Blog › Is the Circle-Heights plan wimping out?


Is the Circle-Heights plan wimping out?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/05/12 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

From the outset, the Circle-Heights Bike Plan has been fixed on a singular purpose: Eliminate car trips on crowded roads in and to University Circle. For some, the plan's success metrics have to be 'mode shift'—how many willing but reluctant cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders will it entice to come off the sidelines.

Coming up roses?<br />Case painted in bike lanes on walking paths on campus in 2012Going up?<br />The Circle-Heights Bike Plan calls for bike lanes up this stretch of Mayfield RoadRoad diet ahead<br />The Circle-Heights Bike Plan calls for significantly narrowing this intersection at Kenilworth and MayfieldTesting, testing<br />Sharrows or Share the Road markers were painted in by Cleveland Heights in 2010. Bike experts say Sharrows are pilots for more permanent infrastructure like bike lanes.Room for improvement<br />Does Edgehill Road, a major bike route in Cleveland Heights, have room to grow from Sharrow to bike lane?

The hospitals and Case have a lot at stake with the Circle-Heights bike plan because mode shift translates to how many parking garages they will build in the future. For Case, it can help greatly with meeting targets in their American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

For the last year, the city of Cleveland Heights and the big institutions in the Circle set to work on the Circle-Heights Bicycle Network & Missing Links Study with those goals in mind. They hired Baker, a huge planning and engineering firm, and City Architecture and engaged the staff of University Circle, Inc. They surveyed nearly 1,000 people living in the Heights about what would make them more comfortable trying an alternative 'mode' from a car to commute to work or school. What barriers and what opportunities they should capitalize on?

The survey revealed that, yes, most people would leave their car at home, but only for a clearly delineated area of road designated for biking. Or with better crosswalks. Or if transit was free, frequent and fast. The Circle-Heights Study was presented to the public for final comment last week.

For the transportation advocates in the room, the recommendations don't go nearly far enough.

"There's nothing exciting about this plan," says Bike Cleveland director, Jacob Van Sickle. "It's like they asked for and got all this good advice, and then ignored it."

At the heart of Van Sickle's complaint is the lack of bold ideas. He feels Sharrows appear instead of bike lanes more often than not. The plan calls for a lot of Share the Road pavement stencils, which, Van Sickle says, have limited impact. He cites a study from Los Angeles that concludes Sharrows are good for a number of reasons, but attracting new riders may not be one of them. To bolster his claim, Van Sickle points to the results of the Circle-Heights survey where only 24% responded that Sharrows would go far enough in convincing them to ride to work.

"It doesn't do enough to create stress free biking environments that are needed in our region to encourage more people to bike," Van Sickle says.

The issue, says GreenCityBlueLake director, David Beach, is the plan still misses an opportunity to create a compelling, highly visible, reliable alternative to driving. To encourage biking, the plan should point out how we create that robust system. He agrees with Van Sickle that peppering in Sharrows instead of painting a continuous bike lane on the preferred routes will not go far enough to attract those who expressed an interest in biking to work.

"Sharrows are too wimpy," Beach said.

Why, then, does the plan rely so heavily on Sharrows when it appears room and opportunity exists on roads like East Boulevard, Cornell, and Edgehill in Cleveland Heights to connect up a whole system of bike lanes?

At the final presentation, the plan showed isolated segments of roadway will have new bike lanes—up Edgehill Road, up Mayfield Road, maybe Cedar Road east of Fairmount, and for a stretch on Kenilworth Road.

That's certainly an improvement, says Beach, who also appreciates how the plan tackles some of the more dangerous intersections between the Heights and the Circle. "I think the plan does address some of the key areas that were identified as serious problem spots."

Those include massive overhauls of the intersections at the top of the hills, those gateways between the Heights and the University Circle district. Huge seas of asphalt at Edgehill-Overlook and Kenilworth-Mayfield would be softened by extending out the curbs and filling them in with landscaping such as rain gardens. That should calm car traffic and make the distance for bikers and pedestrians less formidable.

But, it is inexplicable why so many resources were spent on those intersections, and so light a treatment was applied to the whole system of circulation. Why did the city planners and traffic engineers involved from Cleveland and Cleveland Heights so quickly abandoned bike lanes when clear advantages and space exists for them?

