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As The Crow Rides: Cleveland’s Cyclists Rally for I-90 Bridge Path

8 December 2009 20 Comments

Cleveland's cyclists

Cleveland's cyclists at Carnegie Ave. & Ontario St., rallying for a bike path on the new I-90 Inner Belt Bridge. Sunday, Dec. 6.

Don’t let the sunshine in the photos fool you.

It was a cold one in Tremont on Sunday, as temperatures in the low 30s heralded winter’s tightening reins on Cleveland. But the weather didn’t deter over 100 cyclists and pedestrians from rallying in support of a path to connect them to downtown. United States Representative Dennis Kucinich made an appearance, pledging his word for a path with a letter to Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.

From the neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side, a leap over the milky Cuyahoga River, bikers rode and walkers strode to the lawn at Carnegie Avenue and Ontario Street.  The broad swath of concrete is one of the largest intersections in the city, linking downtown to I-90 and I-77.  Two riders reportedly got flat tires on Scranton Road in The Flats (go figure), the pot-holed tangle of roads along the Cuyahoga River underneath the bridges above.

Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich

For several years, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has bristled at including a bike/pedestrian bath in plans for a proposed $450-million bridge over the Cuyahoga River. That’s the I-90 Inner Belt Bridge, among the vital east-west transportation links in the US. After almost a year of lane closures to reduce the bridge’s carrying weight, plus sporadic, complete overnight shutdowns for repairs that are keeping I-90 on life support, the bridge has beset Cleveland’s interstate highway traffic with detours and frustration.

Residents in Tremont, one of Cleveland’s fastest growing neighborhoods, were cut off from downtown when ODOT closed an onramp last year that connected the area to downtown with virtually a straight line.

The bridge is going to be replaced anyway, beginning in 2011. So why not include such a path? It seems rare nowadays that the common sense, the public interest, and federal agency’s directives are on the same page. The Federal Highway Administration’s officially adopted policy for new transportation infrastructure, you would think, makes it easy for ODOT to give the path a green light:

“Every transportation agency has the responsibility and the opportunity to make a difference to the bicycle-friendliness and walkability of our communities. The design information to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians is available, as is the funding.”

ODOT’s main alternative is improving existing roads that snake their way downtown. Easy enough to pitch, especially considering that the agency did not include any plans for a path to begin with, leaving it up to supporters of a multi-modal path to independently come up with a blueprint. The Plain Dealer reported recently that Cleveland lawyer Kevin Cronin, president of the nonprofit ClevelandBikes, filed a lawsuit against ODOT on November 18, “asking the U.S. District Court in Cleveland to stop the state agency from proceeding with the bridge until the needs of bicyclists are addressed.” However, ODOT’s work has not halted.

Let us cross the bridge.

Let us cross the bridge.

Aside from the immediate ramifications of ODOT’s refusal of the path (circuitous, potentially dangerous routes; neighborhoods hemorrhaging into the Flats and into each other instead of being funneled downtown, etc.), I’m curious of the long-term precedent ODOT is setting for future projects. Given the scale and scope of the I-90 Inner Belt project, the state and feds cannot afford to be prudent to invest in infrastructure that solely caters to the automobile.

Equal should be the consideration for multi-modal options, particularly in Midwest Rust Belt cities, where the populations have bled into urban sprawl. And if a bike/ped path along the contour of a roaring interstate highway bridge isn’t easy and innocuous enough, then the horizon is bleak for our Clevelands, Detroits, Buffalos and Toledos. (From personal observation, Pittsburgh has done an amazing job reinvesting in the urban core. There are bike/ped paths that seemingly run the lengths of all the rivers in the city.)

Kent State University’s Urban Design Collaborative and the Green City Blue Lake institute have shouldered the current path proposal’s development, but the support doesn’t end there.

At the rally, Jim Sheehan of the Ohio City Bike Co-op encouraged everyone to attend an update meeting on the bridge. Info: 10 a.m. Friday at NOACA, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, 1299 Superior Ave., Cleveland.

As of now, Tremont residents are looking down Abbey Avenue, through Ohio City, via the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge as the easiest route to downtown.

Links to some further reading:

An editorial by American Trails Board of Directors Chairman Robert Searns

Cleveland Scene (weekly) coverage: http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2009/12/02/a-bridge-plan-too-far

- Nick Wright

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  • schmange

    A young woman died biking the route from Tremont to downtown this fall. Her name was Sylvia Bingham. She was 22. She was a Yale graduate and a Americorps volunteer.

