Berkshire bike enthusiasts gain speed in Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — Marge Cohan, who leads the Berkshire Bike Path Council, said she often jokes about whether or not she'll live to see the fruits of the group's labor.

Progress toward a countywide bike path remains slow but steady, council members said during their meeting Wednesday. But more importantly, Cohan said that since the council formed 20 years ago, "the culture has changed."

From a possible Berkshire bike share program to an up-in-coming master plan for cycling in Pittsfield, she said there's more buy-in now for cycling than ever.

"I think a lot's happening," said Cohan, whose bicycle-shaped gemstone earrings danced as she spoke. "It's just that people don't know it's happening."

The city of Pittsfield is along for the ride, City Engineer Ricardo Morales said during the meeting. He said the city will soon embark on a $75,000 master plan, funded through capital borrowing.

"A lot of other people in the city also share the same goals," he told the group.

The group's efforts also won the interest of Caroline Holland, managing director for Mill Town Capital, who said the firm might explore giving bike path plans a financial boost.

Morales said city crews are working to refresh bike markings along city streets, and work on the city's stretch of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension begins next year. The trail will have an entrance and a parking lot on Crane Avenue, he said.

Morales said he also plans to introduce all-new bike markings and structures to Pittsfield with the redesign of Tyler Street. He said the overhaul will include bike lanes, bike signals, bike boxes and racks.

"All those items will be new to the city, new to the county," he said.

"I think that brings us into the new age!" Cohan said of the plans.

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The city plans to undergo $4.5 million in complete streets projects, Morales said, including new bike lanes and bike lane improvements along Wahconah, Elm, Williams, and East streets, as well as Springside Avenue.

Eammon Coughlin, senior transportation planner for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said the agency is looking into bringing a bike share program to the Berkshires.

He said he's had talks with the same company that brought bike share to the Pioneer Valley, and he said they'll be bringing bikes to next week's Third Thursday for people to try.

The agency will soon launch a feasibility study into the bike share possibility, he said, noting a bike share program could help with longstanding transportation issues in the county as well as present an opportunity for visitors to bike through the Berkshires.

"We think that a bike share system in the county could have a lot of benefits," he said.

Users would need to rent the bikes with a credit card and each bike would be equipped with GPS trackers to prevent theft, Coughlin said. He said the idea would be to eventually start with share hubs in Pittsfield and North Adams, and then branch into Great Barrington and Lenox.

"It's all very preliminary but we think it's an exciting project," he said.

And as for progress on a bike path spanning the length of the Berkshires, Coughlin said Northern Berkshire has seen the most activity. The state dealt bike enthusiasts a blow earlier this year when it delayed construction on a path connecting North Adams and Williamstown for another year.

Momentum lags due to staffing issues, he said.

"A lot of the towns just don't have the staff who can work on it," he said.

To that point, Holland from Mill Town wondered aloud about whether a private partner could help things happen faster.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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