BEDFORD — Over the past 30 years, Bedford has grown from a rural, agricultural community with a population of 9,481 to about 21,500 today.
With an increase in traffic, commercial and residential developments, the community wants access to more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly roads and paths connecting different sections of town.
At a Feb. 10 public hearing, the Planning Board adopted the 2014 Bicycle-Pedestrian Connectivity Master Plan to be used as a guide in creating future walking and biking areas.
Resident Susan Tufts-Moore said she is pleased a plan has been developed and hopes the town will take action sooner rather than later.
“I think it’s a long time coming. Bedford has changed very much. It’s not a sleepy little town it was quite a few years ago and it’s unsafe for bikers and pedestrians, so I applaud this report,” she said.
For several months, the master plan committee and consultants interviewed about 500 residents at town events and through an online survey to gather input about bicycle and pedestrian use, preferred locations and how the town could improve bicycle and pedestrian access. The town was awarded a $30,000 Community Planning Grant from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority to complete the Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity Master Plan, which follows through on several recommendations of the 2010 Master Plan.
At the hearing, the consultants, planner Jeff Taylor, landscape architect Karen Fitzgerald, and planner Grace Wu of the Resource Systems Group, outlined the project results and recommendations for zoning changes.
“People want to get out more for health reasons. There are community benefits; you get walking around more and talking to your neighbors,” Taylor said. “It tends to build a stronger community and also there are traffic implications by getting some people out of their cars and walking more. Many people mentioned the new improvements to town center, the library and town common and would like to be able to walk around town center.”
The consultants recommended building sidewalks in commercial and inter-connecting properties and requiring new projects to build sidewalks, especially along Route 101 and South River Road. All the town schools should have sidewalks connecting them to public areas, Taylor said.
Roads in good repair would not be redone, but the town should change its current policy and encourage sidewalks in future commercial and multi-family developments. However, he said, sidewalks for cul de sac neighborhoods are not recommended because of low traffic and people tend to walk in the road.
The consultants also interviewed some developers in town who said they would be willing to invest in sidewalks as long as people used them.
“You set up a mechanism that you think is right for Bedford. It could be an impact fee where developers pay into a kitty,” Taylor told the Planning Board.There are also some low-cost measures the town could take such as painting sharrows, which are markings indicating bike paths, and promoting bike rodeo events and putting up signs. Wu said residents also want 10-mile bicycle loops. Rick Sawyer, Bedford planning director, said residents should be aware that this a long-range plan.
“We’re not proposing anything where we’re going to put sidewalks on every street in town. I don’t want people to think their cul de sacs are getting sidewalks. It’s really been identified for key roads, the ones that make the connections that would be getting those improvements over time,” Sawyer said.
View the Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity Master Plan at.bedfordnh.org.