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My Turn: Concord’s bicyclists demand too much

For the Monitor
Last modified: 2/10/2016 11:43:07 PM
For far too long, a coalition of bicyclists has had a disproportional influence on public policy.

For many years they enjoyed the attention and influence of a former city councilor who was and still is instrumental in advancing many of the agendas dear to the hearts of the bicycling community. To their credit, they are a well organized and energetic group that has managed to become an integral component of a city that is passionate about sports and recreation opportunities. They have championed many rules and regulations that have made roadways safer and navigable for bicyclists.

Flush with success, they are not content to just share the road with motor vehicle traffic but insist that bicyclists be given not only equal but, in some cases, preferential treatment and access on public roads. Their latest chapter involves name-calling and a blame game, and it is getting ugly.

A bicycle coalition is crying foul because the city council may vote to reconsider and amend the original vote concerning the fate of Loudon Road. In a recent letter to the Monitor, they accuse the city government of being undemocratic. They alluded to “voices of a few” and that some councilors have been “talking to those who oppose change” as if there is a secret and nefarious cabal on the city council that is conspiring to deny bicyclists open and fair hearings.

Apparently they forgot that the city council did that. They had open and fair hearings about Loudon Road. All public voices were in attendance and encouraged to speak. The mayor is always generous in allowing all concerned the time needed to express their views at public hearings.

Some councilors have indicated that they may wish to amend their earlier vote. That’s their prerogative, and that’s how democracy works. Positions are hardened and it is doubtful that more public hearings will change many councilors’ opinions. The bicycle coalition, unhappy that the council may change its original vote, thinks that more public hearings are necessary. How many hearings do they want? One, five, 10? My guess is as many as it takes to get them what they want.

Sharing busy and congested roads like Loudon Road with motor vehicles and bicycles is questionable. In every case of an accident between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist, the bicyclist loses, sometimes resulting in injury or death. Pretending that a litany of ordinances, rules and regulations will guarantee the safety of bicyclists is not realistic. Bicyclists continue to suffer injury because of a stubborn determination to be recognized as equals on our roads.

Now the Concord jogging crowd has discovered that running in the bike lane is easier and more fun than on the sidewalks. Electric wheelchairs can also be seen in the bike lanes. One solution is to get rid of the sidewalks and everyone can bike, walk, run, ride and play in the streets. We all recently witnessed how well that worked out with last month’s tragedy on Interstate 393. It’s getting crowded out there.

Loudon Road is a classic example of the dilemma of how to make a road that was designed to accommodate motor vehicles into a road to serve a larger audience. Try as hard as you like, you can’t put a square peg into a round hole.

By taking 10 feet of that heavily traveled road and dedicating it to bicyclists only encourages more contact between motor vehicles and bicycles. Not a great idea. Putting the onerous burden of safety solely on the motor vehicle driver is not only unfair but immoral. Both motor vehicle drivers and bicyclists must equally accept the responsibility of being attentive and responsive to the traffic around them.

It is amazing that more serious accidents don’t happen on New Hampshire highways. Drivers make up their own rules, blow through stop signs with impunity, turn right on red with a rolling stop and consider speed limits a mere suggestion. I find it difficult to understand why bicyclists would want to join that crowd on congested roads.

What is needed are more dedicated bicycle off-road trails and bike paths for recreational bicyclists to enjoy. If bicyclists had more skin in the game, it may make them appreciate that they are getting a good deal on the backs of motorists who pay heavy vehicle registration taxes and fees that help maintain our roads and highways and make them safer.

An equitable and balanced resolution could be instituting an annual bicycle safety inspection and registration fee in Concord – $25 per bike. It is a fair price for the privilege to use our roads and highways. That’s about seven cents a day. If there are as many bicyclists as the coalition claims to represent, that could amount to a sizable amount of money that could be used to improve the safety of bicyclists on our streets and roads. They should enthusiastically endorse the fee. That would give them more credibility and sympathy in their desire to be treated as equals on our highways.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)


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