Cleveland Considers Four-mile Protected Bike Lane on West Side
by David C. Barnett
Cleveland’s biking community has flexed a lot of muscle in recent years. Numerous local streets are striped with bike lanes, artsy bicycle racks abound, and a new bike share program continues to grow. The city is now considering the creation of a 40-block protected bicycle path down one of the city’s busiest streets.
That's just fine with a committed cyclist like Justin Carson. Standing in front of Platform Beer Company --- his new brewery on Cleveland’s near west side --- he throws down the gauntlet to local motorists.
"On most days in Ohio City, if I was to tell you to get in your car and I would get on my bike, I would beat you to the West Side Market, because you’d be stuck in traffic."
Carson is part of a burgeoning group of Clevelanders moving away from four-wheeled transportation. The Washington-based cycling advocacy group, League of American Bicyclists, recently pointed to Cleveland as one of the country’s fastest-growing cycling towns. Tom McNair sees evidence of that, as director of the west side development group, Ohio City Incorporated
"Over 30% of the people in our neighborhood don’t own cars," he says. "So, we work very hard to create alternative modes of transportation for people to meet their needs."
For example, a bike-sharing program was launched from this neighborhood a little over a year ago. And a protected walkway on the Lorain-Carnegie bridge that connects the community to the downtown area has become a busy bike thoroughfare. That got Ohio City Incorporated thinking about extending that path about four miles up Lorain Avenue, through the heart of the neighborhood.
"Eventually, we ended up proposing what would be the city of Cleveland’s first, two-way, separated bike lane."
That means it’s more than just a set of stripes on the street. Those sorts of traditional bike lanes are sometimes confusing, and sometimes ignored by motorists. Community planners introduced city officials to the idea of a protected bike path by hosting a visit to Indianapolis, where a similar concept has spawned development along a landscaped, eight-mile route.
But, David Ellison, who owns a business on the proposed Lorain Avenue path, isn’t on board with all the space that the protected bike lane would take from the street. Ellison is an architect who rehabbed a condemned 1860s-vintage building at West 41st and Lorain and turned it into his office. 41st street funnels traffic off of nearby I-90 right into Ohio City --- including semis that come rumbling from the highway, sometimes rolling over the curb as they turn onto Lorain.
"I think there’s a problem with crowding at the intersections," he says. "If you narrow the street down, with trucks making turns, and only two lanes of traffic --- one in each direction --- I can only imagine it will get quite a bit slower."
Urban planners describe the narrowing of streets as putting them “on a diet”. Ohio City Incorporated hired a national traffic consultant to analyze the flow of vehicles on a slimmed-down Lorain. Tom McNair says the study concluded that the thoroughfare could handle the changes, partly because of the shrinking city around it.
"Back when Lorain Avenue was built, we had a million people in the city of Cleveland; we now have 400,000."
Ohio City cyclist Justin Carson likes the plan --- both for himself and for his daughter, who also bikes.
"It’s not exactly easy to try and bike with a seven-year-old as a mode of transportation," he says. "So, the level of safety of a separated lane definitely makes me feel more comfortable --- not only from a parental perspective, but also my own cycling."
If the bike path design --- and associated street upgrades --- are approved by the City Planning Commission, Ohio City organizers will begin a fundraising effort. They are hoping to combine money from several sources to finance what’s estimated to be an eight-to-sixteen-million-dollar project, which they’d like to get underway within the next year.