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Cleveland’s creative plan to transform streetcar tracks into bike paths


The Nickel Tour: The Midway, a proposed network of protected bike lanes, would create a safe space in the middle of traffic for cyclists, pedestrians and runners to move throughout Cleveland.

Cleveland has a plan to reclaim abandoned, paved-over streetcar lines as protected bike lanes in a proposal known as the “the Midway.” Bike advocates and city planners think this new network of protected lanes throughout the city could stretch out to the Cleveland Metroparks and the Emerald Necklace, making Cleveland one of the national leaders in non-car connections.

Over the course of two years, a group comprised of Bike Cleveland, St. Clair Superior Development Corporation and Bialosky + Partners Architect developed the concept for the Midway, according to The Plain Dealer.

Many city streets in Cleveland are wider than traffic demands because they used to accommodate streetcars. When streetcars were abandoned in favor of automobiles, the city determined the “cheapest and easiest solution was to pave over the lines and add more car lanes when streetcar lines were removed,” according to Bialosky + Partners Architects’ presentation for the Bike Cleveland design charette.

The Midway would take these streets, many of which are 72-feet wide, and create a new road layout comprised of a center 16-foot wide bike lane, protected by 8-foot wide planted boulevards from the 12-foot-wide vehicular lanes and 8-foot parking lanes on both sides of the road.

The planted buffer boulevards could be used to support the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District stormwater management efforts and could provide seating and shade for pedestrians and runners who would also have access to the center bike lanes.

The hope is the new bike lane system would put Cleveland at the forefront of the country when it comes to bike lanes while providing benefits for residents no matter what mode of transportation they choose.


Bike lanes benefit both cyclists and drivers because the networks of protected bike lanes make biking a safer alternative mode of transportation for more people, reducing the number of cars in the street system and road congestion in the process.

There are also economic benefits to protected bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes boost economic growth in four key ways, according to a report from PeopleForBikes and the Alliance for Biking & Walking:

  1. Fueling redevelopment to boost real estate value;
  2. Helping companies score talented workers;
  3. Making workers healthier and more productive;
  4. Increasing retail visibility and sales volume.

“As a planning agency, particularly one interested in insuring that all residents have transportation choices, I think it’s a great idea,” Grace Gallucci, head of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, told the Plain Dealer.

The proposal also syncs with the city’s current commitment to build 70 miles of bike lanes, trails and dedicated bike markings by 2017.

The project will not come cheaply, though few large-scale transit investments do. The Midway project would run $1.2 million to $1.7 million per mile with planted boulevards, according to the Plain Dealer. But to put that in perspective light rail costs between $15 million and $100 million per mile.

Today the Midway is just a vision of possibilities, but the group will apply this fall for a $250,000 Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative grant from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to develop a more concrete plan including routes. After community input and more planning processes the project would likely compete for a TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“We would like to lead the country, not follow,” said Jacob VanSickle, Bike Cleveland executive director.

Image courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons

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11 Responses to Cleveland’s creative plan to transform streetcar tracks into bike paths

  1. Emilie Bahr September 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    I'm so happy that they're thinking about bicyclists and pedestrians, but a little concerned that this plan seemingly makes no mention of transit. Is there anyone pushing for a restoration of streetcar service?

  2. Emilie Bahr September 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Or using that space for bus rapid transit?

  3. Jorge Ullfig September 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    I don't fully agree, streetcar lines have evolved in other parts of the world since they were abandoned, and ''healthy cycling cities'' have modern streetcar lines.

  4. Gary Richardson September 2, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

    The photo of the woman riding in Vancouver, BC, should be so captioned. Placement at the head of the Cleveland story, especially with the "Nickel Tour" caption, implies that the photo illustrates the Cleveland "Midway" system and that things are much further along than they actually are.

    I got my bike legs as a kid in the 1950s delivering the Cleveland Press in the suburbrs. I rode 30 miles to and from my summer job with (and often beating) Cleveland's rush-hour traffic during my last years of high school. I never heard the term "bike lane" until many yeaars later. This ambitious plan could really change Cleveland's ways of moving people. Thanks for the update.

  5. Tom von Alten September 3, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    Nice. 1960s for me, The Milwaukee Sentinel.

  6. David Levinson September 5, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    I think it would be nice to revive the streetcar instead of abandoning that.

  7. Naomi Worthington September 5, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Yessssssssss!!!!!!!!!! Cleveland!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. James Erb September 5, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    If they want this to work in Cleveland, they should consider heated pavement, to keep the lanes clear in winter. I also agree with other posts that restoring streetcar service to some of these lines would be an important part of a composite plan.

  9. Tom Armstrong September 5, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    From a bicycle-driving perspective, this sounds utterly dreadful, in that the images I've seen suggest tree-line paths, where cyclists may roam, until the moment of impact as motorists make left turns across the path, not seeing the cyclists for the trees as it were. The cyclists' vantage of impending traffic hazards at those intersections would also likely be limited until the moment of impact. As a cyclist, I'm safer using regular travel lanes, and would do so should I ever set wheel on such a street. Any law that says I must use such a ghetto would by definition be requiring me to put myself in greater danger than ignoring said law. The anticipated expense of defending defensive driving is an active deterrent for me to even consider visiting.

    Who will maintain this path in inclement weather? Is there a plan for funding for such work? Columbus had a separate bike lane for a while, but removed it because it was always full of garbage and organic debris (tree parts, for example) that funding for cleaning it ran out, and it became an eyesore.

  10. Gary Richardson September 6, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    Cleveland has a decent bus system linked to a backbone rapid-transit rail system:

  11. Gary Richardson September 8, 2014 at 1:03 am #

    There also are several trackless "trolley" lines in the downtown area.

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