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Posts from the Cleveland Category


What Other Cities Say About Cleveland’s Unusual Bike Lane Buffer

Cleveland’s seemingly backward buffered bike lane on Lorain Avenue. Photo: Satinder Puri.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For all their benefits, protected bike lanes can be complicated. Between maintaining barriers, keeping them clear of snow and preserving intersection visibility, it’s understandable that cities opt not to include them on every street project.

Buffered bike lanes, though, are pretty simple: if you’ve got at least two feet of roadway to spare, you lay down some hash marks between car and bike lanes and double the comfort of biking on a street.

Except in Cleveland, apparently.

When the above image started circulating online this summer, many people assumed some sort of miscommunication was afoot in Cleveland. The main point of a buffered bike lane, as made clear by everyone from AASHTO to NACTO, is to separate bikes from moving cars and/or the doors of parked cars, not to protect bikes from curbs.

But as more information emerged and it began to seem as if Cleveland was not only doing this intentionally but might be planning to repeat the design elsewhere in town, we wondered whether this might be a new trend in street design.

So we emailed cities around the country and asked their bikeway designers to say whether they’d ever want to use this setup. Here’s what they said.

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Cleveland Traffic Engineer Puts Buffer on the Wrong Side of the Bike Lane

This Cleveland cyclist hasn't gotten the memo about how biking in traffic is

At the behest of a not-very-forward-thinking traffic engineer, Cleveland has been installing buffered bike lanes backwards.

Cleveland is finally installing buffered bike lanes along some major streets, but with the buffer between the bike lane and the curb, not between the bike lane and traffic.

At first, many people thought this design was a mistake. But it has now been painted on two streets at the behest of Cleveland’s traffic engineer, Andy Cross. Local blog GreenCityBlueLake reports that Cross told advocacy group Bike Cleveland (disclosure: my husband sits on the board and I did for several years as well) the design was a “best practice” to prevent right hook collisions, in which a turning driver strikes a cyclist proceeding straight.

In an email to Bike Cleveland, Cross haughtily slammed the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ designs for buffered and protected bike lanes — which are endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration.

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

The decision to put the buffer next to the curb is so unconventional that advocates think it was lifted not from a design manual but from, a website that espouses vehicular cycling.

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

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HUD Tells Cleveland: Don’t Let Opportunity Corridor Go “Horribly Wrong”

It was a sad day in Washington, DC, last year when Harriet Tregoning left the DC Office of Planning. But it’s becoming clear that she’s a great addition at HUD.

In her capacity as the agency’s principal deputy assistant secretary for community development, Tregoning issued a stern warning to the city of Cleveland and Ohio DOT last week not to mess up the road project known as the “Opportunity Corridor.” Clearly she fears they will do just that.

“You could either get it gloriously right or horribly wrong,” Tregoning said during a visit to Cleveland, according to the Plain Dealer.

In its quest to cut a faster path for drivers from the freeway to University Circle, a major employment center, Ohio DOT plans to spend more than $100 million a mile and destroy 76 homes to build a five-lane, 35-mph road. If you want to build a project like that in 2015, it clearly helps to cloak it under the guise of “opportunity.”

But Tregoning recognizes the project for what it is: suburban-style road-building in an already-depressed area of a city that desperately needs a different kind of growth. Talking to the City Club, a civic engagement organization, she urged local leaders to see the corridor as an opportunity for development and employment, not just a road for commuters to get to work fast. And that would require changes to the road design itself.

“I love my friends at the state DOTs, but they often overbuild things,” she said. “They build for a traffic projection that is very unlikely to happen.” Indeed, traffic in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County rose just 0.02 percent a year between 2000 and 2013. There’s no justification for building such a wide and fast road inside the city limits where walkable development is called for.

Tregoning warned that building a five-lane, high-speed road through the city’s most depressed neighborhoods flies in the face of a regional plan, funded by HUD through its Partnership for Sustainable Communities with U.S. DOT and the EPA. The plan, called Vibrant NEO, seeks to make Northeast Ohio greener and more economically competitive by reversing the cycle of sprawl and investing in established communities.

Construction is already underway on the Opportunity Corridor, and ODOT says it’s too late to make any changes. The project is scheduled for completion in 2019. Something drastic will have to change for Cleveland to heed Tregoning’s words and get it “gloriously right” after all. Otherwise, she said, it would be “as if Vibrant NEO never existed.”


