A hundred cyclists warm to the chill on the Friday evening air as they crank up the 600-foot incline of Edgehill Road from Little Italy to Cleveland Heights. After two hours of riding through Cleveland's east side, they near the end of the monthly ritual known as Critical Mass riding in a bike lane that Cleveland and Cleveland Heights painted together in 2013.
As they roll passed stately brownstone apartment buildings on to Coventry Road, the Mass celebrates the rise of Cleveland Heights as a Bicycle Friendly Community, which the League of American Bicyclists recognized with a Bronze award in 2014.
Along with Lakewood and Cleveland—the other Bronze bike friendly cities in Northeast Ohio— Cleveland Heights has taken baby steps to include “infrastructure” for bikes as it resurfaces streets. Edgehill joined North Park Boulevard in the city’s arsenal of bike lanes that have appeared in recent years.
Studies have shown that bike lanes and, to a lesser degree, the free-wheeling “Sharrow” stencils painted in the road, grow the ranks of people biking in and through Cleveland Heights.
It also makes city officials like the Chief of Police happier, Cleveland Heights Planning Director, Richard Wong, said at the Heights Bike Coalition (HBC) annual meeting yesterday.
Wong explained that the city plans to build more bike lanes, and convince safety officials that they are part of a strategy to reduce accidents between cars.
“Can anyone tell me why a ‘road diet’ reduces accidents?” he asked, using a term that transportation engineer, Dan Burden, pioneered in the 1990s. Burden was able to show that drivers behave better when a four-lane road is reconfigured with a turn lane in the center flanked by a lane on each side for through traffic. Why is this three lane set up safer?
“Is it because cars can’t pass each other?” an HBC member asked.
Correct, said Wong, adding that evidence suggests road diets lead to fewer rear-end, sideswipes and “broadsides” collisions between cars.
The added benefit of a road diet is that the “left-over” area in the road can be used for legal, 5-foot-wide bike lanes on both sides of the road.
This is significant, Wong said, because confidence in riding a bike in the road will rise with the presence of bike lanes. A 2013 survey of area residents conducted by Baker, a transportation engineering firm hired by Cleveland Heights and University Circle for their Missing Links study, found that 70 percent of respondents would feel comfortable riding in the road with a bike lane. The number dropped to 30 percent without a bike lane.
Less polluting forms of transportation address climate change and the expanding waistlines of Americans, Wong added.
Cleveland Heights will pursue a “road diet” strategy in its upcoming resurfacing of two main streets, Noble Road and Lee Boulevard.
Noble Road’s lower average daily traffic doesn’t justify the need for four lanes, Wong said. When the city repaves Noble in 2019, it will do a four-to-three lane diet. In the process, they will paint bike lanes along the entire length of the road, which starts at Mayfield Road and ends at the city line with East Cleveland. The city will make a similar move with Lee Boulevard, which is the section of Lee Road north of Mayfield where it hugs Forest Hills Park.
For Cleveland Heights, the Edgehill experience and the presence of advocates may have put wind in the sails for road diets and bike lanes.
A similar story came out of City of Lakewood earlier this year with the western suburb promising a road diet on Madison Avenue. After Madison is resurfaced in 2015, the city plans to paint in bike lanes.
In Cleveland, a 2010 Complete Streets law calls on the city to find room for more bike infrastructure on major paving projects.
In the last year, Cleveland has committed to plans for road diets and bike lanes on parts of Denison, Puritas, and Triskett roads.
"Road diets are a quick and cheap way for a city to make a street safer for all road users," said Jacob VanSickle executive director of Bike Cleveland. "By calming traffic and adding bike lanes a street can go from being car-centered to being multi-modal, and truly meet the needs of all users."
Cleveland Heights City Council will host a special meeting on Tuesday, April 29 to discuss any neighborhood issues in the Noble neighborhood. The meeting will take place at the Cleveland Heights Police Academy, 2595 Noble Road, starting at 7:00 pm. Director Wong will also introduce the Noble Road diet plan. For any questions or comments, call Community Relations at 216-291-2323.