High Street Bike Lanes

Frequently Asked Questions and Responses


What is a bike lane, and who is permitted to use them?

            Bicyclists: A bike lane is primarily for bicyclists.  State law defines a bike lane as “a lane on a street restricted to bicycles and so designated by means of painted lines, pavement coloring or other appropriate markings” (M.G.L. Ch. 90E, Sec. 1).  Bicyclists who use the bike lane are required to ride in the same direction as the adjacent motor vehicle traffic – the bike lane is “one-way” on either side of the street – and national studies have shown that bike lanes significantly reduce the extent of wrong-way riding.  In addition, bicyclists are required to ride single file except when passing (M.G.L. Ch. 85, Sec. 11B), and those under age 16 are required to wear a helmet.  Wearing a helmet is strongly recommended for everyone else. 


Note that use of the bike lanes is optional.  Depending upon skill, experience, age, or preference, bicyclists do not have to use the bike lanes if they are not comfortable with them, and can choose to ride nearer to the curb where there is room to do so, or out in the regular vehicular travel lanes, or on sidewalks outside the central business district.


Mopeds: Motorized bicycles, or mopeds, have built-in speed limitations are also allowed to use the bicycle lanes (Ch. 90, Sec. 1B).


Pedestrians: Some pedestrians have chosen to walk or run in the street to avoid bumpy sidewalks and are now using portions of the bike lanes as well.  The City is responsible for regulation of the use by pedestrians of roadways under local control (M.G.L. Ch. 90, Sec. 18A), and local ordinances appear to be silent in this respect.  The Newburyport Police Department recommends that pedestrians use the sidewalk for safety reasons, and the state Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) states that pedestrians are required to use sidewalks when they are available.  State law does recognize that pedestrians sometimes walk or run in the roadway, and vehicle operators – both motorists and bicyclists – are required to slow down and take special care when approaching and passing pedestrians in the road (M.G.L. Ch 90, Sec. 14).


Motor vehicles: Motor vehicles are generally excluded from using the restricted bike lanes as travel lanes.  However, after checking for safety, motorists may cross the bike lane’s white line under certain circumstances: a) preparing to make a right turn; b) entering or exiting a driveway or an on-street parking space; c) avoiding an obstruction or hazard; and d) passing on the right a vehicle that is turning left.  (See more below.)


The bottom line is that the re-striped vehicular travel lanes and bike lanes on High Street are primarily meant to slow traffic to around the speed limit, clarify the presence of bicyclists – who have the same legal rights to use the road as motorists – and provide for more predictable movements by both bicyclists and motorists.  Mutual courtesy, respect, patience, and awareness will improve the transportation corridor for everyone.


Can drivers cross the white line into the bike lane?

            Motorists may legally cross the white line in certain circumstances.  In general, motorists should stay within the travel lane for motor vehicles (M.G.L. Ch. 89, Sec. 4A) and leave the bicycle lane open for bicyclists.  However, according to the Newburyport Police Department and a preliminary finding from the RMV, both motorists and bicyclists should know that motorists may legally cross the white line for the following reasons: a) preparing to make a right turn; b) entering or exiting a driveway or on-street parking space; c) avoiding an obstruction or hazard; and d) passing on the right a vehicle that is turning left.  Crossing the line must be done safely, with drivers actively glancing over their right shoulder to check for the presence of bicyclists (or others) between their vehicle and the curb.  Motorists should not obstruct motor vehicle traffic or bicycle traffic by parking in the bike lane itself.


            Right turn: Motorists are supposed to prepare to make a right turn “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” which includes the restricted bike lane (M.G.L. 90, Sec. 14).  Similarly, Ch. 89, Sec. 4B notes that “when the right lane has been constructed or designated for purposes other than ordinary travel, a driver shall drive his vehicle in the lane adjacent to the right lane except when overtaking another vehicle or when preparing for a left or right turn.”  As long as there are no bicyclists in the bike lane, motorists approaching a corner to turn right may cross into the bike lane and drive near the curb in order to facilitate other cars passing on their left.  The distance a motorist can drive in this manner is not specified in Massachusetts, but up to 200 feet appears to be acceptable in other jurisdictions.  Common sense should prevail.


Parking: Motorists driving in or out of a driveway or an on-street parking space may cross the bike lane’s white line to do so – it is not a double white line prohibiting all crossing.  As always, drivers should be aware that there may be bicyclists using the lanes, and use appropriate caution.  Note that motorists may not legally obstruct traffic by parking in the bike lane, which is legally a vehicular travel lane (see more below).


