By Mike LaBella
---- — Haverhill has four miles of marked bike lanes along city streets, and hopes to develop more places where riders can take in the community's scenery.
City officials say there are many more miles a bicyclist can travel beyond the two-mile stretch of Water Street that has marked bike lanes and signs asking everyone to "Share the Road."
"As a city, we want to make Haverhill a more bike-friendly place from the point of view of biking safety, and lanes are one way to do that," said William Pillsbury, director of economic development and planning.
Last year, Pillsbury worked with Jeff Russell of Haverhill to design the bike lanes along Water Street, roughly from the Buttonwoods Museum area to RiversEdge Plaza.
"The hope is to have a kind of trail system, but right now it's sort of one street at a time," Pillsbury said.
As volunteer head of the city's Bike Haverhill committee, Russell works closely with Mayor James Fiorentini and Pillsbury to identify bike routes and streets where bike lanes would be practical. Russell is also a member of the planning committee for the Emmaus organization' annual Cycle for Shelter and leads training rides for the 100-mile ride, one of four rides that are part of this year's Cycle for Shelter event scheduled for July 28.
Russell, a research scientist with a doctorate in physical chemistry, said the lanes on Water Street fill a need and that he'd like to see more of them.
"I think it's working out well," said Russell, who bikes hundreds of miles each week throughout the region and has mapped out more than 40 local routes a cyclist can take.
One of those routes, which he calls the "Winnekenni Loop," begins at Riverside Park, loops around Kenoza Lake on Kenoza Street then continues along Route 110 past Winnekenni Park to Mill Street then Water Street, and back to Riverside Park. He hopes to have his routes published on the city's website.
"I'm always looking for the most scenic and safest routes possible," Russell said.
Russell had a biking partner recently when he joined Fiorentini on a morning ride down Main Street to City Hall. Russell said the mayor encourages residents to ride their bikes.
"The goal is to make Haverhill more bicycle friendly, more comfortable and safer," said Russell, who doesn't just advocate bicycle safety, but instead lives it.
"I won't let anyone ride along with me unless they are wearing a helmet," he said.
Pillsbury said he travels the bike lanes on Water Street when riding his bicycle to and from his job at City Hall. He said replicating these lanes on other streets will take research and planning.
"As we do repaving of roads, we want to try to incorporate bike striping in the line-striping work and when we have the opportunity to connect them up, we try to do that as well," Pillsbury said. "We will look at the list of streets that will be paved this summer, but it doesn't make sense to put a bike lane on every street. A lot of streets don't have adequate width, especially where you have vehicles parked. Water Street was perfect as there is no parking. Most roads in Haverhill are not that wide."
Where bike lanes may not be feasible, more signage might be an option.
"We'd like to expand our 'Share the Road' signage program and maybe look for a state grant or Chapter 90 money for that as there is a lot of movement towards bike friendly communities," Pillsbury said. "Like Boston, we're trying to get drivers to understand that bikes are out there and they have rights. It's a matter of safety on both sides."
Hoping to contribute to a safer environment for cyclists, Russell recently came up with a list of storm grates that are oriented in way he says pose a danger to bicyclists. He said the 40 or so grates on his list are a fraction of the hundreds of grates that exist throughout the city and that he plans to give his list to Public Works Director Mike Stankovich.
"The grates are parallel to the line of travel, so if you drop your front wheel in the cover, you can go airborne and the landing would not be pretty," Russell said. "I've ridden up and down every street looking for and identifying where the grates are."
David Van Dam, the mayor's chief of staff, said he will work with the Highway Department on reorienting the grates, which he said are otherwise safe. "It's certainly something we want to do to make the streets safer for cyclists," Van Dam said.
Pillsbury said Haverhill has many scenic bike routes, including routes where you can "ride the river." He said the city is also encouraging off-road cycling on recreational paths such as the one that rings Kenoza Lake in the Winnekenni Park area.
"It's definitely in the mix, as the trails are there and are being used," Pillsbury said.
Pillsbury said the mayor is also encouraging greater use by walkers and cyclists of the Bradford Rail Trail on the river bank across from downtown, and hopes to expand the trail into Groveland.
"Now we have to connect the rail trail past the yacht club to the Basiliere Bridge,'' Pillsbury said.
"We try to obtain easements any time we can to access the river with a trail," he said.
To view biking routes that Russell and others have mapped out in Haverhill, visit online at www.mapmyride.com. To learn more about Cycle for Shelter visit www.emmausinc.org.