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Cleveland needs to find a middle ground in bike lane debate

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/29/15 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Biking

Is Cleveland charting new ground with its buffered bike lane design—unveiled by the city for W. 25th Street, sections of Lorain Avenue in Ohio City and on Lakeshore Boulevard in Collinwood—or is it out of step with the bike lanes that other cities are implementing?

It is being debated by the city and the cycling community (in a story that originated here and has since gone national).

Choose a side<br />City of Cleveland is implementing a buffered bike lane, seen here on Lorain Avenue, that is novel relative to the majority of other cities.Split the difference<br />Bike Cleveland posted this image to accompany an explanation of buffered bike lanes. It may be a good compromise for Cleveland.

On the one hand, the city’s Traffic Engineering Department, which wields all of the authority, defended its position that placing a buffer zone between bike lane and curb will make for safer biking conditions.

The cycling community rejected the argument, citing the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guideline. NACTO includes best practices on bike design from 40 cities across the U.S.

Cleveland Traffic Engineer Andy Cross expressed concern about the NACTO design, and put forth a plan to place the bike lane next to the general travel lane. He rationalized that the design puts cyclists in a better line of sight for drivers. Cross’ concern: Cars turning right across the bike lane, he said, would be more dangerous with the buffer along the left side.

Advocacy group Bike Cleveland has expressed doubts in Cross' assessment. After the W. 25th Street bike lane came forward, they ran it past transportation officials in other cities to assess the Cleveland approach. From their recent email, it appears Bike Cleveland is standing firm to its position that Cleveland is wavering from best practice. BikeCleveland even appears willing to compromise: posting a picture of a buffered bike lane on its website that splits the buffer in two.

It appears to be a good compromise.

The city has not released an official statement about its buffered bike lane design. However, in conversations with city officials, GCBL has been informed that it stands by Cross. The city official we spoke to felt the critique of Cross‘ design crossed a line into personal attacks. And that the city feels that is counterproductive.

Is it too soon to judge the Cleveland buffered bike lane design? It will be the first of its kind in the country. One could say that Cross is testing his theory in paint, and that paint is not permanent (except on Lorain where plastic lines were used).

Critics of the design do have some solid data to back them up. That moving cyclists closer to cars doesn’t attract new riders. They also point to evidence of other cities that have had little to no safety concerns with placing the buffer between cars and bikes. So, why reinvent it?

Perhaps at this point it is possible to re-boot the conversation. First, Cleveland does deserve credit for painting more bike lanes. They have doubled the pace since last year. Cycling advocates, meanwhile, should be recognized for their professionalism in raising the case for bike infrastructure. Biking as real transportation has made great strides because of it. Today, advocates can be found both in and outside of City Hall.

The buffered bike lane debate, let’s hope, is a speed bump. But, it does raise questions and concerns. At times like these, can someone at the city broker a peace and restore the transparency and dialogue between the Traffic Engineer and the cycling community?

Longer term, Cleveland should want to be part of the dialogue and data sharing on the national scene. It might reconsider its stance about joining groups like NACTO since they too are finding best practice through experimentation. That way, when dust ups like the buffered bike lane design happen, there is firm ground for both sides to work from. Hopefully, it is on the same side of the street.

Cleveland will hold a public meeting tonight, 7 p.m. at Detroit-Shoreway Community Development to discuss the Lorain Avenue and the West 25th Street streetscape projects, both of which are slated to include bike lanes.

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Marc
1 year ago

Austin, it was also my understanding that Cleveland Heights was interested in pursuing a retrofit of the North Park bike lane by adding a buffer. I thought they received similar feedback -- that the lanes are too wide -- and decided to move ahead...

Austin
1 year ago

Cleveland Heights recently repaved and restriped a segment of North Park. When the City restriped the street, it maintained the status quo. Why still not buffered bike lanes on North Park? The travel lanes for cars are some the widest in all of Northeast Ohio and should be able to spare at least a foot for a buffer or perhaps wider bike lanes, which is important because the bike lanes do double duty for joggers and cyclists.

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