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Riding Momentum

New bike plan brings renewed hope for a bike-friendly future for Cincinnati

By Chris Charlson · May 4th, 2011 · Special
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Anyone familiar with Cincinnati’s cycling infrastructure or, perhaps more importantly, the great lengths other cities go to provide safe and effective means for navigating the streets by bike knows that Cincinnati isn’t exactly what you would consider a cyclist’s dream. But our city during recent years has taken the initial steps toward becoming a more bike-friendly place.

The city’s 2010 Bike Plan includes the creation of 445 miles of on-street and off-road improvements, including dedicated bicycle lanes, shared bicycle lanes (sharrows) and on- and off-street facilities. By creating bike-friendly streets, city planners hope to provide traffic relief along with environmental, economic and health benefits to residents.

On June 23, 2010, Cincinnati City Council approved the Cincinnati Bicycle Transportation Plan, a 15-year plan broken up into three five-year phases. Phase I will add 91 miles of street improvements and 12.4 miles of off-road improvements to 13.3 miles of existing cycling infrastructure. Phase II will add 116 miles of street improvements and 17.2 miles off-road and Phase III will add 122.3 miles of street improvements with 53.3 miles of off-road initiatives.

The overall goal is to more than double the number of people using bicycles for regular transportation while reducing the number of injuries and fatalities. When all said and done, the city projects 113.9 miles of bike lanes, 105.3 miles of sharrows, 23.8 miles of climbing lanes, 11.1 miles of paved shoulders and 102.7 miles of off-road facilities.

The key to changing the city’s culture in terms of cycling awareness and understanding is to change residents’ perception of safety on city streets and their desired form of transportation, according to Melissa McVay, a city planner in the Department of Transportation. In Cincinnati, 79.4 percent of area residents drive or carpool to work, while only .5 percent use a bicycle, according to the 2008 Census. McVay says the city is dedicated to changing these statistics.

The Bike Plan initially focuses on three corridors: Madison Road, Spring Grove and Riverside Drive. As the plan progresses, gaps between destinations all across the city will be narrowed and eventually connect downtown to its vital nearby neighborhoods. To show how positive cycling infrastructure can effect area residents, McVay points to the most recent National Household Travel Survey, which found that for Americans 30 percent of trips are a mile or shorter, 40 are two miles or shorter and 50 percent of all trips are three miles or shorter.

McVay believes the high number of short trips is evidence of how easily many Cincinnatians could adopt bike use into their everyday lives. “It really makes sense to me in a city like Cincinnati where we have these great business districts in every neighborhood,” she says.

In 2010 Cincinnati installed 2.3 miles of the plan, according to McVay, adding bike lanes from Crawford Avenue to Winton Road with sharrows from Winton Road to Mitchell Avenue, bike lanes from Brighton Place to the Western Hills Viaduct, with sharrows from Western Hills Viaduct to Hopple Street (southbound only), and bike lanes on Linn Street from Sixth Street to Gest Street.

Weather-delayed sharrows on Central Parkway will be completed this year, she says, along with bike lanes on Beechmont Avenue just before the shopping district, a half a mile of sharrows where Ludlow turns into Jefferson Avenue, 2.5 miles of bike lanes on Madison Road to close the gap between O’Bryonville and Dana Avenue, about one mile of bike lanes on Martin Luther King Drive, about a half a mile of a shared path on Dana Avenue near Xavier University and 3.4 miles of bike lanes on Riverside Drive. All totaled, improvements add up to about 9 miles for 2011.

As for off-road improvements, McVay says great progress continues on the Mill Creek Greenway Trail in Spring Grove and on the Ohio River Trail, both of which are benefitting from additional funding sources.

When completed, the Ohio River Trail will span 23 miles from Coney Island to Cincinnati Riverfront Park, ending at the site of the new Bike, Mobility and Visitor’s Center. Scheduled to open this fall, the center will house bike storage and repair, showers, lockers, toilets, rental facilities and retail. McVay says the Ohio River Trail rides will be showcased as part of Bike Month and continue throughout the summer to educate riders on the routes.

