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Meetings in Northampton, Amherst and Belchertown will identify dangerous spots for bicyclists

Bicyclists in Northampton, Amherst and Belchertown will have several opportunities next month to sound off about dangerous roads and intersections.

The Masachusetts Bicycle Coalition has scheduled a series of meetings to identify hazardous locations and then make them known to municipal officials.

“Too often, we see a dangerous intersection or street, grumble about how ‘someone ought to do something about that,’ and then go on with our day,” said Price Armstrong, program manager at MassBike. “We will now have a chance to be that ‘someone’ and do something about it.”

The Northampton meetings will be at the Forbes Library at 20 West St. on Nov. 3 and 10, both from 1 to 4 p.m. In Amherst, the meetings will be at the Jones Library at 43 Amity St. on Nov. 4 and 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. There is one meeting in Belchertown on Nov. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Clapp Memorial Library, 19 South Main St.

The meetings will have an open-house format, so bicyclists can arrive at any time. MassBike volunteers will be there to collect information about 30 intersections and their sight lines, traffic speeds and stoplight cycle lengths, Armstrong said.

“Intersections tend to be the most dangerous place on the street,” he said. “It’s where traffic is moving perpendicularly, so any error is much more likely to result in a higher-speed collision. Intersections designed to make people slow down will increase safety. This can be done through raised crosswalks, tighter turning radii and narrowed travel lanes.”

From 2002 to 2010, there were three fatal bike crashes and 135 non-fatal crashes in Northampton, Amherst and Belchertown, according to the state Department of Transportation. In Northampton, fatal bike crashes occurred on Elm Street in 2005 and at the intersection of Main and Pleasant Streets last May, and a bicyclist died in a crash with a vehicle on University Drive in Amherst in 2009.

There are many more non-fatal collisions between bicycles and vehicles than are reported, Armstrong said. That’s because bikes rarely sustain expensive damage and are not covered by insurance, and bicyclists are often too embarrassed to report the crashes, he said. This year, bicycle collisions with vehicles have been reported on Old Ferry Road in Northampton and in Amherst on South Pleasant Street and East Hadley Road, according to Gazette files.

James Lowenthal, president of the Pioneer Valley chapter of MassBike, rides about 2,000 miles a year and is familiar with dangerous spots in Northampton and Amherst.

He lives in Northampton and while on his bicycle avoids Damon Road because it has no shoulder and vehicles drive fast, he said. He also avoids King Street because of the large number of driveways, he said.

Another dangerous spot is State Street, which could benefit from some measure to reduce vehicle speed, he said. The site of the fatal bike accident near Smith College in 2005 has been improved since then and is safer now, he said.

In Amherst, Lowenthal said the intersection of Routes 9 and 116 is less welcoming to bicyclists since it was made wider. Although rough patches on Massachusetts Avenue were installed to make pedestrian crossings safer, he said it should have been made a two-lane road with bike lanes. The roundabout at the intersection of North Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane “is already saving lives” because it forces motorists to slow down, he said.

The fatality on University Drive in 2009 was solely due to motorist inattention and not related to road configuration, he said.

Lowenthal said behavior is at least as responsible for bicycle collisions as dangerous intersections. Many motorists are impatient and don’t look for bicyclists, and too many bicyclists don’t have lights while riding at night or don’t obey traffic laws, he said.

Often, bike lanes get lost at intersections, Armstrong said.

“I have seen some intersections where the bike lane simply disappears into a right-turn lane,” he said. “In other cases, the bike lane continues on, but to the right of a right-turn lane, meaning that a biker wanting to go straight must cross through right-turning car traffic.”

The meetings next month are part of the Healthy Hampshire Initiative sponsored by the group called Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth. In August, MassBike completed bicycle safety assessments in Greenfield, South Deerfield and Colrain and submitted them to Franklin County planners.

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