Ohio Cities to State DOT: No More New Roads, Just Fix What We Have

A potholed street in Boardman, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Youngstown. The Youngstown area has a Facebook group with 800 members devoted to mocking these potholes. Photo: Potholes of Youngstown and Surrounding Areas

A potholed street in Boardman, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Youngstown. The Youngstown area has a Facebook group with almost 800 members devoted to mocking these potholes. Photo: Potholes of Youngstown and Surrounding Areas

Given that the federal Highway Trust Fund is broke and the Interstate Highway System is more or less complete, maybe — just maybe! — it doesn’t make sense to keep expanding highways. And if there’s one place in the country where it’s especially urgent to stop building more highways, it’s northeast Ohio.

The combined metro areas of Akron, Cleveland, and Youngstown are shrinking at an alarming rate. Unlike some Rust Belt regions, it’s not just their core cities hemorrhaging population: The whole region has shrunk 7 percent since the 1970s. The three cities have lost more population combined since the 1950s than they have now.

That kind of decline exerts intense fiscal pressures. Central cities and even many suburbs in these regions can’t afford to maintain their roads. Cleveland recently borrowed $100 million, with about a quarter of that for road repairs. Even though that will roughly double the annual road repair budget, it’s still just a small fraction of what’s needed to catch up on the city’s $300 million resurfacing backlog.

State transportation policy has not responded to these mounting pressures. The Ohio Department of Transportation has continued to add highways as if the region were booming. Since the 1990s alone, northeast Ohio has added more than 300 highway lane-miles. Rather than stimulate growth, it has mostly served to facilitate sprawl and hollow out city centers. Cleveland ranked dead last among 96 metro areas in a recent Brookings study on growth in job access.

Local leaders are finally speaking up, with Akron and Cleveland making it clear they want the state to start emphasizing maintenance. Grace Gallucci, head of Cleveland’s metropolitan planning organization, NOACA, appealed to ODOT in September to use part of its “major projects” funding on a package of road repairs in the Cleveland region. The state refused.

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Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor: An Opportunity to Destroy a Community

Residents of this depressed Cleveland neighborhood don't see much opportunity in the new Opportunity Corridor that's going to destroy 76 homes.  Photo: Bob Perkoski

Residents of this depressed Cleveland neighborhood don’t see much opportunity in the new Opportunity Corridor that’s going to destroy 76 homes. Photo: Bob Perkoski

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is promoting a $331 million, three-mile, five-lane road construction project starting at I-490’s terminus south of the city’s downtown and running northeast to the University Circle neighborhood. But it’s hard to see what need it would be meeting.

The number of miles driven in and around Cleveland has been stagnant for more than a decade. And though project proponents have tried to package the project as an “opportunity corridor” that would help the disadvantaged neighborhoods the road would traverse, the communities that would supposedly benefit have other priorities. Part of the neighborhood would also have to be destroyed to make room for the road.

Expanding road capacity is a questionable investment given recent travel trends in the Cleveland area. While ridership on the regional transit authority has been increasing, vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in Cuyahoga County rose an anemic 0.3 percent from 2000 to 2013, an annual average of 0.02 percent. In the five counties making up the Cleveland-Elyria Metropolitan Statistical Area, VMT climbed just 1.9 percent from 2000 to 2013, an annual average increase of 0.14 percent.

Vehicle-miles traveled is flat in the Cleveland area. So why the push to build a new $100 million-a-mile highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Vehicle-miles traveled is flat in the Cleveland area. So why the push to build a new $100 million-a-mile highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Sprawl, and Car Culture

Atlantic Senior Editor Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Cleveland last week talking about his acclaimed long-form article, “The Case for Reparations,” which reviews the history of economic and social oppression of African Americans.

I got to attend the talk, and late in his speech Coates made a few points that touch on the subjects we cover at Streetsblog, drawing a direct connection between racism, sprawl, global warming, and the array of social problems faced by cities like Cleveland. You can watch that part in the clip above, and here’s the whole speech.

Below is a look at how wealth is dispersed in the Cleveland area — essentially the farther from the central city you go, the richer residents are. Why does that pattern persist, even as other cities have seen a reversal? What are the outcomes for Cleveland’s large African American population, concentrated in the central and east-central parts of the region? Why isn’t the relationship between sprawl and segregation discussed more often, with more frankness?

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image:

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image:


The Plan to Build Bicycle Highways Where Cleveland’s Streetcars Once Ran

A local group is proposing repurposing old streetcar rights of way into protected bike lanes. Image: Bialosky & Partners

A local group has proposed repurposing old streetcar rights of way as protected bike lanes. Image: Bialosky & Partners

Like many cities in America, Cleveland grew into its own as a streetcar city. In the early part of the last century, hundreds of miles of streetcars connected all corners of the city as well as its inner suburbs. The streets where tracks carried passengers — Lorain, Superior, Euclid — were the circulatory system of the city, around which neighborhood life was organized.

