, Newburyport, MA

September 30, 2013

Selectmen nix plan for bicycle skills park, pump track


---- — NEWBURY — Selectmen rejected a proposal to install a bicycle skills park and pump track on land underneath the Route 1 bridge near the rotary.

With its location under the highway and adjacent to the oversized MBTA parking lot and the end of the Clipper City Rail Trail, the site is an ideal spot for a free public bicycle facility, said William Blackwood IV in a proposal presented to selectmen on Tuesday.

Had it received approval, it would have been the first public pump track to open in northeastern Massachusetts, but selectmen were wary of the proposal because it required the town to accept liability on land that is actually owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Bike skill parks and pump tracks are a growing trend in communities across the nation as a healthy and active recreational alternative for residents of all ages and abilities levels. The New England Mountain Bike Association maintains a track in Chelmsford; other examples can be found in Elk Grove, Calif., Boulder, Colo., Hailey, Idaho, Green River, W.V., Portland Ore., Seattle, Wash., Maricopa County, Ariz., and even in urban sites like Brooklyn, N.Y.

The pump track operates on a continuous loop of rollers and berms. Instead of pedaling, riders propel themselves by shifting their body weight — or “pumping” — in conjunction with the track contours.

“For every skateboarder, there are at least three times as many mountain bikers and BMX riders. However, the local skateboard parks in both Newburyport and Salisbury explicitly deny access to cyclists in their posted rules,” Blackwood said.

He saw the bike park as a way to provide the community with sustainable recreation at minimal expense to both the environment and the taxpayer pocketbook. He was offering to install and maintain the facility at no cost to the town with help from friends, volunteers in the community and the Coastal Trails Coalition.

But before the MASS DOT will even consider a proposal on land it owns, the question of liability must be resolved. Blackwood argued that the town would be assuming no more liability than it does for other recreation spots — such as the ball fields.

But the town leaders weren’t buying it. Selectman Chuck Bear said it sounded “very convoluted” for Newbury to accept liability for activities taking place on land it doesn’t own and can’t legally send one of its police officer onto in an emergency.

“Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great idea — but I have a problem with that,” he said.

“If it’s using state land, then the state has to assume the responsibility,” agreed Selectman Michael Bulgaris.

Also during the meeting, the board agreed to begin offering veteran’s services through the Eastern Essex District. The vote was 2 to 1, with Selectman David Mountain voting no because he felt the board hadn’t been given enough time to make an informed decision. Selectmen Joe Story and Geoff Walker were not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board rejected a request by George Russell for $282.50 to reimburse him for fees he spent to file a Notice of Intent with the Conservation Commission for a dock that he never wound up installing. Conservation Agent Doug Packer noted that the commission spent “considerable time” reviewing Russell’s application, holding hearings and performing a site visit. Mountain said the reimbursement would set a bad precedent.

Town Administrator Tracy Blais reviewed with the board a draft of a warrant for the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 22; selectmen thanked Kathleen Pearson for her presentation of in-depth analysis she conducted on water resources in the business and light industrial district as part of a graduate degree project; and the board approved three one-day liquor licenses for events at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in October.