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Seven ideas to make Cleveland a Top Biking City

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/24/15 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Biking

Cleveland has improved its bike development focus in the last two years. It considers bikes in more of its road projects, and is starting to build a network for cycling.

In part, we can thank a 2011 Complete Streets law which grass roots advocates worked with the city to get adopted. Since then, local advocate, Bike Cleveland, has rallied the community—like at a public meeting last week to encourage the city to paint a bike lane on Lorain Avenue without a gap in the middle.

As Bike Cleveland hammers out the details of how to create a safe, connected bike network, it could use all of our help.

<br />Cleveland Critical Mass ride through downtown, August 2014

We’ve identified seven steps that could help Cleveland grow its bike community and move it into the top tier of Bike Friendly Communities.

Bike Friendly Community is a real designation of the League of American Bicyclists, with “Olympics” style levels—Platinum being the highest achievable mark. What would it take for Cleveland to move up from its current Bronze to Platinum level?

The League outlines steps, such as, enforcing safe passing laws, studying crashes between cars and bikes for ways to reduce them, teaching children and adults how to bike, and painting bike lanes on major travel routes.

For Cleveland to move up to Silver (Bronze = 1% Silver = 3.5% of the city’s total) and then chart a course to be a Platinum Bike Friendly Community, our recommendations include:

1. Complete Streets: In light of the announcement this week that the city will double its repaving budget, Cleveland could revisit the original intent of its Complete Streets ordinance and reaffirm in clear language how it plans to invest in pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders with all (including resurfacing) street projects. (Side note: the city has an internal document that recently clarified that complete and green streets elements within the scope of a resurfacing project may include restriping, paint treatments, sharrows and signage).

2. Vision Zero: Cleveland could move to the vanguard of the most bike friendly cities with a Vision Zero plan. The region’s transportation agency, NOACA, has indicated its willingness to help with this major safety initiative that comes with steps to reduce the hundreds of collisions between motorists and cyclists every year to zero. In New York, it translated into reduced speed limits to 20 mph on every street (the devil is in the enforcement detail). Vision Zero is a good framework to help make Cleveland’s streets safer for cyclists and motorists alike.

3. Protected bike lanes: Cleveland could follow the example of Chattanooga, TN which moved up to Silver in 2014. Chattanooga was recognized for acting on its Complete Streets ordinance in a very visible way - by installing their first, protected bike lane and a neighborhood greenway. Cleveland, NOACA and the Metroparks have committed to a greenway with funding for the Redline Greenway. Cleveland could make 2015 the year it announces a protected bike lane—the proposed Lorain Avenue green lane being the lead candidate to improve the link between downtown and the west side.

4. Bike Share: In Bicycling Magazine’s Top 50 Bike Friendly Cities list for 2014 Cleveland landed at #50. Cincinnati ranked higher at #35. While there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two city’s goals for painting bike lanes—0.5 versus 0.6 lane-miles per square mile. Cincy is considered more bike friendly than Cleveland because it invested $2 million in Red Bike, a bikeshare operation that is serving the downtown boom, the judges wrote. They also credit Cincy for building its first (2.2-mile) protected bike lane in 2014.

Cleveland can make 2015 the year it becomes a major partner in a citywide bike share operation.

(Columbus didn’t make the 2014 Top 50 list, but we predict that it will surpass Cleveland in 2015 because of the launch of its CoGo bike share and protected bike lanes on Summit Avenue with plans for more. As a side note, Ohio’s other big cities’ rapid adoption of protected bike lanes can be credited with having an ODOT District office who acts as a willing partner).

5. Painted lanes: Cleveland will paint 22.16 miles of bike lanes in 2015 after painting just over 10 miles in 2014. But, the city’s goal of 80 miles of bikeways by in 2017 includes recreational trails like the proposed bike paths that the city plans to build next to the West Shoreway and the Opportunity Corridor. To put Cleveland’s goal in perspective, New Orleans, which adopted Complete Streets the same year as Cleveland (2011) planned to paint 100 miles of bike lanes by 2014 (which moved it up to Silver last year).

Quicken the pace of bike lane painting—the quickest and cheapest way to establish a bike network and link destinations across town would be with bike lanes. Cleveland’s bike-lane per mile number (0.5) will ensure the current pace of bike lane growth keeps it dwelling in the bottom quartile of bike friendly cities. With the 2019 Sustainable Cleveland Year of Sustainable Mobility coming up in 2016, Cleveland could position itself to be the Most Bike Friendly City in America by setting its sights on a goal for bike lanes that puts it in the company of Top 3 Bike Friendly Cities like Minneapolis (3.3).

6. Update the plan: Find out where people bike and want to bike—the city last updated its Bikeway Master Plan in 2006-7. The nearly-ten-year-old plan has admirable goals of placing every resident within a ten minute ride of a bike facility. However, the incredible 268% growth in biking has happened since then. The city could use a community-wide survey of where people bike today and where they would bike if given the opportunity on a protected bike lane to gain a more recent snapshot of their biking constituency and where they’re going.

7. Build the Midway protected bike lane plan: Bike Cleveland, with several partners, has outlined an ambitious vision for a connected network of protected bike lanes, called the Midway. This plan repurposes many of the city’s old streetcar streets, converting excess space into linear parks that include a dedicated space for people on bikes. This plan not only has the potential to transform our communities into places where people can be active, but also will encourage more people of all ages and abilities to get out and bike by providing a stress-free connected network to do so. It's an incredibly ambitious plan that, with a real public-private partnership, could put Cleveland on the map.

“Bike Cleveland is working hard on many of the initiatives to make bicycling the safe and easy choice, and we want to be at the forefront of Cleveland’s revitalization and cater to the growing number of people living in our city who by choice or necessity walk or ride bikes,” said Jacob VanSickle, Executive Director of Bike Cleveland.

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