When the City of Cleveland adopted Complete Streets in 2011, it activated a conversation in Northeast Ohio.
There are 58 suburban communities in Cuyahoga County, and they are being invited to join the national dialogue underway in 600 communities that have adopted complete streets.
Cuyahoga County Planning and Public Works departments released a Complete Streets Toolkit this month that backers hope leads to a more regional approach to streets designed for travel by bike and bus and a consistent set of standards for how cities interested in improving their WalkScore will get there.
The Cuyahoga toolkit draws heavily from the lessons collected by the National Complete Streets Coalition who note that complete streets “formalize a community’s intent to plan, design, operate, and maintain streets so they are safe for all users of all ages and abilities.”
For Cuyahoga County Planning Director Glenn Coyne, the new toolkit is a teachable moment in how to get complete streets launched in the suburbs, particularly those with inherent land use qualities that make them likely candidates to test ideas like road diets which, until recently, have been the provenance of cities.
“Some will want to connect to a network and others will look at it for re-doing a town center with complete streets components,” Coyne says. “Or, as a chance to reconfigure lanes and calm traffic. We have had lots of suburbs start that thought process.”
Cleveland Heights is one potential early adopter. The city is considering its own complete streets ordinance after a yearlong conversation about how it could help promote safer, more equitable and zero carbon travel options. A citizen-led Transportation Advisory Committee recommended the city adopt a strong complete streets ordinance in December, 2014 (disclosure: I serve as co-chair of the TAC).
Cleveland Heights Councilwoman Mary Dunbar serves as liaison to the TAC (as well as chair of the local bike advocacy group, Heights Bike Coalition). She comments that Cleveland Heights’ inherent density from growing up around streetcars and its ongoing commitment to improving biking and walking make it a good candidate to be the first suburb to adopt complete streets.
“Since the 1950s, policies have favored cars and it’s reflected in the way communities are structured and in our transportation system,” she said. “It’s hard to reverse that even at a time when people are starting to appreciate density and transit.
“That we’re walkable is part of the attractiveness of Cleveland Heights and the inner ring suburbs,” she continues. “This is going to be about maximizing transportation alternatives.”
Dunbar notes that the county toolkit could forge stronger partnerships. Case in point: Noble Road. It runs north-south between Mayfield Road and East Cleveland in Cleveland Heights. Cuyahoga County “owns” and therefore pays for its re-surfacing in 2016. Cleveland Heights Planning Director Richard Wong, noting the county’s and the city’s interest in complete streets, has developed a road diet concept for Noble that would reconfigure the lightly traveled road from four to three lanes—which will create space to add in bike lanes.
“If we have a complete streets policy when (Noble) is designed and engineered, we could say, ‘look at all the people using this. It’s not just cars,” says Dunbar.
A bike lane here or there, while nice, doesn’t attract as many people to biking than creating a regional network would, says BikeCleveland Executive Director Jacob VanSickle.
“People want more transportation choice, so by making a street more multimodal it gives them that option. A bike starts at one place and maybe ends across a city border. Once we have a network, it will give people confidence to try biking. It supports the idea of people who want to live again in cities where there is choice.”
The goal of a countywide complete streets policy is to help sow together, say, Noble Road with a proposed multi-city bike path like the East Side Greenway (a real, practical question since this 18-suburb plan would create a path through Euclid that would intersect with Noble).
Coyne assures that the complete streets toolkit—while not a hard and fast policy—can make that happen. Backers include health care practitioners.
“It’s not just about, would it be nice,” he says. “It would be healthier for folks to have access. So those consideration are starting to be really important for quality of life.”
The “green streets” side of the equation from Cleveland appears in the county’s toolkit, and Coyne says that responds to rising demand as well.
“It’s a big challenge to handle stormwater on wide boulevards and rights of way,” he said. “I think that piece of it has attracted a whole constituency.”
Coyne says that the County will take the Complete Streets Toolkit on a "roadshow" in 2015—to the suburbs that are receptive to how multimodal roads will encourage active lifestyles.
Lakewood and Euclid were both contacted for this blog post, but didn't respond by press time.