Town Peddles Bike Master Plan To Boost Safety, Convenience

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Roads, highways and transportation

The bike trail crossing at Crowell Road is one of several targeted for safety improvements. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM With the weather feeling decidedly more spring-like, people are getting out their bicycles, dusting them off and hitting the pavement. But town officials have had bikes on the brain for the last year or so, and have unveiled an ambitious bicycle master plan that recommends millions of dollars of improvements over the coming years.

“The heart of the plan is a list of 25 discrete projects,” bikeways committee Chairman John O’Toole told selectmen Monday. Some of the projects are low-cost improvements like new signs, and others involve adding bicycle lanes to key roadways. If all of the projects were adopted, they would cost nearly $3.37 million. While some of the projects aim to make bicycling more convenient and attractive, most are designed to improve safety.

Some residents cautioned against going too far with the plan, saying that full implementation could change the character of the town.

The bike master plan was developed with assistance from the Cape Cod Commission, without charge to the town, and has been in the works for the last eight months, O’Toole said. Two transportation planners spent a day in town, touring the bike path and other key areas, and crafted a plan that has been revised several times based on comments from the bikeways committee. The time has come to begin implementing the plan, O’Toole said.

Developed using accident data and information gathered in a public meeting held last October, the plan calls for development of a few short sections of new bike trail near the Old Colony Rail Trail’s terminus on Depot Road, but focuses largely on expanding on-road bicycle routes that provide better access to destinations like beaches and downtown areas. In some areas, those on-road routes require changes to curbing, new signs or roadway markings. In other places, like Old Queen Anne Road, George Ryder Road, Sam Ryder Road and Route 137, bike lanes or shoulders would likely be needed.

The costliest of the 25 projects would be the widening of shoulders for bicycle lanes or a widened sidewalk along 2.6 miles of Old Queen Anne Road. That job is estimated to cost around $1.3 million. Other projects include the installation of solar-powered warning lights at key bike trail crossings at Route 137, Crowell Road, George Ryder Road and Old Queen Anne Road at Stepping Stones Road. The lights would be similar to ones already in use in Harwich, O’Toole said.

The plan calls for spreading the capital projects over five years. Given funding constraints, O’Toole said only modest improvements are being sought in fiscal 2019, starting with curb modifications at the rail trail crossing at Crowell Road, where a cyclist was injured recently. The crossing is a particularly dangerous one, but modifying the curb would provide some benefit until additional safety measures could be put in place, O’Toole said.

Officials are also seeking the installation of a self-service “fix-it station” and a small paved staging area for cyclists at the Route 137 bike trail crossing. Designed to be resistant to vandalism, the fix-it station will provide a place for cyclists to make minor adjustments to their bicycles using tools attached to the station with cables. The fix-it station was purchased using state grant funds secured by DPW Director Tom Temple, O’Toole said.

The small paved area at the crossing provides a place out of view of motorists where cyclists can check their phones or socialize.

“They won’t be causing motorists to slow down, wondering whether cyclists will be crossing the road or not,” O’Toole said.

A third project for the upcoming season would involve the installation of informational signs at the Old Colony Rail Trail terminus, informing cyclists of the safest ways to reach downtown Chatham.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said there is $10,000 included in the FY19 budget for bikeways improvements. She said she will confer with Temple to see whether some or all of the three projects can be carried out soon; with that information, selectmen are expected to vote next week on whether to authorize that work.

Selectman Dean Nicastro said he believes it is important that the town have a master plan for bikeways improvements. While he believes the board should give the plan careful review, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are major objections to the document, he added.

Board member Shareen Davis said she is glad that the projects designed to improve safety have been given a higher priority in the plan.

“Changing the Crowell Road intersection is really key,” she said. But other projects will require careful consideration, given the need for historic preservation, aesthetic concerns, and the availability of space in roadway layouts, Davis said.

Board member Jeffrey Dykens said the bikeways plan fits well with the town’s capital planning efforts. He urged town officials to seek Community Preservation Act funding for some of the projects.

“I think it fits pretty darn well,” he said.

Stage Harbor Road resident Anne Timpson thanked the bikeways committee for its work, but warned that the plan represents “an overreaching and an extraordinarily expensive capital project” that represents a scheme to redesign neighborhoods. Including new bike lanes would urbanize neighborhoods and represent “a complete makeover of our scenic roadways,” she said. Implementing the plan would likely require eminent domain takings, Timpson said, and should be scaled back.

Resident Elaine Gibbs also urged caution.

“This is a huge report, and it does have a lot of implications for the town. I would hope that we don’t rush through this, because it would change the town dramatically,” she said.