By Alex Lippa
Haverhill is about to begin painting bike lanes on Route 97 along the Merrimack River, moving the city a step closer to Mayor James Fiorentini's goal of making the roads safer and easier to ride for cyclists around the city.
"We want to send a message that Haverhill is bike friendly," said Fiorentini.
Fiorentini said the city will start painting the bike lanes by the end of the week on Route 97, from the H.R. Sawyer Schwinn Bicyclery on Ginty Boulevard to Trinity Stadium. In addition to marking a lane specifically for bicycles, the city will put up signs urging drivers to share the road with bikers.
Haverhill resident Jeff Russell is deeply involved with Fiorentini in the process of designing bike lanes and other amenities to benefit bicyclists in the city.
"I have been trying to get a little more input from people all over Haverhill," said Russell. "There are a lot of different opinions about how bikes can be utilized."
Russell is the head of the Bike Haverhill commission, which works closely with Fiorentini and Bill Pillsbury, head of economic planning and community development in the city. Russell, an avid biker, is on the hunt for streets in Haverhill where bike lanes would be feasible.
"Right now we are looking at what other side streets we could do," said Russell. "It needs to be wide enough where it would make sense to put a bike lane in."
Money for the bike lanes come from the $1.5 million in Chapter 90 road funds the city received from the state earlier this month. Fiorentini said it would be a "tiny amount" but did not have a figure.
Russell is working on another bike-related project to help the city. He is mapping bike routes around the city that would provide a safe and interesting tour of what the city has to offer. Once approved by the city, Russell hopes to paint arrows on the side of the road so that bikers can follow the route that Russell has drawn out.
The first route that Russell has designed starts at Riverside Park, loops around Northern Essex Community College and Kenoza Lake, goes onto Route 110 past John Greenleaf Whittier's birthplace, before bearing left onto Mill Street to Water Street, where the new bike lanes will be put into place. The total route is 7.6 miles.
The biggest worry that Russell has with that plan right now, is the number of bikers crossing busy Route 110.
"I don't want to be accused of putting up a death trap," said Russell. "There are just some gnarly areas in that stretch. We need to make sure people cross the street safely."
Russell had a booth at the Haverhill Goes Green fair last weekend and handed out pamphlets about his routes and gathered opinions about where people like to bike.
Fiorentini said the city hope to put out more bike racks to encourage residents to bike into the city. There is a bike rack in Columbus Park that was installed two years ago. The mayor would like to see another on Washington Street in the restaurant district.
After the bike routes are completed, the next step for Bike Haverhill will be to plan off-road biking. Fiorentini said he has looked into options for making the path at Winnekenni Park suitable for bikers as well as walkers.
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