Bath again seen as bike-friendly

Bath schoolgirl Alissa Cogswell walks a path at Thorne Head. The League of American Cyclists gave the city an “Excellent” rating for its school-based bicycle education programs. Contributed / Lawrence Kovacs

Cycling is good for your health, your wallet and the environment. And the city of Bath is ideal for cycling.

The League of American Cyclists renewed Bath’s status as a bronze-level ‘Cyclist Friendly Community’ in December. Brunswick, which also earned the accolade in 2016, is the only other Maine city recognized by the organization. The league rates cities and communities on certain qualities, including engineering, education, assessment, and planning.

“The City Council is very enthusiastic about this,” said Tim Blair, chairman of Bath’s Cycle and Pedestrian Committee. “In fact, one wonders what we have to do to get to the next (silver) level.”

The committee, which oversees the implementation of Bath’s cycle and pedestrian plan, has been working with city officials to gradually improve infrastructure for cyclists and walkers, Blair said. Although Bath’s narrow streets are unsuitable for dedicated cycle lanes, the city has recently worked to improve safety and accessibility by installing more bike racks and reducing lane widths for cars.

Bath Middle School Dean of Students Paige Gallagher hands out stickers to students taking part in ‘Bike to School Day’ in Spring 2021. Contributed / Lawrence Kovacs

“We have a limited number of parking spaces in the city of Bath,” Blair said. “Anything we can do to get residents to drive into town and not use vehicle parking spaces is a huge plus.”

Angela King, advocacy manager for the nonprofit Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said cycling infrastructure can boost local economies.

“A parking spot can only fit one car, but it can fit 10 bikes,” said King, whose organization does statewide advocacy and education work on cycling issues. “That’s 10 customers.”

Young people across the country are pushing for more cycling infrastructure, King said. By switching from cars to bikes, Mainers can reduce the state’s biggest source of carbon emissions, according to the governor’s agency office.

“I think it’s really an environmental issue,” said Haley Blanco, a member of the cyclists and pedestrians committee. “More and more people are coming up the coast. We will have more cars.

Blanco moved to Bath in 2017 from Portland, Oregon, one of five cities nationwide designated as a platinum-level bike-friendly community by the League of American Cyclists. She initially started cycling simply because it was the most convenient option, which she said underscored the importance of having strong cycling infrastructure in place.

Students ride the pump track on the campus of Bath Middle School. Contributed / Lawrence Kovacs

“People will do the easiest and cheapest thing possible,” she said. “If we don’t really provide that infrastructure, nobody will push to start cycling.”

According to a report card that accompanied the award, Bath scored relatively low in areas related to cycling infrastructure and participation. Only 0.73% of workers in Bath commute by bicycle, compared to 6.4% in Portland, Oregon.

Still, the League of American Cyclists gave the city higher marks for its relatively low speed limits, active bicycling planning committee, and “excellent” school-based bicycling education programs.

Lawrence Kovacs, who teaches maths and science for Bath Middle School’s gifted and talented program, helped bring cycling to students in the city with a grant from a national organization called Outride. The funds enabled the school to purchase 25 mountain bikes in 2017, which students could use as part of a 12-part teaching cycling program.

Although the program, which covered topics ranging from bike sizes to rules of the road, was not aired during the pandemic, Kovacs said he hopes it will return later this year.

“Once a child has exercised and had that experience of balancing on a bike and riding a bike, they’re going to be much more receptive to any learning that’s going on,” Kovacs said, citing research who have linked physical exercise to academic achievement. “They will understand better. They will solve problems better.

Kovacs, who said he has seen a significant increase in the number of students cycling to school, said he hopes the program will introduce a generation to the health and environmental benefits of non-motorized travel. . But he also pointed to another benefit of cycling: the sense of freedom and connectedness with nature it instills in cyclists.

“It changes the way people interact with the world and the way they feel about it — basically opens up the world to them in a way that nothing else really can,” Kovacs said. “Bicycles are pretty amazing inventions in that way.”

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