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Why do we celebrate a month for biking?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/12/15 @ 9:00am  |  Posted in Biking, Transportation

Happy Bike Month! The bicycle is the most elegant invention. One that, arguably, has not been surpassed in its efficiency and ability to make so many people happy.

<br />Bike to Work Day from 2014 includes lots of happy people biking downtown, in Detroit-Shoreway, in Tremont and in the suburbs like Cleveland Heights.<br /><br /><br />

The radically simple act of choosing to ride a bike to work shouldn’t require a 30-day pass to a time/place of make believe. Biking makes us feel good; so why have we done our best to deny our ability to enjoy it every day?

Bike Month is a necessary act of personal expression. But we’ve acted like tourists instead of how we most want this place to be. Cleveland is part of a national campaign to reclaim space on streets so that biking safely is an everyday option.

I met recently with Cleveland Heights officials who are introducing a complete streets ordinance into their transportation planning, just like the City of Cleveland did in 2011 when it kickstarted an 80 miles of bikeways plan. The suburb’s elected leadership started a conversation a year ago by forming a citizen-led Transportation Advisory Committee (disclosure: I co-chair that committee. It’s been an amazing privilege to live in a place that put this idea into action). We gravitated to an all-encompassing complete streets law. More than 600 places in the U.S. have adopted complete streets while building choice back into street projects.

I recently sat down with Cleveland Heights’ Councilwoman Mary Dunbar and its Planning Director Richard Wong, both of them cyclists, and asked them what complete streets means?

“For everyone to feel comfortable on a street,” Wong says.

Dunbar adds that Cleveland Heights was built around places that people will walk and bike to—with a little encouragement, streets can feel safe and comfortable. She prefers to think of it as complete neighborhoods. Density of housing and shopping are as important as complete streets. Cleveland Heights, like Lakewood and parts of Cleveland, were built using the geometries of streetcar lines which puts lots of places within an easy walk.

“I don’t see Cleveland Heights as having to get people through as fast as possible,” said Dunbar, a senior who recently completed the Boston Marathon. “I’m interested in being physically active; in getting people to the library, school, parks.”

In Cleveland, places like Shaker Square and Larchmere, the new urbanism on Euclid Avenue, the great neighborhoods of Tremont, the West Side Market District, and Gordon Square are models of walkable urbanism to build from. Last year at this time we celebrated Bike to Month by shooting a video that featured happy people riding the Detroit Avenue bike lane.

Unfortunately, many of Cleveland’s complete neighborhoods were dismantled. Cedar and Woodland, State and Pearl, E. 105th Street and Superior Avenue—the list goes on where “traffic engineers” started erasing “Main Street.” In the mid-20th century, in tandem with discriminatory lending practices that drove people away from cities, transportation professionals adopted what traffic engineer Ian Lockwood calls a Modernist value. They redefined streets and narrowed the concern to moving cars through cities. Not surprisingly, economies of place gave way to the geography of nowhere.

As we celebrate Bike Month, and while the myth of the happy motorist has stretched us to our limit, what will the new generation of Clevelanders seek? Will they demand that a city is not just where the interstate highway runs through, but where radically simple plans like The Midway —a beautiful vision for revisiting what made the streetcar city work with bikes and parks instead of trolleys this time— offer to make parts of Cleveland into complete neighborhoods again.

To enjoy all of the activities, events, group rides on Bike to Work Day this Friday (and free coffee and breakfast), check out BikeCleveland’s page on Bike Month in Cleveland.

If you respond better to an organized effort, join hundreds of Clevelanders in the National Bike Challenge. You can enter for free, and its easy to log miles. Help Cleveland defend the Rust Belt Cup against Pittsburgh.

Cleveland Heights Bike Coalition has organized a bunch of events to celebrate May as Bike Month, including this Saturday’s All Geared Up family bike day.

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