Well, the Decision Part II is official, and northeast Ohio’s prodigal son LeBron James is heading back to Cleveland. The most immediate result is that the Cavaliers are going to get much, much better.
Aside from his phenomenal basketball skills, LeBron has moonlighted as a bit of a bike advocate. For years, he’s held a charitable bike ride in his hometown of Akron. He and teammate Dwyane Wade crashed a Critical Mass bike ride in Miami. He also took to bike commuting to AmericanAirlines Arena during his time with the Heat.
Given all that, I’m hoping, somewhat indulgently, that LeBron can help push Cleveland’s vision for a more bike-friendly city forward. Here’s an optimistic assessment of what he could do:
1. Model healthy transportation
LeBron’s primary home is in the distant suburb of Bath. But he also has a smaller condo in a lakefront building in the city. It wouldn’t hurt to have our hometown hero, perhaps the best-known athlete in the world, setting an example for the community, young and old, by using a healthy and active form of transportation to get to work.
LeBron can get around however he wants — he has a whole collection of expensive cars. But by riding a bike, he can help demonstrate that biking isn’t just for kids, or poor people, or hipsters. If LeBron were to take up bike commuting, it would help focus media attention on the issue and generate broader solidarity for regular cyclists in the city. That being said, biking in the middle of basketball season in Cleveland isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — let’s see if LeBron can stick with the routine he had in Miami.
2. Endorse or promote cycling improvements
LeBron never went this far in Miami, but if he does any appearances for the local bike advocacy group Bike Cleveland* — or anything else to endorse bike infrastructure, for that matter — it could accelerate the pace of change here. The city of Cleveland tends to be a bit slow to action, but after some consistent prodding, it has agreed to add almost 100 miles of bike lanes over the next few years. Because of the city’s limited staff, and because the mayor has never made bike safety a huge priority, simply summoning the capacity to implement this plan will probably be a challenge — especially because the engineering staff is resistant, and the rest of City Hall is deferential to them to a fault.
I don’t know that Cleveland officials are especially attuned to a celebrity athlete’s views on transportation, but I do know they don’t want any headlines about LeBron getting hit by a car.
3. Make the arena itself more bike-friendly
It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that Cleveland’s “Gateway District,” where both the Cavs and the Indians play, has a very strict no-biking-on-stadium-grounds policy for three hours before and after events. This applies to a street that runs between the two stadiums that is closed to cars during game times.
The teams hire security officers to enforce this no-biking rule, which they say is to protect pedestrians, and they enforce it in a very hard and fast manner. A woman I know claims she was clotheslined off her bike by one of these officers after riding her bike to a game. The teams also forbid skateboarding and in-line skating on stadium grounds because, despite being publicly owned and paid for, they apparently aren’t supposed to be fun places in their own right — just cattle chutes to carry people to money-making ventures for private businessmen.
I think it would be really nice for the teams to recognize that they benefit from people biking to games and get over the expectation that everyone who matters will drive and consume expensive parking infrastructure. It’s a symptom of some of the old-fashioned attitudes that can die hard in a place like Cleveland, that the teams haven’t come around to imagining the stadium grounds as more of a public space.
* Full disclosure: I’m on the board of Bike Cleveland.