Society for High Street


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Editorial: Reasonable Compromise on Bike Lanes
The Daily News
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
It is unlikely that paint on pavement has ever created this much controversy in Newburyport.
But a meeting of the city's Public Safety Committee Monday night should go a ways toward calming at least some of the unrest over the new bicycle lanes on High Street.
The most important thing the committee did was agree to evaluate the new road markings after a year. For opponents, this gives them some reassurance that it is not an entirely done deal about which they have nothing more to say. For proponents, it allows time to show how a bike lane can work, and perhaps to bolster the chances that other communities will embrace the idea.
Now more than a month after they were painted on the street, the pros and cons of the bike lanes have been well aired. Proponents say they have made the city's main traffic artery much more friendly to bicyclists and slowed drivers by narrowing the traffic lanes. Opponents say the lanes, which appear and disappear depending on the width of the street, are confusing and have done nothing to make the street safer. Some complained that it is even trickier to back out of their driveways. Others object to the loss of about 40 percent of the parking spaces on the street.
The year-long tryout is a good compromise to evaluate the strength of those arguments. If it is just a matter of getting used to a change, that will become apparent, particularly over the next spring and summer, when bike traffic will increase. If it creates more problems than it solves, that should be readily apparent by next September as well.
Beyond that, the committee, along with the Planning Department, deserve credit for clarifying some of the more confusing things about rules governing the bike lanes. For instance, while the initial word was that cars were forbidden to travel in those lanes at all, strict enforcement of that would have meant drivers would not have been able to go around a car ahead of them that was turning left, causing unnecessary backups.
With those adjustments, the new system now needs time for everyone to see if it works, or doesn't work. While the planning for it may not have been perfect, residents can now view it as a work in progress that local leaders have agreed to adjust, or even scrap entirely if it does not serve the needs of the community.
Bike lanes are a common sight in other parts of the country, but then again, often they are laid out on streets that are carefully surveyed and in some cases, built with bike lanes in mind. High Street evolved over the centuries, varying in width from 30 feet off Bartlet Mall to 65 feet at March's Hill. Clearly it wasn't engineered with bicycle lanes in mind. But then again, no one had cars on their mind back when High Street was first laid out, yet somehow we've managed to make it work.
It's hard to make adjustments to such a time-honored and historic street. Hopefully the bike lanes will work, both by providing bikers with a safe lane, and by slowing down traffic.
[Website Editor's Note]
**Clarification and Correction
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