Wheeling and biking in MHT 

Manchester has come a long way in becoming a city that is more bike and wheel friendly. However, it seems that sometimes the focus, which should be on the people affected by the limitations as well as new policies, gets lost because of pressure to create a solution. This leads to practices and policies that, although meant to solve a problem, end up creating new ones. 

Instead of simply complaining, I decided to present my ideas for a possible solution. Although not the perfect solution, my hope is that my ideas will act as a starting point to answering the question of why isn’t it done this way? 

I have had several conversations over the past several months with people who “wheel,” (the term that my friends who use a wheelchair to get around call the act of moving throughout the city), as well as those who bike here in Manchester. Both groups told me that, although the ability for them to get around our city has improved, there are still many limitations for them, especially as they get further away from the Downtown area or in certain neighborhoods. 

Here are my thoughts. I think that the bike lanes should run on the street next to the sidewalk, and that on-street parking should be moved out away from the sidewalks. So, the set-up would be sidewalk, bike lane, then parking. Doing this would create a barrier between those on bicycles and those driving traditional motor vehicles. In areas without on-street parking, Jersey-style barriers or guard rails could be installed to create a separation between the bike lane and non-bicycle traffic, (of course the road would have to be wide enough to allow this. If the road is not wide enough, bicycles would have to share the road with other traffic). I have seen this type of system in other cities, and it seems to work well.

Finding a way to create space between bikes and traffic lanes, sort of like the bike buffer lanes in Boston. Image/Boston.gov

One question that I often get when presenting ideas is how they would be paid for. In this case, the updating of existing bike lanes and the creation of new ones could be paid for with funding that is already allocated for this purpose. After that, private grants and other funding could be sought out. Other creative funding programs could also be looked at, such as a “sponsor a lane,” program similar to the sponsor a mile programs that exists for highways.

Creating bike lanes that truly protect those who ride bicycles will help reduce the number of those who ride on the sidewalks, which in turn would make it safer for those who use the sidewalks for what they are meant for, walking and wheeling. This brings me to my next point…keeping those who wheel safe.

Two major complaints that I hear from those who wheel is that they often have to navigate around people on bicycles and that our city isn’t really “wheel friendly.” For example, there are curbs that are not cut or that are not cut low enough to allow a regular wheelchair to drive over. Another issue is that in some parts of the city, there are no sidewalks, (and we’re not talking in low traffic areas at the edges of the city, we’re talking about areas that are close to Downtown). In addition, some “sidewalks” consist of a cut curve followed by dirt and maybe some cracked pavement where the completed sidewalk once was. (And dirt and loose pavement are very difficult to navigate when wheeling). These sidewalks exist in various parts of our city and are random. I haven’t been told that they are concentrated in one particular area of our city. 

If there is no alternative, people who wheel often find themselves in the road right along with often fast-moving traffic. As one can imagine, this is not good considering the person wheeling is very exposed and often cannot be seen because they are low to the ground.

My solution: Maintain our sidewalks and make them truly accessible to those who wheel. (Cut the curbs so that they line up with the road; be sure that cross signals are working and that they are long enough for someone to wheel across; when patching sidewalks, remove loose dirt and asphalt). And don’t just do this Downtown or in selected neighborhoods…do this everywhere in the city.

I love our city and hope that these ideas act as a springboard for more positive discussion and inspire more people to get involved and help make Manchester an even greater place to live, work, and play!