As Challenges Persist For Central Parkway Bike Lane, Cyclists Look to Organize

With National Bike Month coming to a close, the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the city’s lone protected bike lane continues. Following weeks of discussion and political wrangling, the city’s latest politicized transportation project will be studied again after two initial reports were found to be inconclusive by some leaders at City Hall.

The debate is, perhaps not coincidentally, taking place while the city’s bike community is becoming more active in terms of numbers of riders, group rides and political activism.

Last night at the Mercantile Library dozens crowded the venue to hear a panel discussion and engage in discussion about the current and future state of Cincinnati’s bike network. Organized by Queen City Bike and other area advocacy groups, the event served as an opportunity for people to constructively discuss the good and bad about the city’s bike infrastructure.

First adopted in June 2010, Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan has served as the official document meant to guide policy decisions at City Hall. Since its adoption, however, the planning document has largely sat on the shelf, with targets for the development of bike lanes and other infrastructure falling behind schedule.

Mayor John Cranley’s administration has made it very clear that they are not interested in the development of on-street bike lanes, particularly those that are physically protected from automobile traffic. In lieu of pursuing those targets, the Cranley administration has instead focused on off-street bike trails; while also providing the critical upfront investment to launch Red Bike.

“Under our public-private relationships and support of council and a very vibrant cyclist community, in my opinion, we’re going to be the most bike-friendly city in America in four years,” Mayor Cranley told Aaron Renn in 2014. “We have three major bike trails that can be connected on abandoned train tracks into downtown; and, candidly, we intend to get all three of them build in the next four years. There’s just nothing like it in any city.”

National studies have found that protected on-street bike lanes not only provide the greatest level of safety for both bicyclists and motorists, but also encourage a greater range of demographics to bike. According to the American Journal of Public Health, this is largely attributable to the fact that streets with protected bike lanes saw 90% fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those without.

When it opened in July 2014, the Central Parkway protected bike lane was the first of its kind in Ohio. Since then other cities around the state have developed their own protected bike lanes, but Cincinnati has gone back to discussing the merits of the project after a handful of motorists complained that it made the roadway more dangerous and confusing to navigate.

Those suggestions were refuted in a report issued earlier this month that found conflicts along the 2.2-mile stretch of Central Parkway with the protected bike lane are no different, or even safer, than on other comparable streets around the city; but that further experience and education is needed for motorists.

“The Cincinnati Police Department and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts,” the report concluded. “DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”

Whether the future of Cincinnati’s bike infrastructure continues to focus on off-street bike trails, or shifts to a more balanced approach is yet to be seen. Queen City Bike is hoping last night’s event, and others to come in the future, will help grow the number of people advocating for a more robust bike network, but also refine the vision based around what it is the community wants to see pursued.

The Cranley administration has put forth a proposed budget that increases spending on bicycle infrastructure, but the overwhelming majority of that money has been tagged for off-street trails, not protected bike lanes or other sorts of infrastructure improvements.

City Council has until the end of June to review, make proposed changes and approve next year’s budget. This will give the growing bike advocacy community a strong opportunity to make their voices heard.

  • If the police would enforce traffic laws on Central these issues would disappear. Sunday as I rode on the bike lane I witnessed cars drag racing each other when the lights would turn green to be in front. Sometimes the car in the right lane would swerve over at the last second. It was a little frightening. It is amazing more parked cars are not struck.

  • Mark Christol

    I think the testimony in this clip shows there are more problems now than before. Granted, a lot of it is just change.
    A study a year from now might be in order but just another study now is probably pointless.
    http://quimbob.blogspot.com/2016/03/protected-bike-lanes.html

  • Ralph Horque

    If they would remove the “protected” lane on Central, repave the whole thing and just have nice, wide lanes, and a decent shoulder, it would work nicely! That “CAUTION PARKED CARS” thing is a sick joke.

    • The “caution parked cars” text is only necessary because motorists can’t seem to understand that the outer lane is a driving lane during peak hours and a parking lane during non-peak hours. I’m not sure why it is so difficult to understand this, considering that the same concept exists on dozens of other major streets in the city and people seem to understand it in those cases.

    • What would be much nicer is to have a small curb installed, perhaps with some small bushes and flowers planted on it, to create a more obvious barrier between the parked cars and the bike lane. I would imagine this would take care of the issue of people driving cars thinking it’s okay to drive and park in the bike lane, while also eliminating the confusion over where parked cars should be.

      Central Parkway is incredibly wide and is never fully utilized by cars. It just makes sense to make redesigns like this that make it safer and more enjoyable for other people to use that may choose to bike or walk.

    • Brian H

      You touch on what i feel is a core issue with the Central Parkway bike lanes is that it is lacking in design that would make it more appealing and improve safety. The bollards are a half-measure. A raised median with plantings or structural element would be a stronger indicator to both bicyclists and vehicles.

