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Bike Lanes in RI: Northampton’s “bizarre new bike lanes” where bike lanes mean business

Photo from public report, “Bike Lanes Mean Business”, Northampton, MA

The town of Northampton, Massachusetts has been undergoing almost continuous “master planning” intervention, resulting in dug up streets, left out construction equipment, and unfinished – and ever-changing projects. Now comes a bike lane project inspiring reactions like the one, below, from the Daily Hampshire Gazette. We publish it here as part of our Bike Lanes in RI series to learn about bike lanes that came to locations we know, before us:

“…today a new era of top-down planning, fueled by federal and state funding dictates, is shaping the future of downtown Northampton whether we like it or not. Heretical to say, I have a particular problem with the bike lanes that seem to be appearing everywhere the state is involved. Has anyone ever seen a cyclist using the bizarre new bike lanes on Pleasant and King Streets (with the Rail Trail just a stone’s throw away!) 

We certainly do not need two one-way bike lanes through the heart of downtown. The Northampton Rail Trail, which barely appears on the Picture Main Street graphic, provides convenient access to and beyond downtown. Anyone visiting Main Street by bike can get there on the Rail Trail or local streets (with or without bike lanes) and then walk on a sidewalk a block or two to their destination, as I often did in good weather to my post-retirement office on Short Street. 

Bike lanes along busy streets invite young and fit riders to hurtle along, often without lights in darkness and oblivious to pedestrians. In recent visits to New York and Chicago, I felt more endangered by speeding cyclists in bike lanes than by motor vehicles. And many bikes today are motor-assisted, adding to their weight and velocity. 

“Picture Main Street” is still a work in progress. But will local public input have any traction with the state’s engineers and planners in Boston? As required by law, a virtual public hearing was held [in April] which I unavoidably missed. I have since tried to access the transcript of the hearing and subsequent written comments. So far they have not been posted online and must be requested from the state public records office, which I tried without success. This does not bode well for any public influence on the final project design. The flashy graphic and PR description published… were more a statement of “what we know is good for you” with little interest in what would actually work best in Northampton.  

Even if the MassDOT plan is in fact a great “cure” for our ailing Main Street, the patient will likely die during the years of disruption required to put it in place.”

Rutherford H. Platt, author, Reclaiming American Cities: The Struggle for People, Place, and Nature Since 1900 (UMass Press, 2014)  

In the master plan, the rationale for the downtown city bike lanes can best be summarized by their closing statement, “The Picture Main Street plan reallocates space that previously has only focused on wide, inconsistent, and dangerous vehicle lanes and assigns it to be shared with the other road users so that it’s genuinely a Main Street for everyone. Again, while today’s Main Street caters to vehicles, the redesign will ensure that Main Street is equitable, viable, and accessible for all. Numerous stakeholder meetings, surveys, and community meetings were held to evaluate interests and tradeoffs selected by residents.”

More details HERE: “Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business” :

This is part of our continuing series Bike Lanes in RI

Other stories on bike lanes in Providence and RI:

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  1. Joanna Cohen on July 7, 2024 at 4:11 pm

    I adore biking and believe RI has some amazing bike trails all through the state. When it comes to adding bike lanes to already narrow and congested city streets, I am not a fan. The 6-week bike lane project on Hope St was not a well thought out approach and was removed, many dollars later. The “after-thought” bike lanes by the Providence river cause cars to have to migrate to a single lane around a sharp curve – not well thought out and the current mayor is proposing they be removed. I believe all bikers should be required to follow the rules of the road. If there’s a red light, bikers etc need to stop too. Northampton’s downtown has significantly wider streets and yet they too are running into problems trying to introduce Main Street biking lanes.

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