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Why Greater Cleveland builds so few bike paths

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/13/13 @ 11:00am

The uncommon speed among peer cities with which Cleveland Heights is moving on its Circle-Heights Bike Plan is significant of...something. Already, the plan—which was funded by a NOACA Transportation for Livable Communities (TLCI) grant and released earlier this year—has led to the Edgehill bike lane.

But TLCI planning grants have a poor track record of follow through, as covered in this previous blog post. It boils down to a disconnect between the grant and city capital budgets (where ideas gain purchase). Not helping matters is a undersized funding pot from the regional transportation agency, NOACA.

A new path<br />Cleveland Heights will build a new bike path on Cedar Hill (background)Paths crossing<br />Cleveland is competing for funds to connect the Cedar-Glen bike path from Cleveland Heights to University Circle.Out with the old<br />This secondary bus / Rapid station will be replaced by a park and connect to the Cedar-Glen trail and Lake to Lakes Trail.Going up?<br />Cleveland Heights added a bike lane on Edgehill Road (after its Circle-Heights Plan was released).New investments<br />Cities like Minneapolis are investing federal and local funds in bike infrastructure like its Nice Ride bike share system.

In recent times, TLCI has produced plans that, if funded, would translate to miles of new bike lanes, cross- and sidewalks, street trees and bus shelters across the Northeast Ohio region. Where cities can do better is approving capital budget matching funds for TLCI projects. The bigger problem is they are competing for too few funds.

Cleveland Heights was lucky to win a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternatives fund to build a 10 foot-wide bike path on Cedar Hill. Bike projects like this often take years, if ever, to get built because they compete for thimble-sized funding pots known as Transportation Enhancements (TE). The city also applied for $92,896 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which has a trail fund, and $10,000 from Bikes Belong, a non-profit supported by the bike industry. ODNR's and Bikes Belong's funding are non-federal sources and would reduce the city's $375,000 share which is the required 20% match.

In 2012, all 50+ cities in NOACA competed for $8 million in TE or less than 1% of the transportation funder’s total budget.

The remaking of streets as a canvas for new- or re-development is viewed by lugubrious regions as exactly that—an enhancement or window dressing. By contrast, places that are experiencing new growth in jobs and an influx of college grads—Columbus, Minneapolis, Memphis, Denver, Salt Lake City—invest more in Complete Streets because they view it as a talent attraction strategy.

Cleveland Heights applied for grants as it was completing the Circle-Heights Plan, in December, 2012. The city has eyed this bike path on Cedar Hill for years, but waited until the Circle-Heights Plan to link with a (previous TLCI) study for the Cedar-Fairmount District, said Cleveland Heights Planning Director, Richard Wong.

The path will be built in a grassy area on the south side of the Cedar-Glen Parkway, a six-lane road, from Harcourt Road to Ambleside Drive, the border with Cleveland. Cleveland is also competing for TE funds to complete the path all of the way down the hill to a new pocket park that will replace the decrepit bus / Red Line station being rebuilt, and connect it with the new Lake to Lakes Trail.

The big issue with off-road paths is the price tag—land, engineering and construction are all very costly. While a path makes some sense on the highway-like Cedar-Glen Parkway, a more sustainable solution is to build bike facilities in the existing roadway.

Since it’s unlikely the state of Ohio will increase its TE funds to cities soon, cities might seek to do more “road diets” during road construction projects. This is where car lanes get a little skinnier so that bike lanes can be added. It’s the course Cleveland pursued when it approved its Complete and Green Streets legislation. NOACA following suit—as its counterpart in Columbus, MORPC, has in requiring all of its funded projects to be Complete Streets—would go a long way in turning the pretty pictures from its TLCI plans in to real, complete streets.

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5 years ago

On a subject perhaps more central to this post, check out this link, "Top Ten Tips for Map 21." It offers advice on how to increase the odds for getting bike projects funded.


5 years ago

Given the current speed that cars travel on North Park/MLK and traffic patterns, I would advise against cyclists trying to get to the south side of North Park/MLK from the westbound bike lane on North Park.

Actually, I think that Harcourt, South Overlook and Delaware Roads will all provide a connection to the Cedar-Glenn Bikeway from North Park.

Lastly, if the Lakes to Lake Trail followed the parkland south of South Park, it would provide an easy connection to North Park via Brook Road, which is the pedestrian/cycling road between South Park and North Park. Of course, a traffic light at Coventry might have to be REinstalled but that's not a bad thing.

5 years ago

I hadn't thought about that possibility of connecting from the bike lane on North Park through the Chestnut Hills neighborhood on S. Overlook Road to the bike path that will be built on the Cedar-Glen Parkway. That's a good point. With some signs pointing the way, it would make a good bike route to University Circle. Maybe redundant, but the spur on MLK would still be nice, if you miss the S. Overlook connection, to link up with the Lake to Lakes Trail. With it, and a spur on the west end of N. Park at Coventry, you would gain a nice loop.

5 years ago

Once it is constructed, the Cedar Glen Bikeway will provide the access for North Park cyclists that you are looking for (via the quiet residential street of South Overlook). That access will be more direct and safer, especially for eastbound cyclists.

