Stuck in First Gear

Bike-friendly cities attract young people, create jobs and are healthier places to live. So why are Cleveland's efforts to develop more bike-friendly streets stuck in granny gear?

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Cedar Avenue on the city's eastside is one example, he says. "When we asked the city why the street wouldn't receive bike lanes, [they said] they would monitor bike usage. Yet the more bike infrastructure you add, the more people you're going to see biking."

The city's interpretation of Complete and Green Streets is that they're accessible to all modes of transportation and contain green infrastructure such as permeable pavers that absorb rainwater. "Complete and green doesn't necessarily mean it has a bike lane," says McGowan, but "connectivity, a dense enough network to support cycling."

Zone isn't buying it. "It's supposed to be complete and green," he quips. "I don't think we're doing as good a job as we could be [implementing Complete and Green Streets]."

In Zone's ward, Madison Avenue is slated for reconstruction, yet the traffic engineering department has said that adding bike lanes would be unsafe because of the pitch of the storm drains along the new street. Bike Cleveland and Zone are reviewing alternatives.   

Zone says that he's had to advocate for bike lanes on other streets throughout his ward, because the traffic engineering department doesn't always make them a priority.  "More people are traveling from Lakewood to the westside of Cleveland by bike, and we have a wonderful opportunity to create another east-west artery for cycling traffic."

Advocates also disagree with the city about the type of bike infrastructure needed for Cleveland's streets. Bike Cleveland believes that the city should place a much greater emphasis on bike lanes and protected bike infrastructure—off-road paths or lanes protected by bollards—and much less emphasis on sharrows or shared roads.

McGowan maintains that every street redone in 2012 and 2013 is complete and green, and that engineers weigh a number of factors when deciding whether to add bike lanes.  

Yet it's hard to see the city's cycling culture making a dramatic shift unless exciting, new infrastructure is put into place. That's why Bike Cleveland is pushing for more on-road facilities. A bold plan by two cycling advocates, John McGovern and Barb Clint, even calls for turning the city's old streetcar rights-of-way into protected bike facilities.

Movin' on up

Pittsburgh has had a strong bike advocacy organization in place for 10 years, and the results are beginning to show. The city has added more than 50 miles of bike lanes and 1,000 bike racks in the past few years. Bike Pittsburgh hosts an annual BikeFest that spans 17 days, offering a range of fun, free bike-related activities across the city.

Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh, says that although the advocacy group always has had to push the city engineer's office to make bike infrastructure a priority, the situation has gotten better. "It takes a little while for city engineers to start thinking differently about streets," he says. "Now the city is taking more responsibility."

The example of Pittsburgh and other cities offers hope for Bike Cleveland, which is a new organization but has already shown its grassroots influence in transportation decisions. VanSickle is hoping to partner with the city in the next few years to dramatically accelerate the process for engineering bike infrastructure.

VanSickle hopes that such a partnership can break the logjam in the traffic engineering department, which he says needs additional resources to ensure that the Complete and Green Streets law is implemented effectively. "There is one traffic engineer who reviews the striping plans in the city, and he's overworked. They need to be equipped with staff."

McGowan refutes the argument, saying the city has staff to do the job and doesn't need help from the outside. "We have not identified lack of capacity in our traffic engineering department as a barrier to implementing bike infrastructure," she says, adding that the city already partners with Bike Cleveland on a range of projects and this will continue.   

Zone also believes that the city could do a better job monitoring the implementation of Complete and Green Streets. Currently, Cleveland employs one full-time bicycle and pedestrian planner. Zone says that Mayor Jackson should consider creating a higher profile position—a "bike czar," he muses—to monitor the law's implementation.

Other game-changing projects are also in the works. For example, the city is working closely with Bike Cleveland on a study of bike sharing. Although the final study is not yet available, McGowan says that it reveals that bike sharing is feasible here and offers recommendations for how it might be carried out across the city.

Responding to an open call by Steve Litt, the Plain Dealer's art and architecture critic, VanSickle and other bike advocates are also putting together a bike summit to rank and prioritize bike infrastructure projects across the city—and jumpstart fundraising.  

McGowan also says the city is in the final throes of creating a typology of complete and green streets that will serve as a roadmap for new infrastructure. The typology should make it easier for the city to prioritize and select infrastructure projects in the future.

McGowan maintains that cyclists will see much better cycling networks as projects are completed. "We know creating sustainable transportation options is an important part of sustainable economic development," she says. "We're committed to complete and green streets and creating a network that gets cyclists where they need to go."

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