Cincinnati's bike plan seems to have hit the brakes. Why?

Posted at 9:00 AM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-25 07:23:27-04

CINCINNATI -- Frank Henson has spent most of his retirement lobbying for improved bike infrastructure in the Greater Cincinnati area.

"I try to live my life riding my bike as much as I can," Henson said.

Part of Henson's involvement in Cincinnati's bicycling culture was offering input for Cincinnati's 15-year Bicycle Transportation Plan, which city council adopted in 2010.

The plan calls for the installation of nearly 350 miles of on-street bike infrastructure over the 15-year term -- things ranging from more bike lanes to additional signage to "sharrows" and traffic calming measures, like narrower traffic lanes on some streets.

But eight years into the plan's adoption, the city has only installed or implemented roughly 20 miles worth of new bike infrastructure, according to city data.

"We're halfway through the process now, and we have significantly not implemented a lot of the plans," Henson told WCPO.

The on-street bike project that's gotten the most attention: the Central Parkway Protected Bike Lane. It was originally designed to connect Downtown's stretch of Central Parkway to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton.

The Central Parkway Protected Bike Lane (designated in solid purple) was originally designed to stretch up to Ludlow/Hamilton avenues, but today still stops at Marshall. (Provided)

But five years after its approval, it sits incomplete, ending at Marshall Avenue, spanning roughly half its intended distance. Henson sees the unfinished protected bike lane as symbolic of the city's slow implementation of its bike plan.

"We need to finish the Central Parkway bikeway now," Henson said. "It's halfway done, and it won't take that much money or effort to finish it off to Clifton and Ludlow Avenue.

"If we don't finish it now when it's the cheapest to do, and we come back later, it's going to cost significantly more money," Henson said.

Henson isn't alone.

In a March 5, 2018 letter to city council, the Clifton Town Meeting community council said, "The time is now for the city to fully fund and complete the project."

The city's bike plan called for roughly 90 miles of bike infrastructure to be installed or upgraded by 2015, but that promise was not fulfilled.  

Henson attributed the bikeway and other projects' delays initially to slow funding -- $500,000 here, $750,000 there. That doesn't gather much traction with a long-term plan like this, he said.

He also attributed a stall in on-street bike infrastructure to "administrative will," referring to certain political figures' opposition to such projects.

Mayor John Cranley has been an outspoken supporter of off-road bike infrastructure projects like the Wasson Way trail and the Oasis River Trail, but was a staunch opponent of the Central Parkway Protected Bike Lane. In 2016, Cranley vetoed an ordinance that would have provided funding to extend the bikeway.

The mayor's office did not respond to WCPO's request for comment on this story.

The city's Department of Transportation and Engineering Interim Director Don Gindling said, via a statement from City Manager Harry Black's office, that Cincinnati's early-20th century urban street layout poses some challenges.

"There are some unique challenges that come along with developing on-street infrastructure in an older city like Cincinnati, where most of the arterial streets are fairly narrow," Gindling conveyed to WCPO in an email forwarded from Communications Director Rocky Merz's office. "In some cases adding bike lanes means removing or consolidating on-street parking or eliminating a lane of traffic."

Community approval is crucial to getting these types of projects approved, Gindling said.

"Before committing to an action like that we want to make sure the community is behind it... We’ve always tried our best to be mindful of those types of concerns," Gindling said. 

A recent example of neighborhood pushback came last week in Madisonville, when residents moved against installing a new bike lane along Whetsel Avenue. That project would have meant another half-mile of on-street bike infrastructure for the city.

The city administration also declined comment on whether or not it is on schedule with its Bicycle Transportation Plan, after multiple requests for comment. 

Gindling did say, though, that his department looks forward to future on-street bike improvements.

"We’re proud of the progress made so far on Phase 1 (2010-2015) of the plan, and we’re excited about continuing that movement in a way that makes sense for all of Cincinnati," he said. 

WCPO found it worth noting that zero miles of on-street bike infrastructure improvements were documented by the city between 2015 and 2016. Roughly one-third mile of bike infrastructure improvements were implemented in 2017.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.