Plan Highlights Potential Improvements To Biking In Chatham

By: Tim Wood

The addition of more share the road signage, or “sharrows,” like this one on the newly rebuilt Mitchell River Bridge, was one recommendation made at last week's public meeting on a draft bike plan for Chatham. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Increasing “share the road” signs, improving access from the bike trail to Route 28, and upgrading shoulders along Main Street were among the top recommendations made at last week's “listening session” on the draft Chatham Bike Plan.

Assembled by the town's bikeways advisory committee and transportation planners at the Cape Cod Commission, the plan analyzes the town's bicycle paths and routes and identifies potential safety enhancements and infrastructure upgrades. Twenty-three “areas of opportunity” are highlighted in the document, said bikeways committee chairman John O'Toole.

“This is essentially an opportunity for the bikeways committee and Cape Cod Commission to look at the biking infrastructure in Chatham, identify areas that are weak and might lend themselves to improvement, and identify other opportunities where we might improve biking opportunities in Chatham,” he said during last Thursday's session at the town hall annex.

The goal is to make “a great place to bike even better,” said Commission Transportation Planner David Nolan. The commission is working on a regional Cape Cod bike plan with the goal of connecting all of the Cape's town centers, an 88-mile route from Falmouth to Provincetown.

“This Chatham Bike Plan is part of that,” he said.

The town's chief bicycle route is the Old Colony Rail Trail, which runs from the Harwich town line to Crowell Road, about four miles. Most of the trail is a multi-use path along the former railroad right of way, although there are several “share the road” sections along town streets. A chief aim of the plan is to develop ways to connect the rail trail to each of the town's villages, Nantucket Sound beaches, and attractions such as the Chatham Lighthouse, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge and the fish pier, Nolan said.

Much of this can be done at “fairly modest” cost, O'Toole said, through signage, maps and improved shoulders along the sides of roads.

Many of the scenic bike routes previously established in town have fallen by the wayside as a result of loss of signs. Re-establishing those routes is a key part of the plan, Nolan said.

Planners from the commission and bikeways committee members spent a day biking around town surveying bicycling conditions, observing areas with weaknesses and noting possible improvements, O'Toole said. Nolan said the commission also analyzed bicycle crash data, finding records of 10 accidents involving bikes, six of them on Route 28.

One problematic location was the end of the rail trail at Crowell Road, where the bike route crosses to Tip Cart Road. During their tour, Nolan said, a woman told them that she'd crashed while crossing because she didn't see the curb. They also observed someone experience the same problem, he said, adding that adjustments need to be made at the crossing.

“This area kind of struck a chord with us,” he said.

While most bike crossings in Chatham are adequate, some ideas for improving safety include flashing lights with automatic sensors and bollards that force bicyclists to slow down, Nolan said.

The dozen or so people who attended the session circulated and examined various maps and graphics, offering their opinions on bikeways improvements. Committee member Steve Wardle said one suggestion was to add distance markers on the bike trail, so locations could be easily identified in case of an emergency. There were many comments about adding share the road icons, also known as “sharrows,” on the pavement to ensure that motorist were aware that they were sharing the road with bicyclists.

“That's what works in Europe,” Wardle said. “If people get used to having bicycles on the road, expecting bicycles on the road, there will be a lot less trouble.”

Other comments included the need to link the rail trail segment on George Ryder Road with Route 28, making connections to neighborhoods and beaches south of the highway. Commission Senior Transportation Engineer Lev Malakhoff also noted that several people mentioned that the shoulders along Route 28 are “awful.”

O'Toole said several people also suggested marked loops, including sharrows, taking in the fish pier, Shore Road, the lighthouse and Morris Island, as well as investigating a safe way to open up the Fox Hill area to bicyclists.

Other suggestions include fix-it stations, porta-potties and water fountains along the rail trail.

The next step in the bike plan will be to incorporate the input received at the meeting, develop cost estimates for different options and prioritize each, O'Toole said. He anticipates improvements being broken into three classes: the easiest and least expensive, which won't require much time or funding and can possibly be done by the department of public works; longer-term, more expensive projects that will require town funding or grants; and large projects that will take several years to complete and may require state funding. An example of the latter could include extending the rail trail from its current terminus toward downtown, said O'Toole.

“That's not easily implemented but would be pretty interesting if we could pull it off,” he said.

A final draft of the report is expected to be completed in November; after it is reviewed by the committee, it will be available for public comment, O'Toole said.

The draft plan and a bike survey is available on the bikeways advisory committee's page on the town's website, www.chatham-ma.gov.