Sometimes bicycling safety initiatives come from unexpected places. In Sharon, a town south and west of Boston, MassDOT’s South Coast Rail Technical Assistance grant might help build bike lanes.
The grant is part of the South Coast Rail project. According to the website, this project will link South Station with the south coast of Massachusetts by restoring rail transportation along this corridor, which is expected to activate up to half a billion dollars in economic development yearly. Christine Madore, associate planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, says that most communities awarded this grant focus on expanding businesses downtown, green infrastructure, and housing. In other words, it is not usual for the grant to focus on the safety of cyclists.
But in Sharon a priority mapping study showed that the attraction of the town for outdoor enthusiasts, especially cyclists, represented a viable economic opportunity. Making the already-popular roads safer and more attractive for cyclists is an important part of the plan.
Initially it was hard to narrow down where in Sharon the study would focus. “The heat map showed that almost every road is biked on,” said Madore. After a close look at the town’s resources, safe biking and walking along one of the most popular routes – the loop around Lake Massapoag – was singled out as a priority.
The town was already planning to re-pave Massapoag Ave, which meant that it was, according to Madore, the most “imminent opportunity to implement on-road bike facilities.” Public meetings were held to learn what residents and other users needed and wanted on the road. This process and the Lake Massapoag Bicycling Network website allowed the public to comment on the best way make the lake accessible to cyclists and pedestrians and get more people walking and biking around points of interest in Sharon.
Sharon resident Dana Carne has been an active voice in the process of making Massapoag Ave safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Members of her family are “constantly cycling on [Massapoag Ave], and [she is] extremely concerned about safety in general for pedestrians and cyclists here.” Carne frequently crosses the road with her toddler to access the lake and says crossing the road is dangerous due to the fast cars, wide lanes, lack of sidewalks on the lake side, few crossings, and curves. “After many discussions with the neighbors, we were very worried about the plans for the new road,” Carne said. Many residents who lived near the lake wanted the new road to include bike lanes, which would provide an extra level of safety when crossing the street as well as help cyclists. When the town held public meetings, Carne and her neighbors were there to advocate for the road being rebuilt with all users in mind. The changes on Massapoag Ave have begun, and Carne has become concerned because the road has been narrowed – enough, she thinks, to limit the width of a bike lane.
It will be some time before the changes are complete. Town Engineer Peter O’Cain told us that “a final decision on the striping configuration for the bike trail has not been made yet and may not be until the spring given the weather.” As far as traffic calming on the busy road, O’Cain says the town will include “striping, signage, and the installation of LED speed limit signs that provide real-time speed feedback to motorists.”
Madore adds “it is important to note that in order for a meaningful product to come out of this process, bike facility improvements should be considered for the entire bike network, not just focused on a small section.” Massapoag Ave is currently a focus because the paving project allowed for nearly immediate changes. Madore also believes that “promoting safe biking around the lake should involve a holistic approach to the streets and roads that were chosen for this project.”
To further encourage visitors on two wheels to explore the town, Madore is also recommending using wayfinding signs and maps at strategic locations, especially at the train station and town center, and the next phase of the project will help develop an ecotourism guide. Madore envisions cyclists “getting off the train, using the maps to learn they can ride to the town center for a cup of coffee or lunch, and then enjoying a bike ride around the lake or other parts of town.”
Sharon is a small town where bicycling is a big part of a vision for economic development. Like Sharon, a lot of cities and towns across Massachusetts are making bicyclist-friendly decisions. What’s happening in your town? If you would like to share stories about cycling advocacy or infrastructure changes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know. Your story might be featured on the MassBike website and newsletter!