St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland was once bustling with activity, when it was a streetcar route. A group of Clevelandites wants to make it active again with bike infrastructure. Image: Google Maps

St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland bustled with activity when it was a streetcar route. A group of Clevelanders want to make it active again with bike infrastructure. Image: Google Maps

But around the middle of the 20th century, streetcars gave way to private cars — upending this way of life. Many Clevelanders got in their cars and abandoned historic urban neighborhoods at disastrous rates, moving to former farmlands where they could shop in big box stores. Streetcar tracks were mostly paved over and forgotten, leaving extra-wide streets behind. The retail spaces that lined those routes are now pocked with vacancies.

But some local residents see an opportunity to transform these historically significant corridors back into something vital and attractive. They call their plan the Midway — a proposal to transform former streetcar rights-of-way with landscaped, center-running bike lanes.

“It seems so obvious to me,” said Barb Clint, director of community health and advocacy at the YMCA of Greater Cleveland. Clint is also a board member at Bike Cleveland, the city’s bike advocacy group. (Disclosure: I’m also on the board of Bike Cleveland and have helped promote the Midway in Cleveland.)

Clint is a veteran of the Cleveland public sector and non-profit scene, and she knows the problems with the city’s streets well. “We have these massive streets, with severely low volumes of traffic. They’re not comfortable to walk along, they’re not comfortable to bike along because people are driving so fast,” she said. “We can’t preach at people and tell them they should be more physically active if we’re not providing them safe places to do so.”

Two years ago, Clint and another Bike Cleveland board member, John McGovern, came up with the first iteration of the Midway plan. The beauty of the streetcar routes is that they’re nicely dispersed throughout the city. And in almost all cases, the space is ripe for reuse: Cleveland’s streets lack the traffic congestion of larger, growing cities.

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3 Ways LeBron Can Help Get Cleveland Biking

Lebron James often commuted to practice and games in Miami. Photo: JackNruth on Twitter

In Miami, LeBron often rode his bike to practice and games. Photo: @JackNruth

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.

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The Ridiculous Politics That Slow Down America’s Best BRT Route

Cleveland's Healthline BRT has been named the best in the country. But it runs slower than expected. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline BRT is viewed as the best in the country — but the city has declined to make an easy change that would speed it up. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline is widely viewed as the best bus rapid transit project in the country — and for many good reasons. Running on dedicated center lanes, the Healthline isn’t bogged down by car traffic on the most congested portions of its 7.1-mile route. With about 14,000 daily trips, the Healthline has increased ridership nearly 50 percent (though some of that is attributable to elimination of redundant routes), and local officials credit it with spurring billions of dollars of development nearby.

But it could run much faster if officials fixed one small thing that is completely within their power to address: the signal timing.

While the Healthline has many hallmarks of good BRT like the center-running lanes and off-board fare payment, it lacks transit signal priority — the technology that turns traffic lights green as buses approach. As a result, Healthline buses don’t travel nearly as fast as they should.

The Plain Dealer reported in 2010 that it takes an average of 44 minutes to travel the seven miles from downtown’s Public Square to East Cleveland. That’s only three minutes faster than the bus line it replaced, and more than ten minutes off the 33-minute pace that project planners promised. Despite some tweaking around the margins, not much has changed since 2010, according to sources familiar with the project.

The frustrating thing is that the Healthline could easily run faster. But the city of Cleveland simply hasn’t activated the transit priority technology for most of the route, according to advocates.

“We all know it takes 10 more minutes than it should because of the light issue,” said Marc Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake, a Cleveland-based environmental think tank that has been active in trying to resolve the issue.

John McGovern, current chair of RTA’s Citizen’s Advisory Board, said shortly after the Healthline began operating, the city turned off the transit priority technology for most of the traffic signals.

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Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns

Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt popularized the term “parking crater,” defined simply as “a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings.”

Various types of “meteors” left behind parking craters in the 20th century — sprawl subsidies,  highway building, the erosion of manufacturing. Whatever the cause, parking craters destroy sections of downtowns and make the environment inhospitable and unattractive. In these areas, there is virtually no street life. In warm weather the asphalt makes the air more oppressive. It’s hell on earth. It’s a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we talk to advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford, and Houston about the parking craters in their downtowns — several of which have been contenders in Streetsblog’s annual Parking Madness tournament — and how these awful craters came to be.

A final note: If this Streetfilm is well received, we intend to do a follow-up film looking at the flip side — cities that have undone their parking craters by adopting better policies.