cleveland announces plans to add 70 miles of bikeways by 2017, but more work remains


Despite huge improvements in the city's bike culture, miles of new bikeways, and more two-wheeled commuters than ever before, the City of Cleveland has been criticized for lagging behind peer cities like Memphis and Detroit in adding new bike infrastructure like bike lanes.

But the City is vowing to pick up the pace. At Bike Cleveland's annual meeting, Sustainability Chief Jenita McGowan announced an ambitious plan to add 70 new miles of bikeways by 2017. The improvements are included as part of the city's capital improvements plan, which gives advocates confidence that they'll actually get done.

"What I like about the plan is that it's ambitious and it's tied to the capital improvements plan," says Jacob Van Sickle, Executive Director of Bike Cleveland, an advocacy group that has gained considerable clout despite a small staff thanks to a cadre of noisy bike advocates. "Yet while the plan is exciting, it's still up to advocates to communicate that... we need bike lanes and protected bike lanes."

The devil's in the details, as they say. While the city has pledged to create new bikeways when it repaves or resurfaces streets or by restriping existing streets, it hasn't said what kind of bikeways it will create. Bike Cleveland advocates believe that "sharrows" -- street markings that remind drivers to share the road with cyclists -- are less effective at creating a safe cycling environment than bike lanes and protected bike lanes.

"My hope is that we're starting to make a shift -- with the city and in terms of public perception -- and they're realizing that sharrows don't cut it," says Van Sickle.

For its part, the city has said that the types of bikeways will be determined based partially on public input, and that community meetings will be announced.

Currently, Cleveland has 47.5 miles of bikeways. About 3.7 miles are streets with sharrows, 10.3 miles are bike lanes and 34.6 miles are off-road trails, often shared with pedestrians. By comparison, Detroit added nearly 80 miles of bike lanes in 2013 alone. Cleveland's bikeway system also has been criticized as being largely disconnected: For instance, cyclists can ride across the Lorain-Carnegie bridge on a protected bikeway, but it doesn't link to anything at either end of the bridge.

Some of the streets that are slated to obtain bike lanes in the next year include W. 41st Street, W. 44th Street, Triskett Road, Puritas Avenue and Denison Avenue. The city's bikeway network was developed in collaboration with Bike Cleveland and the Complete and Green Streets Task Force. The city plans to add about 45 miles of bikeways in the next two years, and 26 miles in 2016 and 2017. An additional 82 miles have been identified, but have no funding allocated to them.

The goal? McGowan says that within a few years, it should be possible to traverse much of the city using a system of interconnected bikeways. Now that's progress.

Van Sickle says that while he is excited about the city's ambitious new plans, "The work isn't done yet. We really need to make sure we're getting people out to public meetings in support of bikes." That's because capital improvement plans can shift, and Bike Cleveland wants to make sure that additional bike lanes are added.

Van Sickle claims that while some non-cyclists initially are skeptical of bike lanes, when they are educated on the benefits, many become supporters. He cited a recent public meeting to discuss adding bike lanes to Puritas Avenue in which cycling advocates converted a few more skeptics.

At Bike Cleveland's annual meeting, the organization also touted its "Ride Together" safety campaign, the awarding of three bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community awards to Cleveland Heights, Lakewood and Cleveland, and a recently completed bike share feasibility study, among other accomplishments.

Source: Jacob Van Sickle
Writer: Lee Chilcote

Lee Chilcote
Lee Chilcote

About the Author: Lee Chilcote

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.