Passing: The Newburyport Police Department and a preliminary finding from the RMV confirms that it is an acceptable practice to safely pass another vehicle on the right when it is about to make a left turn.  In addition to Ch. 89, Sec. 4B cited above, Ch. 89, Sec. 2 notes that: “the driver of a vehicle may, if the roadway is free from obstruction and of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles, overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle when the vehicle overtaken is (a) making or about to make a left turn….”  It is important to note that the addition of the bike lanes has not changed the legality of this maneuver – only raised the profile of the safety issues associated with bicyclists riding along the roadway.


Clearly, this maneuver is an ingrained habit for many motorists on High Street.  It is also an action that is not without risk, and both law and common sense require that motorists exercise patience, caution and awareness.  Too often, motorists are observed passing on the right as an automatic reflex without pausing and checking for pedestrians, bicyclists, or other cars.  As an unthinking habit, this can be particularly unsafe at crosswalks.  High Street has witnessed many close calls in recent years in which drivers have swung around a car stopped for pedestrians in the crosswalk, and have come close to hitting kids and their families walking home from school.  As recently as 11-02-04, the Daily News reported on this type of accident in Beverly, where a driver sped around a waiting car and seriously injured a mother and her 4-month-old infant in a crosswalk.  The City is reviewing the feasibility of potential curb extensions at key crosswalks such as at Johnson Street in order to minimize such risks.


Can cars or trucks park in the bike lanes?

            Motor vehicles should not park in the bike lanes, as it obstructs traffic and impacts safety by requiring bicyclists to veer out into the regular vehicle lane.  The Newburyport Police Department has recommended that this situation be clarified through a new local ordinance.  Note that the current fine for a parking violation “obstructing public travel” is $25. 


            Parking changes: Parking along about two-thirds of the corridor is unchanged from before the installation of the new lanes.  Where the installation of the new striping has incrementally reduced on-street parking, parking continues to always be available on at least one side of the street (except at the Bartlet Mall where there has never been enough room for parking).  The parking affected has been almost entirely in residential areas on the south side of the street, where the large homes generally have ample off-street parking.  In fact, though not all feel the same way, a number of High Street residents contacted the City to request that parking be removed along the south side in order to make entering and exiting their driveways safer.  The daily parking demand on High Street is relatively light and has never been projected to require anything close to the provision of on-street parking on both sides of the street for the entire length of the 2.3 mile corridor. 


Business parking: Parking for businesses has been carefully accommodated.  For instance, while parking had to be removed across the street from the Natural Grocer, sufficient parking remains directly in front of the store as well as down the adjacent side street.  On-street parking has been retained for Fowle’s Market, in addition to the store’s dedicated parking in the back off Myrtle Ave.  Where the restricted bike lanes cease, as much parking as possible is retained east of Olive St., partially to ensure that the Twomey LeBlanc Funeral Home continues to have plenty of parking, as well as businesses like Lynch’s Pharmacy and others around Winter and Summer Streets.  In some places, parking is restricted by law, for clear sight lines and safety within 20 feet of an intersection or crosswalk, such as the one located near Lynch’s Pharmacy at the store’s request.  In addition, parking patterns for churches were observed during the project’s planning process, and although some parking has been removed from across the street ample parking remains in front of the churches and along side streets.


In short, the relatively light overall daily parking demand on High Street means that there will continue to be excess parking capacity.  While the City regrets any inconvenience caused to drivers who wish to park in the restricted lanes rather than elsewhere, there are nearly always other parking spaces available and no “necessity” exists for such a parking choice due to a shortage of supply.


Are the new marked travel lanes wide enough for cars and trucks?

            Yes.  The vehicular lanes are generally somewhat narrower than they used to be.  Where the bike lanes have been striped, the vehicular travel lane for cars and trucks is now uniformly 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) wide, which meets the state’s design standards.  Note that most cars are only about six feet wide, and modern fire trucks are a little over eight feet wide.  There is sufficient room in the lanes for all but huge oversize vehicles, which by law require special escort and other measures.


            Speeding: A long-standing goal for most people involved in the High Street project over the years has been to slow traffic down to around the speed limit of 30 mph.  Narrower travel lanes and adjacent bike lanes tend to slow down the speeds of motor vehicles by about 5 mph.  For a motorist on 2.3-mile High Street, it is important to realize that the impact on travel time is measured in a few seconds (not minutes).  In general, the varying and sometimes excessive width of High Street has contributed to motorists driving faster without even thinking about it.  The new vehicular lanes are intended to provide an adequate width for driving and to slow drivers down to close to the speed limit.


Aren’t the bike lanes too close to the traffic?

