From high above any road, the moving cars, buses, and people can seem mostly smooth and graceful.
Only the worst potholes are visible from high in the air.
But when you get a little closer, you find a tug of war between vehicles and bicycles.
Chad Myles, Cleveland
“If they’re honking at me, if they’re yelling at me, they can’t say they didn’t see me,” said east side cyclist Chad Myles.
Myles hasn’t driven a car in decades.
They can be expensive to buy and maintain, on top of the insurance he’d be required to carry to drive it to work or to run errands. For years, he preferred to walk or use Greater Cleveland RTA routes to get around until he fell in love with cycling.
Riding around the East Side often means taking some pretty busy streets, like Warrensville Center Road, just to run simple errands.
“There was a bit of fear in the beginning,” admits Myles. “But as I did it, I got used to the cars zipping past me and now I don’t even think about it.”
Despite the anxiety others might feel when cars zoom by as cyclists try to pedal, Myles says his time on the road is therapeutic, helping him handle depression while getting plenty of exercise he never got before.
“Mixing [more intense] road cycling with bike commuting is tough because you don’t get a break,” said Myles. “I do a long ride of 100 miles one day and I have to get up the next day and go to work.”
Mark Lammon, Lakewood
On the West Side, Mark Lammon does think about the cars he rides with while taking his kids to school and going to work Downtown.
“I mean, I avoid Detroit [Avenue] with the kids pretty much at all costs, but there are certain streets that still need road diets and they need them a lot," he said.
It means he’s extra careful while navigating his cargo bike around Lakewood, dropping his kids off at school and daycare before using his E-bike to get to work downtown.
“I think in this country, we always think you either have to be a gym rat or a couch potato and I think you can be somewhere in between where you can commute and your daily commute can be your exercise,” said Lammon.
Similar to Myles, Lammon says there’s a considerable mental benefit to commuting on two wheels compared to four. Factoring in even very-manageable morning traffic in Cleveland from Lakewood, Lammon says his cycling commute often isn’t much longer than if he were to drive, and it comes without the stress that comes with stoplights and merge lanes.
“When you round the corner going into Edgewater [Park] and you look at the skyline and it’s like, ‘Huh, I’m kind of part of something bigger,’ and the barrier of the car is gone and you feel connected to everything else,” said Lammon. “The kite surfers, the wind surfers, I love watching those guys. Talk about Cleveland heart.”
Ashley Shaw, Cleveland
When commuting on a bike goes right, it can be a fun way to stay active while completing daily routines.
When it goes wrong, it can change or end lives.
“You won’t see me biking on a street like this anymore,” said cyclist crash survivor Ashley Shaw.
She used to be one of the cyclists doing everything on two wheels after living in Cleveland for roughly a decade without any car at all.
But in September 2017, she pulled up to the intersection of Lorain Avenue and Fulton Road at a red light.
“When the light turned green, I started to go straight, [a driver] was distracted and was trying to race vehicles that were coming up behind me,” said Shaw.
The car turned into Ashley, knocking her off her bike and bringing it down on top of her head. It caused a brain bleed, and even after recovering from that life-threatening injury, she still battles memory loss, PTSD, and a list of other lingering effects.
“I was very very sick to the point that I struggled to get through almost every day for about two years,” said Shaw.
And still it could have been so much worse.
Sometimes, white "Ghost Bikes" mark where the crash happened, prompting the people who notice to wonder what could have been different.
The solution cyclists want include more awareness and respect from drivers, but also better bike infrastructure that gives cyclists dedicated and protected places to ride. The goal is that making it safer and easier to ride will benefit the existing commuters but also convince some people who drive today that they too can take their bike to work.
“As you get closer to Downtown [Cleveland] there are a lot of bike lanes and bike paths that you can take but out here in this community, there are very few but that is slowly starting to change,” said Myles.
Myles was pleasantly surprised by some painted bike lanes on the edges of the busy streets he already rides when he isn’t using nearby Metroparks trails. Cycling advocates often prefer to trade painted options for something protected by plastic bollards or a curb.
Painted bike lanes and “sharrows,” which are supposed to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists, don’t offer cyclists any physical protection against crashes with cars.
Separated cycle tracks and lanes, protected by planters, bollards, street curbs or other barriers can either stop cars that drift into the area designated for cyclists, or at least alert a distracted driver that they are veering off the road. Lanes that are simply painted onto the street don’t do that.
Recently, resurfacing projects on Lorain Avenue, West 65th Street, and Fulton Road have added painted sharrows and lanes for riders, improving that infrastructure over previous versions of the streets which often had more lanes of traffic.
The Cleveland Metroparks’ Red Line Greenway was a major milestone in the community’s bike infrastructure, creating a bike trail from West 65th Street all the way to the Cuyahoga River running partially along GCRTA’s Red Line Tracks.
“It’s awesome to see,” said Lammon. “You just want more and more of it, you can’t get enough of it, especially now that the towpath’s done.”
There is much more being talked about in Cleveland but much of it remains in various states of planning.
The Midway – Cleveland’s Protected Bikeway Network project would create a protected bike lane right down the middle of Superior Avenue from Public Square to East 55th Street. Renderings show the lane traveling east and west, protected by planters. It’s even been gathering funding but is still crawling toward completion.
The City of Cleveland is studying how to make Lorain Avenue much safer for cyclists by installing a protected cycle track along that often-busy main road. Local organizations have also already secured funding for that project, but city officials told News 5 the final design and infrastructure might still be limited by funding.
A new Green Streets Ordinance would ensure that roads resurfaced in the future would be designed in a way that’s also friendly for cyclists but those measures haven’t made it through Cleveland City Council yet.
Regarding the Complete and Green Streets Ordinance. This policy was developed over years with input from many community members and stakeholders. It was even amended to satisfy requests from Council Leadership. It remains stuck in Council. https://t.co/NZV54H4bbw— Kerry McCormack (@KerryMcCormack1) October 27, 2021
Advocates hope the new incoming mayoral administration will push through bike infrastructure projects in a way that creates a connected network of bike lanes and trails so cyclists can commute to and from almost any neighborhood.
That kind of connectivity and protection is what Shaw says she would need before riding her bike the same way she did before her accident. She tried to ride the same way as she recovered but eventually traded in a bike lock for a set of keys and purchased the car she swore she’d never own again.
“I just didn’t feel safe [riding],” said Shaw. “I ended up purchasing and I feel a lot more comfortable getting around, unfortunately.”
Remembering traffic victims
Sunday, November 21 is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, and Bike Cleveland will be releasing a video commemorating that day at 11 a.m. that morning.
Bike Cleveland says about 40,000 people are killed in crashes on roadways in the United States when they’re hit by vehicles.
“It’s sort of been normalized in our country as the cost of doing business of transportation and it doesn’t need to be that way,” said Bike Cleveland’s Communications and Events Manager Jason Kuhn.
He says memorial days and Ghost Bikes left at the sites of cycling fatalities not only remember the people who died but remind everyone that something went tragically wrong at that location, and to be extra careful.
“Roadway safety comes down to all users because everyone is playing a part in this ecosystem of movement in a city, but it’s always important to recognize that the motor vehicle is the most dangerous vehicle out there,” said Kuhn. “It’s the heaviest, it’s the fastest and the loss of lie is the greatest when you have incidents and crashes between cars and people outside of them.”
You can find that video here once it’s posted.
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