Biking A Route To Safety

Saturday, January 12, 2013
Hanover — Wintertime may mean fewer bicycle riders on Hanover roadways, but it won’t stop a group of dedicated volunteers from protecting cylists’ best interests.

The 14-member Hanover Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee meets monthly at Howe Library, its wheels geared toward making Hanover safe and accessible for those cycling or walking through town.

Using standards compiled by the national nonprofit League of American Bicyclists, HBPC works with the Selectboard and police department while attempting to increase bicycle safety awareness and lobby for infrastructure improvements with cyclists in mind.

LAB standards include bike routes that are at least five feet wide (10 feet for two-way routes) and paths separated from roadways and routes leading to public institutions such as schools. The organization issues ratings for approved towns and cities, with rankings gold, platinum or diamond based on their amenities and services.

While most highly rated municipalities are more highly populated, Hanover’s bike committee doesn’t see why the town can’t achieve similar standards.

“Hanover and the Upper Valley is a world-class area in terms of recreation opportunities, education and medicine, just like a lot of the towns and cities on the list,” said Kelley Dole, who joined the group last summer after she was struck by a vehicle in Norwich while she was cycling. “Look at a place like Boulder, Colorado. It’s a college town with four seasons, just like Hanover. Boulder has a platinum ranking. I had the opportunity to ride there last year and you could just feel how safe it is to ride there. If it were like that here, there would be many more people getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ on bikes.”

Originally formed in the late 1990s, the committee withstood a period of relative dormancy through much of the 2000s before becoming active again about three years ago.

One of the first success stories of the reinvigorated group’s efforts including the posting of a signed bike route downtown, extending from the Ledyard Bridge to the Co-op Food Store at the corner of Lebanon Street and Park Street. Another recent improvement is painted markings in front of the high school, known as “sharrows,” indicating to motorists that cyclists have the right of way. In New Hampshire, motorists must give cyclists three feet of clearance when passing with a speed up to 30 mph, and an additional foot for every 5 mph above 30.

“Sharrows are used when the road isn’t wide enough to have five-foot bike paths on either side of the road,” HBPC member Tim Cox said. “That was the case on Lebanon Street, particularly in front of the high school.”

Last spring, the committee experienced what it considered a “landmark achievement” when construction to improve Park Street included widening to accommodate 5-foot bike paths on either side.

“We lobbied hard for that, and to me it showed that we’d gained a lot of credibility with the Selectboard,” Cox said. “We’d collaborated with them on enough small projects and they saw that what we’re doing has real benefits in the community and serves the interests of a lot of people.”

The Park Street project slightly narrowed the vehicle travel lanes, a measure Cox thinks helps drive motorists to reduce speed, especially when cyclists are present.

“When you have wider lanes for bikes and more narrow lanes for cars, it might seem like it would make things tighter, but it actually benefits the rider and makes it more safe,” he said. “When you narrow the travel lane for cars, (drivers) instinctively go slower.”

League of American Bicyclist standards also urge municipalities to provide covered parking where cyclists can leave bikes. Three such areas exist in Hanover, Cox said: under Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art and Life Science Building, as well as beneath the town parking garage. “It definitely helps (promote) using a bike to get to work, for example, if you can leave it covered up during the day,” Cox said.

Eventually, the group would like to see a marked, regulation-sized bike path on Route 120 leading to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, a project the committee is calling its “big idea.” One road block for the ambition is that Route 120 south of Greensboro Road is maintained by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, rather than the town of Hanover.

“What is called our urban compact ends at Greensboro Road, and the NHDOT doesn’t have funding right now for projects like that,” said Cox. “But we would like to see Route 120 become more bike friendly, because it’s a major corridor in and out of Hanover. Right now, I don’t think there are many parents who would want their kids riding on that road.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.