Bath walkers, bicyclists may gain City Hall advocates

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BATH — The City Council is expected next month to establish a permanent panel to create safe, year-round routes for bikers and walkers.

The now-ad hoc Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee grew out of the Bath Trails group and includes walkers, bicyclists, health professionals, the Bath Area Family YMCA, and the city’s directors of parks and recreation, planning and public works.

The permanent committee would implement recommendations in the new Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan and advocate biking and walking in Bath.

The committee, which began meeting in 2009, secured $9,000 in Maine Department of Transportation funds distributed through the Midcoast Council of Governments. It used that money to hire Katrina Van Dusen, a consulting planner, who prepared the plan with the assistance of Bowdoin College student Leah Wang.

“It talks about doing something very similar to this in our Comprehensive Plan, and we’ve been working at implementing the plan,” Planning Director Jim Upham said last week.

Upham said the effort was also triggered when the suggestion was made at a Bath Trails meeting that the city should start looking at bicycling and walking in Bath for recreational and commuting purposes.

“I had been thinking about going to the council and asking them if they would create a Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee for some time,” Upham said, “because I think bicycling and walking for recreation purposes, for health purposes, for economic development purposes – making our city more walkable and more bike-able – are important. And I think that there needs to be a group of Bath citizens who are the advocates for this.”

Having a plan in place “gives us a leg up when we go after any kind of grant money,” Upham said. “We can demonstrate to the granting agency … that we’ve thought about this. We have a plan, and we’re working toward implementing that plan. Whether it’s extending a sidewalk or widening a sidewalk, improving the edges of streets for bicycle riding, or whatever it might be.”

A sidewalk inventory was taken as part of the planning process. All sidewalks were walked, their conditions were ranked, and they were mapped and complied into a database. The city’s 2002 sidewalk priority list was also revised to show improvements that have been made and streets requiring sidewalk construction or repair.

The committee also drafted a survey that gathered information about where people bike, walk and run, and how they perceive local conditions. More than 150 residents responded and nearly 20 were interviewed.

The plan calls for priority short-term actions, such as establishment of a permanent bike and pedestrian committee, improvements to downtown crosswalks and sidewalks to ensure Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, improvement of bicycle and pedestrian access to schools, and designation of bicycle routes throughout Bath.

The plan also recommends a meeting be convened of Bath, Brunswick and West Bath officials to discuss how to proceed with plans to extend the Androscoggin River bicycle path to the Kennebec River.

According to the plan, areas that require special consideration in the long term include High Street south of Route 1, waterfront sidewalks, the intersection of Centre and High streets, and Route 1 west of High Street.

Projects will have to be included in Bath’s annual capital improvements plan, while other budgetary changes will have to be included in the annual operations budget.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.