Statewide bike paths promoted in Massachusetts

Gov. Deval L. Patrick wants to speed up development of bicycle paths in Western Massachusetts and the rest of the state.

Published October 9, 2007 by The Republican
By Dan Ring 

BOSTON – Gov. Deval L. Patrick wants to speed up development of bicycle paths in Western Massachusetts and the rest of the state.

Former Westfield Mayor Richard K. Sullivan Jr., commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, said yesterday that the state plans to spend $82 million to build a web of bicycle paths across the state, mostly along old railroad beds. One would connect Lowell to Westfield via Framingham.

Sullivan said some of the money could be included in upcoming bonds bills for the environment and transportation. Federal money is also important for bicycle paths, he added.

"It's a matter of funding and pulling all the parties together," Sullivan said. "It's going to be a great recreational opportunity."

In addition to recreation, bicycle paths help the environment by taking motor vehicles off the roads. They also boost tourism, a major part of the state's economy, Sullivan said.

"If you're going to spend $1 on anything, you need to look at what it can do for economic development, what it can do for job creation," Sullivan said.

As part of the effort, the state Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works on Friday released a draft "Massachusetts Bicycle Transportation Plan," which includes an inventory of current bike paths, financed projects and proposals. A final plan is scheduled to be released in December.

A major path in the state plan is the proposed 150-mile "central corridor," which would connect Hancock at the New York state border with Boston.

Some other proposed trails include the 2.1-mile Holyoke Range Rail Trail in Amherst and Granby, the 3.7-mile Hardwick Rail Trail and the 25.2-mile Massachusetts Central Corridor that includes Belchertown, Palmer and Ware.

Other projects include the Connecticut Riverwalk, which includes several existing and proposed paths in Agawam, Holyoke and West Springfield on the west bank and Chicopee and Springfield on the east bank. A 2.3-mile Agawam stretch on the west bank is open and a 3.4-mile Springfield segment is open on the east side.

Another proposal is the Franklin County Bikeway, a loop through Greenfield, Deerfield, Montague and Gill.

Sullivan said it will take years to complete all the bicycle paths proposed for the state. A lot depends on the support the paths receive, he said. "Some communities are more committed than others," he said.

Many of the projects are built on abandoned railroad beds. Sullivan pointed to the success of the Norwottuck Rail Trail, a 10-mile paved path along a former rail bed through Northampton, Hadley and Amherst.

Craig P. Della Penna of Northampton, a consultant who helps communities develop old rail corridors into pathways, yesterday cheered the state's efforts.

Della Penna said that within 100-mile radius of the Pioneer Valley, there are more than 200 projects of various sizes to convert old rail beds into bicycle and walking trails. He said people want "off road" paths along former rail beds or wood paths."These are right where people live, work and play and they connect communities," he said.

Another pending project in Western Massachusetts is the proposed $15 million rail trail that would run from the Westfield River in Westfield through Southwick to the Connecticut line.

Construction could begin next spring on the project, which would be on the old Penn Central and Pioneer Valley rail beds and would be part of a larger trail that would go between New Haven, Conn., and Northampton.

"Nothing is bigger than this for the city of Westfield," Della Penna said.