Sunday, May 20, 2012

Study aims to extend, link bike networks

Globe North

Study aims to extend, link bike networks

By Calvin Hennick

 |  Globe Correspondent  

  May 20, 2012

The cities and towns just north of Boston currently lack bike facilities, but a regional planning agency is kicking off a study aimed at changing that.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, armed with $115,000 in state and federal grant money, is looking at ways for communities to extend the region’s bike and pedestrian networks.

The agency is just finishing up its recommendations for Dedham and Westwood, and is now turning its attention to Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Revere, and Saugus. The area communities represent the largest of four “clusters’’ targeted by the study.

“What we're trying to do is to create a plan for these towns that includes on-street bike connections and sidewalks to connect people from their houses to their offices or shopping malls or parks,’’ said Sarah Kurpiel, transportation engineer and planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Kurpiel said her agency is still gathering information from the northern cities and towns, but she isn't aware of any existing on-street accommodations, such as bike lanes or “sharrows’’ — street markings that indicate motorists should share the roadway with cyclists.

In addition to looking for ways to give cyclists and pedestrians better access to major destinations in their communities, Kurpiel said, the agency will study how to create on-street connections to the 9-mile Northern Strand Community Trail that Bike to the Sea Inc. is working to develop.

“Where there are off-street paths, we want to make sure people can not only drive to that off-street trail, but bike and walk there as well,’’ Kurpiel said.

Kurpiel said the agency will try to make as many low-cost recommendations as possible, since the communities would ultimately have to pay for any changes. For example, Kurpiel said, the agency might recommend adding sharrows or bike lanes to roads that are scheduled to be resurfaced, minimizing the expense for extra markings.

Finding cost-effective ways to expand pedestrian access will be more challenging, Kurpiel said, because creating new sidewalks or even widening existing ones can be prohibitively expensive.

Kurpiel said the agency will likely make its recommendations to the cities and towns north of Boston before the end of the year.

“It's exciting,’’ Steve Winslow, who cofounded the nonprofit Bike to the Sea with his wife, said of the study. “The communities are compact. They have the basic layout to be great bicycle communities. It just has to be a focus, and we're excited to see that happen.’’

Winslow said creating an on-street bike network is the logical next step now that the Northern Strand trail is coming on line. The first section of the trail will open in Everett on June 3.

Winslow said commuter rail stations in Malden have bike racks, but there aren't any bike lanes on the streets leading to them. “That's what we're looking at,’’ Winslow said. “Now that there's some trail networks, can there be some bike lanes and bike routes that lead to those major destinations?’’

Lynn is the only community along the proposed Northern Strand trail that has not signed on to the project, and Michael Murray, community facilities specialist for the city, said he isn't aware of any existing or proposed on-street bike facilities. Still, he said, he doesn't think Lynn is closed to the possibility of adding bike lanes or sharrows.

“I think the city would be open to that if it was within reason and if we had the recommendations,’’ Murray said.

Cate Blackford, grant programs manager for Revere's community development office, said officials there are excited about the bike and pedestrian study because it fits in with work the city is already doing.

Last fall, Revere launched Revere on the Move, a citywide campaign focusing on food and fitness. The city also opened the Revere Urban Trail, a 1.8-mile sidewalk loop, and officials hope to connect it with other sidewalk trails in the city to create a network of safe walking routes.

Blackford said she's looking forward to hearing the planning agency's ideas on how to accommodate bikers.

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