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Bike culture in Cleveland

As gas prices soar, students begin to utilize alternative modes of transportation to get around town

By Derek Dissell
On October 16, 2012

  • Cauldron file photo

If there is a place to ride a bike, it's downtown Cleveland.
Ed Chenock, a junior Urban Studies major who frequently rides to campus, believes it is safer to ride downtown than in the suburbs. With downtown destinations within reach via walking and cycling, it is much more convenient than hunting for a parking spot.
Chenock's assessment has validity, as there has been no shortage of problems with parking on campus this semester. From cost, to limited availability, to fewer locations, parking has been perhaps the chief problem for Cleveland State University this school year.
While there are always complaints or stories from students who have had issues with parking throughout the semester, there are a significant number of people, like Chenock, who are utilizing alternative transportation options. In addition to the large number of students that find their way to campus via buses, rapids and the HealthLine, cycling to campus is an option that many also find attractive.
Paul Putnam, a doctoral student in Education, sees a number of reasons why cycling to campus is worthwhile. Commuting from Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, and with little free time in his busy academic schedule, the ride allows Putnam to get in a daily workout. He feels part of a growing community of people committed to cycling.
Putnam is spot on in his analysis. Research published in 2011 by John Pucher, Ralph Buehler and Mark Seinem shows that in the last 35 years, annual bicycle trips more than tripled, and the percentage of trips by bike overall rose from .6 percent to 1 percent. In the last 10 years, the number of cyclists who have decided to commute to work has more than doubled. Between 1990 and 2009, cycling trips rose 64 percent.
At the same time, the researchers demonstrate, cycling has become much safer and accidents have precipitously decreased. Chenock believes that motorists tend to be safer and less reckless downtown and around campus.
Some of these changes in ridership can be attributed to the recession. Even more can be attributed to the persistent rise in gasoline prices, which, according to the American Automobile Association, have risen by 42 cents in the last year.
Like Putnam also suggested, a significant community of cyclists has developed in Cleveland. Students may notice the large Critical Mass rides, the annual "Bike to Work" day, or the riders that zip along Euclid Avenue in the bike or HealthLine lanes. The support and activities available for cyclists to engage in are endless.
One innovative organization that brings awareness to cycling is the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op (OCBC). Located about a half mile from the West Side Market, the OCBC is a non-profit, volunteer bicycle education center. In its "Earn a Bike" program, the center accepts donations of used bikes. According to OCBC's website, kids have the opportunity to "Earn A Bike" by completing a program that focucus on bike repair and safe cycling practices.
Classes are also offered at OCBC, which gives members a chance to broaden their knowledge on cycling. The education center sponsors community rides and gatherings, as well as a winter cycling symposium. The symposium, which will be held on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., briefs cyclists on all the ins and outs of safely riding throughout the long winter.
Bike Cleveland is another organization recognizing cyclists. Founded in September 2011, it serves as both an advocate for cyclists in Cleveland and a community for cyclists city-wide. Since its inception, Bike Cleveland has advocated for changes to improve and promote bike culture in the surrounding area.
One of these changes was the addition of bike lanes between West 25th and West 75th streets on Detroit Avenue. The city of Cleveland decided to pursue the project as part of the Complete and Green Streets ordinance, which states that each time a roadway project is developed, bikes must play a critical role and become incorporated into the plan.
Pressure on Cleveland City Council in June also led to significant improvements for cyclists. The council passed legislation that requires drivers to give cyclists at least three feet of space, prohibits the harassment of cyclists and makes Cleveland part of the National Bike Registry.
After the legistlation was passed, Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman was quoted as saying, "We're seeing more and more people starting to bicycle in the city of Cleveland and, therefore, there are more and more interactions with motorists. We just want motorists to know it's not OK to push a bicyclist or to tap them or throw stuff at them."
These ordinances are certainly having strong effects on Cleveland's image nationally, as Home and Garden Television (HGTV) recently named Cleveland the 10th best city for cycling in the country. The completion of the Towpath Trail, which connects Cleveland all the way to Akron, will likely do even more to boost this image and further vitalize Cleveland's bike infrastructure.
Bike Cleveland sends out a newsletter, has ample opportunities for volunteering and also offers membership. Recent events include a "Bike the Vote" ride to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and a "Ride to Imagine" event and party in the Metroparks, with proceeds going to support for Alzheimer's disease.
In the spirit of Halloween, Bike Cleveland will host "Dead Ride," a costumed bike ride at Lincoln Park in Tremont on Oct. 20 at 3 p.m.
As Putnam also noted, cycling is fun, and that is exactly where Cleveland Critical Mass comes in. On the last Friday of every month, hundreds gather in Public Square for rides to various destinations around Cleveland. In July, for example, people rode in a mass bicycle ride to the newly-built Velodrome.
Critical Mass offers an atmosphere that engenders community building and networking. Many riders are young professionals, making a Critical Mass ride a great opportunity to make connections and meet fascinating people. The simple action of a Critical Mass ride is a march of the cycling community as one.
Putnam explained that cycling simply saves money and time. There is no need to buy a CSU parking pass, and the rider has his or her choice of where to put their bike with the many racks located around campus. With students' budgets always tight, the elimination of gas costs brings great benefit.
Winter is soon approaching, and this is almost certain to mean a decrease in riders to campus. Conditions, especially in Cleveland, are difficult to manage and often dangerous.
At the same time, the planet is warming, providing more opportunities to ride. The question that remains is if CSU will see a more vibrant cycling community in the future, and if the university will work to help cultivate and grow that community.

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