PITTSFIELD — Planning officials in Berkshire County said they were pleased this week to hear that a bicycle touring route along the Route 7 corridor has been approved for inclusion in a 380-mile route that stretches from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to Montreal.
Approval from the American Association of State Highway Transportation officials effectively placed the Berkshire route — now called the US Bicycle Route 7 — on a national Adventure Cycling Association mapping system. The touring network covers more than 11,000 miles in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
"This will be an asset in terms of the region's tourism economy," said Clete Kus, transportation program manager for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. "Avid bicyclists are really keyed in on these bike routes."
The average touring enthusiast, Kus said, is in his or her 50s and has a solid level of disposable income. The same visitors also tend to enjoy the county's cultural, natural or historical attractions, he said.
Commission staffers had been working with the state Department of Transportation to win the designation, which in the county and in the Connecticut segment will follow the Western New England Greenway route (http://wnegreenway.org).
The commission in March endorsed the effort and urged the remaining Berkshire communities along the route here to formally sign on as well.
"The designation is critical in supporting the development of a truly multimodal transportation system in the Berkshires and across the country," BRPC Transportation Planner Emily Lindsey said in a release.
During a presentation in March before the commission, Lindsey said having a designated route through the county should prove an economic boon to local inns, restaurants, parks, natural attractions and art venues along the Route 7 corridor. The average touring rider spends about $100 per day, she said.
The route will generally follow the south-to-north Route 7 corridor through the three New England states and into Quebec, but there is an emphasis on "quieter roads" in most cases, the planners said, and a number of other roads are included.
In the Berkshires, the route also will follow the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in sections.
The eight Berkshire communities along the route are Williamstown, North Adams, Adams, Pittsfield, Lenox, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield. All had to approve the state's application for the route designation in Massachusetts.
The planners said communities along the route incur no liability and face no funding or other requirements, and the route is not dependent upon development of designated bicycle trails, although such trails can be included as a section of the main route or as an alternative route in some towns — or as part of a designated alternative loop.
Touring cyclists tend to be experienced bikers who are familiar with riding on roadways as opposed to designated bike trails, Lindsey told BRPC commissioners, and in some cases they prefer roads to crowded bike trails.
The Massachusetts section of USBR 7 enters at the southern Berkshire border in Sheffield and continues through Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lenox, Pittsfield, then into Lanesborough, Cheshire and Adams, via the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, and into North Adams and Williamstown, before crossing the border into Pownal, Vt., where the Vermont segment begins.
AASHTO is a nonprofit association representing highway and transportation departments in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2003, an AASHTO task force formed to create a national corridor-level map that could be used to develop interstate bicycle routes.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
On the web ...
To learn more about the USBR System, visit: www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/us-bicycle-route-system/