By Gordon Harris
In the year 2000, I rode 3500 miles in seven weeks from Seattle to Washington DC with the American Lung Association’s Big Ride Across America. In Ipswich I have second thoughts about riding a mile and a half to town.
Although Ipswich resolved in the Community Development Plan a dozen years ago to “enhance non-automotive transportation options by developing and designating pedestrian and bicycle trails and routes,” we have made minimal progress. There is not a single inch of marked bicycle path or lane in the town other than some fading “sharrows” on Meeting House Green and North Main. In the 15 years I have lived here I participated in three pedestrian and cycling safety studies that are filed away in the Planning Office. Nothing has come of them yet.
It may surprise new arrivals to Ipswich that a dozen years ago we had a well-developed plan for a pedestrian and bicycle path from the Commuter Rail to Crane Beach. We allowed a few disgruntled residents of Argilla Road to end years of effort to establish the trail. As one resident of Argilla Road said to me at the time, “I already see enough cars, why should I have to see bicycles too?”
When Linebrook Road was repaved a couple of years ago, we were promised a 24″ shoulder, which would have offered some minimal safety for bicyclists, but it was striped wrong. A green line was added where the white line should have been, which became a running joke in town. The promise was made that the white line would be restriped at the right location last summer. That never happened, and now we’re well into the 2019 summer, and the green line has all but disappeared. Linebrook Road is still dangerous.
The safest ride nearby is the Topsfield Rail Trail which continues through Wenham to the Danvers Rail Trail and connects with the Independence Greenway in Peabody. To get there, I have to ride on deteriorating Topsfield Road, or take Mill Road with no shoulder to Bradley Palmer State Park. The Town of Ipswich is missing a golden opportunity in not having a safe bicycle lane or path connecting to the Topsfield Trail, which is part of the developing Border to Boston trail, which in turn is part of the developing East Coast Greenway from Florida to Maine.
Last year DPW Director Rick Clarke asked me to spray the sunken drains, broken shoulders and potholes on Topsfield Road with yellow paint, and he sent crews out to do repairs. This temporarily alleviated the most egregious deterioration, but the road is still extraordinarily unsafe for the many cyclists who use it each day.
Today I rode my bike 1.5 miles on Topsfield Rd. to Zumi’s for coffee and had several dangerous encounters, including construction debris lying in the road, a landscaping truck parked well into the right lane, and the deadly pothole and broken shoulder shown in the picture at the top of this page. The bicyclist in the photo had to swerve into the road to miss the potholes that I had just marked, at the same time a car was passing him.
In Massachusetts I’ve often heard it said that three people have to be killed before something is done about an intersection. A cyclist already died a few years ago as a complication from crashing on Topsfield Road when other cyclists in the group swerved to miss a sunken storm drain. We shouldn’t have to wait for the next two fatalities.
*Update March 26, 2020. A cyclist was killed last fall, and a family of three people riding bicycles were hit and seriously injured today, all on Topsfield Rd.!
I ended my Road Scholar bicycle touring business 3 years ago because of the deteriorating roads, distracted drivers and increased traffic in Ipswich. When I want to have a safe and enjoyable day’s ride I throw the bike in my truck and drive to the Topsfield Rail Trail or to Newburyport which has the Clipper City Rail Trail and several miles of marked bicycling lanes. My wife and I have driven to Quebec many times to enjoy a week of cycling on the 5300 km La Route Verte, inaugurated in 2007, now linking more than 320 municipalities. There’s nothing like that in the U.S.
We all pay taxes and have an inherent right to walk, cycle or drive from one place to another without fearing for our lives. We can do our own small part to help solve the problems of traffic congestion and even global warming if we as a community resolve to accommodate all forms of transportation. It’s time to bring together the Select Board, DPW and concerned citizens to do something about the very dangerous condition of roads in Ipswich for cyclists, pedestrians and the drivers who share the roads with them.
- Please feel free to reply to this post, or join the Ipswich Pedestrians and Cyclists Advisory Group at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/ipswichpedestriansandcyclists.
Comments and discussion are encouraged