Bicycle Advisory Plans to Improve Bedford’s Bike-Friendliness

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

The Sharrow symbol
The Sharrow symbol

Although they await the complete “Bike-Friendliness” report card from League of American Bicyclists (LAB), Bedford’s Bicycle Advisory Committee knows that the town received only “Honorable Mention” this year, rather than the Gold, Silver, or Bronze designation that other Massachusetts communities and businesses have achieved.

“They have a kindly way of saying, ‘You failed. You’re not very bike-friendly, but you’re trying,’” Bicycle Advisory Chair Terry Gleason reported to the Committee on June 5. “In our area, we have a few communities that have gotten awards [higher than Honorable Mention]. There are only a couple of communities in the country that received Platinum [the highest award].”

Looking at the LAB website listings, five Massachusetts communities have received awards for bicycle-friendliness: Cambridge, Gold; Boston, Silver; Arlington, Newton, Northampton and Somerville, Bronze. https://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/

The award is based on criteria that the LAB established called the “Five E’s” for bike friendly communities:

  • Engineering – The physical infrastructure and hardware in place to support cycling;
  • Education – Programs that ensure the safety, comfort and convenience of cyclists and their fellow road users;
  • Encouragement – Incentives, promotions and opportunities that inspire and enable people to ride;
  • Enforcement – Equitable laws and programs that ensure that motorists and cyclists are held accountable;
  • Evaluation – Processes that demonstrate a commitment to measuring results and planning for the future.

Lincoln Labs, where Gleason works, received a Gold medal from the LAB for being a bike-friendly business. “It’s something that is attainable, but difficult,” Gleason explained.

[Note: the Five E’s for bike-friendly businesses are the same, but the checklist is geared toward businesses rather than municipalities. Click here to access the brochure for businesses: https://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/bicyclefriendlybusiness/about.php.

One of the issues preventing Bedford from achieving an award, as Gleason sees it, is that the town doesn’t have any bike lanes or sharrows that would satisfy the “Engineering” component of the Five E’s.

“We don’t have any of what are called ‘on-road accommodations,’” Gleason said. “We’ve got some wonderful bike paths, but that’s not enough. If you get a zero on any one of the five E’s, you get [only] an ‘Honorable Mention.’”

Gleason said that one approach to improving Bedford’s “Engineering” rating, specifically, would be to take advantage of town repaving and restriping projects to see what could be done at those times to improve on-road bicycle accommodations.

“We could look at the potential and evaluate it: Is this a road that’s used by bicyclists? If so, then we need to do something, and this would be the time to do it,” Gleason explained.

Gleason cited Lexington as a community that has made advancements with on-road accommodations by adding “sharrows,” or shared-lane markings.

Because many of Bedford’s main thoroughfares are state highways, MassDOT would have to be convinced to include bike accommodations in repaving and restriping projects. At the meeting, Acting DPW Director Adrienne St. John recommended that the Committee talk to the Selectmen about writing a letter to Mass DOT that would open dialogue about providing bike lanes and sharrows when possible and appropriate.

Bicycle Advisory Committee member Brian O’Donnell agreed, saying the Selectmen would be the proper entity to urge attention to the matter. “I would imagine there are other communities where MassDOT has been pushed, that they don’t get away with having 16 foot [vehicle] travel lanes in Northampton [with no bike accommodations],” O’Donnell said.

“We’re going to get the detailed report card, hopefully sometime in June,” Gleason added. “I’m betting that we got a complete zero, and rightly so. It would be interesting to see whether we’d be a bronze or a silver if we [only] did some on-road accommodations. What’s a reasonable three-year, five-year, ten-year goal?”

“[I think that] Platinum [is what we should aim for],” said Gene Clerkin of the Community Preservation Committee, also in attendance. “We’re a small show here and if we can’t get Platinum. . . . We have a good start with the Minuteman Bikepath,” added Clerkin.  “We have the infrastructure here.”

“Route 62 is narrow and basically impossible to make it across. Until you can get across Bedford safely, I can’t imagine being Platinum,” Committee member Peter Weichman concluded.


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