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Some lighter ideas offered by NH legislators, too

New Hampshire Sunday News

December 22. 2012 10:06PM

Not all requests lawmakers submit for drafting bills involve weighty matters such as taxes or spending.

As usual, there are lighter bits of lawmaking - this year, proposals to make the potato the state vegetable, and orange, red and yellow the official state colors, for instance.

Dog lovers may be able to bring their best friends along when dining outdoors in New Hampshire if a Bedford lawmaker has his way.

And commuters could be one step closer to riding the rails to work if a Charlestown legislator can get enough support for his proposal to study the feasibility of "personal rapid transit systems."

Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, is sponsoring a bill to allow restaurant owners to decide whether to let customers bring their leashed dogs into outdoor dining areas.

Murphy, who owns Murphy's Taproom in downtown Manchester, said he always let customers bring their pups to his restaurant's outdoor deck. "They would be on a leash at their owners' feet. My staff would bring them a bowl of water, people would stop and pet the dogs, and nobody ever got hurt, nobody ever complained."

Then he found out last year that Manchester's health code prohibits dogs anywhere in restaurants. "They see no difference between a dog at a sidewalk table and a dog in the middle of a dining room, and to me there's clearly a difference," he said.

Other communities in New Hampshire are more dog-friendly, Murphy said. "I'm generally a big fan of local control, but you can't have different restaurants in different parts of the state operating under different restrictions, and that's what you have right now."

His bill would let restaurant owners decide, based on their own customers' wishes.

There are already animals at outdoor eateries, Murphy points out. "I can have birds flying overhead, and occasionally they're going to do what birds do. And we'll have stray cats wander through. Last summer, we actually had a possum wander through."

Banning dogs, he said, "just seems ridiculous."

Murphy moved here from Baltimore, where he said some restaurants even welcomed dogs inside. At one popular tavern named Kooper's, he said, "Everybody in there would have a dog."

"They would walk the dog in on a leash, tie the dog to the barstool and sit down and have dinner and a few drinks. You'd walk in and there'd be 25 dogs there."

Murphy thinks most restaurant owners here will support his bill "because they want to make the customers happy.

"That's my motivation in running my business."

Meanwhile, Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, wants a study committee to look into the feasibility of building "personal rapid transit systems" here in New Hampshire.

No, he's not talking about jetpacks. What he's interested in are smaller, automated tram cars that hang from elevated rails.

Think Cannon Mountain's gondola meets San Francisco's cable cars. "They're kind of like trolleys that are hanging from a rail," Smith explained.

"The passenger gets in, goes to a screen, punches in where he wants to go," he said. "Then they'll swipe a card to pay for the ride, and off they go."

And they're solar-powered: "The entire top of the rail ... are the solar collectors."

They have them in Europe, Smith said, including at Heathrow Airport.

And just this past Friday, Atlanta-based JPods and UK-based Equility Capital Ltd. announced they had signed a letter of intent to build and fund the world's first solar-powered "podcar" network in Fayetteville, Ga., according to a company news release. The $100 million project is the first such system built in the United States since a nine-mile network was built in Morgantown, W.Va., in the 1970s, the release said.

Smith said he's been contacted by two companies that build these systems and want to talk to lawmakers here. "They don't even want money," he said. "These are typically built by private resources or with federal funds."

Smith thinks this could be one answer to New Hampshire's public transportation needs. "The problem with mass transit is we don't have the masses. We have very few people that need public transportation, but the ones that need it, need it pretty bad. What I'm hoping is the small scale of this might be better."

In Sullivan County, for instance, he envisions it replacing some of the small buses run by Community Alliance Transportation Services. Unlike those buses, he said, these trams only run when someone needs to go somewhere.

Smith said all he wants to do is invite builders to come talk to lawmakers about what they could do for New Hampshire.

"Just to start the conversation," he said. "I'm a realist. While I see successful systems, building them here might be completely impractical, and I want to learn that, too."


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