“Hopefully by the time the Mobility Center opens we’ll have this whole mass of new people who have learned how to use the Ohio River Trail,” she says.

Although the 15-year Bike Plan carries a $55 million price tag, McVay says much of the actual cost will be lowered by piggybacking the installation of bike lanes and sharrows with roads already slated for the city’s street rehab program. The only drawback will be waiting sometimes up to six or seven years to install bike lanes while following the city’s schedule. This year, the program needed $1 million in funding from the city, of which $600,000 was approved by council in the budget. The city received input from renowned bike planning firm Toole Design Group, which advised that the first few years would pose the biggest challenge, McVay says.

“Basically we have 75 miles left to do in five years, so that’s about 15 miles a year,” McVay says. “So it’s not impossible, but the first few years are going to be challenging to hit our goals.”

Cycling advocate and MoBo Bike Cooperative board member Jess Linz took part in the planning process as well, observing the early stages of the Bike Plan. She says the city recognized that simply building bike lanes and sharrows wouldn’t be enough to inspire riders to take to the street. She credits the city’s forward thinking approach that incorporates all facets of improvement into its comprehensive plan, which relies on the five “E”s: Engineering (putting infrastructure on the roads); Encouragement (creating bike-friendly destinations); Education (teaching drivers and cyclists road rules); Enforcement (police involvement to ensure safety); and Evaluation (the city reports on its progress).

The city hit another milestone in June 2010 with the passing of the “Safe Distance Law,” Linz says. The law requires cars to allow 3 feet of distance when passing bikes and prohibits driving or parking in a bike lane. Linz believes it validates cyclists on the road as long as motorists understand the law and police enforce it.

“Putting those five things together, we’re going to see a change in and an improvement in Cincinnati,” she says. “So once those 90 miles are on the road, plus law enforcement is starting to participate in a different way and people are starting to get some more education, then I think it will start coming together.”

As one of the driving forces behind the Bike Plan, local cycling advocacy organization Queen City Bike continues to encourage riders to take to the streets and serves as the go-to spot to find out about any cycling event in the city via its website (www.queencitybike.com) or Facebook page. Gary Wright, president of the nonprofit organization, credits the city with having good intentions but would like to see progress occur at a faster pace. He says he sees the challenge to be funding necessary improvements in the face of opposition from local, state and national representation.

In order to keep positive momentum, Wright says residents must remain organized and focused to make the case that bike facilities are good for the city and the city’s neighborhoods. To show support, he encourages residents to attend one of May’s Bike Month events and fill out one of the organization’s “green cards” that advocates continued improvements for cycling in the region. He says as part of the city’s self-issued “Bike Plan Evaluation” the city was fair in issuing itself a “C” for respect shown by motorists, pavement quality and as a city for bicycling, a “C-” for completeness of the bicycle network and a “B ” for the city’s effort and progress in the last 12 months.

“There’s been change in the attitude of the city and the city is moving forward — but there’s a lot to be done,” Wright says. “It’s still a marathon and not a sprint, but we’ve got to make continuous progress. So it’s going to be up to us to keep organizing the community and keeping people expecting change and it’s going to be up to the city to figure out how in this climate to do things quickly, cheaply and efficiently.”

One major change occurred last year when the city transformed a single parking space on Lingo Street in Northside into to a bike corral, one of the first in the region. This past March, the city installed the second corral just outside of Park Vine on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, creating parking for up to 12 bikes. Park Vine owner Dan Korman says the corral marks a bold move by the city as it places bikes on the same level as cars. He says his friends in Chicago are envious because their renowned bike-friendly city has yet to install any corrals for cyclists.

The corral’s steady rotation of bikes during all hours of the day proves that area residents are starting to embrace cycling, according to Korman.

“Some of my friends who are terrified of being on a bicycle or have never been on a bicycle are now considering buying a bicycle because they’re getting hit with these different messages all over the city,” Korman says. “OK, there’s a bike corral in front of Park Vine and MoBo is having a bike sale this coming weekend — their excuses for not riding a bike are becoming fewer and fewer.”

 
 
 
 

 

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