Bath cyclists tour new infrastructure

Kevin Shute leads a group of runners outside Bath Middle School on Friday May 20. John Terhune / The time record

The streets of Bath belonged to the bikes on Friday morning, as members of the Bath Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee led a group of around eight cyclists on a tour of the city’s cycling infrastructure in honor of National Day cycling to work.

Before the group left City Hall at 7 a.m. on an assortment of road and mountain bikes, Bike-Ped Committee Chairman Tim Blair gave their marching orders.

“As we ride today, as you notice places where you feel safe, notice places where you think things could be improved, mentally take note,” he said. “We would like to have feedback and a list of things people want to see.”

Tim Blair (center-right) speaks to runners outside City Hall before their 7 a.m. start on 5/20. John Terhune / The time record

Friday’s ride was the committee’s third and final event for National Bike Month, following a successful mountain bike trip and ride in Brunswick earlier in the month, according to committee member Kevin Shute.

“We offered a few different things from what we’ve done in the past and saw some new faces,” Shute said. “It was the best year yet.”

Although there are few dedicated bike lanes in Bath, the city once again earned the Bike-Friendly City designation from the League of American Cyclists in December, one of two Maine cities to win this honor, with Brunswick. Bath got high marks for its low speed limits, active cycling planning committee and “excellent” school-based cycling education programs, according to a newsletter from the organization.

The group made their first stop at Bath Middle School on Friday to cheer on pupils taking part in National Bike to School Day. According to Dean of Students Paige Gallagher, around 25 children made it to school on Friday, compared to an average of 5 to 10.

Kevin Shute stands next to a crowded bike rack at Bath Middle School. John Terhune / The time record

“It’s important to just get the kids moving,” said Gallaher, who said the promise of stickers, ice cream and bike accessories entice students to participate. “Once they’re active before school, it helps them stay focused and things like that. It’s always a positive way to start their day.

Other stops showcased steps taken by the Bath Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee to improve infrastructure for walkers and cyclists, such as promoting fresh pavement, new sidewalks and narrower vehicular traffic lanes on Judkins Avenue and Oak Grove. Blair said he hoped the work, completed in 2021, would make cyclists and walkers more comfortable by giving them more space and encouraging cars to slow down.

The committee, which works with other branches of Bath government to highlight and address the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, is currently rolling out its Help Bath Thrive: Drive 25 campaign, which targets speeding in Bath.

“Essentially, it’s about recognizing that many people don’t feel safe on bicycle roads because people are driving too fast,” Blair said of the campaign, which will also encourage people to advocate in favor of safety infrastructures such as raised pedestrian crossings. “Every five miles an hour above 25, you’re more likely to kill someone if you hit them.”

Construction worker Zack Grimm poses next to bike racks he recently helped set up with several cyclists. John Terhune / The time record

Making cyclists comfortable on the road is increasingly important as growing numbers of Bath citizens want to avoid the financial and environmental costs of driving, Blair said.

Bowdoin College librarian Mike McDermott said cycling to work in the summer provides an opportunity to exercise and get some fresh air. Yet he also pointed out the benefits of the practice for his wallet.

“When I ride a bike, that means I will only put gas in my car once every six weeks,” he said. “There’ll be whole summers where people talk about gas prices, where I’ll go, ‘I didn’t even pay attention.'”

Only 0.73% of workers in Bath commute by bicycle, compared to more than 6% in homes like Portland, Oregon, according to the League of American Cyclists bulletin.

But at the end of Friday’s hike, as the group shared their thoughts on potential upgrades, Blair hinted that a game-changing project might be on the way: the highly sought-after Androscoggin at Kennebec Trail, which would make the trip from Bath to Brunswick and Topsham safer and more comfortable.

“The three communities involved have started conversations again,” he said. I guess you will hear more about it very soon.

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Wiley C. Thompson