LOWELL -- The bike lanes installed on Father Morissette Boulevard last August will remain in existence for the foreseeable future.

Even before a large group of cycling supporters got the chance to speak Tuesday night, City Councilor Rita Mercier said she wanted to amend her motion with Mayor Rodney Elliott that called for the elimination of the bike lanes and the return of Father Morissette to two lanes of traffic in each direction instead of one.

Mercier said the motion was worded in such a strong fashion to "more or less shock people to see if there is anyone out there that actually travels down Father Morissette Boulevard."

When Mercier asked the packed lower section of the council chamber how many people ride the bike lanes on Father Morissette every day, a good portion of the audience raised their hands.

"That's wonderful, because I've never ever seen a bicycle coming down," said Mercier.

Mercier amended the motion to call for the city manager to review the configuration of the bike lanes and traffic lanes on Father Morissette Boulevard, and report back on ways to make the road safer for vehicles and cyclists. That amendment was unanimously adopted by her colleagues.

"I don't want you to be in a near-miss fatal accident with a car," Mercier said to explain her call for a review. She also referenced a memo from Police Superintendent William Taylor stating the bike lanes have been a source of confusion for motorists and frustration for cyclists.

Councilor Ed Kennedy said he would not have supported removing the lanes because they have not even had the chance to be utilized for a full summer yet.


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Councilor Bill Martin said the Lowell Spinners often complain about not having enough parking around the ballpark during games, and there has not been a full summer of use the parking spaces created by the reduction in the number of travel lanes.

Martin also pointed to a recent article in the Massachusetts Municipal Association's Municipal Advocate, a quarterly magazine, in which business executives said they were looking for more walking and bicycle trails for employees.

"It is an economic-development strategy," Martin said of bike lanes.

Elliott said he had filed the motion because of safety concerns, and he had previously voiced concerns about the traffic impacts of reducing traffic lanes to make way for the bike lanes and parking spaces. The mayor said he was open to further study of the bike lanes on Father Morissette to find a compromise, but he still believes the current configuration is a problem.

"Some things work for Cambridge or Somerville, but they may not work in Lowell," Elliott said of bike lanes.

At Councilor Bill Samaras' suggestion, the expected report from the city manager will be sent to the council's transportation subcommittee for further discussion. Samaras said he would like the city to come up with a master plan for bike paths in Lowell.

Urban planner Jeff Speck's "Downtown Evolution Plan" recommended that the number of vehicular traffic lanes be reduced and bike lanes be added to Father Morissette as part of a proposed bicycle network.

The bike lane installation in August required removing existing pavement markings and the installation of new pavement markings and signs. The project cost was $30,410, which was paid from the Parking Department's kiosk fund.

Many of the more than a dozen members of the public who addressed the council said they were pleased that councilors were pledging to review the bike lanes, rather than working to remove them. The speakers also encouraged the council to work to encourage bicycling in the city and make it safer for residents, including on Father Morissette.

Laura MacNeil of Lowell said she often bikes with a group of people from the downtown to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, and the bicycle lane on Chelmsford Street made the group feel safer and more visible.

"While the bike lane over on Father Morissette Boulevard is not as good and well designed and probably needs to be looked at, it will provide that same type of safety and security for bicycle riders on busy streets that are highly trafficked by cars," said MacNeil, who urged the council to consider adding rather than removing bike lanes. 

Sophan Phin said he meets with a group of people every Monday night outside City Hall to go biking. For him, biking is a choice, but he said for some people cycling is the only way they have to get around.

"I hope you reconsider removing the lanes so you don't shut the door on transportation access for everyone in the city," Phin said.

Former Mayor Patrick Murphy returned to City Hall and said he opposed the original motion to remove the bike lanes because it would return Father Morissette to its previous highway-like design. Murphy said he approves of seeking to improve the design of the street, but he objects to the idea that the city should be designed to accommodate cars above all else.

"Plan for cars and you will end up with more cars," said Murphy. "Plan for people, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised to see more of them."

David Watson, executive director of MassBike, whose group put out an action alert about Tuesday's meeting, also spoke. He, along with others, urged the council to set up a bicycle advisory committee to help address some of the issues raised.

"I'm confident that working together -- Mr. Mayor, City Council and residents -- you will find the right solution not only for Father Morissette, but for the city as a whole as you build out a bike network," he said.

Paul Marion, UMass Lowell's executive director of community and cultural affairs, said the university was pleased the council was taking a step back from pushing to remove the bike lanes. Marion highlighted that the university is in the midst of negotiations with city officials for paid use of more than 100 spaces along Father Morissette to accommodate overflow parking of the new University Crossing.

At the end of the public comment period, Mercier said she was pleased because she did not know any cyclists prior to the evening, and now had a met a whole roomful.

Follow Lyle Moran on Twitter and Touty @lylemoran.