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Friday, November 6, 2009

IT'S DEPT. OF TRANSPORTATION, NOT DEPT. OF CARS

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 3:50 PM

City cyclists feel they're getting the metaphorical middle-finger when it comes to asking for fair, safe access to Cleveland roads. That sentiment surfaced Friday at Cleveland City Hall, where about a dozen cycling advocates expressed disappointment with the Ohio Department of Transportation's plan to nix a bicycle/pedestrian lane for the upcoming Inner Belt project.

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ODOT officials, at a city planning commission meeting, presented final plans for the project, which will take two decades to complete and cost an estimated $3.5 billion. ODOT Project Manager Craig Hebebrand says highway bike lanes — at a price of at least $20 million — are not financially feasible in the eyes of the state and the Federal Highway Administration. Instead, Hebebrand unveiled an alternate route that caters to Tremont bikers who want to get to Gateway and beyond: an improved Abbey Avenue to West 20th Street to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.

Improvements would include creating 5-foot bike lanes and sidewalks on the Abbey Avenue bridge, Hebebrand says. These upgrades would cost about $800,000.

Cyclists with ClevelandBikes, a local advocacy group, say this alternative route still has significant safety issues, such as on-street vehicle parking. Advocates say similar bridges, including one in Charleston, South Carolina, were built with bike lanes, so why not here?

Cyclist Alex Nosse says the planning process disrespects cyclists and pedestrians, turning them into second-class citizens by forcing them to go out of their way. Advocates merely want a dedicated bike lane, they say, and have no interest in disrupting high-speed highway traffic.

One commission member says ODOT's planning doesn't go far enough. Lillian Kuri asked why ODOT didn't take the project a step further by redeveloping Abbey all the way to the West Side Market (according to the plan presented Friday, improvements stop at West 20th). Kuri says the cycling route should not be treated as an afterthought as ODOT moves forward in its search for a firm to handle the project.

Hebebrand says that ODOT will continue to work with city to hash out plans for the Abbey Avenue route. While Hebebrand admits that other cities included bike lanes on their highway bridges, they did so because of a lack of alternate routes, he says.

Kevin Cronin, of ClevelandBikes, tells Scene that ODOT wrongly continues to lay blame on the feds for its lack of movement on cycling issues, even though the local office of the Federal Highway Administration called for "improved conditions for bicycling and walking in terms of planning and safety in Ohio" in April. He says ODOT's $20 million price tag still represents a cost-effective investment in sustainable transportation.

And advocates pointed to what they view as a broader problem: a backwards mindset that fails to see how cycling benefits the environment, health and people who can't afford cars. Until then, Cronin says he and other activists will continue to be squeaky wheels. — Damian Guevara

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