bicycle-785340_1280 update

September 9, 2015 5:01 PMCategory: Physical Activity

Testing Bicycle-Friendliness in Nashua

The Directors of Health Promotion and Education recently shared some news about different strategies that Plan4Health coalition partners are using to increase access for physical activity in cities. Learn how Plan4Health Nashua in New Hampshire is using big data to improve bikeability.

Reposted from Plan4Health Newsletter

What’s happening in Nashua?

The Nashua Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) has been “testing” the city’s streets for bicycle-friendliness over the past few months as part of the Plan4Health Nashua complete streets project. Plan4Health Nashua is also supported by the Greater Nashua Public Health Advisory Council, and was selected as a priority project for implementation in the 2015 Community Health Improvement Plan.

NRPC is one of several partners working on the Plan4Health Nashua project. Other partners include the City of Nashua, New Hampshire Public Health Association (NHPHA), and Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL NH), as well as several community organizations such as NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire. The project began earlier this year with a $125,000 grant from the American Planning Association (APA) to support active transportation in Nashua. The goal of the project is to advance street planning and design that support safer and easier ways to get around for pedestrians and bicyclists.

How to Measure Biking “Stress”

To help determine how suitable Nashua streets are for bicyclists, NRPC used a method that considered level of stress (LTS) data for bicycle suitability. This method was first used last year in New Hampshire as part of a New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) pilot project.  For the Plan4Health Nashua project, an LTS score was given to every segment (i.e., street or road), approach, and intersection in Nashua to help determine how easy or difficult it is for bicyclists to get around the City.

Segments, approaches, and intersections are given an LTS score from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most “stressful” — or least suitable for bicyclists. Several criteria are taken into consideration when calculating the LTS score, including the presence of a bike lane, street and shoulder width, traffic signals, presence of a median or pedestrian island in a cross street, speed limit, and on-street parking.

A map of Nashua, New Hampshire, showing level-of-stress scores.

This map of Nashua shows “level of stress” (LTS) scores. The orange and red lines indicate high LTS scores that are considered more “stressful.”

The NRPC analysis identified five areas within the city — including the Tree Streets and French Hill neighborhoods — which show high LTS scores, indicating they are less bicycle-friendly. These five neighborhoods represent 50 percent of the Nashua population, and include areas with the greatest social, economic, and environmental disparities according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In addition to the quantifiable attributes this methodology provides, LTS scores can be adjusted for other things that commonly affect a bicyclist’s comfort level, including lighting and overall feeling of safety, pavement conditions, steep hills, and, of course, traffic volumes. NRPC is reaching out to the community to help make adjustments to the LTS data based on these factors.

Next Steps for Nashua

NRPC will be conducting a similar study for walkability over the next few months. Once completed, the bikeability and walkability data will be used to analyze gaps in neighborhoods where riders and pedestrians can’t easily get to destinations because of high-stress links and crossings. This information will ultimately be used to develop a guidebook to help inform future planning in Nashua.

HEAL NH is a key partner of the Plan4Health Nashua project, which helps advance one of the primary Active Living objectives outlined in the Healthy People Healthy Places Plan that “all New Hampshire communities are built to support walking, biking, and other active transportation options.”