How to encourage more bicycling in the Heights

Mom and daughter riding in a buffered bike lane in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy People for Bikes.

I would like to see how Cleveland Heights looks when 4,500 people are riding bikes. We will certainly be healthier, wealthier and maybe happier than being stuck in traffic.

Does this express the sentiments of the 1 percent? In Cleveland Heights, the 1 percent are those the 2010 census counted as bike commuters—that’s 450 people. It doesn’t count kids who bike to school or spandex-clad weekend warriors—just the adult weekday bike commuters.

Cycling experts estimated that 60 percent of adults identity themselves as interested in the idea of bike commuting, but are concerned about riding close to cars. So, how do we get that 60 percent to consider riding a bike for transportation—especially to commute?

I put this question to a couple of seasoned cyclists who live in Cleveland Heights. I also asked my wife, who is trying to ride a bike even if it means, for now, taking it on the back of a car to the Towpath Trail.

“A key element for many cyclists is to separate bikes from cars,” said Joy Henderson, a board member of the Heights Bicycle Coalition. “More people consider riding when they see a space that is just for them.”

Cities like Portland, Ore., Madison, Wis., Denver, New York and Minneapolis, where bike lanes are becoming more abundant, are seeing more adult riders. Boldness is what it takes to ride on streets without a designated space like a bike lane. So, why are people afraid to ask for what they need to be safe on the road?

“Because we’re asking to share their space when it ‘belongs’ to the car,” Henderson said, “and we’re asking very timidly. ‘Please, can I have five inches,’ when we need five feet.”

Resident Tom Ligman thinks it would be “just ducky” if the city installed protected bike lanes—with physical barriers between cars and bikes—but he’d settle for more policing of those driving above the speed limit.

“People still go 40 mph on my street, which is residential and a dead end,” said Ligman. “We’ve become entrenched as a car city, and ultimately that’s bad for everyone. It’s excessively wasteful to take a couple tons of metal with us if we’re going to the store to pick up a candy bar.”

When Ligman started biking from the Cedar Lee neighborhood to his job in University Circle four years ago, there were even fewer bike lanes and sharrows—bike symbols painted on the road to remind motorists to share the road with bicyclists. There is a growing body of evidence that sharrows do little to make the 60 percent feel comfortable bicycling on the road.

My wife, Corrie Slawson, said over morning coffee, “A (lane) line makes a difference to me. Even where there isn’t enough space to put in a bike lane, a (painted) line is better than sharrows because it tells the cars where to be. There’s less to be confused about.”

She points to Cleveland Heights’s experiment with a painted shoulder on Lee Road south of the library as an example. Indeed, cheers to the city for that and its recent addition of a “buffered” bike lane on Edgehill Road, too. Having about 10 feet of pavement makes the grind up that hill a welcome site to me and many other bike commuters.

Ligman swears there are more bikes on the streets as a result of the attention the city is paying to its natural bike network—long residential streets like Edgehill Road, and Washington and Meadowbrook boulevards—where cars and bikes are more or less moving at equal speeds. They provide nice east-west access across Cleveland Heights. He hopes more cars are paying attention, too, as cyclists start to use the roads.

“Things are getting better every year as far as cars paying attention, and infrastructure showing up,” Ligman said. “I’d like to see some of the four-lane roads, like Fairmount, Shaker and Van Aken, divided up differently. We don’t have to use extra space for bike lanes, but we could calm traffic.”

Marc Lefkowitz

Marc Lefkowitz, a 21-year resident of Cleveland Heights, co-chairs the city’s transportation advisory committee. He is the web editor of GreenCityBlueLake ( at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

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Volume 7, Issue 9, Posted 1:44 PM, 08.28.2014