The ambitious plan to connect eastern Cuyahoga County focuses its efforts on low-carbon mobility for the "access poor."
17 suburbs stretching east from Cleveland are midway through a study of how they would improve non-motorized travel on a network of greenways, with a particular focus on wider boulevards where streetcars once ran.
The so-called Eastside Greenway represents one of the region’s largest Transportation for Livable Communities studies, and has raised hopes for future improvements in biking and walking conditions in the eastern half of Cuyahoga County—Ohio’s largest with 59 municipalities covering an area of 1,246 square miles.
This week, round two of public meetings for the Eastside Greenway wrapped in University Heights, roughly the center of the plan. The Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County Planning and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) are involved. The county and NOACA, a metropolitan planning organization, collectively spend $80 million a year on transportation projects.
It spoke volumes that NOACA Executive Director, Grace Gallucci, was in attendance. When project consultants SmithGroup JJR, Michael Baker and LAND Studio were asked about federal funding to build the network, Gallucci volunteered that it would be eligible for federal Transportation Alternatives funds.
(Nancy Lyon Stadler from Baker added that Northeast Ohio’s non-attainment status for federal air quality standards would make the greenway a candidate for Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds—a comment that had Gallucci nodding in agreement. Last month, NOACA announced the 2015 round of CMAQ awards and a handful of bike trails did win).
I spoke to Gallucci after the meeting and she confirmed that the scale of the partnership and its broad reach is exactly what NOACA has in mind for TLCI. What’s been missing until now is a vision and a project that recognizes how bike trips reach across borders. (Disclosure: I’m an advisory committee member).
The roughly 30-40 people who showed up on a cold, snowy night (some on bikes) peppered the project team with questions like, who would be in a position to implement a bike network across city borders? The recommendation: create an Eastside Greenway Coalition and build support within their cities to collaborate.
The plan, at this point, centers around four corridors including Euclid Avenue east of the terminus of the Cleveland’s first bike lanes (installed in 2008). It would complete a multi-modal travel corridor through East Cleveland and City of Euclid with upside potential to improve transportation options between University Circle and the inner-ring suburbs (it also coincides with Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s study to extend the Bus-Rapid Transit line on Euclid Avenue). A second, northern corridor that emerged as a “missing link” is Lakeshore Boulevard, a scenic, four-lane road which is lightly traveled and will be resurfaced soon.
It would also re-invest in the legacy of the eastside’s parkways. The east side of Cleveland has a plethora of four-lane, boulevards divided by green medians. Most are lightly traveled, stretch for miles, and were built for a much larger population. It places them right in the sweet spot for bike travel. The plan calls for as many protected bike lanes as possible in order to attract the “8-80” (year old) crowd and residents without easy access to parks and recreation space. A Cuyahoga County Board of Health assessment, a $100,000 companion piece, provides maps of those locations. The county is also surveying residents to find out the origin and destination of their bike trips. They have started to suss out where the built environment is failing to entice people to bike and walk. They mapped data like high crash areas involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists. The county also adds interesting layers of data, like where there’s a widespread gap in perceived risk of crime and where actual crimes are being reported. Or, where are the areas with high and low access to resources like cars, public facilities, and transit stops.
Greenways and protected bike lanes would be located where it can do the most to encourage people to confront safety and access concerns, County Health officials said. The Eastside Greenway aspires to be built as much for those in “access poor” areas of the urban core and inner ring suburbs. The concern is to have an equitable distribution of bike and walking infrastructure. It is encouraging that County Government sees the connection between the built environment and its ability to affect social cohesion and healthy activity. A map of the wide swing in life expectancy of 10 years between Cleveland’s east side and the outer suburbs, for example, illustrates the need for more mobility options.
The environmental argument for promoting non-motorized travel can be found in the Northeast Ohio Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory where GCBL calculated that the 7-county region burned 28% of its annual 64 tons of carbon in transportation in 2005. Consider that 30% of car trips are distances of 1 mile or less.
Some really attractive alternatives have emerged in the Eastside Greenway that would put eastside boulevards on road diets.
“Build it and they will come,” encouraged one gentleman who moved to Northeast Ohio from Boulder, Colorado where he witnessed that very phenomenon.
A lane repurposed in each direction on east-west Monticello Boulevard and north-South Belvoir for bike lanes would hug the green, center median and function something like a hybrid of a bike path and lane (they wouldn’t have to contend with driveways and curb cuts. SmithGroup JJR previously developed a similar concept on Garfield Boulevard in Garfield Heights). The green median lanes conceptually link to Cleveland’s center cycle track known as The Midway. (As an aside, a few spoke out against a bike path right through the median because of the potential loss of trees).
The Eastside Greenway could be another chain in the famed Emerald Necklace of Greater Cleveland. The outer suburbs would gain a bike path or lane on Highland Road between the Euclid Creek and North Chagrin MetroParks and close the loop with better protection for the many recreation cyclists who use SOM Center Road and Gates Mills Boulevard. A southern loop between Orange, Warrensville and Randall on Miles (helped by a 2015 CMAQ award for a 2.5 mile train to Cleveland’s Kerruish Park) would round out the major focus areas.
The plan also highlights important secondary connectors. Take, for example, Noble Road, a north-south county road that will be resurfaced in 2016. As we reported last month, with complete streets gaining momentum in Cuyahoga County and Cleveland Heights, an idea being floated for a road diet (and early indication that the county is willing to entertain the idea), could make Noble an important link between the major missing link of Euclid Avenue and points between. It will require NOACA and the County to see the big picture and help complete Noble through East Cleveland. (Noble would also serve as a good location to test the equity goals of the Eastside Greenway whose mapping exercise identified the area as high need for access improvements).
The second most common question was, what is this going to cost? Until the public weighs in on its preferred treatments (trail, protected or regular bike lane?), the price tag is only a guess. The timeline is for a draft master plan by mid-2015 at which time a more firm figure—and the priorities on where and how the east side would re-build streets for lower carbon travel—will be known.
If you would like to contribute your ideas, take the Eastside Greenway survey.