There is an effort to get a bike and pedestrian lane added to the proposed I-90 innerbelt bridge, offering a dramatic, beautiful, healthy and practical connection to walk or ride downtown. Residents or visitors could connect to the towpath trail to Akron, Tremont or downtown by the Gateway sports facilities. That’s great, but perhaps the first question should be — is it safer and more effective way to get people around town?
The answer is a big. emphatic yes and Northeast Ohio should join the approximately thirty communities around the country who have already figured out how to have cyclists, hikers and walkers, as well as cars and trucks, operate in near proximity and do so safely. First off, no one actually suggests cyclists and walkers cohabit lanes with cars; they would operate in an exclusive lane, with a scenic overlook, protected by steel, concrete and distance. By contrast, cyclists riding on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge or Detroit-Superior Bridge (where we’ve all seen motorists speeding at 40—50 mph), are separated from traffic only by three inches of paint. Often, these paths along the edge of the road are littered with glass and debris, posing another safety risk. ODOT is using our tax dollars and sacrificing cyclist safety and health, though they are lawfully on the road, for the exclusive benefit of motorized vehicular traffic, harming walkers, hikers and joggers as well.
Investing in cycling infrastructure makes financial sense, generating a great return for public and individual health and the environment. The financial value of improved mobility, fuel savings, greenhouse gas reductions, and health care savings ranges between $10-65 billion, outstripping any public spending costs in creating a bicycling and walking transportation infrastructure. Modest increases in bicycling and walking could lead to an annual reduction of 70 billion miles of car travel, with higher increases cutting as much as 200 billion miles per year. The decreased auto travel is the same as cutting oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles by 3-8%.
For most Americans, transportation is an expense second only to housing (higher than health care, education and food). Even before runaway gas prices, the average American spends 19% of their income on transportation, with households that heavily rely on cars for transportation spending 50% or more. Based on AAA reports of typical transportation costs 56.1cents/ mile and $5 daily parking, typical car commuter costs are more than $11,500/year.
A walking and biking transportation infrastructure is a practical way for many to achieve recommended levels of physical activity. Modest increases in bicycling and walking for short trips could provide enough exercise for 50 million inactive Americans to meet recommended activity levels, reducing America’s activity deficit.
We need to seize this opportunity to create a dramatic and beautiful shared space on the innerbelt bridge to enhance the city’s life. Whether you bike, walk or drive, the Innerbelt Bridge should be available for all Cleveland residents, not just those driving to or through downtown Cleveland.