Publisher's Note: Riding it out
By Jody Reese
This past weekend my eight-year-old son and I took to the Portsmouth Branch Trail rail bed out of Lake Massabesic in an attempt to ride our bicycles all the way to Newmarket. In three hours we made it as far as Raymond (not bad for an eight-year-old riding a Huffy) and decided it was time to call for our ride.
Though the rail bed trail was in mostly good condition, except for one 100-yard washed-out section in Raymond, it was little-traveled. We saw only two other riders out there.
With gas prices at record highs there is renewed interest in getting more people out of their vehicles and onto bikes (that’s the subject of our cover story this week starting on page 12).
But that won’t be easy. While 40 percent of trips are less than one and a half miles, only about 1 percent of people use a bicycle for those trips and that’s unlikely to change drastically even with high gas prices. Though the ride along the Portsmouth Branch isn’t a commuting route (nor is Sunday afternoon a time people normally commute), the fact that it is so rarely used suggests there’s a long way to go getting people on bicycles.
Still, it seems prudent to start investing more in bike trails, especially those former rail beds that can easily and inexpensively be converted. If more people ride to work, then great, but even if these former rail beds are just used for recreation, then it’s a major plus for the region.
Riding a bicycle shouldn’t just be seen as an alternative to the automobile, but also as another leisure amenity that people moving to this area — or still living here — will appreciate just like skiing or boating. Investing in it, even in a minimal way, will help southern New Hampshire keep its property tax base strong.
Manchester’s mayor and aldermen are again looking at the city’s downtown as a cash register. While Nashua and Concord have created solid downtown business districts with a variety of small businesses, Manchester’s downtown has continued to flag.
In Concord, businesses are still opening on its Main Street, and Nashua is seeming the same activity. Not so in Manchester, where businesses are struggling to stay open or have already closed up shop.
So why the difference?
For starters, Nashua and Concord are much less aggressive with their parking enforcement. Parking in both of those cities is seen more as a tool to get people downtown while in Manchester the mayor and aldermen have used downtown customers as a check-writing service. The result is a less viable downtown in Manchester and one that produces less tax revenue for the city. I think that’s called penny wise, pound foolish or business as usual for Manchester’s elected officials.