Is it because, as a NOACA Transportation for Livable Communities grant,the plan's leaders knew they will only see limited funds for engineering and construction? For example, the city of Cleveland Heights has TLCI-funded studies for the Cedar-Fairmount and Cedar-Lee Districts. Cleveland Heights Planning Director Richard Wong said last week that the city applied for $1.5 million each for engineering and construction from NOACA's $8 million annual Transportation Enhancements budget. The Circle-Heights TLCI weaves in some of the priorities from the Cedar-Fairmount plan including a multi-purpose path down (the south side of) Cedar Hill.

What's striking to Beach is the similarity to the ten-year-old Circle-Heights Bike Network plan created by EcoCity Cleveland. For $5,000, the organization held a series of public meetings, developed a vision, a map and identified many of the problem intersections. Much of the work undergirds the TLCI plan which, after a year and a $50,000 investment, Beach and others hoped would take more than small steps forward.

"It doesn't offer transformational change," he says about the final draft. "At this point, it's not going to get that many people out of their cars."

Van Sickle also doesn't understand why the plan doesn't set out a more aggresive agenda. The cost of paint is not high, he says, and both cities have shown that, when pushed, they can figure out how to handle the needs of cars and bikes with lanes. In Cleveland Heights, Wong decided to paint in bike lanes on North Park Boulevard after a routine repaving. In Cleveland, the city agreed to paint bike lanes on Detroit Avenue when advocates, including Bike Cleveland and GreenCityBlueLake, pushed for alternatives to the West Shoreway bike path (which the city eliminated). To streamline the process, Cleveland is paying for the paint for Detroit Avenue out of its own budget.

Perhaps the problem isn't with the consultants, but their clients? In this case the cities and their representatives set such low expectations, aided by a lack of critical scrutiny from the public, that they dictated the modest outcomes before the process began. We all need to demand more than tinkering around the edges from our cities. Being good stewards of our resources should be defined as producing something with immediate impact and lasting value.

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5 years ago

I know that there are plans to install a multi-purpose path immediately to the south of the Cedar-Glen Parkway, but are there any plans to make the sidewalk on the north side of the street pedestrian friendly or, more fundamentally, just safe for pedestrians. That sidewalk might be the most dangerous in the region, especially considering the speed and angle at which westbound traffic from Cedar Ave. approaches it. It is nice that RTA is rebuilding the Cedar-University Rapid Station, but in order for the project to be as successful as possible, RTA must push for improvements to the surrounding area (in addition to the multi-purpose path) that make the station easily, conveniently, and safely approachable by pedestrians from all directions, especially considering that this is not one of the park-n-ride train stations.

5 years ago

University Circle running out of parking was the impetus for this project? Parking is a problem that will only get worse when the Opportunity Corridor six-lane thruway comes to town. But parking will not be the only thing that the Opportunity Corridor will worsen. Easier motor vehicle access to University Circle will mean more people drive to that destination for work or play. More traffic means a more degraded living environment for folks living and visiting University Circle --- and it could put the very character of University Circle at risk, because the increase in traffic could be used as an impetus to widen many of the narrow roads within University Circle, which help to make it such a unique urban area. This is why University Circle stakeholders should not just be focusing on getting people from the Heights to University Circle by transit or bike but also getting folks from the south and west of town to University Circle by transit, which, of course, would require doing something bold for this region like advocating for commuter rail expansion to the west (i.e., the westshore) and to the south of town. After all, we are investing so much in improving the rail stations in University Circle --- but are still assuming that the only way more people will come there from the south and west is by bringing the highway to University Circleā€™s doorstep.

Mary Dunbar
5 years ago

In response to your article, the Circle-Heights Bicycle Network project grew out of a request by the Heights Bicycle Coalition late in 2010 for better bicycle connectivity between Cleveland Heights and University Circle. The leadership of Cleveland Heights and University Circle agreed this was important. University Circle believes it will run out of car parking space in a few years a build-out continues, so would like to encourage alternative modes of transportation. Cleveland Heights bicycle commuters wanted Edgehill repaved (no more potholes!) and maybe other routes improved too.

With that direction, an initial meeting of those tasked with getting the job done was held. It was proposed that we pursue a Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative (TLCI) grant through NOACA as our first step. Given the interests of the various funders, the project scope became far more ambitious and time-consuming than I originally envisaged. It was recognized that people needed safe routes both in the Heights and in University Circle to get to and from the connections, so the geographic scope expanded beyond the links between the Heights and University Circle. The transit piece - Missing Links - was "merged" with the bicycle network planning later.

