By Jolene Almendarez
Dozens of cyclists and community members showed support for making the piloted mile-long Clifton bike lane permanent at a special Neighborhoods Committee meeting Thursday night. Despite some opposition for the project, officials joined in supporting the issue. But it would still be three to five years before one could be constructed. So what happens to the temporary one in the meantime?
The Department of Transportation says making the bike lane permanent could cost about $3 million.
John Brazina, director of transportation and engineering, says the Clifton bike lane was always meant to be a temporary installation that was intended to be taken down in August. He cited safety concerns about issues like keeping roadways and lanes clear during winter months.
"So with the temporary installation, we're concerned about how that was going to affect traffic, the cones, the barriers, the signs, things like that," he said
But he verified data collected by those who support the project: traffic accidents weren't impacted by the bike lane, speeding was reduced, and there's public support for the project.
Brazina said a city survey shows 78% of the 147 people who responded support making the lane permanent.
"This shows that there is momentum and there is support for a permanent solution," he said.
Matt Butler, president at Devou Good Foundation, says the nonprofit can pitch in to address some of the issues raised by the city. The organization has already donated $100,000 for the pilot program.
For instance, the organization is willing to donate $50,000 toward the purchase of a downsized street maintenance vehicle to keep debris and snow out of the lane. And they'd shell out another $100,000 to improve the design and aesthetics of the bike lane, along with extending it to East McMillan Street.
It's also willing to invest $200,000 to install a protected bike lane down Ludlow Avenue to Blue Rock Street in Northside, which is an already approved permanent bike lane set to be built within five years.
"Clifton Avenue is — you guys have quite a road there, 70 feet wide. It's pretty difficult to cross if you're walking," he said. "There's no stoplights at a lot of the crosswalks. And we thought anything that we can do to attempt to make things better, we'd love to help out. And so we've been involved in this process from the beginning."
Butler has noted taking down the bike lane would cost about $20,000, which is money better spent on investing in better infrastructure for cyclists.
Wade Johnston, director of Tri-State Trails, says in addition to funding the project, organizers are more than willing to work with neighborhood groups and the University of Cincinnati to find a solution that works for everybody.
"We want to find common ground — a win, win, win — to make the bike lane permanent," he said. "Number one, that's our end game here, right? And to improve the safety on Clifton Avenue overall. But while we know that's going to take three to five years to find money to do that, in the short term, can't we keep what we have, or some version of it, some improved version of it, that will allow for bikers to continually continue to get to campus safely?"
With such strong support, what's the concern?
Two officials for the University of Cincinnati spoke about some of their concerns about the bike lane and what it means for the campus community.
Pat Kowalski, vice president for administration and finance, said university officials supported the pilot program before it was even launched. They also requested it be removed by Aug. 1, though. Kowalski says that's not because they don't support the project. They just didn't see a path forward financially or logistically.
"We do support a bike lane. But we do want a long term solution that facilitates flow for not only the bikers, but for the vehicles out on Clifton and the pedestrians that move around — a long term comprehensive solution," he said.
And unrelated construction plans along Clifton Avenue, he said, need to be taken into account.
UC officials weren't the only ones with concerns. Over 60 people attended the meeting and most were in favor of keeping the bike lane in place. But a few residents spoke out against the lane.
One resident spoke about increased congestion in the area, with traffic back-ups and increased commuting times, especially during peak travel times.
Another speaker said he's lived in the neighborhood for decades and is also a bike rider.
"I think that the temporary bike lane has been a disaster... it's been turned into an eyesore. There's concrete barriers. There's bright orange plastic cones all over. It's embarrassing. It's a cesspool," he said.
But supporters pushed back on these criticisms saying traffic has always been congested in the area. They also said the city should be committed to keeping people safe and saving lives with pedestrian safety projects.
Neighborhoods Committee Chair Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney was also given credit by bike lane supporters for keeping the issue up for public comment and speaking in favor of the project at City Hall.
She said what comes next for the project is bringing together stakeholders to talk about possible next steps.