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A big cycling circuit for Cleveland, Near West Side gains ground

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/20/15 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

No one project defines Cleveland’s 80 miles of Bikeways by 2017 Plan: Bike lanes have been popping up all over the city—from E. 22nd to Superior Avenue to E. 72nd Street. But if a candidate has to be found, the Near West Side’s effort to line up a network of bike lanes and paths could be a contender.

And while Cleveland keeps pace—22.16 miles of new bike lanes are expected in 2015 after 10 miles were painted in 2014—its aspirations reach beyond painting a lane here or there. The goal is to create a network of bike infrastructure. It might happen first on the Near West Side.

Last week, the Cleveland Planning Commission approved the conceptual design of a complete street on Lorain Avenue—which includes a raised, two-way cycle track on Lorain between W. 25th Street and W. 65th streets. Modeled after the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, the protected bike lane would serve as backbone to a high-speed bike network—one that complements the slower-speed residential streets—for safer travel between neighborhoods.

<br />The Redline Greenway would bring a New York High Line experience to Cleveland. <br />The scenery of the Redline Greenway<br /><br />Conceptual design, approved by the City of Cleveland, for the Lorain Avenue cycle track<br />The City of Cleveland prepares the W. 25th Street bike lane.<br />A family enjoys the Detroit Avenue bike lane in Cleveland.
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Picture a big circuit starting and ending at the West Side Market. Almost the entire loop around Ohio City and Detroit-Shoreway is set to have bike lanes, a separated path or a protected lane, and has earned conceptual approval, is built or is being built by the city.

It will extend beyond Ohio City—south to the Stockyards neighborhood—on the 2.5 mile Redline Greenway path through the wilds where the Rapid runs between W. 65th to W. 25th streets. It would hook up with the existing bike path across the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge to downtown, to Tremont on the bike lane over Abbey Avenue, and, when a lakefront bike path is built next to a slowed West Shoreway, to points west.

Here are more details, including where things stand:

Speaking about the 2.25-mile Lorain Avenue complete street to more than a hundred supporters at a recent public meeting, Ohio City, Inc. director Tom McNair said, “It costs $9,000 a year to operate a car while walking is a free right of everyone. We want to make streets walkable, not just to get cars moving through.”

When a streetcar line was removed in the 1950s, the lanes were given over to car travel. It coincided with Lorain’s slow decline. In 2011, Ohio City held a community meeting where hundreds of residents turned out; the Living Lorain Plan emerged. It’s goal is to revitalize the moribund stretch of Lorain between W. 25th and W. 65th—by making it “comfortable for walking,” McNair says.

Ohio City is requesting $16 million (from the city, NOACA, the state and perhaps private sources) for new sidewalks, street trees and perennials, benches and bus shelters (where none exist), and a world-class cycle track that would repurpose a lane on the north side (the cycle track switches over to the south side of the street at W. 44th Street).

“There is very little (car) turning that happens on Lorain,” McNair explained the road diet plan. “It practically functions today as a two-lane road.”

At the Planning Commission, which granted unanimous approval to the Lorain complete street, City Councilman, Joe Cimperman, urged the city to move with dispatch.

“The biggest difference between what’s there today and the future is it’s much more predictable, whatever your mode is,” he said. “I ask you to approve the radical change we can make here.”

The city has committed $1 million, according to the PD.

* * *

Lennie Stover navigates his beat up black Ford truck down a steep, muddy embankment from the RTA Red Line bridge that spans the Cuyahoga River to “Irishtown Bend” and Columbus Road near Hooples as he notes “this is the most important gateway to the Redline Greenway.” Stover has led 700 of these white knuckle tours of the wild and scenic urban corridor that features some killer graffiti, rusty bridge trusses, and a pulse quickening ride that really drives home how cool a path next to the Red Line would be.

