Boards Asked To Dig Into Tunnel Vision For Bike Trail

By: Ed Maroney

ORLEANS Selectmen got an overview – and even an underview – of bicyclist and pedestrian safety issues in town when they met with Police Chief Scott MacDonald Aug. 2.

The “underview” involved discussion of a potential Cape Cod Rail Trail tunnel under Main Street near Old Colony Way, a vexed intersection with many competing interests. Cyclists are required to hop off their bikes and cross streets as pedestrians, but many sail straight through. Motorists turning left onto Main are inches away from a potential collision.

Noting that the tunnel idea had come up at a recent traffic and parking study committee meeting, MacDonald said the group wanted to look into the notion “to see if it's worthy of your attention.”

That prompted Town Administrator John Kelly to relate the tunnel's less-than-encouraging history. “It was about a $2 million project,” he said. “With the pitch needed, the beginning and end of the tunnel would bypass downtown. The chamber was very opposed to bicycles not being in the center of town. It was also a very expensive proposition that the state would not entertain, so we went with the only option the state would support, the building of the bike bridge (farther east over Route 6).”

Speaking later in the meeting, Selectman Mefford Runyon said he was amazed “that the chamber hasn't recognized the economic potential of the biking world. There's wallets riding through the middle of our town every day, but as far as I can see, just three businesses are paying attention and they're right there (at the trail). I don't see any effort to grow that business.” What everyone should be worried about, he said, is that “you can't move through town anyways. Probably one of the unsafest things to do is to drive though town from the bike path to the library.”

Selectmen asked the traffic committee and the newly reformed bike and pedestrian committee to look at the idea and report back. The final, albeit ironic, word was left to Chairman Jon Fuller, who said, “They should have kept the coal trestle that Snow's had.”


Addressing the Risks

MacDonald asked rhetorically, “Is there a risk for collisions between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians? Yes, there is. We don't have significant data to support that, but logically, when you look at the environment in East Orleans, you're met by a significant amount of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. I was shocked by the amount of people that utilize that road.”

The department has worked to lower the risk, according to the chief. “We try to educate our citizens and our visitors. At checkpoints on the bike trail, we hand out cold water and informational pamphlets on bike safety. We participated in Bike Safety Day to target our younger cyclists. We have a strong focus on addressing and educating our foreign workers every summer.”

McDonald credited Lt. Kevin Higgins with taking “the lead role in bicycle safety. He speaks on this issue regionally.”

A state grant has allowed the department to purchase equipment and fund overtime details so officers can go out on bikes and target areas of concern. Officers on the late shift speak to cyclist riding without safety equipment and provide them with lights and help them install them.

Runyon, an experienced cyclist who lives in South Orleans, said he watches with concern bike riders on Route 28, “an experience which I would never undertake myself.” He recalled talk of extending a bike trail through the town's watershed to get people off Route 28. “There's a history there,” he said, “almost all negative, because nobody really cared, at least at the political level.”

Later in the meeting, Kelly recalled that, years ago, the board of selectmen used to allow mountain bike races in the watershed, which contributed to town meeting shifting responsibility for the land to the water and sewer commission. He suggested selectmen might meet with commissioners to talk about any objections to a bike trail through the watershed.

In other business, the board accepted the traffic committee's recommendation to declare Tonset Road a thickly settled area and drop the speed limit from 35 to 30. There was some discussion about replacing marking on repaved roads, with DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley reporting that 34 roadways are line-striped. Citing federal highway manual standards used at all government levels, he said only six of those roads “definitely meet the criteria.”

“I'm very much against not striping our roadways,” MacDonald said. The traffic committee “had a unanimous vote to recommend that the board keep the status quo. What we have now works.” Selectmen voted unanimously to continue striping all 34 roads, including recently redone Pochet Road.