Hanover implements road changes to boost pedestrian, cyclist safety

by Sara McGahan | 9/25/14 6:50pm

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Hanover is testing new bicycle advisory lanes on Valley Road to boost pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Source: Danny Kim

Bicycle advisory lanes, or “suggestion lanes,” were implemented last week on Valley Road, parallel to East Wheelock street and within walking distance of the Green. The road has been painted with a 10-foot wide vehicle lane down the middle and two 5-foot lanes on either side suggested for pedestrians and cyclists.

When two vehicles approach one another, they most move into the suggestion lanes to pass and then resume travel using the middle lane. Because motor vehicles may cross into suggestion lanes when necessary, they differ from bike lanes.

The bicycle advisory lanes intend to boost the popularity and safety of bicycling, walking and running, said William Young, chairman of the Hanover bike and pedestrian committee. He added that traffic speeds should hopefully decrease in a natural, intuitive way as a result of the suggestion lanes. The road’s current speed limit is 25 miles per hour.

Suggestion lanes are cheaper than other incentives designed to enhance walking, running and biking, like sidewalks or multi-use paths, Young said.

The cost-effectiveness of suggestion lanes was attractive to the Hanover Department of Public Works, Young said.

During the winter, suggestion lanes will aid snow and ice plowing. If sidewalks were created, the town would have to plow both the sidewalks and the streets, Carolyn Radisch, a consultant to Hanover’s pedestrian bicycle advisory committee said, while suggestion lanes can be plowed along with the street.

Only a few other cities in America have operated with such lanes – including two cities in Minnesota, one in Oregon and one in Indiana, Radisch said. This idea falls in line with Hanover’s 2012 bicycle master plan and its 2013 safe routes to school travel plan, which recommend and promote incentives to make bikers, pedestrians and students travelling to local schools safer, Radisch said.

Radisch proposed the idea after biking in the Netherlands with her children on roads with bicycle advisory lanes.

In the Netherlands, suggestion lanes are typically implemented on rural and urban roads. According to a proposal written by Northeastern University professor Peter Furth, data taken by Dutch officials show a 17 percent decrease in the overall accident rate on rural roads where suggestion lanes were implemented. Speed limits on these rural roads also decreased from 50 mph to 37.5 mph when the suggestion lanes were put into effect. While Furth said in an interview that the suggestion lanes are “extremely self-explanatory,” four signs mark Valley Road to explain how the new lanes are meant to work.

If the Valley Road pilot program succeeds, the town will potentially implement suggestion lanes on other streets. The road was selected, Radisch said, because it is “fairly safe.”

“If it works there, we can think about taking it to a street that has more traffic,” Radisch said.

Only in-town roads with low traffic volume and speeds up to 30 m.p.h. will be considered. Additionally, bike lanes or paths on these streets must be infeasible to implement because the road cannot be expanded.

Rip Road — located northeast of campus — may acquire suggestion lanes if the Valley Road pilot is successful, town manager Julia Griffin said.

Radisch also said that Curtiss Road, located near the Bernice A. Ray Elementary School, could be another candidate for suggestion lanes.

The town will evaluate the Valley Road pilot program’s success through observation, by counting the number of vehicles and pedestrians travelling on the road, recording traffic speeds and surveying neighbors.

These numbers will be compared to similar data taken before the suggestion lanes were implemented.

Some neighbors are opposed to the lanes’ appearance, as the street was previously unmarked by center lines. Other residents are not convinced that the suggestion lanes will increase street activity or decrease traffic speeds, Young said.