This month marks the 62nd National Bike Month started by the League of American Bicyclists, the leading advocacy group for better conditions for biking. At the time of its launch in 1956, President Eisenhower was paving the National Highway System, which emptied a lot of city streets of cars, making it an ideal time for biking in the city.
It is a time to reflect on the progress Cleveland has made in promoting safer streets for biking, also, walking and driving.
People for Bikes is another organization that collects data on biking and produced this cool interactive web tool comparing the bike friendliness of cities — based on analytics from national safety databases as well as local reporting.
Their Best Cities for Bikes ranks cities in the U.S. for their bike readiness in five categories: Ridership (numbers), Safety (injuries and fatalities), Network (connect to places by bike), Reach (equity), and Acceleration (pace of improvement).
This year, Cleveland ranks in a 7-way tie at #14 with much-heralded bike havens like Minneapolis and Austin. How did Cleveland get into the same company with cities oft regarded as the most bike friendly?
Seen through the lens of this and other key national rankings, Cleveland ranks in the top tier mainly because of Acceleration, a measure of how quick infrastructure and new riders are being added. Cleveland moves up to a two-way tie for #13 when filtered by Acceleration. The pace of change in Cleveland is twice that for its Safety and three times greater than overall Ridership ranking. It speaks to the seriousness with which the Jackson Administration has taken a more concerted and articulate advocacy voice in Bike Cleveland, among others.
Cleveland’s high Acceleration score is a direct result of the city committing to a goal of adding 70 miles of “bikeways,” a general term encompassing bike lanes and marked routes. Most of the work has happened since the city launched its Bikeway Implementation Plan a scant four years ago.
The Network effect, a measure of where its possible to connect to on a marked bike lane or route, has seen decent progress in Cleveland — tying us in that category with Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Again, we have the Bikeway plan and advocacy to thank for the strong showing. Prior to 2014, Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue bike lane, painted in 2008, was the longest and most visible bike lane in the city. Euclid was a stage setter for the added links in the network like the E. 22nd Street bike lane connecting Cleveland State and Tri-C campuses. Momentum, albeit uneven when viewed across the city, has led to the beginnings of a bike network on the Near West Side where many of the city’s bike advocates reside and use bikes (on the W. 25th Street and Detroit Avenue bike lanes, for example).
Two side notes—the Bikeway Implementation Plan expired at the end of 2017, and, in addition to needing a new plan, the city also needs to fill its Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator position.
Where Cleveland could use improvement in the Best Cities ranking is overall Ridership and Reach (a measure of how diverse is the population using the bike network). It points to the need for Cleveland to push for more bike infrastructure in neighborhoods, particularly those least served. It will help many more people if the next Bikeway Implementation Plan shifts from major routes to an equity focus on providing bike infrastructure for local trips like those to school and other community spaces. The opportunity space to look for—local roads that could be calmed and made safer with road diets and bike lanes that connect people to everyday needs. To be fair, the equity conversation in bike infrastructure started in earnest only a couple of years ago. But, Cleveland still has an opportunity to be a leader in this space (this goes beyond Cleveland, to include the region).
Cross checking the Best Cities Ranking with the League’s Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC) report, it is mildly surprising that Cleveland, a Bronze-level BFC, scores the same as Minneapolis and Austin, both Gold-level BFCs and Ann Arbor, a Silver. It is useful to compare data, but cities should also consider surveys of cyclists to understand where improvements could help, and find new ways to rank the safety and comfort of city streets by how they “feel” to cyclists.