If you build it, they will ride

Market Basket provides one of the only bike racks on Elm Street, but it gets plenty of use. – photo by Will Stewart

When a group of people met a week-and-a-half ago at Milly’s Tavern to discuss bicycle infrastructure in Manchester, they had to speak in hypotheticals about the future, because infrastructure for bicyclists–bike lanes, racks, and so on–in the Queen City is essentially nonexistent. When you visit cities from Concord to Portsmouth, Boston to Montreal, Amsterdam to Portland Berlin, Portland, Ore. to Portland, Me., what you’ll find are cities that are expanding their bicycle infrastructure to enable more residents, visitors and workers to get around by bike, whether for recreation, exercise or daily commuting. And by offering people of all skills the opportunity to get around by bike, they’re reducing traffic, improving the health and safety of their residents, and increasing their quality-of-life.

Bike lanes separated from auto traffic in Montreal–something like this could work in Manchester on certain wider streets like Canal or Valley. – photo by Paul Smith

Manchester has been pathetically behind the curve when it comes to bicycling for years now. Despite calls for bike lanes and other bicycling infrastructure in official planning documents like the city’s 2010 master plan and the 2006 Neighborhood Initiatives plan for Rimmon Heights, little if any of it has been accomplished.

The one bright spot has been the work of Manchester Moves, which has built the Piscataquog Trail through the West Side, connecting Goffstown to the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium via the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, and the South Manchester Trail running from South Beech to Gold Street. The trails are wonderful additions to the city, but because they exist mostly within residential neighborhoods, they remain almost strictly recreational trails. A resident of the West Side riding to work downtown along the trails, for instance, would have to cross no less than seven lanes of busy traffic at Granite Street without any provision for cyclists after crossing the Merrimack. It’s clear then that while they are great assets for the city, the trails on their own are not enough; they need to tie into a network of bike lanes, designated alternate routes for bicyclists, and places to lock up bikes across town.

The Hands Across the Merrimack footbridge crosses the Merrimack River and I-293. – photo from Granite State Walker

That lack of bike lanes and racks is what motivated a group of citizens, including Will Stewart of good good manchester, to meet on September 20 to begin discussing the current state and future of bicycle infrastructure in Manchester. They noted some of the issues facing the city when it comes to bicycling, ranging from the difficulty of crossing the city’s bridges on two wheels to the near total absence of bike racks even downtown, as well as the city’s lack of a strong bike culture. That last issue is beginning to change, however, thanks in part to the weekly Manchester Community Bike Rides,¬†open to anyone every Friday evening.

The group also discussed some of the challenges they face going forward, including funding and liability issues for the city, as well as potential solutions, such as a bicycle infrastructure project to kick things off, signing the city’s bridges with sharrows, and creating a map of (eventual) bike lanes, alternative routes, trails and bike rack locations.

Better bicycle infrastructure could bring more people to areas in the city like the riverfront – photo by kfergos

In the immediate future, though, they’re looking to come up with a name for an official group to advocate for bicycle infrastructure in the city, and they’ve begun collectively working on a Google map of potential (and a very small amount of existing) bicycle infrastructure in the Queen City. They’re also looking for ways to reach out to the community, and once they have a website or official contact, we’ll post it on LivableMHT, in case you want to get in touch with them. For now, you can watch the Facebook page for the September 20 meet-up for any updates on this very important topic.

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