            The City worked with a traffic engineer to ensure that the width and alignment of the vehicular travel lanes and the bike lanes meet the state’s safety and design standards.  These standards are specifically tailored to incorporate sufficient room required by bicyclists and motorists, respectively.  Studies have shown that the presence of bike lanes tends to center traffic in each respective lane, and that the bike lanes balance the path of bicyclists’ travel more consistently between parked cars on one side and moving motor vehicles on the other.


Again, all bicyclists do not have to use the bike lanes, especially those who are less experienced, and those who are uncomfortable with the proximity to traffic do not need to venture into High Street at all.


The lanes look funny to me; why are they sometimes out in the middle of the road?

            In several spots, High Street’s width can vary significantly, from as little as 30 feet at the Bartlet Mall to as much as 65 feet at March’s Hill.  The public has generally resisted the wholesale widening or narrowing of High Street through moving the curb.  However, state and federal law require that vehicular travel lanes and bike lanes be a uniform and consistent width in order to provide the most predictability and safety and the least liability.  Defining the lane on the right also is necessary for traffic calming.  The City worked intensively with a traffic engineer in order to ensure that the new striping plan meets design standards, is safe, and balances the multiple objectives of accommodating motor vehicle and bicycle transportation, restraining vehicle speeds, clarifying turns at major intersections, and retaining as much on-street parking as possible.  Though some people may think the striping looks odd at first, there is nothing “dangerous” about the consistency of the lanes regardless of whether the overall roadway widens out in certain areas.


Note that the High Street master plan unveiled at a public meeting in April 2004 calls for the “texturing” of the excess asphalt at the widest areas of the road, around Kent and Johnson Streets and Bromfield Street.  The texturing will look like cobble stones and distinguish this portion of the road from the primary travel lanes.  Implementation depends upon the City’s ability to secure sufficient funding for this aspect of the plan.


Was there a public process the City followed leading up to installing the bike lanes?

Yes.  For any City project, the primary means of public communication consists of public meetings and press releases, supported by numerous individual meetings.  The community has discussed the establishment of bicycle lanes on High Street for many years.  While the idea was raised in public meetings as long ago as 1975, there has been a particular focus on re-striping High Street since the late 1990’s.  For instance, the issue was discussed at a High Street public meeting in March of 2001, and a citizens advisory committee met monthly to provide guidance on improving the High Street corridor while negotiations proceeded with the state on funding.  Another public meeting was held in April of 2002 regarding the City’s progress and approach on High Street, which included discussion of re-striping the corridor, narrowing the travel lanes for traffic calming, providing turn lanes at the High School, and bicycle lanes.  The City then hired consultants to develop a streetscape master plan for High Street, working principally with the Planning Office and the Department of Public Works as well as the police department.  The most recent public meeting was held in April of 2004, in which the master plan was unveiled with a particular focus on the bicycle lanes and striping plan.  The Daily News has consistently covered these meetings in the local newspaper.


Was it necessary to stripe the bike lanes on High Street – wasn’t everything fine before?

            The bike lanes are intended to make the street a bit safer and more comfortable for everyone using it.  Recent studies of motorists and bicyclists have demonstrated that bike lanes make motorists notice bicyclists more – which is the primary point – and that bike lanes encourage bicyclists to ride more safely further away from parked cars than on streets with no bike lanes.  In general, the installation of bike lanes recognizes that bicyclists have an equal right to use the road as motorists.  High Street is a primary arterial street for Newburyport, offering directness and connections to many different destinations – residences, stores, parks, schools, churches, other towns, etc.  Bike lanes on arterial streets offer bicyclists more assistance in busier conditions.  Supported by federal and state design guidelines, bike lanes are generally appropriate on streets where the traffic speeds and volumes are higher than normally encountered elsewhere, and they have been successfully implemented on streets with upwards of 30,000 vehicles per day.  In general, bike lanes:

·                    Support and encourage bicycling as a means of transportation.

·                    Remind motorists to look for bicyclists when driving, passing, turning, or parking.

·                    Make it less likely that motorists will swerve toward opposing traffic to pass a bicycle.

·                    Reduce the chance that motorists will stray into bicyclists’ path of travel.

·                    Encourage bicyclists to ride in the correct direction with the flow of traffic.

·                    Provide bicyclists a clear place on the road in order to minimize riding on sidewalks.

·                    Encourage motorists to drive the speed limit.


Particularly under Massachusetts law regarding transportation planning, there is a presumption that bicyclists as well as pedestrians will be accommodated in every transportation project, and there must be exceptional circumstances to not accommodate them.  Although the bike lanes are not for everyone, the City is hearing anecdotally that some bicyclists who used to be uncomfortable riding in High Street are now using the bike lanes. 


