For many people, the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” can be a real brainteaser. But Bike Euclid president Kath Sonnhalter knows exactly what she wants—especially as it pertains to creating a safer and more inviting environment for local biking enthusiasts.
“I would personally like my 70-year-old mother to be able to get on her bike and go to Bagel Buddies without fear of being struck by a car,” says Sonnhalter. “Within five years, I would like to see families spanning multiple generations be comfortable commuting from home to the grocery store, library, restaurants, and local businesses—and feel safe on the road doing it.”
If recent developments are any indication, Euclid is well on its way. In January, the city unanimously approved a master plan that will introduce protected bikeways on Lakeshore Boulevard, East 222nd Street, and portions of Euclid Avenue—along with a Euclid Creek Connector that will join bike paths in the northern and southern parts of Euclid Creek Reservation. Construction also begins this summer on a new ¾-mile lakefront trail as part of the city’s Waterfront Improvements Plan (for which Bike Euclid helped secure grant funding).
Sonnhalter says she’s most excited about the proposed trail on East 222nd street, which she likens to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. “From the day I started Bike Euclid, one of the biggest concerns I’ve heard from everyone is, ‘Can you do something to connect the north to the south end of the city?’ It’s easy to pedal down Lakeshore [Boulevard] and Euclid [Avenue], but getting from north to south is treacherous,” says Sonnhalter. “We’re looking to fan the flames of that project and grow it into a thing.”
This month also marks the beginning of Bike Euclid’s “Explore Your Ward” organized group rides, which will directly connect Euclid councilpeople with their constituents. The first installment on April 14 will feature Ward 5’s Christine McIntosh, with the next hosted by Ward 3’s Tanieka Hill in July. (Ward 4’s Kristian Jarosz and Ward 7’s Daryl Langman have also expressed interest.) Designed to be easy and informative, the rides will showcase parts of the master plan in action.
“We wanted to put a mechanism in place that would help councilpeople have conversations with constituents about what’s possible in their community,” explains Sonnhalter.
Along with local decisionmakers, Sonnhalter and Bike Euclid are also working with Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to implement grant funding for a special project coinciding with the city’s third annual “This is Euclid” Art Walk event in September. The grant will enable what Sonnhalter calls a “pop-up road diet,” designed to reduce wasted space on Lakeshore Boulevard.
“NOACA received a grant from ODOT to buy items for pop-up street installations, and we’re in position to be one of the first demonstration projects,” explains Sonnhalter. “[The pop-up] will demonstrate the narrowing of Lakeshore Boulevard with median planting beds, pedestrian crossings, and protected bike lanes. With the Art Walk going on, a lot of people will be making use of it and we can really measure the impact.”
That particular section of downtown Euclid will also soon play home to Bananas for Bikes, a new bike shop slated to open in mid-May. The brainchild of owner Duane Mierzejewski, the shop will specialize in selling and repairing gently used vintage bikes from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Later this year, Mierzejewski plans to add a museum in the basement showcasing vintage Ohio-made bikes from Huffy and Murray, as well as some from Chicago-based Schwinn.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to open an old-school neighborhood bike shop,” says Mierzejewski, who has been restoring bikes for the last four years. “We just put up the ‘Coming Soon’ sign in the window.”
As Sonnhalter sees it, the addition of vintage-focused Bananas for Bikes fits right in with the biking vibe in Euclid. “It’s important to note that we are a community where many residents own cruisers, their childhood bikes, bikes that they used for their paper route,” she says. “On any given summer evening, you will see people pedaling up and down the street. If you ask them if they consider themselves a cyclist, they will say no. Yet this is the very population who would immediately make use of improvements to our bike transportation infrastructure, to get to the library, to the grocery store, to a friend’s house, and to the park.”
Sonnhalter will be calling on these residents to grow the presence of Bike Euclid, which currently has 30 “official” members. (Though Bike Euclid has been in existence for five years, it was just formalized as a chapter of Bike Cleveland last year.) In addition to the membership, Bike Euclid has 550 followers on Facebook, which Sonnhalter feels is more representative of the local interest level.
“I really look to those numbers as the people who are actively interested in things happening in Euclid, and I’m quite optimistic,” says Sonnhalter. “There is fertile ground for change in Euclid.”
As summer inches (ever slowly) closer, Sonnhalter plans to engage that base further with Bike Euclid’s fifth annual Bike to the Beach event, slated for June 29-30. Held in partnership with Cleveland Critical Mass, the event has historically drawn between 500 and 800 cyclists. It entails a group ride from downtown Cleveland to Euclid, followed by a party and campout on Sims Beach. This year, standup paddleboarding, kayaking, and environmental programming will also be added into the mix.
For Sonnhalter, it isn’t just a flagship event for Bike Euclid, but also a chance to show the city off to non-residents. “My husband and I had always wanted to do some sort of public event that would get people outside of Euclid to Euclid,” shares Sonnhalter, who grew up in Euclid. “People see and experience the positive vibes and support of our community. That’s our ulterior agenda with Bike to the Beach—turning people on to what’s fabulous about this place.”