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Avon Lake officials want to improve the safety of bike paths on Lake Road, such as this stretch near Miller Road Park. The Lake Road bike lane was the site of two serious bike-car collisions, including one fatality in June 2019.

AVON LAKE

An engineering firm will examine the safety and connectivity of Avon Lake bike lanes if local legislators move forward as expected with approving two engineering studies. The first study will examine bicycle safety issues on Lake Road.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, there were 97 accidents on Avon Lake’s stretch of Lake Road from 2017 to 2019, said Pat Etchie, a senior planner for the Mannik & Smith Group. The Shaker Heights engineering and consulting firm was chosen by legislators to potentially conduct the two studies of city bike lanes. Four of the 97 accidents involved bicyclists, working out to 4% of the accidents. The state average is 0.6%, making the bicycle vs. car accident percentage on Lake Road between 6 and 8 times higher than the Ohio average, Etchie added.

Two — or 2.1% — of accidents involved pedestrians on Lake Road in the same three-year period, double the state average of 0.9%, Etchie said.

The proposed studies were the main topic of conversation during council’s safety committee meeting June 22. The rate of bike-related accidents on Lake Road was reported as two to four times higher than the Ohio average during that meeting. Etchie supplied the higher numbers the following day.

The safety study could begin this summer and be completed in three to four months, said Safety Committee Chair Councilman David Kos. The second study will look at bike trails in the rest of the city, concentrating on connectivity and is tentatively scheduled for next year.

The cost of the Lake Road study is estimated at $23,500. City officials and the consulting firm have yet to finalize the scope of the citywide study, meaning the cost is subject to change. The price was estimated at $21,000 on June 22.

Legislators set aside funds for the safety study in this year’s budget, Kos said. They plan to place money for the second study in the 2021 budget.

The impetus for the studies, particularly the safety study, is primarily two serious bicycle-car collisions, one fatal, that occurred last year on bike lanes on Lake Road, said Mayor Greg Zilka.

On June 6, 2019, a car driven by Sheffield Lake resident Sharon Carr, then 66, struck Avon Lake Planning Commission Chairman Randy Knilanis, 66. He died the next day at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

“We are full of sadness here in the city,” Zilka said last year following Knilanis’ death. “We don’t always get someone of such high quality … (Knilanis’) longevity and his expertise and his kindness is an example of the kind of people who reside in our community and we are forever grateful.”

In November, Carr pleaded guilty in Lorain County Common Pleas Court to aggravated vehicular homicide, failure to stop and OVI. The court sentenced her to 3½ years in prison.

Another case involving a cyclist struck on Lake Road still is in the county court system. Allison Spoerl, of Avon Lake, 21 at the time of the accident, is charged with assault, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless operation and possession of criminal tools after an incident May 15, 2019. Officials allege Spoerl struck Patty Banks, then 51, of Bay Village, with her car and injured the cyclist. Banks survived the incident.

Spoerl’s case is set for a pretrial hearing on July 27, according to the court’s website.

The safety study should not be interpreted as blaming the cyclists involved in last year’s accidents, Kos said. He added the city is not liable for either accident.

Mannik & Smith presented legislators with details on both potential studies during the committee meeting. The full council should vote on the studies at its meeting on Monday.

Some Lake Road bike lanes have been around for about 20 years. Much has changed since that time, Kos said. For example, the standard width of bike lanes increased from 3 feet to 5 feet. Kos mentioned narrowing Lake Road and thereby slowing traffic as one potential safety step. Painting bike lanes green to make them more visible also is under discussion.

Correctable factors contributing to accidents include the proximity of multi-use lanes (or bike lanes) to car lanes, the condition of multi-use lane pavement and the presence in those lanes of hazards such as storm sewer inlets, according to Mannik & Smith.

Legislators noted the state intends to repave Lake Road in 2023. The timeline adds impetus to having the studies completed and implementing changes before any repaving.

“This is the time to make some safety improvements and we are moving forward with that,” Kos said. “We are putting everything on the table.”

If council approves the studies, the Shaker Heights firm will be responsible for locating funding for any recommendations resulting from their findings. Council will need to authorize moving forward with recommendations.

Consultants identify numerous possible funding sources ranging from ODOT to the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency. ODOT could supply up to 90% of the funding needed, providing anywhere from $5 million to $10 million. ODOT has made addressing bike and pedestrian safety issues a priority, Etchie said.

“Mannik & Smith has a tremendous record of success in obtaining funding for their projects,” Kos said.

City officials do not know the exact number of miles of bike lanes in the city. The study scheduled for next year will disclose that number, Etchie said.

Contact this reporter at tcorrigan@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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