Is W. 25th Bike Lane Buffer on the Wrong Side?

Ohio City’s W. 25th St. has been handsomely resurfaced this summer, and thanks in large part to the city’s Complete and Green Streets initiative, it now includes a bike lane. (As part of that initiative, Cleveland is slated to paint more than 22 miles of bike lanes by the time 2015 wraps up). But local bike advocates say the new bike lane has been painted with a traffic buffer on the wrong side.

Detroit-Shoreway resident Angie Schmitt, a writer and editor at Streetsblog USA, called out city engineer Andy Cross, who’s responsible for the design, in a Friday posting.

“While Cleveland is accelerating its rate of bike lane installation,” Schmitt wrote, “Cross’s penchant for ineffective design threatens to sabotage the usefulness of the new infrastructure.”

Indeed. Schmitt said that Cross’ design — with the buffer between the bike lane and the curb instead of between the bike lane and the traffic — isn’t in line with best practices. She cited the National Association of City Transportation Officials, which recommends the buffer adjacent to traffic to increase the distance between cyclists and motorists and to increase the perception of safety.

Jacob Van Sickle, Executive Director of Bike Cleveland, posted on his organization’s site last month when the chalk drawings first appeared on W. 25th.

“Buffers are great because they create space between vulnerable people and cars; they protect people and we love them. You know what doesn’t need protection?” Van Sickle inquired facetiously. “A concrete curb.”

Van Sickle said that a buffer between the bike lane and cars creates space for additional protection — things like bollards or public art — which, in turn, encourages less experienced riders to bicycle.

But city engineer Andy Cross, in a recent email to Bike Cleveland, dismissed that idea, saying instead that a buffer on the traffic side was actually more dangerous, because it leads to collisions between cyclists and vehicles turning right.

“The terms ‘best practices’ and ‘protected’ are often used with what is shown in the NACTO guide,” Cross wrote to Bike Cleveland. “A design that encourages or requires hook turns across the path of through cyclists is neither a ‘best practice’ nor ‘protected.’”

(Partisan debate rages in the comments section of Schmitt's Streetsblog post, FYI). 

Cross did not immediately reply to questions from Scene, but we managed to catch Van Sickle on the phone. He said that he suspects Cross designed the bike lane with a vehicular mindset.

“He was probably thinking about the seven curb cuts that exist on W. 25th, and about visibility for motorists who want to turn right,” Van Sickle said. “That’s sound reasoning, but there are other things that could’ve been done to notify motorists. This felt like taking the easy way out.”

Ultimately, Van Sickle told Scene, it’s impossible to design a street that’s distracted-driver proof.

“It comes down to motorists’ responsibility,” said Van Sickle. “They need to pay attention and realize that they’re sharing the road with cyclists.”

Though Van Sickle raised the alarm when he first saw the chalk drawings on W. 25th, it was too late to change the design. Even after a meeting between the City, Ohio City Inc., and councilman Joe Cimperman, the city wasn’t prepared to go against the recommendation of its engineer (as Van Sickle heard it).

“Ultimately, in the future,” Van Sickle said, “we’d hope that these plans could be vetted by the public, and that we’d have an opportunity to talk to residents before striping occurs.”

Van Sickle said that he got a chance to do just that in a recent community meeting about the resurfacing of Lakeshore Blvd. That meeting was held at the request of Councilman Mike Polensek, and Van Sickle said it was an important opportunity to answer residents’ questions and note their concerns.

Here's the NACTO design recommendations for buffered bike lanes. There's much more good info at the organization's website. 

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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