Everyone at City Hall agrees bike infrastructure is important, but what's actually worth investing in?

Posted at 8:05 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 01:47:44-04

CINCINNATI — Bike lanes or bike trails? And what's the difference, anyway?

These were central questions for City Council Tuesday, when Department of Transportation and Engineering officials presented an update on the city's Bicycle Transportation Plan and how the department has implemented the 15-year bicycle infrastructure program since City Council adopted it in 2010.

Interim DOTE Director John Brazina told Council that his department has installed 14 miles of on-street bike lanes and built seven miles of off-street bike trail since the plan was adopted nearly a decade ago. As WCPO reported last year, though, the plan called for closer to 350 miles of on-street bike infrastructure over the course of the program. The most recent stretch of bike lane DOTE installed was along Spring Grove Avenue in 2017.

Dollar-for-dollar, the city has spent much more on off-street bike infrastructure than for things like sharrows — the road symbols that designate a preferred cycling spot — and bike lanes: According to Brazina's presentation, bike trails cost between $1-3 million per mile. According to city data, bike lane installation costs closer to $2,000 per mile.

Adding it all up, the city's investment in bike lanes equates to roughly $28,000 spent on 14 miles versus $7 to 21 million for seven miles of bike trail expenses.

City Councilman Chris Seelbach raised the question early during Tuesday's meeting: "The reality is that bike lanes are significantly cheaper than bike trails. When we have to pick either-or, I don't understand why we pick the trails."

Seelbach was referring specifically to a recent city ordinance directing the administration to apply for a Transportation Alternatives grant that would fund for an off-road extension of the Central Parkway Protected Bike Lanes — originally designed as an entirely on-street piece of bike infrastructure.

"For years we worked on the Central Parkway bike lane with lanes on the streets," Seelbach said. "All of a sudden... now we're ditching the plans we spent years on to substitute bike trails. If we just stuck with the plan it would be less than $1 million (a third of that cost)."

Katie Vogel heads up Queen City Bike. She explained her organization's stance that bike lanes and bike trails are equally important.

"Only building trails and expecting them to encourage cycling would be like only building interstates and expecting people to be able to navigate to their houses without side streets," she told the council.

The city is also considering two street rehabilitation projects to include lane re-striping to include bike lanes: on Eighth Street from McClean to Linn and on Linn Street from Sixth to Court. Those projects are still being evaluated.