This has been the summer of cyclists in Portsmouth. Several thousand City residents — including many new riders of all ages — took to our streets to get around on two wheels and exercise . Noticeable have been the families with very young riders learning the ropes. Area bike shops even sold out of bikes. COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink some things and getting around without cars is one of them. On Middle Street cyclist counts are up 50% over last year.
So imagine a project which was over a decade in the making — based on ideas proposed by residents during multiple Portsmouth Listens sessions and now baked into the City’s Master Plan — designed to make life safer for riders on Middle Street, traditionally a dangerous street for cyclists and pedestrians. Because of the investment required, the City found a way to use over $250,000 of grant money to design an interim solution for creating bike lanes on the street. Various alternatives were demonstrated four years ago near Middle and Lincoln so people could experience them. The resulting solution is based on national best practices and recommendations from the NH DOT. Radical changes to our current design will require the City to return the grant money and City staff also worries that such a move would affect our eligibility for future Federal funding.
City staff fully understand the concerns of residents and have responded to every single issue raised by some that live along the street. Area cyclists also acknowledge the concerns too and have contributed ideas for further improvements and changes. Each passing year, the City has improved the design.
Now imagine a Mayor and some Councilors, notably Council Kennedy and her “bad cop” friend Councilor Huda, who have made it a personal mission to undermine the project entirely. They are so hellbent on delivering a campaign promise to a few unhappy residents that they are impervious to reason and its application to professional expertise, thought, and dedication to real safety for cyclists. Yesterday saw one of the worst examples of civic governance I’ve ever seen. Around 5pm Councilor Huda emailed a laundry list of ills to the Council (though not the public) and around 11pm she and Councilor Kennedy seriously wanted the Council to vote to return the parked vehicles to the curb. Using parked cars as a buffer is key safety aspect of the design. If they cared, they would know this.
Mass DOT and NH DOT no longer approve or recommend bike lanes which run between parked vehicles and the travel lane. On Middle Street cars routinely travel over 30mph. Had the cyclist involved in the recent crash been on the outside of the illegally parked car when its occupant illegally opened a door without looking, he would have been knocked into traffic. That is precisely how cyclist John Kavanagh lost his life in Durham six years ago. Try explaining that to Kennedy, Huda, and Becksted.
Drivers — surrounded by several tons of steel — have always been safe on Middle Street. Not so cyclists with plastic helmets and a thin layer of clothing. I would urge all residents who really care about protecting our more vulnerable road users — especially the next generations of young riders — to contact the Council, especially the Councilors I’ve named and let them know that personal vendettas shenanigans are not part of good governance. Policies that expand Portsmouth’s growing cycling infrastructure are.