It's not too late to make South Taylor a complete street
As drawn today, the $7.25 million rebuild of South Taylor Road, scheduled to begin construction this summer, won’t make any improvements for those who use this major north-south connector (one of the few in Cleveland Heights) on a bike. The pedestrian experience on the six-lane stretch between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard is little improved. Why is that, and what can be done to tweak the plans?
There are some good ideas. For example, the curb will be expanded, reducing six very wide lanes down to five. Five years ago, when the project was designed, there was a modest proposal to bump out the curb on both sides, to add a buffer between the road and the sidewalk, and to add a multi-use path. But that plan has been changed to a wider tree lawn on the mall side only. The path is gone from the plans, and so, too, are the shade trees.
So much more can be done to reflect the reality that Severance Town Center isn’t the regional attraction its creators thought it would be in the 1970s. (It must have been quite a three-martini lunch that led to the massive widening of this road.) It would be laughable today if we weren’t standing squarely in a new era. We cannot simply talk about supporting "complete streets" and livable cities and reducing our carbon footprint. When opportunities this ripe come along, we must figure out how to make good on those promises.
Cleveland Heights, like all the municipalities in the region, doesn’t have a complete-streets policy. It also doesn’t have a bike plan (Cleveland Heights Bicycle Coalition would like to rally support for starting both in the near future). However, we do have one of the biggest bike-commuting populations in the region, and we have a planning department headed by a bicycle commuter. Richard Wong, director of planning and development for Cleveland Heights, seemed open and interested in modifications to the lane striping on Taylor, possibly to include a bike lane or sharrows. See http://www.gcbl.org/image/plans-rebuild-south-taylor-road-cleveland-heights-euclid-heights-section.
Even with the modest new curb position—which design consultants Wade Trim drew, extending into what was a car lane in front of Severance Tower apartments—South Taylor is still wider than it needs to be. If the city doesn’t alter the current configuration of painted lines, it will have two 14-foot curb lanes, which are a full four feet wider than required by federal guidelines.
The city has an easy case to make if it wants a bike lane on the northbound (east) side of Taylor. All it takes is painting one in. Here’s how: Take four feet from the curb lane and one from the center lane. Even this late in the game (and, surely, there will be those who will say it’s too late, but the project is not scheduled for completion until 2013), there’s still time to work out the details, such as where to put lanes even after the pavement is set.
Taylor is so wide here that, for only the cost of paint, the city can add a bike lane. It can keep the ten feet of new grassy tree lawn if it wants, still have five lanes of traffic and easily accommodate a bike lane from Euclid Heights Boulevard to Monticello Boulevard. Using existing resources from the project, the city need only take a more thoughtful approach to the lane striping, one that incorporates the latest practices in complete streets design.
This is an exciting opportunity. We can take a very mundane design on one of the region's largest road-building projects this year, capitalize on the traffic-calming elements of bumping out the curb (as planned), and still provide a safe space for cyclists, and do it all without delaying or impacting the project’s bottom line. Bike lanes on Taylor would provide a much-needed north-south connector in the Cleveland Heights bike system. Bike lanes on South and North Taylor roads would provide a safe connection for residents north of Mayfield to the bike lane at Severance Town Center and the sharrows at Euclid Heights Boulevard.
Wong may have more say on the matter than he did previously. With the city’s manager of capital projects, Carl Czaga, retiring and not being replaced, the duties of implementing big capital projects like S. Taylor are up for grabs. It will fall to either Wong or Alex Mannarino, public works director. As a registered architect, Wong is qualified.
On the southbound (west) side of the road, off-peak, on-street parking adds a challenge for a bike lane, Wong said. But, it may be possible to have both an extended curb and add a bike lane here as well. The city can reuse three or four feet from the 14-foot curb lane and one or two feet from the center lane—two 10-foot lanes are an accepted road building standard. Presentations at ODOT’s recent HCAT conference attest that, as long as it’s not a federal or state truck route, 10-foot lanes are just as effective as 12-foot lanes. If the city is concerned about a bike lane with on-street parking, it could explore floating bike lanes, as was implemented in Lexington Ky.
Another solution might be sharrows, the Share-the-Road pavement markers that the city is painting on Euclid Heights Boulevard and Edgehill Road. While walking through the site yesterday, we noted a few improvements for the pedestrian that are not currently in the road rebuilding plan. (We brought these to Wong’s attention, and he promised to look into the possibility of adding them.) At the northeast corner of Euclid Heights and S. Taylor, an activation button for the cross signal to walk across the mall entrance doesn’t exist. The pedestrian on this corner has no options because there has never been a crosswalk (a decision that was made for cars turning left from Euclid Heights on to S. Taylor to save a few seconds).
Decisions, such as omitting a crosswalk on all four corners, may seem unchangeable, but they are not set in stone. Crosswalks are inexpensive but valuable additions to modern city and suburb alike, even for mall entrances that were designed only for cars to enter or leave. In Cleveland Heights, it turns out, many residents walk to the Severance Town Center, especially around this neighborhood, which includes a large population that walks and bikes on a regular basis.
Marc Lefkowitz is Web editor for the GreenCityBlueLake Institute at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (www.gcbl.org) and a bicycle commuter.