The bicycle
as serious transportation

Bicycling is good for you, good for the environment, inexpensive and is the
most energy efficient form of transportation ever created. Yet, in parts of auto-dominated Greater Cleveland, you sometimes risk your life to ride.

Bicycle activists all have stories. Being verbally assaulted by motorists. Sideswiped by cars. Mangled by chuckholes. Fumigated by diesel exhaust. Some think of themselves as urban warriors, or stealthy alley cats down to their last lives. On too many streets you have to be gutsy and skilled to make bicycling a practical means of daily transportation.

Ten-speed gripes

The first complaint is that motorists just don't get it can't understand that bicyclists have an equal right to the road. Drivers become outraged when they have to slow down behind a bike, as if the bicyclist is acting recklessly just by being in the street. What's worse is when police officers themselves are unclear about the meaning of "same roads, same rules, same rights."

Second, transportation planners haven't typically viewed bikes as a serious mode of transport. Until recently, bike facilities always seemed to be "extras" tacked on to transportation plans if there was money left over from highway work.

Third, existing bike facilities often don't go places you need to go. Paths through the Metroparks are nice for recreational escape, but most aren't functional transportation routes connecting centers of daily activity.

Fourth, bikes aren't linked seamlessly to public transportation. The situation is improving, as RTA is adding bike racks to its buses and now allows bikes on the Rapid. But secure, covered parking at stations isn't available, and the highway-like approach to some rail stations can be intimidating if you're not driving a car.

Bike facilities for whom?

Another complaint is that even members of the local bicycling community do not all appreciate the transportation potential of the bicycle. The community is divided among high-tech racers, long-distance touring cyclists, rugged mountain bikers, utilitarian commuters, fitness buffs, and casual, weekend riders (the most common type). These groups all have different interests and needs. There's no common agenda, no unified voice.

Thus, transportation planners are left wondering for whom to plan. Some riders are indeed satisfied with park bike paths, which keep them safely separated from cars. Others don't want special treatment, fearing that special paths and lanes marginalize bikes.

Instead, they're committed to the cyclist's basic right to the road. In the Metroparks, for example, it's dangerous for fast cyclists to ride on the all-purpose paths where there are small children or people walking their dogs. But when they ride on the park roads, motorists yell at them, "Hey, get on the bike path where you belong."

Bike lanes-special lanes on roads marked off for exclusive bike use-can present other problems. Without an effective local maintenance program, debris and broken glass often end up in the bike lane. And bicyclists and motorists can become confused when making turns across each other's lanes.

What they want

The overall goal is making streets less hostile for everyonespeed limits reduced to 20 mph in residential and commercial districts so cars and bikes can mix more evenly; public service announcements and signage to encourage a "share-the-road" outlook among motorists; a bottle deposit law to reduce broken glass; more skill-building safety classes for cyclists of all ages; consistent enforcement of cycling rights and rules from local police.

When it comes to engineered bike facilities, some activists don't want special paths or lanes. They want wider curb lanes that can be shared by bikes and cars. The additional width allows both to operate as vehicular equals, but with more room to maneuver. But many cyclists feel more secure in their own lane, and there will always be a need for a variety of bike facilities for people of different abilities and ages.

Transportation-oriented cyclists also want their work places to offer secure bicycle parking and showers in a restroom. Employers should support health-and environment-conscious employees who bike to work.

And people should stop making excuses about our weather. Inclement weather is a barrier to bicycling only a third of the year, less for a properly equipped rider. Other northern cities have high rates of bicycle transportation.

The bicycle future is now

One organization with a role to play in the advancement of bicycle transportation is the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), the transportation planning agency for the five-county region. NOACA published a Regional Bicycle Plan in 1997, marking the beginning of a new emphasis on the bike as a serious transportation mode.

The plan calls for promoting the bike as transportation, providing more bike facilities, and increasing safety for cyclists. With the ongoing assistance of a Bicycle Advisory Council, the agency has made progress:

  • All NOACA-funded transportation projects are reviewed for bike-friendliness, raising the visibility of the bike transportation issue among local project sponsors.
  • Bicycling facilities have been funded, including bike racks for buses, a community-wide bike plan for the City of Avon Lake, and a variety of off-street paths and on-street lanes.
  • Bike Transportation Maps have been completed for Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Medina and Lorain counties, sharing information about good routes and safe cycling practices. Over 2,000 maps have been purchased, and Lorain County adopted the map and prints thousands of copies a year for distribution.
  • Training conferences have been offered to local officials and consultants on bike facility design and engineering.

These and other activities are gradually elevating the elegantly simple bike to its rightful place as serious transportation. Despite these positive steps, bike activists know that making our region truly bicycle-friendly won't happen without clear goals that achieve widespread support. The disparate factions of the local bicycling community must come together around a common agenda and have a strong voice in regional transportation planning.

They must involve neighborhood groups, transit advocates and everybody else who will benefit from a more balanced
transportation system and friendlier streets.


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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003

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Bike use grows around the world

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We have found that being bicycle-friendly is a more dependable indication of a city's healthfulness than almost any other guideline or statistic.
The 50 Healthiest Places to Live and Retire in the United States

The automobilewhich has brought industrial society a degree of individual mobility and convenience not known beforehas long been considered the vehicle of the future. But countries that have become dependent on the car are paying a terrible price: each year brings a heavier toll from road accidents, air pollution, urban congestion, and oil bills. Today people who choose to drive rather than walk or cycle a short distance do so not merely for convenience, but also to insulate themselves from the harshness of a street ruled by the motor vehicle. The broadening of transport options beyond those that require an engine can help restore the environment and human health-indeed, the very quality of urban life.
Marcia D. Lowe,
The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet

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