The Circle-Heights Bicycle Network was never intended to be a Cleveland Heights Bicycle Plan. We should have one. Getting a plan under way - maybe even completed - is an excellent project for 2013. I envisage a collaboration between the Heights Bicycle Coalition and the city to develop a mutually agreeable plan that can be implemented fully over time. We'll work to make that a reality in 2013.

Chris Bongorno
5 years ago


My original response had embedded links, which were not included in the post as it appears here. One of the links was to http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Bicycle+Boulevard (I hope that shows up), which provides some idea of what bicycle boulevards can be. Imagine a street that is opened to local vehicular traffic, but where bicycles are given priority through a series of physical indicators (signs, barriers, etc.) that help cyclists of all abilities feel more comfortable in the road. More study will need be done - post TLCI - to see what methods will be most effective in these cases.

As far as specific interventions that appear to be infeasible under foreseeable circumstances, I would refer to calls to remove traffic lanes from Cedar Avenue in the Heights to allow for bike lanes. With recent traffic counts reaching 18,000 vehicles per day, 2 lanes of traffic in either direction and roadway widths under 50 feet, the recommendations from the study will more likely be to implement sharrows and broad shoulders, as well as to promote parallel routes like Edgehill, Derbyshire and Meadowbrook, which are more comfortable and which we heard cyclists are already using today.

5 years ago

Follow up questions for Mr. Bongorno: How would roads like Edgehill or Overlook be reconfigured as bicycle boulevards? Does the term "bicycle boulevard" mean that a portion of the infrastructure will be set aside for cyclists or does it just encompass bikes-are-welcome-here signage? Also, is there a specific "intervention" that was advocated for which the project group could not see happening "under any circumstance"?

Chris Bongorno
5 years ago

I'll start by thanking the project administrator -- NOACA -- and the project sponsors -- Cleveland Heights and University Circle Inc. (my employer) -- for their contributions of dollars and staff time to the combined bicycle network and transit links studies. The City of Cleveland, Heights Bicycle Coalition, GCRTA, and several others have also contributed many hours to the Working Group, public meetings and other outreach aimed at arriving at the best recommendations for bicycle network and transit improvements within this plan's framework. Absent the Working Group's passion and dedication to this area, the TLCI study would not have been possible over the past 12 months. I would also like to thank the members of the Steering Committee and the public in general who have committed time, energy and expertise to shaping this plan with their comments, suggestions, questions, and presence on the streets and sidewalks of the study area. Lastly, I'll thank the project consultants -- Michael Baker Corp., City Architecture and Parsons Brinckerhoff, who have gone above and beyond what they were contracted to do out of a sincere desire to arrive at the outcomes that these communities deserve.

Next, a bit of clarification: The plan shared at the public meetings was a "draft" and not "final." The point of public meetings like those held on November 29th is to garner feedback (expressed repeatedly by project sponsors at the meeting) that can help make the plan better -- not to simply show the plan prior to publication. While it may not have been clear at the public meetings last week, several alternatives have been studied for each corridor as part of the planning process and in direct response to comments from the public at the first round of meetings and via the survey tool in spring 2012. The concepts presented at the meetings were the recommendations arrived at after closer examination of each focus corridor by a Steering Committee that includes the Working Group, representatives from some of University Circle's anchor institutions, and other stakeholders, including individuals quoted in the blog post. The recommendations were based on a number of factors, including community feedback, connectivity to the broader network, assessments of current conditions, traffic counts and projections, financial feasibility, timing, regulatory requirements, and more. It was also the study's aim to recommend a variety of network interventions that would accommodate all users -- from type "A" cyclists who want in-road treatments (or don't want anything to distinguish them from an automobile) to type "C" cyclists who would like to bike more, but don't feel comfortable in present conditions. To be sure, the latter group is the largest group, but they are also the most difficult to plan for, considering the space, dollars and ongoing maintenance needed to create a network that meets their needs. That said, the project team recognized that the biggest win would be to create that more substantial network that would encourage the greatest amount of new cyclists and lead to the greatest mode shift, health benefits, and overall positive community impact.

