An influential circle in the Cleveland area—from the MetroParks and Cuyahoga Valley National Park to suburban mayors like Bruce Rinker of Mayfield Village—have initiated expansion plans for the area’s bike-walk trail network.
A number of high-profile efforts are underway—from an Eastside Greenway to a renewed push to bring the Towpath and a “High Line” inspired trail to the Flats.
At recent events around town, leaders expressed that trails are essential to improving health, and providing pathways for newbies to try biking, for recreation and transportation.
“We have to make sure folks can get around if they can’t drive,” Grace Gallucci, director of NOACA, the region’s transportation agency which divvies up $50 million in federal funding, said about the growing number of retirees in the area. “It doesn’t make sense to have roads here and a trail there. We should give people choices.”
Build more trails and their on-road cousins, bike lanes, to support economic development and enhance quality of life in Northeast Ohio, Gallucci told a strategic plan forum.
At the Greater Cleveland Trails & Greenways Conference last week, public health officials rattled off the costs of a looming health crisis, while urban planners talked about the social cohesion that bike trails bring (they are the new bowling!). Efforts like the Mayfield Village bike trail and greenway along SOM Center Road were hailed for linking up to the library, and bike lanes like Edgehill Road were celebrated for crossing a city line. Indeed, the litany of benefits was enough to raise hopes despite the inertia.
“Only 5% of adults meet the daily recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day,” says national walkability expert, Mark Fenton. “Whatever we’ve been doing for the last 20 years has not been working. People want to. It’s not simply a matter of personal choice.”
At some point, the infrastructure has to be there for people to follow their feet. And so, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have joined forces on a massive trail and greenway network, the Eastside Greenway, that will weave together city and suburbs from the Heights out to the eastern edge of the county. They have a six-figure grant that will assess the health impact of a non-motorized greenway—if it can fit into an existing transportation system.
Fit is a big challenge for building trails in Northeast Ohio. Sometimes, cities like Beachwood can repurpose a reserved Rapid right of way for a beautiful, linear city green/bikeway. More often, cities have to deal with compromise.
Case in point: Tonight’s (Monday, June 16) public meeting for the Shaker Lakes-to-Lake Erie bike trail— an extension of a new trail into Shaker Heights from Cleveland. The project has the green light from Shaker which won a grant to build an off-road trail on Fairhill. But space is a real concern in making the trail usable. The preferred route would be to hug the park on the north side of Fairhill—keeping it on one side the entire way. Instead, Shaker Heights is proposing a zig-zag crossing of a busy street because of a right of way “concern” with Belgian Village, an established condo development that is built close to the street.
Multiply these little concerns across the region, and it’s easy to see why an aspirational green/bikeway is hard to come by. Even where the will has existed for a decade and resources are coming along—the saga continues for the Towpath Trail, which has been beset by delays and route problems ranging from a plutonium and steel mill to high land acquisition costs.
For example, the $3.175 million that had to be squeezed from the Clean Ohio Fund and Trust for Public Land to buy land from developer John Ferchill for the latest Towpath extension—a 0.8-mile section of trail on Scranton Peninsula (nearly done and visible from the bike path on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge while facing north). County and city officials to their credit turned a simple paved path into a $9 million river restoration project, with the bulk of funds coming from a grant from the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to replace crumbling steel bulkheads at the river’s edge with a wetland featuring 12 species of emergent river plants for fish habitat, and a native upland meadow and bioswales to slow pollution running into the river (ribbon cutting July 7 @ 1 p.m. at intersection of Canal and Scranton Road). The deal was sealed by a memorandum of understanding with the Cleveland Metroparks to take control from the city after its completed.
The MetroParks vision is to link up the Scranton trail with a (long) proposed Canal Basin Park located under a Flats bridge and to connect to the Rowing Federation boathouse site at the river on the newly paved and sharrow-ed Columbus Road. The Cleveland MetroParks and Trust For Public Land are the muscle, and groups like Ohio Canal Corridor have kept after the city to build a public access corridor to the lakefront along the west and east bank of the river. The big vision is to tap the state through its Clean Ohio Fund and non-traditional sources like federal New Market Tax Credits (which Cleveland completely missed in the latest round).
Downriver, OCC director Tim Donovan promises, the Towpath is making slow, sometimes surreal progress.
“Stage one (between Canalway Center/Harvard Road and Steelyard Commons) we picked a route— alternative 9B—and there are no environmental red flags,” Donovan told a panel at the trails conference. “We’ve done soil borings, and they’re OK. Now, we’re looking toward a review and input from ODOT for findings. We’re heading to a public meeting by Fall 2014.
“Stage three between Steelyard and Literary (road in Tremont) we have a scope in front of ODOT. It’s not approved yet. We have to do right of way acquisitions and all of that. We made two parcel purchases with Clean Ohio Funds secured.
“Stage four we expect to have public outreach on alignments. We will have public preferred (route) after Labor Day and that includes Scranton.”
Hovering above the Flats, the Rotary Club of Cleveland is pushing ahead with a trail plan that would use the land along the Red Line Rapid between W. 65th and Tower City as a park. RTA’s board voted to study the feasibility of the Redline Greenway, recognizing a link between transit lines and off-road paths for biking in the city.
Further south, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park announced its plans earlier this year to build up its supply of off-road paths. CVNP has committed to adding 37 miles of trail, including for the first time 15 miles of trails for shared use between mountain bikers and equestrians, following a model in national parks particularly in the east. At the trails conference, Park staff listened as representatives from the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) presented a plan to build trails in phases, starting in the Boston Mills Road and Hines Hill area.
“Trails are the direct conduit to natural areas,” said IMBA Great Lakes region director, Andy Williamson. He estimated a four-trail first phase at a cost of approximately $150,000.
The location of four shared-use, single-track trails have been roughly determined, said Bill Zimmer, CVNP Trails Supervisor, who gave them working names like East Rim, Furnace Run and Ira Run. Depending on how fundraising goes, the park could start construction in 2015.
Meanwhile, Williamson and Nancy Desmond, director of special projects for Cleveland MetroParks, talked about recent shared mountain bike/hike trail additions at Mill Stream Run in Strongsville and at the Bedford Reservation. Desmond shared concerns with Mill Stream’s frequent flood damage. She was enthusiastic about the Bedford trail’s novice profile. But, she reserved her biggest enthusiasm for a planned community bike park in Cleveland’s Kerruish Park on the far southeast side. Williamson said IMBA is involved in early designs which include a pump track for little riders, a skills area, and possibly a dirt trail in the woods. The model for Cuyahoga County, he said, is Brown County, Indiana, which has become a mecca for trail riding.
“With Ray’s (Mountain Bike Park) Cleveland is already a Mecca for bikers,” he concluded.