Euclid Avenue in 2008, Lorain would be re-configured from a 48-foot-wide road with a vague idea of lanes (is it two with on-street parking or is it four?) to one with clearly delineated space. The road would have permanent on-street parking on the south side (8 ft.), two general traffic lanes (11-12 ft. each), and a barrier-protected (10 ft.) bike lane on the north side of the street. Two new 10 ft.-wide sidewalks would replace the existing ones. The project spans roughly 3 miles, from W. 25th to W. 83rd streets, with an estimated budget of $17 million.
Nancy Lyon Stadtler, a traffic engineer with Baker, said the new lane configuration will improve the flow of traffic on Lorain.
OCI thinks a cycle track can work on the north side of Lorain because the road has only six “curb cuts” or driveways from W. 25th to W. 45th (two of them St. Ignatius High School, which OCI Director Eric Wobser assured, supports the plan). Helping the cause are the storefronts on Lorain. Despite some vacancies, they form an intact urban street wall—meaning the buildings are all at the front of the property line with the sidewalk and street. Pedestrians have few driveways to contend with; an alley system serves parking lots behind the buildings.
OCI development director and daily transit rider, Tom McNair, said the plan considers the needs of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA). For example, it includes a left-turn lane on Lorain at Fulton Road where the #79 bus turns. But, Michael Schipper, RTA Deputy General Manager, said the plan as presented has not won the support of the transit agency. His concerns about access to transit stops on the north side of Lorain because of the cycle track were echoed by a few residents (as an aside, Schipper was initially opposed to the bike lanes on Euclid Avenue. Last night, he touted the Euclid Avenue bike lanes as an example of functional infrastructure).
“I disagree with the idea (that transit) is an afterthought,” Wobser said. “I think choices have to be made, but I don’t think we would do anything to cause RTA to fail on this line.”
Bike Cleveland director Jacob Van Sickle showed a solution for a cycle track and transit stop from Vancouver (pictured above). The barrier between the cycle track and the road is a wide, raised curb that serves double duty as bus stop. Schipper said that won’t work on Lorain, but didn’t provide more details (a bike planner I spoke to afterward cited another example of a cycle track that curves behind bus stops).
Cycle tracks exist in 53 cities from New York to Memphis, Van Sickle said, where they have greatly improved safety and even retail sales for their chosen street.
Supporters said the cycle track will make them more comfortable biking with small children than the original plans for bike lanes.
“Something like this makes me proud to be a Clevelander,” said Ohio City resident and Bike Cleveland board member, John McGovern. “We wouldn’t take our kid (biking) on Lorain now. This says we’re creating a place for families to be and that’s critical.”
A few of the 100 or so attendees aired concerns that the alley system needs resurfacing if it is to be considered part of the Lorain Avenue plan. Wobser said the budget doesn’t allow for resurfacing the alley, but promised that it’s on their list of concerns, too.
Actually, the budget may be the biggest stumbling block to the Lorain complete street project. Cimperman has committed $100,000—the lion’s share of his road surfacing money from the city’s annual capital budget. The city has committed $1 million, which is the cap it placed on individual projects with its 2011 Complete and Green Streets law.
Wobser said the rest will have to be made up by the state and federal sources (a number of people afterward expressed doubt in the state because of its poor track record of supporting multi-modal projects. There’s a stronger possibility that the region’s MPO would seek federal Transportation Enhancement or CMAQ funds, which are federal pots to build bike and transit projects. But the $17 million price tag is around what these sources grant to dozens of projects across the state in a year).