Newburyport bike lanes to have year's tryout
By KATE SPINNER
Daily News staff
Teusday, November 16, 2004
NEWBURYPORT - The bicycle lanes that drew cyclists and High Street residents to pack the City Council chambers last night will remain on the pavement for at least a year.
The council's Public Safety Committee agreed last night, at the request of several residents, to evaluate next September the safety and effectiveness of the bicycle lanes on High Street.
The lines marking the lanes have provoked argument since their painting a month ago. While some cyclists laud the effort to make the busy street more bicycle-friendly, critics say the lanes are confusing, do little to promote safety and have cost the city valuable parking spaces.
Most people who attended the meeting last night spoke in favor of the lanes, saying they slowed traffic and made the street more safe. But others said the lanes provide a false sense of security and make backing out of driveways trickier. "Nobody in this room is against bike lanes in theory," said Sue Tabb, who lives at 258 High St., near the intersection of Toppans Lane by the high school. "But do they work for our town?"
Former Mayor Alan Lavender asked many questions last night. (See related story, page A3.) When Lavender rose to speak, he emphasized that his administration never supported or opposed the bicycle lanes.
"Who's running the city - the Planning Department, the City Council or the mayor?" Lavender asked.
He said the city had done too little to inform residents and motorists about the change to High Street.
Ward 4 Councilor Erford Fowler and council President Thomas O'Brien said they were disappointed by what they saw as too little effort to get the word out to High Street residents about the lanes. O'Brien said he insisted that planners notify residents about the changes on High Street, and he said he was assured residents would be notified.
"To the best of my knowledge, nobody was notified," said O'Brien,
Planning director Nicholas Cracknell said his office weighed the cost and the work involved in sending a mailing to all High Street residents, but opted for issuing several press releases.
O'Brien said the press releases were not good enough.
"You don't have to report to the citizens. We do," O'Brien said, addressing the city planners.
Most of the discussion last night, however, was not heated. The number of bicycle lane supporters far outweighed that of those speaking against the lanes.
High Street activist Mary Eaton praised city planners and said residents should not yell at them, but applaud them. In response, about 90 percent of the crowd of about 30 rose to their feet, clapped and whistled.
Of the eight High Street residents who spoke, two spoke in opposition, one said she wanted to wait and see how the lanes worked out and the other five spoke in support.
Opponent Roger Gagnon of 320 High St. said the bike lanes look like graffiti, make backing out of his driveway more difficult and give cyclists a false sense of security.
Another opponent, Simon Panall, who said he lived at 37 High St., seconded Gagnon's comments. He said the lanes cause confusion.
But some High Street residents said the parking restrictions brought by the lanes making getting into and out of their driveways easier.
"This is the first time I've been able to back out of my driveway without cheating death," said Gail Cray of 205 High St.
Jim Roy of Fruit Street said the dispute over the bike lanes had to run deeper than the lanes themselves, but he did not speculate on the undercurrent.
"Whether there is a bike lane or not, the fact remains we are the worst drivers in the entire country," said Roy. He said backing out of a driveway on High Street has always been daunting. "This whole bickering about the bike lane is about something else."
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