It's been talked about for years, and construction is still years away, but the wheels are turning to create the Blackstone River Bikeway.
The Massachusetts Highway Department last month finally awarded a contract to Cullinan Engineering Co. of Auburn for 18 months' work -- topographical mapping and data crunching -- to determine the exact 26-mile route from Blackstone to Worcester.
The Federal Highway Administration had allotted money for the work in 1990, but it was rescinded by Congress during budget wrangling last winter, according to project manager Jane Weidman. The state came up with the money, and Cullinan should be starting the work this month, said Josh Lehman, state bicycle-pedestrian coordinator.
Meanwhile, design work is proceeding on the northern five miles, a segment to be built as part of the Massachusetts Turnpike interchange at Route 146. This will be a paved path separate from the highways and their ramps, running from Route 122A in Millbury to Broshnihan Square in the city. Ultimately, the bikeway would continue to Union Station.
Also, "10 percent design plans" are complete for a nine-mile segment from Lincoln to Woonsocket, R.I. In planners' lingo, 10 percent "is a big deal," explained Lisa Lawless, project engineer for the Rhode Island Department of Public Management. It means "putting the bike route down on paper, showing the alignment on the plans and also in profile," she said. "Ten percent is when most of the bureaucratic stuff is done, and we can apply for the first (construction) permit. The project has tons of momentum at this point; it's just a matter of wrapping up details."
Most of the bikeway will be a paved path, separate from streets, wide enough for riders going opposite directions to pass each other on either side of a painted centerline. The Rhode Island stretch will connect in Providence with the East Bay Bike Path, which goes to Bristol.
All of this is good news for Blackstone Valley cyclists in need of a safe commuting route to Worcester or recreational riders looking to escape automobile traffic.
Faster riders don't like -- and don't belong on -- bike
paths that get cluttered with roller skaters, joggers and walkers pushing baby
carriages. Also, some cyclists worry that if we let ourselves be relegated to
bike paths, motorists won't want to share any roads with us. But if the
Blackstone River Bikeway is properly built and used, it will be a pleasant
alternative to busy Route 122 and a real asset to the region.
The New England Mountain Biking Association is celebrating National Trails Day all day today in Douglas State Forest. There are marked trail loops of 8, 12 and 18 miles for riders of all abilities. Park at Singletary Rod and Gun Club, Sutton Avenue, Oxford, enter a raffle for a full-suspension mountain bike, meet people from area cycling groups, say hello to the "old coot" hisself (go and find out), and bike about two miles on pavement to the trailhead. It's free.
NEMBA, which won a "Trails for Tomorrow" award last year for its efforts on National Trails Day, has adopted about four miles of the Midstate Trail in the Douglas forest and has worked hard to maintain it for bikers and others.
Elsewhere off the road, the Metropolitan District Commission is developing a recreational use plan for its land at the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs and the Ware River watershed. Although mountain biking is not allowed at Wachusett, MDC regional planner Jeanne Zilligen acknowledges that the rule is not enforced. Biking is allowed on paved roads and fire roads at Quabbin and Ware, but not on single-track trails, she said. A public meeting will be scheduled in the fall to review the recreation plan.
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