Berkshires communities asked to approve interstate bike touring route
PITTSFIELD — Transportation planners are asking eight Berkshire communities to become involved in a nationally advertised, interstate bicycle route extending from Long Island Sound to Montreal.
The immediate goal is to submit an application prior to April 18 to seek approval from the American Association of State Highway Transportation officials to include the local route in a national network covering more than 11,000 miles, according to Kate Masztal of the MassDOT office in Lenox.
Masztel and Emily Lindsey, senior transportation planner at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, gave a presentation of the initiative Thursday before winning an endorsement for the application from commission representatives.
Lindsey said approval from the AASHTO would lead to the route being designated as US Bicycle Route 7 and included in the Adventure Cycling Association's national mapping system. The regional route generally follows the Route 7 corridor through Connecticut, Berkshire County and Vermont, and into Canada.
Designation on the map would lead touring bicyclists and others to the Berkshires, Lindsey said, providing an economic boost to local inns, restaurants, parks and natural attractions and arts venues.
She said bicycle touring is growing rapidly as a pastime, and many new enthusiasts tend to be in their early 50s with a high income and a healthy amount of disposable income. The average touring rider spends $100 per day, she said, adding that the average includes areas such as in the Mountain West other elsewhere where camping is a more likely option than an inn or motel.
Masztal said four of the eight Berkshire communities along the proposed route — Williamstown, North Adams, Stockbridge and Great Barrington — have approved the application for inclusion in the mapping. Pittsfield, Adams, Lenox and Sheffield will be asked to OK the bid, she said.
The women said there should be no reason for a town to shun the designation, as it would incur no liability, requirement or cost for a community, and the route is not dependent upon development of designated trails, like the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
However, 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 through nearby areas of interest or toward local attractions or accommodations.
Although the route would generally follow the south-to-north Route 7 corridor through the three states, the emphasis is on "quieter roads" in most cases, so that a number of other roads are streets are included.
Touring cyclists tend to be experienced bikers who are familiar with riding on roadways as opposed to designated bike trails, Lindsey said, and in some cases prefer roads to often crowded bike trails.
Lindsey said the Vermont sections of US Bicycle Route 7 have already been approved by AASHTO, and the Connecticut sections are expected to be approved before summer. The Massachusetts section through the Berkshires would link those routes through what already is being developed as the Western New England Greenway route (http://wnegreenway.org).
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.
Today, the system involves 23 states and more than 11,000 miles designated as part of the U.S. Bicycle Route System. State departments of transportation submit the routes for inclusion, usually in cooperation with nonprofits, volunteers and local transportation officials.
In this area, the Berkshire Bike Path Council and the New Milford River Trail Association are supporting the effort.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
On the Web ...
For information on the designated cycling maps, go to www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/us-bicycle-route-system/usbrs-interactive-map/
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