Riding Into the Future

Ambitious plan calls for 130 miles of bike lanes across the city of Cincinnati

Apr 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Eyeing its goal of joining "more progressive" cities with an active bicycling culture, Cincinnati has released an initial blueprint for its Bicycle Master Plan, a network of more than 300 miles of bike routes that could soon have more residents leaving their cars at home and pedaling to work.

The plan, released online last week to garner public reaction, includes 130 miles of dedicated bicycle lanes and 100 miles of shared lanes ("sharrows") that link downtown and Northern Kentucky to neighborhoods as far east as Mount Washington, northern neighborhoods like Hartwell and College Hill and as far west as Westwood and West Price Hill. The routes are the result of online surveys and open houses the city has sponsored during the past year to steer its efforts.

“Our hope is that by building a citywide network of bicycle infrastructure and supporting it with educational programming, we can transform our culture so that average Cincinnatians feel as safe riding their bicycles for daily trips as they do riding in their cars,” says Michael Moore, interim director of the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering.

According to Melissa McVay, a city planner helping lead the effort, almost 600 people responded last year to calls for public opinion. Seventy percent reported riding a bike at least once a week, but in giving the city a "C" grade as a "bike-friendly city" the majority cited a lack of bike lanes as a reason they don't ride more.

The city quickly reacted, adding dedicated bike lanes along Dana Avenue between Madison Road and Grigg Avenue late last year during repaving work as part of the city's Street Rehabilitation Program, while continuing to work on the Master Bike Plan. On Dana, the city removed two vehicle lanes along the nearly mile-long stretch, adding two bike lanes.

"The segregated lanes are a key part of the plan," McVay says. "People told us that they tend to be more comfortable riding in dedicated lanes, rather than with traffic. That's the preferred treatment. Our goal was to add as many of those lanes as possible."

Because of cost or the current available space on older streets, however, that option wasn't always available.

Where dedicated lanes aren't possible or feasible, the plan calls for another 100 miles of the "sharrow" lanes, open to both vehicular and bike traffic but marked with special street signs to alert drivers to watch for bicyclists. Last summer, the city painted portions of Clifton Avenue near the University of Cincinnati with "sharrow" marking, a silhouetted bicycle with arrows — the first in the region.

As the master plan goes forward, more will follow.

So far, the response has been favorable, McVay says. She reports that within the first day of the plan's availability online, she received 25 to 35 e-mails. Nearly all cheered the city's effort. The plan also is garnering praise from local advocacy groups.

Gary Wright, a member of Queen City Bike, is among the supporters.

"Michael Moore is saying all the right things, seeing bikes as transportation and encouraging residents to use them for short trips rather than their cars," Wright says. "And that's what the plan needs to help accomplish: to promote healthy, ecologically sound, alternative transportation options that will make it that much better as a place to live. "

Pointing out that a similar bicycle-centric plan was in place nearly 30 years ago, he adds that the work is far from done.

"That plan was during the oil crisis in the 1970s. When the oil problem subsided, the plan was largely set aside and forgotten," Wright says. "That wasn't entirely the city's fault. What we need to do in the community — what we didn't do then — is make sure the city takes action with these latest plans."

In the meantime, he and his group are pushing for more bike routes while the city seeks input ramping up toward a final draft of the plan that will be released later this spring.

He points to stretches of Riverside Drive from downtown to Lunken Airport and parts of Madison Road linking the East Side with Clifton, Avondale and Walnut Hills to downtown.

"There's work being done on these roads right now, which makes it cheaper to add the bike lanes while that work's being done," Wright explains. "The city can add those bike routes for virtually no cost. There's no reason to wait."

Also, he points to the need to begin work on parts of Spring Grove Avenue near Northside, to link the neighborhood — "the center of the bicycle culture in the city," Wright says — to downtown.

"If the city plays its cards right, people will begin to use bikes for short trips instead of their cars," he adds. "It's happened in other cities. There's no reason it can't happen here."

McVay agrees.

"Having all those bikes on the road would be a sign of a more progressive city," she says. "Around the country, when you look at cities that are considered more progressive — San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago — they have a high share of cyclists, that class of creative people. We think Cincinnati fits into that group."

The final open house to discuss Master Bike Plan issues will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. May 5 at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, 3711 Clifton Ave. Members of the project team will attend to discuss the plan.