A path of their own: Cleveland bikeway projects would improve safety, accessibility for cyclists
Two of Cleveland’s roadways may soon look a bit different. In January, the city approved two projects that will add separated, accessible bike paths down Superior and Lorain Avenues.
Plans for the Lorain Midway include two miles of protected bikeway on each side of the street from West 20th Street to West 65th Street. The Superior Midway project proposes 2.4 miles of bikeway from Public Square to East 55th Street. It would be a 10-foot-wide bike path down the center of Superior, with green space separating the bike lane from other vehicles.
As the city and several surrounding suburbs consider options for complete and green streets, Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin said council has long planned for improved cycling infrastructure.
“We want to try to make sure that we have safer pedestrian and multi-modal traffic across the city and try to make sure that we have less accidents between those pedestrians, bike riders and others in vehicles,” Griffin said. “So, this really coincides with … a vision of council has had for years.”
The Lorain and Superior projects will be multimodal paths that can be used for cycling, running and walking. The additions, Griffin said, will be steps toward making the city more accessible without relying on personal vehicles like cars.
“A lot of people in Cleveland, I think the last time I looked is about one in four people, don't even have a car,” he said. “So, we want to make sure that we have these [kinds] of tools for people to … to be able to be in a 15-minute city where they can walk and ride their bike and be able to get groceries and … have some of the other amenities that we have in our neighborhoods.”
As of right now, there are no bike paths at all on the portion of Lorain Avenue designated for the midway project. Superior Avenue bikeways start near East 31st Street, but the in-road, painted bike lanes still require cyclists traveling down the road to travel in the mix of fast-moving cars, trucks and buses.
A campaign that started a decade ago
Bike Cleveland, an advocacy group for cyclists and bike-friendly infrastructure, began campaigning for separated bikeways about ten years ago in an effort to make biking safer for cyclists of all experience levels.
“I use my wife as an example a lot. She's not going to come out and bike on Lorain the way it is right now,” said Bike Cleveland CEO Jacob VanSickle. “But if there's a safe, stress-free place for her to do it, where she doesn't have to mix with traffic or worry about, you know, being hit from behind or being right, hooked – It’s an enticement for people to get out of their car and choose biking to get around, which is good for the environment. It's good for the community.”
The multi-use bike paths will be designed to be accessible regardless of mode of transportation or experience level. This, Ward 7 Councilmember Stephanie Howse said, will ensure that residents feel comfortable leaving the car behind and explore the city.
“The activities of human behavior are impacting our environment,” she said. “If we do not create those spaces and opportunities for people to learn and adapt to different, other ways to be connected to community, … we really are putting just life as we know it at Jeopardy.”
Federal data shows 30.9% of greenhouse gas produced in the state is from the transportation sector, according to the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency’s 2022 Air Quality Trends Report. In 2021, Cuyahoga County had the highest greenhouse gas emission across NOACA’s five-county region coming in at more than 57%.
The projects will also serve to improve safety on the roadways, Howse said, by providing buffers that will slow the traffic down.
“Superior is a street -- it is very wide, and people use it as a speedway like flying down the street,” she said. “If there are opportunities … to slow people down, create some space and buffer between … residents and … community users, we could try it.”
Cleveland already has a number of in-road bike paths and trails separated from other vehicles like the Lakefront Bikeway, the Red Line Greenway and a variety of painted bike lanes across the city.
But some of the bikeways, including the separated and protected bike lane on the Hope Memorial Bridge, lead cyclists to busy intersections with unprotected bike lanes, or none at all. It’s an experience that VanSickle said can be nerve-wracking for less-experienced cyclists.
“A solid example of what bike infrastructure is not,” VanSickle said. “When we're riding up Ontario, you'll see the share roads on this 35-mile per hour road, but people really go 40, maybe 50 miles an hour.”
The Superior Midway project is expected to cost $24.5 million and is funded through federal congestion, mitigation and air quality dollars along with a 20% local match, said Calley Mersmann, Senior Strategist for Transit and Mobility for the City of Cleveland. The Lorain midway is budgeted around $30 million, but funds are still being raised for the project.
The cost includes roadway resurfacing, drainage and sewer upgrades and other project costs.
“Because we do have all of the construction funding in place for Superior, we're targeting construction starting in 2025, and as we get closer to that point, we'll be issuing traffic advisories explaining how traffic will [be] maintained, how RTA bus routes will be maintained, etc.,” she said. “For Lorain, because we don't have all of our construction funding in place yet, the timing is a little bit more difficult, but it will be at least a couple of years out.”
The Superior and Lorain bikeways likely won’t be the last, Mersmann said. The city is already looking into ways to improve multi-modal transportation in Cleveland and nearby suburbs.
“We're working with Shaker Heights, specifically on the Lee Road Corridor and planning so that their recommendations for Lee as it comes into Cleveland are integrated and continued into the experience for people traveling north, south on Lee Road,” Mersmann said.
Shaker Heights began working on its Lee Road Action Plan in March, and published plans for its Van Aken Bikeway May. The Van Aken bikeway is intended to provide a better multi-modal connection to Lee Road.
Cleveland’s long-term goal, Mersmann said, is to better connect the city and to allow improved access to Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
“Lorain Avenue is the first leg on the west side, Superior is the first leg on the east side,” she said, “and through other trail projects and mobility initiatives that we have going on, they also connect through downtown and to other portions of the trail network.”
Through the city’s Complete and Green Streets legislation passed in 2022, Council President Blaine Griffin said he hopes to see more infrastructure like this implemented in Cleveland’s communities of color. In the meantime, he said council will work to educate residents on the benefits of improved bike infrastructure.
“Whenever you're dealing with a culture shift like this … you always have some concerns of how you educate people on why this is so important … so that people don't try to diminish this into a frivolous project that really isn't going to accommodate a lot of people” Griffin said. “That's one of the reasons why we have to be master translators as council people to understand why this is a good return on investment for the taxpayers of the city.”