Thursday, April 1, 2010
A Bridge Too Far?
Maine DOT to Consider Bicycle Bridge Over Piscataqua River
A.P. - The Maine Department of Transportation announced today that they are launching a feasibility study for a proposed bikeway between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine. The plan involves adding a suspended bicycle track underneath the main deck of the Piscataqua River Bridge.
A spokesman for the agency said that traffic planners had dealt with many complaints over the years from cyclists and advocacy groups about inadequate facilities for bicyclists to safely cross over the Piscataqua, but had not been able to come up with a satisfactory solution. A consulting engineer with the department recently became aware of new bicycle bridge design in the concept stage, however, and realized that it might fill the needs of the interstate river crossing.
"We saw this design by Kolelinia on the internet," the spokesman said, "and we quickly saw how it could be applied to the problem." Rather than undertake expensive upgrades to the old drop bridges over the river, or add dedicated bike lanes to the newer Piscataqua River Bridge, the engineers saw a way to suspend one of these bicycle tracks underneath the deck of the bridge at a fraction of the cost. The bike "bridge" would allow cyclists to make the crossing between Maine and New Hampshire by riding in special channels designed specifically for bike wheels, with safety harnesses to prevent mishaps.
When asked if they thought that this design might prove too intimidating for some bicycle travelers, the Maine DOT spokesman said they did not consider this a problem. "We figure that these cyclists already share the road with SUVs, lumber trucks, and cars with out-of-state plates, so they are already experienced at risk-taking."
Another reporter brought up the concern about cross-winds, and asked if the safety harness shown in the designs had been fully tested. The DOT representative admitted that the cross-winds on the bridge could be a problem, but they wouldn't approve the final design if the safety harness was inadequate. "At 135 feet above the river, that's quite a drop," the spokesman conceded. "Scenic, though."
If the final plans meet the Maine DOT's stringent requirements, the state could begin construction by the end of the summer. "We anticipate no delays, and will not have to close down any lanes on the bridge itself during construction," the spokesman said. "We could have the bicycle bridge completed all the way to the state line by the end of the year."
When it was pointed out that the state line is only the centerpoint of the bridge, the DOT spokesman said, "Well, we have every reason to expect that New Hampshire will complete their half of the extension in due course. In fact," he added, "the New Hampshire folks consider their state line to extend all the way across the river. Maybe we can convince them to pick up the whole project on their own."