Bike sharing program closer to reality

Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2016 12:24:00 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A long-planned regional bicycle sharing program that could launch next summer in both Northampton and Amherst secured more than $1 million in federal funding this week.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which approves federal transportation money for projects in Hampshire and Hampden counties, on Monday agreed to a Transportation Improvement Plan that includes $1.17 million for the capital costs of ValleyBike Share.

ValleyBike will allow people the opportunity to pay small fees to access bicycles for commuting and recreation. The collaborative includes Northampton, Amherst, the University of Massachusetts, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Springfield and Holyoke.

The vote means that there is now funding available as soon as Oct. 1 to cover the anticipated capital expenses by Alta Planning+ Design of Cambridge, including $187,200 to purchase the 234 bicycles, $828,100 to build 26 kiosks in four communities and $80,000 to pay for administration.

The start date for ValleyBike remains summer 2017 in Amherst and Northampton.

“The operating costs will ideally be covered by user fees and private sector sponsorships,” Patrick Beaudry, a PVPC spokesman, wrote in an email. “The participating communities would cover any outstanding operational balances.”

Northampton is serving as the lead community.

Wayne Feiden, the city’s director of planning and sustainability, said in a statement that ValleyBike will provide more non-vehicular options for residents, workers and visitors.

“Bike share, along with walking and bicycle facilities, provide the least expensive travel option for users and taxpayers and one of the most effective ways to improve public health,” Feiden said.

Similar programs already exist in bigger cities, such as Boston, which has the Hubway, and New York, where people can access Citibike.

ValeyBike’s launch still will depend on securing a contract from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and corporate sponsorships.

Alta Planning estimates $429,624 in annual operations expenses.

David Ziomek, Amherst’s interim town manager, said in a statement that Amherst, with its large number of students at UMass and Amherst and Hampshire colleges, should benefit.

“We believe bike share will help to relieve traffic congestion and serve the students, the broader downtown business community and community at large,” Ziomek said.

At UMass, ValleyBike is seen as a complement to UMass Transit, which operates the PVTA buses.

“ValleyBike will allow students and employees the opportunity to easily connect with the rest of the Pioneer Valley,” said Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager at UMass.

The preliminary study shows that possible sites for kiosks include near Smith College in front of John M. Greene Hall at the intersection of Elm and Prospect streets in Northampton, at the intersection of Main and Keyes streets in Florence, near the Student Union and the Fine Arts Center at UMass and on South Pleasant Street next to the North Common in Amherst.

If the initial launch of ValleyBike Share is successful, there are plans to expand the number of stations in the region, and add more communities.

One such place is South Hadley, which has advocated for the program, said town administrator Michael Sullivan.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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