Easthampton shuts down Pedal N’ Party on Manhan Rail Trail

  • The Pedal N’ Party vehicle is seen in Easthampton recently. The electric-assisted bicycle seats 14 passengers, plus a steering bike driver and a host. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2019 11:44:10 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The police chief has put the brakes on a new tour service that launched earlier this month on the Manhan Rail Trail over concerns that the vehicle it employs to carry passengers is not an allowed use for the trail.

Chief Robert Alberti issued a cease-and-desist order on June 7 to Pedal N’ Party, which carries riders to Easthampton destinations in a large electric-assisted bicycle, forbidding the company from using the vehicle on the Manhan Rail Trail, according to Nick Vautrin, the company’s owner.

Now the status of the new business is in limbo, with tours canceled until July.

Vautrin expressed frustration with the latest development, saying he was told that his business was a good idea last July by the city’s Manhan Rail Trail Committee.

“It’s not like we just showed up one day,” he said.

He said Alberti and members of the City Council had gone to see the vehicle in action on the trail after he had invited them to examine it.

“If it was a thing of public safety, they would have shut me down right there,” he said.

Alberti could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Vautrin said the chief’s letter says the vehicle does not meet the definition of a two-wheeled, non-motor-powered transportation vehicle, and forbids it from using the trail.

City Councilor Salem Derby, chairman of the council’s ordinance committee, said Alberti issued the cease-and-desist order after City Councilor Owen Zaret asked the chief to solicit opinions from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

Derby said he does not interpret the opinions from the state agency and association as saying that the vehicle should be prohibited from the rail trail. Zaret could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“I don’t think that the cease -and-desist was warranted,” Derby said, adding that he conveyed that opinion to Alberti and Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

Derby said there is no city legislation stopping Pedal N’ Party from using the trail. However, he did express interest in compromise legislation that would allow the business to operate while addressing issues like hours, noise, and how wheelchairs using the trail would be accommodated.

“The biggest concern is the size of it,” said Derby, noting that the vehicle takes up half of the bike path.

Vautrin said that after receiving the order from the police chief, he got permission to complete the two tours he had earlier scheduled for June 9. One tour was of Easthampton’s breweries, while the other was a morning workout tour that took participants from downtown to Mill 180, where they could do either a yoga class or a class that mixed yoga and Pilates, before traveling back along the trail.

“Everyone loved it,” Vautrin said.

He said seven of the 10 people on the tour rebooked immediately. Vautrin said he has told supporters of his business to email city councilors, after he was told by councilors that they would be open to hearing from them.

Meantime, Derby said that he has been getting emails from both supporters and opponents of the business.

“I’m getting both ends of the spectrum here,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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