N.H. Bike-Walk Alliance is a hub of advocacy

  • Bike-Walk Alliance New Hampshire president Paula Bedard (center) co-teaches a “Traffic Skills 101” bike safety class in Manchester. The statewide organization advocates for safer roads and pathways for bicyclists, pedestrians and others. Courtesy / BWANH

For the Monitor
Published: 5/6/2018 7:06:44 PM

Bicycle safety isn’t exactly a sexy subject. But there are legions of behind-the-scenes advocates from a number of groups working to make the Granite State’s roads and bikeways better places for cyclists, pedestrians and others.

Like Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire.

The 10-year-old nonprofit Concord-based advocacy group with a statewide reach sustains itself by memberships, grants and corporate partnerships.

It sees itself as a connecting hub with other bike advocacy organizations from the seacoast to the White Mountains and beyond, seeking to influence policy, infrastructure and education. The alliance works on several local and regional levels and brings its safety message to elementary schools, bike rodeos, bike shops and other happenings. BWANH works with various agencies from Department of Safety to law enforcement, and shares resources.

“We’re the only statewide biking and walking advocacy organization in New Hampshire,” BWANH president Paula Bedard said. “We want to help be a voice for active transportation in New Hampshire.”

Bedard, of Goffstown, is a bicycle advocate, bike commuter and League of American Safe Cycling instructor.

The alliance now has its eyes set on what it hopes is successful passage of House Bill 1731, a bipartisan bike safety bill. With unanimous passage recently in both the states’s House and Senate transportation committees, the organization is hoping the governor signs it into law perhaps by next month.

“The bike safety bill is a bill that updates car-centric verbiage in our laws regarding the interaction of motor vehicles and bicycles on our roadways,” she said.

The bill includes operating requirements for bicycles, including hand signals and headlamp use, as well as requiring the Department of Safety to inform and include bicycle safety in driver license examinations.

BWANH was influential in getting a 3-foot passing law on the books in New Hampshire in 2009. More than half the states across the country have such a measure that requires motor vehicles allow sufficient space to avoid hitting cyclists or causing bicyclist to take action to avoid cars and such. Vehicles must allow for at least 3 feet when traveling at least 30 mph when passing cyclists and then one additional foot of clearance for every 10 mph over 30 mph.

But BWANH was unsuccessful in getting a bill passed for adoption of a statewide Complete Streets policy. The bill would have ensured communities address infrastructure needs of cyclists and pedestrians when updating area roadways and sidewalks.

The groups also helps with various projects like rail trails and getting bike friendly passages on ventures like bridge building in Dover.

The alliance works with other advocacy groups like Monadnock Alliance for Sustainable Transportation, Seacoast Area Bike Riders and BikeManchester.

During spring, BWANH reaches out to elementary schools, sending a wave of instructors to fourth- and fifth-grade classes statewide to teach bike safety through its Youth Bike and Walk Safety Education program. In a partnership with New Hampshire Department of Transportation, instructors spread out across school classrooms, gyms and libraries to inform children how to bike safely. They’re briefed on important points like hand signals, laws, bike quick checks and helmets.

Last year eight certified instructors visited 33 schools, reaching 3,500 students during the Safe Routes to School program. In its third year, the federally funded project will exhaust its grant this year. The group is seeking grants moving forward.

“As our societies are more interested in biking and walking we want to make sure we are educating our young people because we are seeing trends that teenagers are not interested in getting their driver’s license until they are older into their 20s instead of 15 and 16,” she said.

Another outreach point is bicycle shops. With between 50 and 60 independent bike shops across the state, according to Bedard, it seems a no-brainer that the majority of them would support an organization of cycling stewards. As part of their “hang tag program,” the group asks bike shops distribute their bike safety brochure with laws required of cyclists with new bicycle purchases.

“Some bike shops are more supportive of our efforts than others,” she said. “Some get bicycle advocacy. They understand what we do and help us. At other bike shops we struggle to get the message across.”

Fourteen bike shops take part.

As of late April, BWANH had 140 members, 12 corporate supporters, 522 Facebook likes and 319 Twitter followers.

Those numbers are but a fraction of those enjoying the roads and trails.

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