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The View from White Oaks

Lauren R. Stevens: Get the wheels turning on Berkshire bike path extensions

Bike path

Setting out on an off-road bike path.

Bike paths provide healthy, safe, family activities and can ease commuting, getting to school or errand-running. Although bikers out for speed stay on the roads, bike paths inspire a host of ventures, from dog walking to carriage pushing to recreational riding to a child’s first adventure in self-propulsion.

Not long ago, I rode a portion of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, an off-road bike path that, when completed, will extend from Lowell through Framingham, about 25 miles. The newest portion includes a magnificent span over Route 2 and an only-slightly-lesser one over 2A, both in West Concord. From Sudbury south is under construction. Berkshire needs to understand that it has been short-changed on bike paths, as the Berkshire Bike Path Coalition and the towns struggle to extend the Ashuwillticook in bits and pieces.

The late Bruce Freeman returned from a trip to California with the idea for a bike path that would link Boston’s western suburbs and join up with other trails — those already existing and those yet to be developed.

There are lessons to be learned from the Freeman trail, which powered through regardless of the obstacles. These were overcome by the bridges and tunnels, plus dozens of street crossings all with push-button traffic signals. At the Concord depot, cyclists are asked to walk their bikes across the commuter rail line, which seems prudent. The trail passes by large homes, housing developments, modest stores, shopping centers, industrial yards, a prison, the State Police horse farm and several parks. Several small businesses have sprung up, from restaurants to bicycle repair shops, along the route.

Like the initial section of the Ashuwillticook, Cheshire to Adams, the Freeman is being built on a former rail bed: that of the Framingham and Lowell line of the New Haven Railroad. The wetlands were already filled, bridges in place and fairly solid ground existed on which to lay the asphalt. Although some neighbors might have been disappointed to find that railroad right-of-way wasn’t theirs by adoption, they apparently weren’t able to stop the project.

Pardon my North County bias. The Ashuwillticook needs to extend south into Pittsfield and beyond, yes, but it is past time to get into North Adams from the south and west.

The sections of the Berkshire bike path no longer have the advantage of building on the former rail line, as the CSX from Adams to North Adams is still active. A possible alternative, the Hardman Industrial Park, didn’t want the line to cross its property.

It should reconsider. If crossing their property is an impasse, Route 8 is wide enough to include a bike lane with a barrier between it and the highway.

Williamstown has a new section of the Ashuwillticook, but efforts to extend to North Adams have been thwarted by potential neighbors. People seem to be able to live with a trail nearby in the eastern end of the commonwealth; why not here? Or maybe the best route is based on the Adventure Trail the owners of Tourists are creating.

Berkshire residents, check out the biking treasures of the Connecticut Valley or metropolitan Boston.

We’ve been too nice and too patient; we’ve deferred too long to the needs of the rest of the state. Let’s finish our job.

At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.

Lauren R. Stevens is an environmentalist and regular Eagle contributor.

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