The time is really ripe for Cleveland to build its first protected bike lane.
Never has there been such a convergence of interested parties—and resources to be leveraged.
Cleveland has the most ambitious protected bike lane project, maybe in the country, with The Midway. It sprang from the minds of Barb Clint of the YMCA and John McGovern, then-board member of BikeCleveland.
The Midway has always been about bringing out the pure joy of cycling. Staking a claim to a lane of traffic at the center of the road for a protected greenway is an expression of confidence.
The idea is to build from lightly trafficked, former streetcar avenues like St. Clair and plot out a citywide network of protected bike lanes, including a plan for a two-way cycle track on Lorain Avenue.
In 2014, behind-the-scenes work at Cleveland City Hall —led by BikeCleveland and the Office of Sustainability—culminated in a delegation from Cleveland visiting Indianapolis and riding the country’s premier protected bike lane, The Cultural Trail. Key to that visit was Mayor Jackson’s Chief of Staff, Ken Silliman, riding along and having face time with Indy’s mayor. Silliman is Mayor Jackson’s man on all things related to the budget, so he’s the one to convince of the benefits of protected bike lanes. (We were informed by those who attended that he got to see and hear firsthand why the Cultural Trail ranks so highly among the mayor’s accomplishments).
At least one major decision maker is convinced that The Midway is a game changer for Cleveland. Joining St. Clair-Superior CDC, Ohio City, Inc. and the Cleveland Metroparks, the regional transportation agency, NOACA, backed the Midway this week, awarding it a big planning grant. BikeCleveland reports that the Midway can now move from vision to detailed plan (which is a big step toward getting construction funds).
It would probably help at this point if Mayor Jackson announced his intention to get the Midway built. I could see the head of the Cleveland Clinic and other major healthcare providers standing at the podium with him. Why should Mayor Jackson expend political capital supporting the Midway? Pittsburgh may provide some answers. Mayor Bill Peduto—“a forceful advocate for cycling”—is getting credit for Pittsburgh’s first protected bike lane on Penn Avenue. The downtown lane blew away expectations—attracting 24,000 rides in the first month, the Post-Gazette reported this week.
Indy and Pittsburgh are out to prove the old “build it and they will come” adage applies to protected and connected bike lanes. While they may have languished in planning departments in the past, a recent decision by the Federal Highway Administration to make protected bike lanes legal across the land have raised hopes that everyone will be able to someday bike safely on the road.
(The biggest challenge for Cleveland may be an antagonistic attitude from conservatives in Congress who tried to torpedo sidewalks and bike lanes recently. The reaction to bike lanes in Ohio also seems to be paternalistic: ODOT made it clear this month that it wouldn’t tolerate road diets like The Midway. Their edict may explain Cleveland’s decision to widen Pearl Road when a road diet seemed like the logical direction to move).
If Cleveland needs the courage to prevail against big bad ODOT, it can access the data that protected bike lanes deliver. European bike hotspot Copenhagen revealed just how much to FastCompany this week. The Danes have a method for investing like mad in protected bike lanes: they figure, the health, environmental and societal costs of driving equals about 17 cents per kilometer, while bikes actually generate 18 cents of benefit per kilometer. Concludes a Copenhagen official:
“What we learn here is that society profits from people cycling.”