Businesses on Madison Avenue form alliance, bike lanes proposed for its revival
By Nicole Hennessy
Old plazas along Detroit Avenue are new again. What was once rundown strips of retail shops are smooth sidewalks, rust-free lampposts, bike racks, signage, patios and new neon signs that glow throughout the night, a constant reminder that they’re open for business.
While there is some contention that the city is moving toward more of a corporate feel, detaching from its past of locally owned shops and bars, it is important to keep in mind that the new franchises are owned by locals.
Still, there is a difference between a successful independent record store compared to another used CD chain, or a well-worn cafe compared with a ready-made version of thousands of others. But businesses with well-known names attract shoppers to areas they may not have sought out before, in the end leading them to notice or shop at local businesses.
In addition, when business owners team up, there is power in numbers.
The successful Downtown Lakewood Business Alliance, formed to unify businesses of both the local and franchise nature, works to help individual owners get the most out of potential customers both in and outside of the city. And while Detroit Road looks and feels different and newer in a specific, manufactured way, Madison Avenue, its counterpart, remains outdated and somewhat desolate-looking.
That’s why, with plans to overhaul Madison on hold, some of the businesses located on its equivalent of downtown Detroit Road have formed their own alliance, Uptown Lakewood, hoping to in the meantime increase shoppers.
Businesses are joining on a weekly basis, said Dennis Bielinski of Dirty Town Guitar & Amps, adding, “We want to bring attention here.”
Hoping to attract some of that attention from the city and make sure Madison’s renovation isn’t forgotten about, the group has plans to follow up the traditional Light Up Lakewood with its own holiday-themed event, Candy Cane Lane, which will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 13. Complete with music, wine tastings and a Santa drop-by, the Uptown businesses will offer discounts and specials to shoppers.
So far, all of the businesses are independent, but Bielinski, one of the first to join Uptown, said he would not be opposed to throwing some franchises in the mix.
Other groups have also been eyeing Madison, not in terms of retail, but transportation. One of those is Bike Cleveland, an organization that promotes cycling and advocates for the rights of bicyclists. Having successfully convinced the Cleveland side of Detroit Road to add bike lanes from West 25th Street to West 75th, the group is now calling for Lakewood to include bike lanes in its plan to resurface Madison.
Currently, signage such as sharrows, short for shared lane pavement markings, reminding drivers that cyclists also use the curb lanes, are included in the plan. And while a petition on the site explains “studies show that sharrows do serve a purpose for creating awareness and have some minor impacts on safe riding practices,” it argues that “they don’t attract new riders and are used primarily by established cyclists.”
The petition goes on to compare major roadways without bike lanes to streets lacking infrastructure. And, good news for Uptown, “the local cycling traffic is also a boon to local businesses,” it continues.
Jacob VanSickle, Bike Cleveland’s executive director, explained that while he’d like to see designated bike lanes on Detroit and Madison, he figured they are more likely to be included in Madison’s streetscape, seeing as how plans already exist to repave the road.
A Cleveland resident, VanSickle uses Madison to connect him to places like the Rocky River Reservation or various bike shops in the Westshore area.
He said it’s “definitely doable,” in terms of space on the street. It’s just a matter of convincing the city.
And it’s not just on Lakewood that VanSickle is focused.
“Any city that’s interested in doing any type of bike facility, I’d love to talk with them,” he said. “Bike Cleveland, we have a very specific name, but our mission is really broad-based. We want to be the region’s bicycle advocacy group.”
An experienced cyclist, VanSickle hasn’t had any problems riding down Madison; but he says that while sharrows are a step in the right direction, the lack of designated bike lanes prevents less-experienced riders, like his wife, from wanting to commute by bike. His comment corroborates the point made in the petition.
Another, more specific, group of cyclists that would benefit are kids. Riding to school or around the city in general would become much safer for them. VanSickle said that riding on the sidewalk can actually increase the dangers of cycling, using examples like cars pulling out of driveways or turning down side streets, less mindful to watch out for kids or other cyclists without bike lanes to remind them to drive a little more carefully.
The focus on accommodating various forms of transportation and designating separate retail districts in Lakewood liken the suburb to larger cities, which function as clusters of unique neighborhoods, each serving populations of residents and visitors with different interests and needs. For example, downtown Detroit Road in Lakewood is becoming a retail and dining destination, while on its east end, an area that needs its own reinvestment, exists an entertainment district containing music venues.
In terms of the new shopping district, Uptown is not Downtown with its public institutions, such as the main library. It is its own portion of a city with a growing economy and a lot room for continued growth.
“Hopefully all of Madison will be a part of it eventually,” Bielinski said.