Also, I think that the current plans for the Shaker portion of the Lakes to Lake Trail has it connecting near the intersection North Park & Coventry. I'm not sure which North Park cyclists would opt to use the Lakes to Lake Trail to access University Circle from that starting point instead of continuing down North Park the Cedar Glen Bikeway (via South Overlook), but I think that is what the plan is. In my opinion, a much better route for the network would be having the Lakes to Lake Trail remain on the current side of Fairhill and connect to the southwest corner of the Lower Lake via the parkland along South Park.

5 years ago

It is possible that a spur would provide direct access to Ambler Park from North Park IF there were a mid-block crossing on MLK (not sure if that's been considered). Put that thought aside, the spur would connect the Lake to Lakes Trail via MLK to North Park Boulevard which has bike lanes (in Cleveland Heights). That route would provide better access for cyclists coming from Cleveland Heights. Currently, the Lake to Lakes Trail serves Shaker Square and Buckeye, but there's still a disconnect for people coming from North Park.

5 years ago

BTW, what is the point of connecting the Lakes to Lake Trail to North Park with a spur via MLK? In other words, what is wrong with using the existing Lakes to Lake Trail that cuts through the park to get to and from the corner of MLK and Fairhill? I don't see what additional access that spur would provide.

5 years ago

If the bike lanes on North Park are 5-feet wide, then, yes, it wouldn't be unusual to widen them by a foot by taking the space from the (arguably too wide) car lanes. NACTO's Urban Bikeway Design Guide notes that six-foot-wide bike lanes are common.

5 years ago

Thanks for the response, Marc. One point for follow-up: am I correct that the motor vehicle lanes on North Park can spare a foot or two to each bike lane (doesn't seem like a big deal until fall when the bike lanes fill up with leaves and other debris)?

5 years ago

All good questions. I can attempt to answer a few since we've asked similar questions of city officials, including the extension of the Edgehill bike lane beyond the E. Overlook intersection.

(i) When the Circle-Heights Bike Plan recommended continued use of sharrows on Edgehill between Overlook and Euclid Heights Boulevard, we asked the city to consider something stronger: bike lanes. Richard Wong, Cleveland Heights Director of Planning and Development, responded that the city would be open to studying it. He figures with a 36' street, using 11' through lanes for motorists, 14' remains. "Were you envisioning that people could no longer park on the street if bike lanes were added?" he asks. "Edgehill from Coventry to Overlook is pretty sedate, being a residential side street. Regarding taking parking off the street, the Acting City Manager Susanna Niermann O'Neil, City Council, the Police Chief and probably neighbors will also be involved in the decision."

(ii) It is my understanding that the Lake to Lakes Trail includes a spur that would connect it via MLK to North Park Boulevard. We have asked Cleveland Planning officials about this, but have not heard back. There are also plans to connect North Park and the Lake to Lakes Trail at the east end that Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights are reportedly pursuing.

(iii) Cleveland Heights was criticized for painting its first sharrows (on Euclid Heights Boulevard and Edgehill) too close to the curb. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) which is a collection of best practices across the country says common practice is to place the center of a sharrow stencil a minimum of 4 feet from the curb on a road without on-street parking (Euclid Heights); a minimum of 11 feet from the curb on roads with on-street parking (Edgehill). So, the four foot distance seems appropriate for EHB but not for Edgehill. The new sharrows on the downhill side of Edgehill in to Little Italy are 11 feet from the curb, so perhaps the city is evolving its view on this.

(iv) GCBL blogged extensively about and met with Wong to discuss alternatives like a road diet and bike lanes to keeping the incredibly wide S. Taylor Road nearly the same. Since the city was extending the already wide grassy area on the Severance Mall side, we proposed a protected bike way that would re-purpose a lane from the road that they were going to vacate and cover up with grass anyway. Unfortunately, the project was too far along. It does illustrate the need for a more transparent public process. A better platform for citizen participation in the city's bike plans would help build more momentum and provide support and hopefully shape the outcome of projects like S. Taylor. The Heights Bike Coalition is one possible avenue, as is a transportation advisory committee that city councilwoman Mary Dunbar has been trying to get started.

In general, Wong has said he will push for easy restriping of four lanes to three, and skinnying up existing lanes so that bicyclists and pedestrians are given more room and comfort.

5 years ago

A couple of questions regarding Cleveland Heights: (i) why does the Edgehill bike lane stop at the top of the hill; it seems that there is sufficient capacity on Edgehill at the top of the hill for the bike lane to continue for a significant distance past that intersection; (ii) are there any plans to connect the intersection at Coventry and North Park with the Lakes to Lake Trail via a trail running along the south side of North Park in Ambleside Park; (iii) why are the sharrows in Cleveland Heights tucked into the curbs on the side of the road instead of in the position more central to the lane as mandated by regulation; and (iv) how is it that Cleveland Heights put South Taylor on a road diet and did not eliminate the excess motor vehicle capacity by providing infrastructure for cyclists; and (v) why are the bike lanes on North Park so narrow when the motor vehicle lanes still have so much excess capacity. Cleveland Heights should be lauded for having a plan and a group committed to implementing that plan, but with the exception of the Edgehill bike lane, the execution has been lacking. If we've learned one thing from the Detroit Avenue bike lane project, it is that we shouldn't celebrate any proposed bike infrastructure project until it is completed.

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