State program to help ValleyBike Share expand Easthampton

  • In this June file photo, Dakota DesRochers of Leverett takes off on an electric assist bicycle during ValleyBike Share’s regional launch. The program is expanding to Easthampton next year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2018 12:31:09 AM

ValleyBike Share, which launched in five cities and towns in the region earlier this year, is expanding to Easthampton with financial support from the state’s Housing Choice Initiative.

On Thursday, the Baker-Polito administration announced nearly $5 million in awards to 31 communities, including $225,000 going to Easthampton, through a Housing Choice capital grant, which will pay for the design and construction of five bike share locations featuring 36 new electric assist bicycles.

This will allow the city to become a member of the existing consortium, which already includes Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, Holyoke and Springfield, sometime in 2019. The grant covers the full cost of construction, docking equipment, bicycles and signs.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said she wants her city to be better connected to neighboring communities, and to remain an attractive place to live.

“For us in Easthampton, we’re facing some unique geographical silos,” LaChapelle said. “ValleyBikeShare is a very small part of where we’re going as a city.”

Jeffrey Bagg, the city’s planner, said he’s excited about the addition of a bike-share program. “It makes total sense for Easthampton to be part of the bike share,” he said.

Increasing the number of people using the bike path, and expanding its capacity, is part of the city’s master plan and open space plan, and was referenced in the application to the state.

“We lay out an argument where supporting economic development supports housing,” Bagg said.

By late spring, stations will be at up to five locations, selected in consultation with the Manhan Rail Trail Committee and city officials. Among the likely sites are Millside Park, Union Street near Tandem Bagel Company, the Municipal Building, Main Street near old Town Hall and Easthampton High School.

“Our expectation would be by June to have them up and running,” Bagg said.

Wayne Feiden, director of planning and sustainability for Northampton, and who oversees integration of new sites into ValleyBike Share, said he is committed to welcoming Easthampton into the fold as soon as officials are ready.

Northampton, Amherst

Northampton and Amherst are each receiving Housing Choice capital grants for road and sidewalk projects.

Northampton got $225,300 that will be used toward repaving Pleasant Street and nearby streets, as well as repairing existing sidewalks on the corridor, as part of a Complete Streets and Vision Zero effort.

Beginning in 2017, the city began making Pleasant Street more pedestrian and bicycle friendly by adding sidewalks, curb extensions, cycle tracks and a raised intersection. The objective of Vision Zero is to have no pedestrian or bicycle fatalities.

For $190,000, Amherst will install a 5-foot wide sidewalk for the 360-foot distance north along East Pleasant Street between the entrance to Village Park Apartments and Olympia Drive. The new accessible sidewalk will replace an existing foot path and connect to local bus stops and the downtown sidewalk system. This work will feature two road crossings with accessible curb cuts and crosswalks, dedicated bus pull offs with a shelter and new bike racks.

Olympia Drive in recent years has been the site of new housing, including the Olympia Oaks affordable housing project and the Olympia Place apartments reserved for college students.

Smaller towns also benefit

Three other local communities earned money through the Housing Choice Small Town Grant Program, which is set aside for towns with under 7,000 residents.

Hadley is getting $100,000 to replace a leaking public water line that goes to the 75-unit, mixed-income Mountain View Apartments off Campus Plaza Road. The repair of the line, which is losing 20,000 gallons of water daily, will include directional boring of a new pipe and connecting this new pipe to the public water system and the remaining private service line.

In Leverett, $100,000 will be used to pay for the design and engineering of a new public water line that would provide water to five homes affected by contamination from the closed and capped landfill, near the Amherst town line.

This would mark the first step to provide a permanent solution to an ongoing public health issue. Quarterly testing of untreated domestic well water at these homes, begun in 1996 as required by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection following the landfill capping, has shown detectable volatile organic compounds and other contaminants, mostly iron and manganese.

Because of the landfill’s proximity to Amherst, one possibility being explored is having Amherst extend its water line to serve these Leverett homes.

Finally, $71,438 will be going to Sunderland for analysis, streetscape design and cost estimates for accessibility improvements and infrastructure design on School Street, and the design and construction of a new manhole on the same road. This implements a portion of the town’s Complete Streets Prioritization Plan and support new residential development, including a proposed 33-unit senior affordable housing project.

The Housing Choice program, begun by Baker last December, has a goal of creating 135,000 new housing units, by 2025, to meet the housing needs of Massachusetts’s families, workforce and residents.

“Our administration is focused on developing a healthy housing market for Massachusetts’ long-term success, with diverse housing options that are affordable for families and residents across the income spectrum,” Baker said in a statement announcing the funds.

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


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