    Something should come of her death and that should be acknowledgment by city leaders that the safety of cyclists is important.

    Thanks for the great post, Nick! Good work cycling activists!

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  • Nick

    @schmange

    I remember the story you’re referring to,though I think the unfortunate accident occurred at Prospect Ave. and East 21st St. But it still speaks to the broader issue that Cleveland’s streets are ripe for some form of signage, lanes or off-street access. Thanks for the comment.

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  • Shaheen

    @ Nick, Bingham was actually coming from Tremont and going to her work near CSU. Her accident was just a couple blocks from her desination, though.

  • Special K

    Nick, Thank you for this terrific article. I had no idea all this was happening in Cleveland. I hope to see more of your work on Rust Wire soon!

  • Jimmy

    I’m all for a bike / pedestrian path on the bridge provided it’s not on the same deck as motor vehicles; for safety purposes it really needs to be separate. Also, to pay for the path, Ohio needs to impose a tax on bicycles, parts, helmets etc. to pay for the additional cost. Highway projects such as the new bridge are funded by the gasoline tax, and bicyclists shouldn’t be asking for, nor receive a free ride.

  • experienced1

    The additional expense of creating a bike path on or under an interstate highway bridge from one small community (Tremont) into downtown Cleveland to cater to the whims of so few potential users cannot be financially justified especially when there is no connectivity to the rest of the city.

    The Cleveland planning commission has approved plans to complete the Towpath Trail into Downtown Cleveland through the industrial valley and some construction funding is in place through a property tax TIFF from Steelyard Commons and other sources, so this would effectively diminish the number of users of a bike trail on the bridge resulting in an enormous waste of tax dollars that could be better used to maintain the interstate highway system through Cleveland.

  • Tom Tiberius

    I am a cyclist. I am also a tax payer. I really dont see the need to add pedestrian access to the new bridge. you can walk or ride over the lorain carnegie bridge into downtown. I know I will get flamed for this but its a thought to be considered.

  • Daniel

    Jimmy said:
    I’m all for a bike / pedestrian path on the bridge provided it’s not on the same deck as motor vehicles; for safety purposes it really needs to be separate. Also, to pay for the path, Ohio needs to impose a tax on bicycles, parts, helmets etc. to pay for the additional cost. Highway projects such as the new bridge are funded by the gasoline tax, and bicyclists shouldn’t be asking for, nor receive a free ride.
    YEAH! We should impose an additional tax on socks and shoes as well. Its time to screw all those people who don’t use up our national resources getting from one place to the next.
    The more proactive forward thinking fractions of socioty are adopting a bike/pedestrian friendly concept, design, urban layout. I think your right, Cleveland should do as always and spend tons of cash on yesterdays ideas.

  • http://diggingpitt.blogspot.com/2009/10/support-braddock-projects-on-pittsburgh.html John Morris

    Daniel, this is just stupid and very unjust. I’m not from Cleveland but if it’s like most area’s a nice chunk of private property was already seized by the government to pay for that road. Also people living in the area must inhale the car exhaust. They are also tax payers and in case you don’t know it-gas taxes do not come close to fully funding highways.

    The amount of wear and tear caused on a bridge cauesd by people walking or biking is likely not measurable.

    Now, off hand I have doubts as to how much a seperate bike and pedestrian path would be used. However, I likely think it would have a very important symbolic effect.

  • http://diggingpitt.blogspot.com/2009/10/support-braddock-projects-on-pittsburgh.html John Morris

    Oops sorry Daniel, I was reacting to Jimmy’s comment.

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  • http://diggingpitt.blogspot.com/2009/10/support-braddock-projects-on-pittsburgh.html John Morris
  • http://blowupyourcar.wordpress.com wes

    I’m not sure how many people would want to ride their bike next to cars going at freeway speeds. I don’t think it would be very safe or pleasant. I imagine the cars would make an awful lot of noise.

    Also, the Carnegie-Lorain and the Detroit-Superior bridge have bike lanes. I think funding should go towards cleaning them up and fixing potholes. Not to mention more exciting bike path projects like the Towpath Trail extention and the Train Avenue Towpath Trail connector described here:

    Both of these options would create more pleasant biking experiences into downtown away from trucks and cars.