Worcester, Mass.
May 12, 1996

Worcester "bike trails" disappoint

By Lynne Tolman

    I can't get excited just yet about Worcester's new "bicycle trails," which are actually 11 miles of city streets deemed suitable for bike riding.

   Suitable for bike riding is a matter of individual opinion, and this cyclist, for one, is not comfortable biking on many of the narrow, potholed, traffic-clogged roads mapped out in the "Worcester Bicycle & Pedestrian Trails Guidebook" published last fall.

   The booklet has four-color maps and gives turn-by-turn directions for two urban routes: an 8.2-mile route from Quinsigamond Village to Webster Square to Tatnuck Square to the Leicester line, and a 2.8-mile route from Union Station to Institute Park to Morgan Park.

   Worcester and Leicester won a $151,720 federal transportation grant to create the "trails," and work is to begin this summer, said Alan I. Gordon, planning coordinator in the Office of Planning and Community Development. An OPCD landscape architect is working with the Department of Public Works to determine where bikeway signs, bike racks, park benches and information kiosks should be installed.

    The trails plan "doesn't trigger any road repairing or widening," Gordon said. But when the DPW resurfaces a street on the bike route, stripes will be painted, where possible, to create a bike lane -- though not all the streets have room for the standard 4-foot bike lane. Mill Street, which long ago was designated the Major Taylor Bikeway and is scheduled for resurfacing this year, will continue to have a wide, paved shoulder as a bike lane, Gordon said. The DPW likely will address the streets in question "over a period of years," he said.

    The routes were selected for both commuting and recreational use, Gordon said. But I don't foresee an increase in either use anytime soon. Bike commuters already choose the roads they feel safe on that get them where they need to go, and "Sunday riders" aren't going to find an immediate increase in their comfort level on these routes. As Seven Hills Wheelmen member Tom Swenson of Boylston put it, "There's more to being bicycle-friendly than putting up signs and painting a few lines."

    For starters, both cyclists and motorists need to be better educated on the rules of the road. Any effort to promote more cycling on city streets should have an educational component. I fear motorists begrudging cyclists the room they have a right to, even when bike lanes are marked, and I already see too many scofflaws biking in the city -- riding on the wrong side of the street, running stop signs and red lights.

    But the Worcester effort is a baby step in the right direction. Another city cycling friend got a chuckle out of the guidebook, saying it makes Worcester's industrial backdrop seem like attractive scenery, "but hey, anything that encourages people to ride a bike is great."

    Another step in the right direction is coming from the Worcester Regional Transit Authority, which has applied for a $62,600 federal grant to put bike racks on all its buses next year. Commuters could take a bus in from the suburbs, then pedal in the city, or vice versa; or bike to work or school in the morning and take the bus home after dark.

    Portland, Ore., which was rated by Bicycling magazine last year as the top U.S. city for cycling, has front-mounted bike racks on all its buses. So does Phoenix, No. 9 on Bicycling's list of bike-friendly North American cities. About 150 cyclists per day take their bikes on buses or trains in Portland, and Phoenix-area buses carry about 750 bikes per day, according to the magazine.
    TIP OF THE HELMET -- To Hopedale police officer Victor Best, for biking about 600 miles from Boston to Washington with 38 other Bay State law enforcement officers. The group is raising money for the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation, which aims to build a memorial to slain officers at the Statehouse. The riders left Boston on Tuesday and arrive in Washington today, in time for a candlelight vigil tomorrow at the national police memorial.
    After a 1990 bike crash on Mount Wachusett left Judson Somerville paralyzed from the waist down, the young University of Massachusetts Hospital doctor vowed to finish his residency in anesthesiology, and he did. Somerville, 35, completed his medical training in his native Texas, worked as an obstetrical anesthesiologist for a time and this year opened his own pain management clinic in Laredo, Texas.

    Somerville was riding his bike down the Princeton mountain's auto road with three other medical residents on a dry, sunny August day when he failed to negotiate a turn and slammed into a stone wall. He credited his colleagues, his fitness level, and, most important, his helmet with saving his life.

     His wife was eight months pregnant then with the couple's second child. A month after the accident, during his rehabilitation at West Roxbury Veterans Administration Medical Center, Somerville said he was just happy to be alive, wanted to get home to his family, and was not about to throw away 12 years of medical training.

    His positive attitude has paid off. In a phone interview from Texas last week, Somerville reported that his daughters, 5 and 9, are thriving and so is his career. He said he "ran into a fair amont of prejudice" from other doctors who underestimated the abilities of a wheelchair user, "but it's their problem, not mine."

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