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Bicyclists face squeeze on Martin's Point bridge between Portland, Falmouth

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Bicyclists face squeeze on Martin's Point bridge between Portland, Falmouth

FALMOUTH — With construction work beginning on a new Martin's Point bridge, bicyclists say the narrow lanes create hazardous conditions for motorists and bike riders.

Traffic patterns on the bridge are still in transition, but the final set-up will include a 12-foot travel lane in each direction, 18 feet for construction staging, and a five-foot, two-way multi-use path on the eastern side of the bridge.

Cyclist and Portland resident Stephen Smith, who bikes around 4,000 miles per year, said 12 feet is not enough space for bicycles and vehicles to travel safely side by side.

“It's really a question of arithmetic,” Smith said. “A bike is two feet wide and the typical cyclist rides about a foot and a half off the center line. In Maine, the law is that a car or truck has to allow three feet of clearance for a bicyclist. Obviously there is not enough room for two vehicles to share the same lane.”

Smith said that while the 12-foot lane arrangement would be fine on a rural road, where cars can move over and allow space for cyclists, it does not work on a heavily travelled commuter route like the bridge that connects Route 1 in Falmouth to Veranda Street in Portland.

The narrow lane and high speed are “inherently dangerous,” he said.

“When people are in a hurry patience wears thin and people do strange things," he said. "You never know what is going to happen."

Smith said allowing just two more feet per lane, which would widen the travel lanes to 14 feet, would make things much safer for everyone.

But Carol Morris, spokeswoman for contractor CPM Constructors, said lanes that wide are not possible.

“(CPM) needs 18 feet on the downstream side of the bridge in order to put their cranes on there, which is a big part of building the new bridge,” Morris said. “One of the cranes is already there and it needs to be stabilized; you can't scrimp on the space, otherwise it would not be safe (for motorists and workers).”

Morris said that cars and trucks will use travel lanes in both directions and cyclists should do whatever makes them the most comfortable. The multi-use path will be open throughout construction and pedestrians and cyclists are encouraged to make use of that path, she said.

She recommended that only expert cyclists travel with traffic.

Signs announcing a reduced speed limit and the necessity to share the road will be posted this week, Morris said.

The new traffic pattern will remain in place until the scheduled completion of the new bridge in the spring of 2014.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.