Why don’t the bike lanes continue the whole distance of the street?  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

            The core area of High Street – from Olive Street on the west to Fruit Street on the east – does not have designated bike lanes due to the combination of an increasing number of commercial enterprises needing on-street parking and the narrowing of the road at the Bartlet Mall.  Consequently, the regular vehicular travel lanes are wider in this section: 4.2 meters (13.8 feet).  Once signage is posted, bicyclists can choose to either continue to share the road in this section as they have done previously, or follow signs to side streets down to less busy corridors in the downtown area.  Even if one cannot get all the way to one’s final destination using an unbroken bike lane, a segment of bike lane makes the trip safer and more enjoyable.


Do bicyclists have to use the bike lanes?

            No.  The bike lane is basically an additional option for bicyclists.  Bicycles are legally considered vehicles, and bicyclists are allowed to use the regular vehicle travel lanes even when a bike lane is present.  In addition, children are generally expected to ride on sidewalks until they are old enough and competent enough to ride in the road.


Why not put all bicyclists on the sidewalk instead of the street?

            Sidewalks are generally for pedestrians.  Bicyclists are indeed allowed on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interests of safety unless prohibited by local ordinance (M.G.L. 85, Sec. 11B).  Children are less skillful and ride bicycles more slowly, and thus are recommended to ride on the sidewalk.  However, bicycle use by adults on sidewalks with high numbers of pedestrians can increase the risk of crashes and injuries due to the difference in respective speeds.  In most cases, the street is the safest place for bicyclists to ride.  National studies have shown that bicycle riding on the sidewalk can be a significant contributor to car/bike collisions, since motorists making turns are often not looking for a relatively fast moving vehicle on the sidewalk.


Why not put the bike lane on the inside of the parked cars?

            Putting a bike lane on the curbside of parked cars is not an acceptable approach based on state and federal guidelines, primarily because 1) it can cause crashes at intersections and driveways because motorists do not expect bikes to emerge from behind parked cars, and 2) there is no place for a bicyclist to move to if someone is getting in or out of a parked car or there is debris in the road.  Bicyclists moving next to motor traffic have a much greater chance of being seen, and can safely merge with traffic and then move back into the bike lane to avoid an obstacle.


How do the bike lanes affect traffic?

            Bike lanes generally encourage safer interaction of bicycles and motor vehicles.  They have been shown to reduce the speeds of motor vehicles in adjacent lanes by about 5 miles per hour.  Less space is needed between cars when vehicles drive at a slower and more uniform rate since drivers feel more comfortable being closer to the vehicle in front of them, and the capacity of the road to hold cars and move traffic actually increases.  Studies have shown that urban streets work most efficiently when cars are traveling between about 25 and 35 miles per hour, as opposed to 40 to 45 mph or more.  Bike lanes help create a buffer zone at the edge of the main traffic lane, and generally help to calm and organize traffic.  In addition, bike lanes can have a positive impact on traffic congestion by encouraging more people to bicycle instead of drive.


How do you get bicyclists to obey the laws?

            All groups (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians) include human beings who don’t always obey the law – such as speeding.  However, bike lanes help promote law-abiding bicycle riding.  National studies have shown that bike lanes discourage wrong-way riding, substantially increase bicyclists obeying stop signs, and decrease bicycle use of the sidewalks.  Education helps, and the City hopes to works with local citizen groups to increase the amount of good information available to motorists and bicyclists alike.


How long will the bike lane markings last?

            The bike lanes are striped with a thermoplastic material (a mixture of sand, pigment, glass, and resin).  The substance is applied hot, hardens as it fuses with the asphalt, and lasts approximately five years.  Painted markings, such as the bike icons in the bike lanes, typically last about two years.


Are there any other bike lanes planned in the City?

The City currently is in the planning stages for bike lanes on the Plum Island Turnpike, in conjunction with the Town of Newbury.  These bike lanes also have been the subject of public meetings plus hearings in front of the two Conservation Commissions.  The design of these lanes is currently completing permitting, and funding for construction is being sought.


On a larger scale, a group of citizens and officials of Newburyport, Newbury, Salisbury, and Amesbury called the Coastal Trails Coalition has been working together towards a regional vision of a connected network of off-road bicycle paths (e.g., the Clipper City Rail Trail) and on-road bikeways such as potential connections with Moseley Woods and Maudslay State Park.


Who do I contact for more information?

            Contact the Office of Planning and Development for more information, at (978) 465-4400 and ask for Planning Director Nicholas Cracknell (ncracknell@cityofnewburyport.com) or Senior Project Manager Geordie Vining (gvining@cityofnewburyport.com).



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