EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 31, 2013

Regional agency, activists strive to promote 'bikeable' communities

By Paul Tennant
ptennant@eagletribune.com

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — The state Department of Transportation aims to triple walking, bicycling and riding public transit in Massachusetts by 2030, according to Price Armstrong, program director for the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition.

Armstrong was the main speaker at the Bikeable Communities Training Workshop, held yesterday at Town Hall. The session was organized by the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, which is working on a regional plan to inspire more walking and pedaling, according to Betsy Goodrich, an alternate transportation specialist with the agency.

MassDOT’s goal is certainly a tall order of business. When it comes to bicycling, Massachusetts is not Denmark, where many people ride their bikes to and from work. One does not find, for example, large numbers of cyclists traveling along Route 125, which generally provides little or no room for bikers.

Armstrong offered some ideas on how more people can be encouraged to pedal more – even riding their bikes to work. If employers were to provide showers for workers who commute by bicycle, more people might pedal, he said.

“Maybe they could make a deal with a gym,” he said, if the employers don’t want to spend money to install showers.

He also noted that the nonprofit organization for which he works is pushing for a law that would prohibit cars from being parked in bicycle lanes, which a number of Massachusetts communities, including Boston, have established.

“It takes on average eight years to get a law passed,” he said.

Armstrong reviewed some of the ways in which roads can be made safer for bikes:

Sharrows – An image, usually of a bicycle with a rider, painted on the road to advise motorists to share the street with cyclists;

Bike lanes – Lanes painted on the street where only bikers are permitted.

Cycle tracks – Paths that are physically separated from the street or highway and limited to bikes.

Rail/multiuse trails – Trails built on abandoned railbeds that are restricted to bikers, hikers and runners.

North Andover Town Planner Judy Tymon noted that efforts to make a community more “bikeable” are often very difficult. Three years ago, Tymon and others developed a plan to place a roundabout at Waverly Road and Main Street and build a cycle track along Main and Water streets.

The idea was to encourage more people to bike or walk between the downtown and the refurbished mills on High Street, where many businesses have located. The downtown sidewalks had just been replaced, so the plan never took off, Tymon noted.

Tymon, who heads the local Pedestrian and Bicycle Committee, said she and other town officials are now trying to encourage more children to walk to school by building sidewalks.

Deborah Carey of Amesbury, a board member of the Coastal Trails Coalition, suggested that those who want to promote more biking and walking should reach out to the chambers of commerce and other groups of business owners. Bike paths and trails encourage economic development, she said.

People who rely more on their bicycles than their cars tend to shop locally, Armstrong said.