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CLE mission to Indy shifted Lorain protected bike lane from "if to how"

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/19/14 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

Cleveland has aspirations to build a network of protected bike lanes, starting with Lorain Avenue from W. 25th to W. 65th Street on the north side of the road.

Non-profit organization People for Bikes estimates that 142 protected bike lanes have been built in the U.S. as of 2013. The group behind Project Green Lane, which provides technical assistance to a hand-picked group of six cities a year, says it received letters of interest from 107 cities.

We are the champions <br />Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman (left) with Ohio City Executive Director Tom McNair tour the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.<br /><br /><br /><br />

Tom McNair unclips a 3-inch-thick binder of research on protected bike lanes and holds up an article about developers “lining up” to be near Lincoln, Nebraska’s .75 mile, $1.7 million lane which keeps cars and bikes separated on the road.

The Executive Director of Ohio City Inc. is using the binder to compel city and merchant to line up behind a protected bike lane on Lorain Avenue by 2016, when the road is scheduled to be resurfaced.

He recently travelled with Mayor Jackson’s Chief of Staff, his Commissioner of Streets and Councilman Joe Cimperman on a fact-finding mission to Indianapolis. They rode what is considered to be the gold standard of bike infrastructure, the Cultural Trail—an 8-mile, raised bikeway built over a car lane that connects districts in downtown and integrates transit and green infrastructure.

McNair, who has been spearheading the Lorain project for the better part of 2 years, says the Indy trip convinced city officials who were on the fence about building a protected bike lane over safety and cost concerns.

“This is no longer a conversation of whether or not, but how you can do it,” McNair insists.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard told the Cleveland delegation that the city was willing to invest $1 million per mile in the Cultural Trail because it viewed it as a good value for a transportation project.

“There’s a tendency to see this as fancy infrastructure for people who crave these type of things,” says McNair, who identifies himself as car free by choice. “In reality, this provides safe and equitable transportation. (Commissioner) Rob Mavec told me they were really surprised how safe it felt.”

Where the Cultural Trail hooks up with the 1-mile, two-way Shelby Street protected bike lane in a neighborhood that reminded McNair of Ohio City, he said they noticed the population using it began to diversify.

“People used it, and not just ‘those downtown types’ but families see it as a safe alternative.”

Evidence suggests that protected bikeways are equity net gains. A recent study in Minneapolis found cycling rates rose by 89% over a 10-year period among residents near the city’s Midtown Greenway, an off-street bikeway that serves an ethnically and economically diverse community.

The equitable transportation argument has currency in Cleveland where 33% of the city’s residents don’t own a car, in part, because it costs on average $9,000 a year.

Bike lanes with curbs or raised above grade are like welcome mats to cyclists of every size and ability. When the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge was upgraded with a path, for example, bike ridership jumped from 49 to 71 cyclists (from 2014 NOACA counts). Connecting the bridge path to a protected bike lane through Ohio City, McNair says, could be the start of a network of protected bike lanes that serve major travel corridors throughout the city.

But, bike infrastructure of this caliber is more costly and complex than simply painting bike lanes. Where will Cleveland—which has aligned $1 million annually from its capital budget with its bikeways plan—come up with multiples of that for one project?

“When the city buys into a project, they find a way to get it done,” says BikeCleveland Executive Director Jacob VanSickle.

Having it fit within a larger vision—like BikeCleveland’s Midway Plan—should attract philanthropic dollars, VanSickle says. Or Cleveland can take a page from Cincinnati, the first city in Ohio to build a protected bike lane. Cincy won a $4.9 million grant for bike infrastructure from an unusual source—the U.S. Department of Justice.

McNair says they will likely try to thread the needle between an average protected bike lane—which is estimated to cost $200,000 per mile—and an all-encompassing Cultural Trail when they go back to the drawing board with their design consultants at the firm Baker.

“Shelby Street is at-road-grade with concrete curbs (separating it from cars) and dedicated signalization for the bikes,” McNair explains. “On the Cultural Trail, they used pedestrian cross signals. We don’t have a good idea of what it will cost, but we’re thinking somewhere between the Cultural Trail and Shelby Street where we don’t need dedicated signalization.”

Ohio City hopes to quickly pivot back into design mode and capture the outpouring of support from a public meeting in 2013.

They plan on having another public meeting to bring newly refined Lorain separated bike lane plans forward on Dec. 9th.

“We will be sharing what we saw in indianapolis, and that this is still happening.”

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