Since the cost of the study was mentioned in the article, I will note that $50K for network planning in an area over 9-square miles does not allow for great detail to be established, network-wide. The City of Cleveland Heights had an explicit desire to amend the intersections of Edgehill/Overlook and Mayfield/Kenilworth, as they are gateways between the two cities and are currently confusing and uncomfortable for all users. The focus on these intersections was a part of the "Missing Links" portion of the study, which intended to pull together transit, bicycle, and pedestrian plans to better accommodate all users. The hills were the primary focus of the bicycle network study, reinforced by the previous Circle-Heights network plan and considerable community feedback from the onset. The Working Group believes that the recommendations at the focus intersections and on the hills are substantive and will lead to safer and more attractive accommodations for all users. Unfortunately, a large part of the network received less attention and, while recommendations will still be made for a number of corridors, many of them will come with the qualification that "further study is needed."¯ I want to express that this is not "wimping out," but rather a realistic capture of how far the study recommendations could take us. As many of your readers will know, TLCI Planning Grants are not meant to produce facility "designs," per se, but rather a series of concept plans that the community can use as a stepping off point for additional study, design, engineering, and ultimately, construction. A case-in-point (as Richard Wong of the City of Cleveland Heights highlighted at the public meetings) is the Cedar-Fairmount plan, which was completed in 2009. Some of the plan's recommendations have recently been used in an application by the City for competitive design and construction dollars that will lead to implementation. There are other opportunities for gap funding that can help these plans progress from concept to construction and the Working Group will collaborate with the broader community to access these funds when priorities and opportunities present themselves.

All of this clearly reinforces the notion that this plan needs to get the recommendations right, albeit with that "further study" qualifier in some cases and explanations for why some alternatives were not chosen in others. We heard from many people at the meetings (plus before and after) that the plan looked great. However, we recognize that dedicated advocates for bicycle and transit improvements (a club of which I count myself a member) will take a more critical look and will push for more aggressive and substantive improvements. This is a good thing! So, we continue to look for opportunities to "up the ante" before the plan is complete. For example, can roads like Edgehill or Overlook be reconfigured as bicycle boulevards? Can Cedar Avenue function adequately with only 3 lanes of automobile traffic? Can on-street parking on Superior Avenue, west of Euclid be eliminated? It would be short-sighted for the plan to recommend an intervention simply because funds are not currently available to implement it, but it would also be short-sighted to recommend an intervention that we cannot see happening under any circumstance. These considerations will continue to be weighed and, where further study is needed to answer the questions, we will say so. We hope that the resulting plan best represents the aspirations of the communities they are meant to serve and that the direction they provide will lead to real projects and progress toward making the University Circle and Cleveland Heights communities safer, healthier, more attractive, affordable, and sustainable places to live.


Chris Bongorno

UCI Director of Planning

(also a cyclist, pedestrian, driver, & transit user)

Ken Brickman
5 years ago

Patience, Grasshopper. It takes around 3 years to get a movement moving. This may seem like a small step, but it is a step. The enthusiasm is there, let the initiate sharrow use, which will then demand more attention to bike lanes (not just painted but slightly bermed lanes). Consider the population demographics for linkages as well. I am 31, single, and dedicated to the mission. I have the ability for high-risk activities. Right now you need to encourage the more adventuruous souls to prove that biking is more safe and less adventurous in order to improve perception.

5 years ago

A couple of comments and questions about the blogpost and some of the information referenced therein:

1. Will the multi-purpose lane on the south side of the Cedar-Glen Parkway connect to anything (e.g., the Lakes to Lake Trail and the University Circle Rapid Station)? Are any improvements planned for the pedestrian-UNfriendly sidewalk on the north side of the Cedar-Glen Parkway?

2. Why are the bike lanes on North Park boulevard so narrow, when the expansive single lanes in each direction should be able to spare more space to each of the bike lanes? I rode -- or, more accurately, attempted to ride -- on that bike lane last month. All of the leaves and twigs from the trees had collected in the bike lane, rendering the bike lane useless as a bike lane. That wouldn't have been a problem if the bike lanes were, say, a foot or two wider.

3. Does the potential construction of the Opportunity Corridor make officials reluctant to dedicate University Circle street space for bikes? If the Opportunity Corridor six-lane highway is built, what adjustments will need to be made to existing University Circle streets? In other words, can the existing street infrastructure in University Circle accommodate even more cars?

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