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'Hey, Main St. committee: Don't forget about cyclists'

Last modified: 10/10/2012 12:00:00 AM
The Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project Advisory Committee is working to implement the TIGER grant to recast Concord's Main Street as a thriving living space for the community. As a cyclist I am delighted Concord has adopted a complete streets policy. But I'm not sure if, after all is said and done, Main Street will be a safe place for people of all ages to ride bicycles.

In my travels, I have experienced how a community transforms when bicycles become an integral part of the transportation mix. Across the country, cities are changing and adapting their streets to make it easier and safer for bicycle travel. We can do that with Main Street.

With my daughter in tow by trailer, tag-a-long or bike, I have traveled Concord streets by bicycle for years, making many trips to the library and parks. Main Street is always a challenge because riding there is difficult and dangerous. One vehicle backing out or trying to get past us is never safe or enjoyable. Walking a bike and trailer, then finding a place to park is always tedious. Even in a car it is difficult to get kids in and out of the doors with angle parking. When my kid was in a carrier this was so unpleasant that one trip was enough. So we tend to avoid downtown.

To date, the business community's focus has been on how to retain as much parking for motor vehicles as possible. Yet parking is not a mode of transportation; it's only storage that requires at least 200 square feet per vehicle. Parking needs to be available to complement the complete street - but not at the expensive of some users.

Bicycles are an efficient method of pedestrian and package transportation. A cyclist is just a pedestrian waiting to happen. The difference is a 40-pound bicycle, a helmet and perhaps a basket, trailer or tag-a-long for a kid or packages. Bicycle storage is efficient, requiring less than 20 square feet and a bike rack for a cyclist to stop, lock and shop.

Imagine Main Street configured with a bicycle lane right next to the sidewalk. Cyclists could focus on shopping and enjoying downtown. Kids and adults would have a safe place to ride downtown without fear of being hit by thousand-pound motor vehicles. Building bicycle infrastructure increases the livability of the community and improves the health and well-being of the residents. My dad enjoyed the many benefits of cycling in the Twin Cities until he was 87 years old.

There are win-win-win-win benefits having a bike lane next to the sidewalk. Cars no longer need to fear hitting a cyclist. Cyclists of every age have a safe place to travel. Pedestrians no longer fear the cyclist riding on the sidewalk. And perhaps the biggest win: an economic opportunity to bring wallets without a car. Downtown can be accessible for all ages and thrive if we get this right!

I have collected more details on creating a bike-friendly Main Street at cyclemainstreet.blogspot.com. The studies and examples show that pedestrian focused infrastructures allow a community to thrive. I challenge anyone to find otherwise based on data and facts, not opinion.

Concord residents and visitors will enjoy the remade Main Street for the next 30 years. What's on the table is the opportunity to develop a complete street that both showcases downtown businesses and provides safe access for all users to support a thriving downtown culture. Will cyclists have a safe place at the table - or not?

(Robert T. Baker lives in Concord.)


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