Dozens of people showed their support for the idea of making a one-mile bike path on Clifton Avenue permanent at a recent city meeting. The pilot project was launched in March and discussions to make the track permanent are underway. But even if approved, the project could take up to five years. Why this long wait?
It is twofold: political will and the ability to finance cycle paths; and the very competitive grant application process for funding.
“I would say that in recent years, on-road cycling infrastructure has not been a high priority for the City of Cincinnati,” said Wade Johnston, director of Tri-State Trails.
He said there were many competing needs in the city’s capital and operating budgets, and officials were forced to stretch their dollars as much as possible.
Johnston says political will is also a factor when it comes to funding, as creating new bike lanes almost always involves trade-offs, like reducing lanes of traffic or eliminating on-street parking.
This does not mean that municipal authorities will not support cycle paths. Johnston says officials supported construction of the approximately six-mile Wasson Way Trail and supported other projects as part of the ambitious 34-mile CROWN Loop, an urban trail project.
But that doesn’t necessarily translate into dollars spent on bike lane projects. For example, funding for projects like the Clifton Avenue bike path comes almost exclusively from state and federal grants, which are scheduled three to five years in advance.
“Each community is only allowed to apply for two projects per year for large grants to the OKI (Regional Council of Governments) and you must choose your priority project, based on need, in order to be considered for funding. “, Johnston mentioned.
Bridges on bikes
Competition is fierce as local infrastructure, including bridges, deteriorates faster than repairs can be made.
“The Western Hills Viaduct is not a federal highway, and Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati had to find money for it locally. And it’s one of the many bridges around town.” , did he declare. “When you put it into perspective for cycling infrastructure, it’s often a heavy burden for us to even be on the local government radar to compete with a collapsing bridge, you know? “
Other hurdles include scoring grant applications that promote road projects and the ability of municipalities to match at least 25% of grant funding, he said.
But Johnston and other bike lane proponents point out that bike lanes are a safety concern.
Johnston was monitoring the condition of a pedestrian on Tuesday after a vehicle struck him. They were in critical condition and needed emergency surgery.
Last year 7,569 people were killed or injured in traffic collisions in the Greater Cincinnati area and northern Kentucky. This excludes data on traffic accidents. At least 18 pedestrians have died in crashes in Cincinnati.
“It’s also a big equity issue for people who don’t have access to a car,” he said. “Really, it’s about leveling the playing field so that walking, cycling or taking the bus is as accessible as driving.”
Johnston says the Clifton Avenue bike path was chosen as a project because it is being built by the University of Cincinnati and is the second largest employment hub. But low-income neighborhoods don’t get the same kind of consideration.
“Think about low-income neighborhoods that could really benefit from a safe place to cycle, as a large portion of that population doesn’t have access to a car,” he said. “It’s even more difficult, in many cases, to have a cycling infrastructure in these communities. It is more difficult to get virtually no investment in these communities, let alone a bike path.”