by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, January 2014) A plan to redesign the streetscape on a 2.3-mile stretch of Lorain Avenue from W. 25th to W. 85th was presented to the public at a December 10th meeting at Franklin Circle Church. The $17.3 million remake of this section of Lorain Avenue includes a proposal for a dedicated ten-foot wide bicycle lane on the north side of Lorain Avenue separated from traffic by a 2-feet wide barrier. Planners said a second meeting would be scheduled for the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood in January for additional input on the plan.
Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman encouraged involvement in the planning process by residents and stakeholders saying, “Whether you like the plan, or hate it, please stay engaged.” A copy of the plan, titled Living Lorain: Lorain Avenue Improvement Plan is available for viewing on the Ohio City Inc. website at www.ohiocity.org.
Ohio City Executive Director Eric Wobser said the proposed changes to Lorain Avenue would lead to a more vibrant Ohio City. He said right now, “Lorain Avenue doesn’t feel like a main street, but more like a dividing point.”
Jacob VanSickle, Executive Director of Bike Cleveland lauded the benefits seen on streets in other cities that have constructed protected bike lanes. He noted such benefits as reduction in accidents, increase in bicycle ridership by nontraditional riders, increases in retail sales for area businesses and a reduction in the practice of riding bikes on the sidewalk.
The plan calls for a dedicated 8 foot wide parking lane on the south side of the street that would allow cars to park 24 hours a day. There would be one 13-foot wide lane of traffic in each direction at all times. The ten-foot wide dedicated bike lane on the north side of the street would be separated from traffic by a two foot wide barrier the height of a curb. There would be no parking allowed on the north side of the street. The sidewalks and transit waiting areas would be redesigned with an effort to make them more welcoming to pedestrians, reduce clutter and add some environmentally friendly features.
Currently on Lorain Avenue parking is allowed on both sides of the street except during rush hours, when there are two lanes of traffic going east in the morning rush hour and two lanes of traffic going west in the evening rush hour. According to the Living Lorain plan’s examination of traffic patterns, the current traffic flow works very well. So well, they think they can reduce it to one lane in each direction without causing serious traffic congestion.
The planners admit some problems. With only one lane, when RTA buses are letting off passengers, all traffic would be stopped behind them. A similar thing would occur anytime a car wanted to make a left hand turn. All traffic would be stopped while waiting for the car to turn. The plan attempts to address this problem at some intersections by eliminating the parking on the south side to make room to add a turn lane that would allow cars to pass vehicles making a left hand turn.
An RTA planner present at the meeting suggested that it would be possible to eliminate some bus stops along the route so buses would be making less frequent stops.
What happens on the north side of the street when a car breaks down, or if an emergency vehicle needs to pass up the traffic was not spelled out in the plan. Presumably, vehicles would have to cross the centerline in such cases.
Many of those present filling up the pews at Franklin Circle Church rode to the meeting on their bicycles and generally seemed supportive of the plan.
At first glance the dedicated bike lane, proposed for the north side of Lorain Avenue from W. 25th to W. 85th, as part of the Living Lorain plan seems like it would be a welcome addition for bicycle commuters using the Lorain Avenue corridor. However, when planners presenting the idea explained how the dedicated bike lane would function, they revealed that the dedicated bike lane would not be viable alternative for serious bicycle commuters. Instead it would be designed to accommodate recreational bicycle riders, and families with children touring the neighborhood on bicycles.
A planner at the meeting indicated the dedicated bicycle lane would be designed for bicycles traveling at a maximum speed of ten miles per hour. RTA buses would be letting off their passengers into the lane. Also, with all on street parking moved to the south side of Lorain Avenue, individuals parking their cars with destinations on the north side of the street would have to walk across the dedicated bicycle lane.
A planner at the meeting suggested cyclists wishing to travel faster than 10 miles per hour would have to seek an alternative route. The plan does not indicate whether or not the remaining traffic lanes on Lorain Avenue would accommodate cyclist wishing to go 15 or 20 mph and ride in the street. The narrowness of lane, 13 feet wide, with no shoulder or second lane for refuge would seem to create a dangerous situation for westbound cyclists attempting to ride in the street.
When asked how motor vehicle riding customers of existing businesses with curb cuts would cross the bike lane, Ohio City Executive Director Eric Wobser, said there were only five curb cuts in the Ohio City neighborhood on the north side of the Lorain. He noted that while nothing could be done about the Fire Station at W. 32nd and Lorain, he thought that the remaining businesses could be negotiated with to make more use of the alleyways behind their stores and alternative off street parking. Wobser did not address curb cuts in the area west of W. 45th Street in the Detroit Shoreway portion of the proposed dedicated bicycle path.
It was suggested if the alleyways would be used to access businesses along the corridor, they would need to be repaired prior to implementation of the plan. Several RTA riders asked that the plan not make it more difficult for transit riders. Some cyclists asked about special signals at intersections for left hand turns by cyclists traveling on the path.
In response to a question about the cost of utility line burial, planners said it would add an additional $1 million a mile to bury the utilities lines. In an answer to questions about how the path would be kept clear of snow and debris, it was estimated that that would cost $2,000 per mile per year.
Councilman Cimperman said $100,000 has been allocated for the initial planning. Subject to the plan’s approval, an additional $1 million would be needed to work on the design and engineering of the project. If that receives the necessary approval, then the city would have to apply for an additional $17.3 million to build the project.