Bike Paths Pave the Way Toward a Greener Cleveland
By Bridget Roddy
This article was originally printed in Cleveland State Univerity's The Cauldron.
Class starts in 10 minutes and Zack Klien-Stefanchik is bent, head over handlebars, booking it down Euclid on his fixed gear road bike from his home in Cleveland Heights.
“Once the bike lanes down Euclid stop, your best bet is to jump into the bus lane. You’re faster than the Healthline on a bike anyway,” Klien-Stefanchik says, a junior at Cleveland State and avid cyclist.
Once on campus, finding a place to lock his bike is easy. He attributes this to the large amount of bike racks compared to the minimal amount of students biking to school. He safeguards his bike with a steel U-lock to a bicycle rack outside the Music and Communication building.
“I don’t bother locking my helmet,” he says. “Honestly, I’m hoping someone just steals it so I have a reason to buy a new one.” His helmet, decrepit and weather-worn, is just grey foam with a chin buckle, but has been with Klien-Stefanchik since he started biking 3 and a half years ago.
“I could have bought a car, but I came to a few realizations,” he says. “I was out of shape, I was broke, and I couldn’t justify the CO2 emissions that come with driving. So I started biking.”
This is the same attitude that Cleveland has been working to implement over the past four years, aiming to be “A green city on a blue lake”. Alongside the bike advocacy group, Bike Cleveland and a bike planning commission, Cleveland has laid out a plan to make the city more bike friendly by 2017. This plan builds on it’s already budding reputation in the national biking community.
But Cleveland’s bike infrastructure still has years of improvement in its future.
The city has pledged to add 70 miles of new bike lanes by 2017 but this will be of little benefit to daily commuters, like Klien-Stefanchik, who need to get to and from the city’s center quickly and safely. Most of the bike lanes will go through parks and suburban areas.
Euclid is the major vein for traffic around campus but the bike lanes stop at Public Square from the west and at E. 24 from the east. “As far as Euclid's bike lanes go, unless we want to have all of our ground covered by pavement, cyclists and drivers will have to learn to share the road,” says Julia Schnell, a Cleveland State Urban Studies Graduate student and Bike Cleveland board member.
“By partnering with RTA to install Healthline stops through campus, Cleveland State indirectly made Euclid a better place to bike. The presence of many crosswalks, lights, and narrow lanes reduces the speed of traffic and makes a non-motorists safer even without the presence of dedicated bike lanes.”
While adding more bicycles onto Euclid may not be possible, Dr. Robert Simmons, Professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State, has another solution for getting students on bikes to campus. “Superior comes over the Detroit-Superior bridge and goes all the way into Cleveland Heights,” he says.
Dr. Simmons explains that wide roads with low traffic like Superior and St. Clair are perfect candidates to be fit for bike lanes. These streets are even large enough to add separated bike lanes to add protection for cyclists.
“Bike lanes are hard to retrofit to narrow streets, like most of the roads running North to South in Cleveland,” Simmons says. “Luckily, Cleveland has an abundance of East to West infrastructure that, because of a decrease in population, is not as heavily used as it used to be.”
While cyclists seem to have the city’s ear regarding bike infrastructure, bike lanes are not the only major transportation upgrade the city is focused on.
“Transit planning takes a long time though,” Simmons explains. “Most of the city’s transit planning is focused on configuring the streets to accommodate for the new innerbelt. If bike lanes are not considered in this, they could be very difficult to implement later."