He’s talking as we slide through a narrow opening in a chain link fence about one of a half-dozen trail spurs—this one being eyed by the Cleveland Metroparks -- who signed a memorandum of understanding to take over management of the RedLine Greenway. A project that Stover has championed for more than a decade is finally gaining serious traction.

Since signing on, the Metroparks won a $2 million grant from NOACA and RTA gave its approval after paying $100,000 to prove the feasibility of the RLGW’s first phase which is estimated to cost $4.7 million. It would take visitors on a “high line” experience from the bridge and its stunning views of the industrial valley above the west bank of the river. Phase I is a 2.5 mile stretch past the iconic red steel frame of the W. 25th street Rapid station. Stover envisions a grassy hill there becoming a performance space. Through woods and dales on a recycled asphalt trail that goes over an abandoned freight line next to the active Rapid line. At W. 44th Street, the trail’s second phase pops up from the sunken corridor to the surface streets, crosses highway ramps and an ODOT-owned hillside—where Stover takes Rotary groups on fall hayrides —until it squeezes its way to the back of the Michael Zone Recreation Center and its paved trail at W. 65th Street.

If a bike network around the Near West Side is built, what difference would it make?

“I think we will be the best trail and biking city in America,” boasts Stover. “We should put them all in a hopper. The competition will be good.”

* * *

West 65th Street is scheduled to be repaved in 2016, and the city would like to calm fast-moving traffic across its four lanes with on-street parking and bumping out curbs at five intersections between Detroit and Lorain avenues.

Curb bump outs are proven traffic calming devices. A source familiar with the project confirms that the city is still interested in adding bioswales to “green” the bump outs.

But on-street parking on W. 65th is too sporadic to make for effective street calming. It pushes cyclists out into a lane intended for cars.

W. 65th is a paradox—a minor arterial in a dense, walkable neighborhood. It’s classified as a federal aid route, but West 65th is on the city’s Master Bikeway Plan. It was presumed that it couldn't be road dieted.

Two years ago, the plan reflected this somewhat limited world view. Today, with its vital link to the Living Lorain Plan and more known about how to road diet arterials, should the city want, it could act with greater confidence that a road diet on W. 65th Street would help create the space for a dedicated bike lane.

The Near West Side has a cycling community that is growing and on the move. The current plan, with the curb bump outs, would certainly pedestrianize W. 65th—a much needed move. But, the 2013 vision to build an off-road path seems more dated now then when it came out. Detroit-Shoreway and Councilman Zone could align the aspirations for the Near West Side bike network with a conceptual plan drawn here (credit to urban planner Christopher Lohr) that calls for removing on-street parking on one side to gain bike lanes on W. 65th Street.

* * *

The Detroit Avenue bike lanes, a 2-mile unprotected facility from Lake Avenue to W. 25th, were a city led effort that had an immediate impact. The 2014 bike counts from NOACA showed that Detroit Avenue produced the city’s second largest number of bike commuters (edged out slightly by Edgehill Road between University Circle and Cleveland Heights). Imagine when a complete street is built on Lorain and with the city committing to bike lanes on W. 25th Street between the Market District and Detroit Avenue to complete a Near West Side bike network. It should boost the confidence of people—families, really —to enjoy biking in and around the city.

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Peter Dlu
1 year ago

It is a substantiated fact that the only method of truly "boosting the confidence" of families (especially with children) ---to enjoy biking in and around a city, is with protected bike lanes and/or off the road paths. The truly bike-friendly cities are facilitating the changes from a 'fuel driven only' transportation mindframe--- to a more eco-friendly highly compatible system, utilizing methods that accomodate ALL modes of transportation. ---And they are excelling at it. Statistics show increases in bicycle ridership within metropolitan areas that allow for inter-modal transportation. This also translates directly to increases in business patronage on the local level, which in turn, creates more opportunities in a closer-knit community. What is created by such systems is healthier for all. Everyone wins. A whole lot of Tremonts, Ohio Cities, and University Circles all strung together.

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