Cleveland has committed $1 million to paint 70 miles of bike lanes, sharrows and/or build off-road paths over the next four years. The city’s goal is to create more of a complete bike network that closes the gaps in the existing 47 miles of “bikeway”—with an eye on attracting new riders.
The big news here is the city has set a goal, set aside funding in its capital budget and updated its plan for biking. If but also how it gets built should greatly improve biking, which is on the rise (270% increase from 2000 to 2010).
The city’s existing bike plan dates to 2007 and doesn’t go nearly as far as this interim step does in marking down on a city map the key corridors that the city thinks will propel biking as transportation. The 70 miles by 2017 plan looks at where the city will resurface its roads, and affirms that bikes will have a space—or at least get a nod in the road. The city's Complete Streets ordinance adopted in 2011 started the ball rolling on creating space for bikes on the road. State law also assures cyclists have equal rights to the road.
The Cleveland Bikeway Plan stops short of committing to bike lanes as the preferred choice, but language hints that bike lanes such as those the city is paying for on Detroit Avenue from its capital budget “can be” the road treatment. Recent commitments to bike lanes on main roads like Detroit, Denison, Puritas, W. 44th and W. 41st on the west side are indicators of the city’s change of heart toward bikes having a designated space in the road.
At the announcement of the bikeway plan, advocacy group Bike Cleveland offered that the community of cyclists has and will continue to shape the plan in calling for bike lanes as part of a complete street network. Bike Cleveland director Jacob Van Sickle noted that bike lanes align well with the city’s plan to attract new riders. Indeed, case studies from across the country found in a new report from national bike advocates, People for Bikes, show that protected bike lanes are vastly more effective at attracting new riders, a point that Van Sickle and others are keenly aware of.
Cleveland has struggled to add 10 miles of bike lanes since the city’s first 4 miles were painted on Euclid Avenue in 2008. The aspirations to do what this new plan calls for often clash with the city’s Traffic Engineers who have been cool or dismissive of bike lanes in the face of growing evidence from places like Portland, Minneapolis, New York that “build it and they will come.” This plan adds to Cleveland’s aspirations laid out in its Street Typologies—picture a menu of options on main and residential streets for bike, pedestrian and transit improvements. But, is it enough to overcome the inertia and competing interests that it will take to build an incredibly strong network, one that considers bike lanes not optional but absolutely necessary? As the name “bikeway” and a pattern of the city abdicating its decisions on how to design roads to ODOT suggest, the bikeway plan is prepared to tread a middle ground that involves compromise. We hope the city affirms that its intention is to convert the word "bikeway" into bike lane network as its important next act.
What will build on the aspirations of the bikeway plan—and propel Cleveland into a top cycling city—is adopting an urban street design manual that circumvents the, frankly, antiquated view of roads shared by Traffic Engineers (many of whom are men who feel comfortable biking in the road without protection).
Cleveland should be commended for establishing a goal to convert the thousands who want to be bikers. As stated above, bike lanes are a proven way to do so. The city has promised a design manual that handles the antipathy among the establishment toward bike lanes. The city should move with purpose in taking the bikeway plan, and the Detroit Avenue bike lane as articles of faith that Cleveland can go where other cities across the globe are going with bikes. From Copenhagen to Davis, California, cities are proving that bike lanes add to and attract. Data shows traffic accidents are decreased—and congestion is actually relieved—where bike lanes go in. Bike lanes are about predictability which Cleveland will see is what both driver and cyclist want. Not to knock Sharrows which certainly have their place on slower streets, but it is in bike lanes that Cleveland will produce the same level of ‘mode shift‘—choosing a bike over a car—that Portland enjoys with its 6-8% of households riding daily. Portland recognized that its urban living plans and its role as a leader in reducing its climate impact are embodied in the simple but elegant bike. Cleveland is realizing now it can do the same.
As it embarks on its Climate Action Plan, Cleveland will want to turn the focus of its 70 miles of its bikeways to bike lanes. A recent report from the Alliance for Walking and Biking found bike lanes produce more results in reducing carbon emissions, improving the health of more residents who are given a strong incentive to bike, and improving local rebuilding efforts by infusing them not with passers by but people who want to stop at a storefront that may not have a parking spot available—from the Lorain Avenue bike lane to a renewed E. 105th Street. Again there’s evidence to suggest this is more than pie in the sky thinking. Protected bike lanes may be harder to get, but the effort will pay bigger dividends in the long run.