John Hoogstraten: How bike paths help build community in the Valley

Last modified: Monday, February 10, 2014
To the editor:

Many thanks to the Gazette for the recent editorial celebrating the long-awaited opportunity for connecting the Northampton bikepath system into Williamsburg. Within the editorial was a list of the obvious benefits of bicycling to individuals, motorists and the environment.

A bit less tangible, but equally important, is another benefit of bikepaths, pedestrian facilities, and greenways: that to the social well-being of communities. As modern society moves us into our cars, porch-less houses and behind our electronic devices, the ability to get out a connect face-to-face with our neighbors and fellow citizens becomes increasingly important. Humans are social animals; when we gather and interact in a public space, our lives become more interconnected and our communities strengthen and flourish. We get to know each other and we care more about each other.

Public spaces — the commons — that are created and owned by the members of a community are just the type of place for this critical human interaction to happen.

A sit on a park bench becomes a chance to make a new friend, or meet up with an old one. A trip by bicycle to a local business provides an opportunity to support your local economy and get to know the proprietor — likely a resident of your town. A stroll to a cafe may well turn into an impromptu gathering. Children play, seniors reminisce, music happens and community affairs are discussed. The bonds of citizenship are strengthened.

These types of public facilities are worthwhile investments for any community. They need not be fancy or expensive. A simple park. A playground. A riverwalk. Sidewalks. Often built and maintained by a cadre of community volunteers.

The important thing is to have them. Communities that don’t, wither. Communities that do embrace the commons become vibrant, attractive places to live, work and raise a family.

John Hoogstraten