Neighborhood Councils Renew Push for Stalled Bike Lane Expansions

Clifton, Over-the-Rhine community councils call for more on-street bike infrastructure

Community councils for two popular Cincinnati neighborhoods are urging the city to expand its bike lane program, which has stalled after the 2014 completion of a major protected lane leading downtown.

Both Clifton Town Meeting and the Over-the-Rhine Community Council passed resolutions last month reiterating support for the sometimes-controversial Central Parkway Bikeway and pushing for expansions to that bike project and others like it.

"Clifton Town Meeting desires to make Clifton into a premier bicycling community within Greater Cincinnati in order to improve the vibrancy, safety and overall health of visitors and residents," a Jan. 20 letter to city administration and Council reads. "To do so requires continued investment in on-street infrastructure such as the Central Parkway Bikeway, bike lanes, sharrows and bicycle-related signage."

That letter goes on to ask that the city not make changes to the bikeway that would deprive cyclists of a dedicated, protected lane.

Over-the-Rhine's community council, led by Ryan Messer, sent a similar message to the city Jan. 28, saying the council strongly supports the lane and hopes to see it extended in the near future. The letter cites successes with similar lanes in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, quoting research and news reports stating that the lanes increase rider safety.

"Experience with the Central Parkway bike lane has been positive," Messer wrote in his letter to the city. "There has not been an impact on traffic and ridership numbers continue to rise. When the bike lane is completed with a projected lane to and from Ludlow [Ave. in Clifton], we expect ridership to grow even more as it provides the connection to Clifton, Northside and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College."

Not all communication to Council was positive about the lanes, however. Councilman Christopher Smitherman presented a letter to Council today from Robert Schwartz that called the lane a "embarrassingly awful" and called for it to be removed. In the letter, dated late December of last year, Schwartz presented a list of 16 reasons why the lane should be removed, including confusion over parking, damaged plastic markers that are "a blight on what used to be a very picturesque street" and an accident that happened in Dec. 2013, before the lane was installed. Schwartz said he feared more such accidents would happen due to the lane.

The Central Parkway Bikeway was completed in 2014 after multiple bouts of political wrangling. The protected bike lane uses plastic partitions to separate cyclists from drivers along the four-lane stretch of the Central Parkway running from Clifton, through the West End and University Heights and into Over-the-Rhine and downtown. The lane was initially proposed in a bike plan Cincinnati City Council passed in 2010, and Council in 2013 voted unanimously to build it using $500,000 in mostly federal money. 

But that was before Mayor John Cranley took office. Cranley wanted Council to reconsider the lane, saying he preferred off-street bike paths such as the proposed Wasson Way trail that would go through much of Cincnnati's East Side on the way to Avondale. Council narrowly approved the lane in a 5-4 vote. Then there was contention about parking spaces that had to be ironed out with local business owners.

Even the construction of the lane didn't end the debate. Drivers and some local business owners say the lanes, which require motorists to park in Central Parkway's outside lanes during business hours, make traffic in the area more dangerous. News reports highlighted the fact that some of the plastic dividers along the lane had been run over and that some 33 accidents had happened along Central Parkway since they had been installed. That led Cranley last summer to say he was interested in removing the lanes.

"I've got plans to build dedicated bike trails on Oasis and Wasson Way and Mill Creek," the mayor said last summer, "but those are off the road, dedicated lanes, not in the middle of traffic like Central Parkway, which is a major artery into downtown. I think they should scrap it before somebody gets hurt. I think it's been a disaster and I hope that City Council will reverse course and stop it."

National research, like this 2014 study by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, tends to show that bike lanes increase safety, ridership and neighborhood desirability. The NITC study found that ridership numbers at newly installed lanes in Austin, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Portland, Ore., boosted ridership between 21 and 171 percent, while increasing perceptions of safety and the overall desirability of the neighborhoods they were in for residents and visitors. However, those cities are generally less car-dependent than Cincinnati.

New attention to bike safety has come in the days after the hit-and-run death in Anderson of Michale Prater, who was an active member of the city's cycling community. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld last week introduced a motion asking the city to study particularly dangerous intersections for cyclists and pedestrians and suggest ways of mitigating that danger. Meanwhile, cycling advocates and neighborhood councils continue to push for protected lanes.

"We need and endorse the full usage of roads for cyclists for a full and productive lifestyle, not just for riding on off-road trails," the Clifton Town Meeting letter concludes.

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