From the Portsmouth Herald (New Hampshire), 1/20/06:
By Emily Aronson
"PORTSMOUTH - Without a car, you’re only way to get to the city from southern Maine is via the Memorial Bridge.
The span is the only one of three bridges across the Piscataqua River that allows bicycles and pedestrians. That’s why two-wheel enthusiasts are pushing the state to make it easier for bikers to use the bridge as part of the $37 million rehabilitation project scheduled for 2009.
"When they do fix the bridge, let’s make sure they get it right," said Cameron Wake of Seacoast Area Bicycle Routes.
Wake said bicyclists have had an "ongoing battle" with the state Department of Transportation to change the rule that people must walk their bikes on the bridge’s sidewalk.
According to project manager Nancy Mayville, the steel-grate roadway is unsafe for bikes, and the sidewalk is too narrow for cyclists to ride alongside pedestrians. The sidewalk railings are also not high enough to meet bicycle safety standards.
The DOT is working to solve this issue as part of the bridge rehabilitation. Preliminary plans presented at a meeting earlier this week include paving over the steel grate to allow bikers to ride across the bridge with vehicle traffic.
Wake said he’s in favor of this idea, but is worried that paving will be eliminated if costs run over.
"We need to remain vigilant that they do what they say they’re going to do," Wake said Wednesday.
Scott Bogel, senior transportation manager with the Rockingham Planning Commission, said he’s glad the DOT has developed plans with bikers in mind.
"We’re pleased the DOT is incorporating a solid deck to address the real safety hazards caused by the existing open grate deck," he said.
Bogel said cyclists still have questions about how the DOT will accommodate people without cars during the two months of construction when the bridge is completely closed.
Both Bogel and Wake encouraged the DOT to think about providing a ferry or shuttle service during those months for nondrivers.
Wake said he doesn’t know how many people without cars use the bridge, but said it’s a heavily traveled route. There were 15 to 20 bicyclists per hour on the bridge when his group did a count this past September.
While the rehabilitation project seems amenable to cyclists, Wake said he would still like the DOT to find a way for people to ride their bikes on the bridge before 2009.
Bicyclists at this week’s meeting said metal cleats at the bottom of riding shoes make it difficult and dangerous to walk across the bridge. Wake said some break the rules and ride their bike, but risk injury on the steel grate or a ticket from police.
Wake said an easy solution would be to allow cyclists on the sidewalk and install a sign that bikers must yield to pedestrians.
Mayville said it might be feasible to dedicate the sidewalk on one side of the bridge for walkers and the other for bikes, as some bicyclists have suggested.
"We will go back over some options to see if we can address this issue," she said. "And I mean that sincerely."
This is not the only bridge in Portsmouth that has cyclists in mind. Back in the late 80's/early 90's a bike path/MUP bridge was built across the busy Spaulding Turnpike, right next to Interstate-95. The path leads to an overpass over a connector between I-95 & the Spaulding that is no longer used by motor vehicles and leads to the Pease International Tradeport (old Pease Air Force Base). Follow one of the bike routes through Pease, into the small town of Newington NH, and you come upon another former motor vehicle bridge, the old General Sullivan Bridge over the entrance to Great Bay, connecting Newington & Dover, NH.