Remember when bicycle and neighborhood advocates weren’t just talking about whether or not the Shoreway and Innerbelt bridge projects would be completed, but about whether they would include bike lanes?
Here’s a slice of that optimism–a story that appeared in the Free Times (RIP) almost exactly 5 years ago, Jan. 17-23, 2007.
To everyone who believes neighborhoods and transportation in Cleveland can be improved and that bikes can be a big part of the picture, keep the faith. You’re not crazy. You’re right. And every time accommodating bikes gets into the public discussion, the cause advances.
SHORTCUT TO TREMONT
Innerbelt plans ignore 25 percent of Clevelanders
by Michael Gill
One Saturday evening in the Summer of 2005, bartender and bicycle courier Daniel Clemens was in second place in an alley cat bike race, contending for the lead. In alley cats, the racers hit the streets, traffic and all, with a list of destinations. They can take any route and hit the stops in any order, but he who makes all the stops first wins. So Clemens–known among couriers as Dizi–was out to prove his skills. He and the race leader were near the Jake and pedaling furiously, destination Tremont, when Dizi made a strategic move: Instead of crossing the Lorain-Carnegie bridge, he pedaled up the Innerbelt entrance ramp and rode across the I-90 bridge with the cars. Illegal but not against the race rules, the move shaved more than half a mile off his trip. He won the race, and the ride was instantly legendary.
“I was laughing the whole way,” Dizy says, even though it was dusk, and raining a little bit, and the cars and trucks were rushing at highway speed past his left shoulder.
“People were beeping like crazy,” he says. “Whatever. I wasn’t in the middle of the lane. I was snug to the corner and going as fast as I could. It wasn’t that bumpy. I wouldn’t make it a daily thing, but if I had to, I’d do it again. ”
Dangerous and lunatic as Dizi’s shortcut may have been, the terrain he claimed that day has become yet another thread of discord between local interests and ODOT’s Innerbelt agenda.
First came County Planning Director Paul Alsenas’ battle over what the bridge would look like, and how it would be aligned. Then came the midtown businesses, who fear that ODOT’s plan to eliminate exits would halt the flow of customers to their doors and drive through windows. And now there’s the matter of the bike lane.
Dizi is not in any way involved in the effort, and it was not inspired by his ride, but a handful of bicycle advocates are hioping ODOTR will make walking or pedaling acros the innterbelt safe and legal by integrating bike and pedestrian lanes into the planning of the bridge.
BY THE TIME Innerbelt reconstruction is finished, about 20 years in the future, the transportation agency will have spent approximately 1.5 billion on the stretch of highway between Tremont and Dead Man’s Curve. Bike and pedestrian advocates think that the taxpayers who don’t own cars–and in Cleveland that’s one household out of four–ought to benefit, too.
The idea came out of public meetings, and was pushed by EcoCity Cleveland director David Beach. Such a trail would make a highly visible connection between downtown and one of its trendiest neighborhoods. It would serve a real transportation purpose for commuters, but also could be a tourist attraction, as similar highwway-plus-bike-bridge s have in dozens of locations aross the country.
Last fall, Beach proposed the lane in writing to ODOT. A local bridge design committee included it in recommendations, but ODOT publicly struck it from the plan in October. The correspondence that ensued had Beach and Howard Wood, ODOT’s deputy director of planning, taking turns citing federal law as it relates to accommodating bikes on freeway bridges. Beach documented the exchange and lobbies for teh bike lane at the Green City Blue Lake Web site, GCLB . org.
“ODOT needs to think more about routine accommodations for all modes of transport,” Beach said.
The rule for federally funded highway bridge projects is that the transportation agency has to consider including a bike and pedestrian lane if the roads on either side of the bridge are accessible by pedestrians and cyclists, and if it doesn’t cost too much. Costing too much, in this case, means about 20 percent of the project cost. If the bridge component of the Innerbelt project is $300 million, then ODOT should consider spending as much as $60 million on the bike and pedestrian lane.
But the numbers in play are actually much less than that. ODOT, assuming that a theoretical bike lane would be part of plans for a new westbound bridge, figured it would cost $21 to $23 million. Even at that rate–just over one-third of what federal guidelines say is acceptable–Innerbelt project manager Craig Hebabrand told members of City Council last week that the agency “Does not feel that bike lanes are warranted.”
But what Beach has proposedd is actually less expensive still. ODOT’s plan to build a signature bridge to handle westbound innerbelt traffic and reconfigure the existing bridge as five lanes of inbound traffic leaves three full lanes on the existing bridge unused. That’s enough for generous shoulders on both sides of the highway, plus a full highway lane’s worth of bike path. It could be separated from the interstate by a barrier. It could be wide enough for emergency vehicle access and snow removal. In his most recent rebuttal to ODOT, Beach argued these points and estimated that the total cost of the idea would be a mere $4.5 million. ODOT has not yet responded.
Martin Cader of the city’s planning department also supports the idea, and contends that the distance saved by the Innerbelt’s nearly straight bike lane might make the difference in whether Tremont residents are willing to walk or bike downtown. He says according to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, the most someone can reasonably be expected to commute on foot these days is about a mile. The trip from Tremont to the Jake on the Innerbelt is just under a mile. Adding more than half a mile to that by taking an alternate route –Abbe road to the Lorain Carnegie bridge–puts the trip beyond the reach of most pedestrians.
Councilman Brian Cummins and Joe Santiago both pressed Hebabrand on the issue last week, but were met with Hebabrand’s terse response, that ODOT thought the idea “imprudent” because there are alternate routes.
“It’s not just about getting from point A to Point B,” Cummins said. “It’s also about the process. And it’s about access to a billion-and-a-half dollar project.”
EVEN IF COURIER Dizi Clemens hasn’t been involved in the lobbying effort, he immediately grasped the potentional regional value. “If you want young people to come here and stay here to life, you’ve got to build things that will interest them,” he said.
Councilman Joe Cimperman, whose Innerbelt thoughts are dominated by midtown business concerns over the plan to eliminate their exit ramps, still calls the bike-pedestrian connection “important.”
Beach hopes that the Strickland administration’s recent house-cleaning of top officials at ODOT will reframe the entire project. He also hopes the debate will help change the way the transportation agency thinks about transportation, beyond cars.
“I don’t like to be in this sort of tit-for-tat exchange because that’s not fruitful,” he said. “But this is important because ODOT needs to enlarge its view about making routine accommodations for other modes of transport. We’re not asking for anything grandiose.”