ValleyBike Share set for spring launch

  • Mayor David Narkewicz points out the proto type for the bike share during the walking tour of Pleasant Streets new renovations Thursday afternoon.

Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — With a vendor selected and funding lined up, some of the Valley’s largest urban centers and the University of Massachusetts are set to launch a regional bike share program.

Set to debut next spring, ValleyBike Share is a collaboration among Amherst, Northampton, South Hadley, Holyoke, Springfield and UMass. Funded by a $1.3 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, the program will make bikes available in these areas through a process that Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz likens to the workings of the car-sharing company Zipcar.

In a bike share, users can purchase long-term memberships that allow them to take out a bike from any station in the system and then return it to any station in the system. Users can also pay to use the bikes without a membership.

On Sept. 7, it was announced that Bewegen Technologies of Quebec was the company selected to administer the program. Bewegen Technologies administers bike-share programs in cities in the United States and Europe, such as Baltimore, Birmingham, Ala., and Lagoa, Portugal.

All of the bikes in the ValleyBike Share program will be pedal-assist bikes, which assist the rider’s pedaling through the action of an electric motor. This does not propel the bike on its own, however.

“You still have to pedal it,” Narkewicz said.

The assist can also be adjusted, or turned off entirely.

“I’ve ridden it,” Narkewicz said. “It does give you a boost.”

An advantage of these bikes is that they allow people who might think that they are not fit or able enough to bike to do so, through such actions as helping a rider climb a hill.

“It greatly increases the demographic of the user,” said Amherst Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello.

For these bicycles to use the rail trails in Northampton, however, the city’s bylaws will have to be revised, because they currently forbid their use by any motorized non-emergency or non-maintenance vehicle. Narkewicz said such a change would be drafted.

Narkewicz did say that the communities joining together was less a matter of encouraging people to bike between them and more of an effort at creating an economy of scale that would make the program feasible. Nevertheless, he noted, bikes taken from stations in one community could be returned to stations in any other.

“They’ll all be using the same technology,” he said.

The stations also double as charging stations for the pedal-assist bikes.

More bikes

To select the vendor, a request for proposals was developed by the Pioneer Valley Regional Bikeshare Committee, an organization convened by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission that has representation for UMass and all five participating communities on it. Northampton then issued and administered the RFP, which got four responses. The committee then interviewed two companies, and chose Bewegen by consensus.

The RFP sought the creation of a 290-bike system. However, Bewegen will be contributing 210 more bikes, for a total of 500 bikes in the system. Narkewicz said this decision was made to better ensure the system’s success.

Because of the grant money, along with the investment put forward by Bewegen, the capital costs for the communities participating in ValleyBike Share will come to zero. The costs for operations and maintenance will be taken on by Bewegen, with some of that paid for by sponsorship of individual bike stations by private organizations such as Florence Bank and Mount Holyoke College.

The program seems to be generating enthusiasm amongst its partners.

“I think there’s great excitement in South Hadley,” said South Hadley Town Administrator Mike Sullivan.

He likened the program to a seed for increasing bike use, and expressed an interest in incorporating three-wheeled bikes for seniors into the program in the future.

For her part, Ciccarello noted the value of the program in tackling congestion and parking issues in Amherst, which sees a big increase in drivers when the three colleges within its borders are in session. Narkewicz, meanwhile, spoke of the program’s environmental, safety and health benefits.

Ciccarello said that there were initially plans to have six bike stations in Amherst, three in town and three at UMass, while Narkewicz said that the initial estimate for Northampton was seven. However, Ciccarello noted that the increased number of bikes in the system could lead to an expansion of the number of stations.

She also said that there would be 60 to 100 bikes in Amherst, while Sullivan said there would be 24 in South Hadley.

In terms of how much it will cost to use the service, both Sullivan and Narkewicz said that those details had not yet been worked out yet.