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How to read Ohio's 16th spot in national bike rankings

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/06/14 @ 1:30pm  |  Posted in Transportation choices

Visibility—if not conditions on the road—for biking has gotten better in Ohio, according to The League of American Bicyclists, which bumped the state up from 32 to 16th in its 2014 national rankings. The national bike advocacy group takes in a range of measures from bike lanes built to programs that boost safety and awareness.

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Ohio earned many more points for encouragement, the League said, than it did for funding bike “infrastructure” such as lanes, sharrows and trails.

Certainly, if Ohio wants to set its sights on moving up to the Top 10 of the national rankings for bike friendly states, it would address the gap in bike funding. Advocates point to reduced transportation costs when a state pivots from building new roads to fixing existing ones and making them safer for the rising number of bikers.

While Ohio evaluates the road ahead, and whether it will invest more in bikes, it is in the local policy arena where the state is likely to move up another notch. Specifically, the state is benefitting from growing interest in Complete Streets, a policy that ensures better designed and built roads for people of all ages and abilities including cyclists, pedestrians, transit users, seniors, and those with disabilities.

The National Complete Streets Coalition also released its 2013 report card, and, once again, the Dayton and Columbus metropolitan transportation planning organizations, Miami Valley and MORPC, rank #1 and #2, respectively. (Ohio didn’t place among states because it doesn’t have a Complete Streets policy).

Arguably, MORPC and Miami Valley's Complete Streets policies set the stage for more local bike projects as municipalities adopt their own Complete Streets policies. Just consider Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency’s (NOACA) 2003 Complete Streets policy which ranks low (17 out of 21) among metropolitan planning organizations. Cleveland’s 2011 Complete Street policy also turned in an average grade (it actually “moved up” to 27 out of 75 as more cities entered the ranks).

Notably, the national complete streets report card comes with a checklist of Ten Areas for Improvement. Underperforming places like NOACA—which spent 3% of its 2013 transportation budget on modes other than the car—and Cleveland—which has built approximately 10 miles of bike lanes in the last decade—would serve their efforts well to review it. 

The most effective Complete Streets policies have specific language in their intent, vision, and implementation areas, the national group concludes. The report pulls out model language from the nation’s best —like Indianapolis and this year’s award-winning suburb of Piqua, Ohio (north of Dayton).

NOACA’s policy is more than a decade old, and was written at a time when very little was known about Complete Streets. It’s not surprising, then, that it would only earn 42 points (by comparison, Miami Valley earned 88 points). The stronger a regional policy is, the more likely the municipal policy will follow suit, as the small town of Piqua found when it tied its goals, metrics and language to that of Miami Valley, its MPO.

With the report, it is easy to spot areas of improvement for Cleveland and NOACA’s policy. For example, National Complete Streets Coalition notes that Cleveland's policy could spell out who is responsible both internally and with its partners (i.e. ODOT) for design and implementation of complete streets elements like bike infrastructure. This question of clearly defining what it calls “jurisdiction” is particularly relevant beyond the rankings. It will help Cleveland as it moves into its all-important next phase—creating its design manual for complete streets—and when it goes to implement it on the road, which sometimes means putting roads on ‘diets’ to fit in bike lanes.

Cleveland also needs to revisit its mandatory funding cap of $1 million per project. Caps should be advisory, the Coalition writes. Otherwise, they cannot anticipate changes and offer flexibility in design, particularly on larger projects. For its part, NOACA is missing performance measures from its Complete Streets policy.

In making some simple changes, Cleveland and NOACA will set their policy on a better course and receive a higher ranking. In the process, they can offer leadership back to the state and its peer cities. This is more than a theoretical conversation. Cuyahoga County officials are in the process of writing a Complete Streets policy that will certainly become the basis for the first suburbs to move in this direction. Right now, Cleveland’s policy is the local yardstick.

Not that Complete Streets policies by themselves will change the picture of how many bike lanes Clevelanders can expect to see. Consider this—San Francisco’s Complete Streets policy ranks well below Cleveland’s and the city by the bay consistently ranks in the top five most bike friendly cities in the nation.

Improvements to city and regional biking infrastructure, then, most certainly rest as much with state support. It involves leadership that is comfortable with the idea that many of Ohio’s metro regions were designed before the advent of the car, and set up well for offering smaller, greener and less expensive transportation options. In California, state leaders make the connection between bikes as an essential mode for urban residents, particularly Millennials, and economic prosperity. It is certainly helping Californian cities maintain their edge as magnets for talent.

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4 years ago

I'd also ask what are the complete streets (bicycle-related or otherwise) improvements that are being incorporated into the construction work happening on MLK between Larchmere and Fairhill?

4 years ago

Thanks for the follow-up, Marc, but I think that that that response from the city official answer's your question asking "which exceptions are in Cleveland's Complete Streets law that are making it less than optimal." The City official should have responded, "Here are the complete and green street improvements that are being incorporated into the project: ______________." As a follow up, you might consider asking how come the city is that far along in the project without knowing what "ADA, pedestrian, transit, and green perspective" improvements will be made or, more generally, how is the project complying with the complete streets ordinance and, if it isn't complying, what exception from that ordinance is the city citing.

4 years ago

@Bikist - I shared your question with a city official involved with Complete Streets implementation and here is the answer:

"I looked at the Cleveland Bikeway Master Plan and Cedar Ave. is not identified as a priority bikeway street and that was one of the criteria for evaluating what bike treatment a street will receive.

It will still be looked at from an ADA, pedestrian, transit, and green perspective but it may not receive bike lanes or other enhanced bike facilities."

4 years ago

What are the complete street components of the improvements being made to Cedar Avenue in Cleveland?

4 years ago

@Bikist - thank you for your comment. The Complete Streets report card doesn't provide judges comments on its evaluation of individual Complete Streets policies, so one has to do the work of parsing through their Ten Areas of Improvement and the language in, say, Cleveland's ordinance. That said, please feel free to elaborate on which exceptions are in Cleveland's Complete Streets law that are making it less than optimal.

4 years ago

Before focusing on the $1 million cap, let us first take a look at the exceptions currently written into the ordinance. Did the Coalition mention those?

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