It’s exciting to see that Lowell is on the way to becoming a more bike-friendly city! At the beginning of the summer, the city manager posted on his blog that bike lanes and sharrows would be coming to 17 local streets. About two weeks ago, a friend tweeted that they had noticed new bike lanes on Chlemsford Street. After work that day, I rode home via Varnum Avenue (not my usual route) and noticed the new lanes there. Since then, I have used Varnum for my commute home in order to take advantage of the lanes (I only use Varnum on my way home because even without lanes, Pawtucket Boulevard is the easiest way for me to get to work.)
The Varnum Avenue lanes aren’t bad (and they are certainly better than nothing!) They are a bit narrow, and they abruptly end, and there are definitely parked cars and garbage cans blocking the lanes in places, but drivers do seem to be more aware of bikes on the road.
I haven’t seen the Chelmsford Street lanes yet (I don’t often travel out that way) but Gist told me that they are wide and very visible, and that they looked safe. And one of my-co-workers told me that she noticed them and didn’t know what they were, but that it was very clear that she shouldn’t drive there. The fact that a driver would understand that they can’t drive in the lane is great, but some additional signage letting motorists know they are bike lanes would be better. I am especially excited about the Chelmsford Street lanes because they provide a connection between downtown and the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.
I heard via Twitter that there are sharrows on Westford Street, and I’ve also noticed that it looks like lanes/sharrows are going to be painted on Merrimack street, one of my usual routes home. There is an outline of a bicycle painted right in front of the library/city hall and there are dotted lines that I am hoping will become actual bike lanes.
I don’t know if this is true or if it was planned, but it seems that Lowell is focusing more on commercial streets when painting bike lanes. Downtown obviously has a lot of businesses, but both Chelmsford and Westford Streets have businesses/business districts and Varnum Avenue is home to Lowell General Hospital. I know that in Portland OR*, the city focused on putting lanes on residential neighborhood streets because they are quieter and the traffic tends to be calmer. I can see benefits to both methods, but I personally lean more towards putting lanes on streets where you can get to businesses, entertainment, etc. (but I am also very comfortable riding my bicycle on urban streets, lanes or no, and 99% of my rides are for transportation.)
In addition to the bike lanes, Lowell will also be getting a bike share program through Green Bikes New England, and City Bicycle, a repair shop that specializes in vintage bikes, just opened downtown (soon Ariel will be making a visit for some upgrades ;-) ) I am really excited to see these new bike-friendly developments in my city. I really hope that they encourage more Lowellians to get out and get biking!
* If you’re writing a blog post about bicycle infrastructure in the US, there has to be at least one mention of Portland, right ;-)