      On a second note, I think a formal bicycle advocacy group is essential, but it should seek to add pedestrians (of which we all are) as part of its advocacy work. A coalition that advocates for uses of roads and rights-of-way that does not focus on vehicular use would be much stronger.

    • Brian, I think you are absolutely correct about including pedestrians, but maybe it needs to be done as a consortium of advocacy groups rather than just Queen City Bikes. I am just not aware of other “pedestrian” advocacy groups in the city.

      In my opinion, the goal of such a consortium ought to be to achieve equitable treatment of all modes of transportation in city projects, which at this point would involve advocacy for bicycling and pedestrians since it is pretty apparent that both are of lesser importance to DOTE. But maybe that is a wider issue than what Queen City Bikes intends to advocate for because sometimes a tighter mission has advantages.

      I am not sure if Council has set priorities that guide current transportation projects, which from my POV seem focused almost solely on automobile capacity. I’d like to see such a group, whether it is Queen City Bikes or a consortium of advocacy groups, develop a set of priorities for City Council to consider that would guide future mobility infrastructure spending. For instance, a set of priorities might be (from: http://streets.mn/2016/04/29/st-pauls-priorities-short-sighted-and-all-out-of-sorts/):

      1. Safety for people walking or who have disabilities,
      2. Safety for people bicycling and using mobility scooters,
      3. Safety for people driving,
      4. Efficiency for people walking, riding bicycles, and who have disabilities,
      5. Efficiency for transit,
      6. Efficiency for individual cars,
      7. Public Car Storage, and
      8. Aesthetics.

      I’d also throw economy/commerce in there somewhere nearer to the top as an important reason for a road is to facilitate commerce. This could also include something about economic justification, as in the road project is justified economically because the tax base can support its continued maintenance.

    • Brian H

      Christopher, Absolutely a coalition of groups would be appropriate and I said that knowing there really isn’t a pedestrian advocacy group that I’m aware of. Closest things would be probably be Spring in our Steps. It is an advocacy gap, for sure. Other regions certainly have pedestrian councils or walking safety groups. Your bulleted list would make a great base for discussing a platform.

  • Laure Quinlivan

    Demand that City Councilmembers enforce the Bicycle Transportation Plan passed in 2010, which calls for adding bike lanes as the city repaves and improves roads. Call and email them. When I was on council, we listened to citizens who took the time to contact us.

  • Judi LoPresti

    There are a variety of things that need to happen to make the city become more bicycle friendly. In addition to finishing out the bike lanes promised to us in 2010, the DMV needs to make new driver’s aware of bicyclist’s rights. Too many ignorant driver’s talking on the phone, texting, on drugs…They scream at us to “RIDE ON THE SIDEWALK!” because they are just not educated. Some of the police are not educated either. The city is moving in the right direction, even if it is SLOW. Cincinnati is always way behind in the times, patience is key. Things are happening and it’s exciting to see our community grow. I loved seeing so many people coming out to talk about bikes last night. Keeping the discussion going is so important.

    • Mark Christol

      Anybody take a drivers ed course in the last 10 years?
      It was part of the high school curriculum when I was 15-16 and had real live teachers.
      I have no idea what its like nowadays.

    • Jim Coppock

      There is a lot to do. Several that I didn’t hear mentioned last night: 1.) more work with kids. In the 70’s, half the bike trips were by kids. Strengthen Safe Routes to School program; 2.) boot the Sub-Urban “leaders” and take back control of the City by people who live here. That includes City staff who make major decisions without fully vested interest.
      Take the long view, past the next Council election. Multi-use paths are part of a bike friendly city. Progress on these at the expense of future rail-transit is short sighted.

    • Judi LoPresti

      The skateparks and pump tracks are for the kids too (and the parents). Currently they are all located outside of the city. Same for mountain bike trails.

  • Calvin Cassady

    I rode the Central Parkway Bike Lanes from OTR to Northside the other night. I know bicycles aren’t supposed to ride on the sidewalk, but there are large portions of wide sidewalk on the route that will never have pedestrian uses. For instance where they directly abut I-75. A compromise that would shift part of the route onto these little used sidewalks would improve the situation for everybody.

    I also think that the current situation near the FOP building is ridiculous. Permitting parking in the middle of the road just doesn’t make sense. I know I wouldn’t park there at any time. But one block over Central Avenue has parking along both sides of the street that is always open.

  • KeepReal

    Are there any studies and statistics as to the bicycle use of these lanes? I think that it is important to know just how popular they are before further action is taken.
    In the admittedly infrequent trips I have taken on the parkway in the last two years I think I can count on one hand the number of bicyclist that I have seen.