Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fred Rice: Hampton Nightmare

Today's Portsmouth Herald ran a story about the purchase of land carrying the abandoned rail road track between Hampton and Portsmouth.

Mad Dog has previously blogged about the potential for this track to be converted, in a Rails to Trails fashion, into a bicycle path open to hikers, bicyclists, joggers, roller bladers, children and their parents, all free of the dangers of automobiles.  This is a dream which has been turned into reality all around the country.

Interviewed for this story was Fred Rice, a Republican Representative from Hampton, to the New Hampshire House of Delegates, who was quoted as saying this pathway ought to be converted into another roadway for cars.  His rationale was: 1. If this were turned into a road, commercial development would inevitably occur along its path.  2. Building a 2  lane road to Portsmouth would  reduce traffic along route one, reduce idling engine time and thus improve air quality. 

Mad Dog kids you not: Mr. Rice actually allowed himself to be quoted saying these things.

As if adding a 2 lane road would reduce the volume of traffic on Route 1, which is actually not all that dense to begin with but certainly, at the times traffic is heavier, would be unlikely to be much relieved by a road with only an entrance at Hampton and an exit at Portsmouth. As if reducing idling time on Route1 would have any measurable effect on air pollution in the Seacoast. As if air pollution on the New Hampshire Seacoast is a problem at all. 

Of course, politicians and city planner stopped claiming that building more roads reduces traffic congestion sometime in the mid 1980's after experience and studies demonstrated that building more roads simply adds more roads which then become filled and congested.  

As for building a road to encourage more commerce, this will certainly come as encouraging news to all those merchants along Route One, who are struggling to keep their doors open even as we speak.  If you build it, they will come. Except along Route One between Hampton and Portsmouth. Oh, well, if you build another, maybe the word will get out.

To argue that adding a roadway on which to burn more fossil fuel, as opposed to a bicycle path,  which encourages people to abandon vehicles which burn fossil fuel,  is something most people would have trouble saying with a straight face, even most Republicans, but then again, most people are not Fred Rice.

Mad Dog seems to remember, correct the record if Mad Dog is wrong, an exchange at a meeting some years ago when Mr. Rice argued for reducing taxes on cigarettes.  His argument ran something like this: Reduce the cigarette tax and you will reduce the cost of a pack of cigarettes and consumers will buy more cigarettes and although you make less per pack, you sell more packs, so overall, you increase revenues. 

Mad Dog rose unsteadily to his feet at this meeting, unsure of whether or not he had heard Mr. Rice correctly, or was being set up for some bizarre combination punch, and Mad Dog said, "Excuse me, but I thought the idea of a cigarette tax was only secondarily to produce revenue, but primarily to raise the price of cigarettes to encourage people to smoke less, not more. Cigarette smoking is, after all, I thought, something we wish to discourage."

"Well, " Mr. Rice replied. "Cigarettes are legal."

Which left Mad Dog rather speechless. So, as long as it's legal, we, as a state government should encourage increases in the volume of cigarette consumption. In fact, Mr. Rice had another argument: We would lure Massachusetts citizens across the state line to buy their cigarettes in New Hampshire.

"So, you want to export our cancer to Massachusetts?" Mad Dog asked.

This was lost on Mr. Rice. 

This scene was so surreal, Mad Dog has, ever since, questioned whether or not it actually happened.  But reading Mr. Rice's comments today in the Herald, Mad Dog is inclined to believe it actually did occur.

Mr. Rice, a duly elected Representative from Hampton, New Hampshire, is quoted as saying the best way to reduce air pollution along the seacoast is to build another road for gas fueled vehicles to use.

Really, you cannot make this stuff up.

Mad Dog thinks this is a Sasha Baron Cohen stunt. There is no Fred Rice. This is Sasha Cohen disguised as a New Hampshire House of Representatives Republican.

But then again, in the same House, a Representative testified that birth control pills cause prostate cancer and that abortions cause breast cancer.

She did not aver abortions cause breast cancer because some woman in the parking lot told her, but because multiple pregnancies are associated with a lower rate of breast cancer and, ipso facto, that means if you avoid multiple pregnancies, you will acquire breast cancer.  

She and Mr. Rice must be drinking from the same bottle.


  1. Mad Dog,
    I enjoyed your blog on spring, it was very nicely said-early spring can be beautiful despite the mud..As for the bike path I couldn't agree with you more-it would be a tremendous benefit to the seacoast, as well as the state, provided it is restricted to bike and foot traffic. Granted, having a path dedicated to bikes without the added feature of cars whizzing past you eliminates the adrenaline rush one gets seeing your whole life flash in front of you as you pedal. Exeter Road is a fine example of Fred Rice's vision of the dual purpose road where even as a driver you are frequently faced with the choice of driving dangerously close to the bicyclist or the oncoming traffic. You don't see many families biking on Exeter Rd.

    Unfortunately Fred Rice's plan will have some support-there are always those in town who see any opportunity for commercial development-no matter how poorly planned-as an opportunity for residential tax reduction. There are also those in the environmental and conservation community, for example the Conservation Law Foundation, who have endorsed half-baked ideas like Fred Rice's in the past because they decide in some convoluted way it leads to an improvement in regional air quality. Hopefully when the time comes to make a final decision on the use of the land there is enough community support to override Rice's less than enlightened plan...
    P.S. Are you serious-abortions don't case breast cancer??

  2. Maud,

    The idea that a two lane road, if it could be built (at much greater expense) in this narrow space, would substantially reduce car traffic between Portsmouth and Hampton is beyond comprehension. As for commercial impact, it is just as likely a bicycle path would be more valuable to commerce as bikers get off the path to visit refreshment places. The terminus, at Hampton has a diner which and nearby pizza places and a hardware store which would see more business and there is the old North Hampton Depot which could support a store with drinks and bikers needs.
    But most of all, the invigoration of the communities along the path, the quality of life effects are immeasurable.
    When Justice Douglas did his walk along the towpath, the Washington Post covered it every day. Chris Muns needs to do something like this.

    The last thing we need is another car road. We need something entirely different and if we build it, that path will attract hordes of happy, healthy people using muscle power, not fossil fuels.

    Mad Dog

  3. Any paved surface used by automobiles is a car road and not a bicycle path, no matter what color you paint the "bike path." The bicycles are always at risk when cars use the asphalt. Calling it a mixed use path is like saying a shark tank is a fish bowl--only one species survives.