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City/Williamstown Bike Path Input Sought

By Jen Thomas
05:18PM / Tuesday, May 29, 2007
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North Adams City Council President and Mohawk Bicycle/Pedestrian Tail Outreach Committee member Gailanne Cariddi.[Photo by Jen Thomas]
North Adams – “The wheelmen and wheelwomen who are now visiting Northern Berkshire in great numbers would be strongly impressed with our enterprise up here if they could see something being done in the way of bicycle paths…A good starter would be to connect Williamstown and North Adams with a bicycle path,” read a July 18, 1896 North Adams Transcript article. And 111 years later, with a public informational session slated for 7 p.m. June 7 at Congregation Beth Israel, an outreach committee affiliated with a proposed Mohawk Bicycle/Pedestrian Trail hope to finally see a path connecting the communities of North Adams and Williamstown. The synagogue is located at 53 Lois St. in the city. The Right To A Voice Committee member and City Council President Gailanne Cariddi has been instrumental in developing the plans for a 5.5 mile bike path that would extend from the city's Marshall Street/River Street area to the Cole Avenue neighborhood in Williamstown. She holds onto the 1896 article as a reminder to be patient. “These projects take a really long time,” she said. “We’re steadily working on it.” A bike path idea was resurrected in 2000, after Cariddi assembled a team to explore the possibility of extending the 10-mile Lanesboro to Adams Ashuwillticook "rail trail" northward. As the project evolved, a trail connecting North Adams and Williamstown became the center focus, though project organizers hope the trail will eventually become a northern extension of the existing bike path. Presently, the eight members of the outreach committee, in collaboration with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) are seeking community feedback on the future of the trail, including ideas about where it will be located. “Nothing is set yet,” said Cariddi. “We’re really looking for a lot of public input, and we need the public to respond, because they’ll be the ones to use it or not use it.” At the informational session, the public will take an active role with encouraging trail development toward planning stages through what Cariddi called “interactive stations.” In addition to an aerial/overview photograph of the proposed trail routes and an informational station featuring facts and myths about neighborhood bike paths, the meeting will allow participants to select “areas of interest” on a large street map. “It gives the public an opportunity to educate all of us as to what it is they believe is important in their neighborhoods,” said Cariddi. “The public has the right to have a voice on this issue.” Beginning Phase 1 According to Lauren Gaherty, a BRPC senior planner, Phase 1 of the project will concentrate on a feasibility study and conceptual design. “This Phase I project will consist of three main components: 1) conduct a detailed feasibility study to determine the preferred and alternative routes, 2) open dialogs with landowners and abutters along the trail routes, and 3) develop preliminary designs and cost estimates for the routes we identify in the feasibility study,” according to a statement from Gaherty. Phase 1 will continue through September 2008 and will incorporate the public in decision-making on preferred and alternative trail routes. The funding for the bike trail project came primarily from the National Scenic Byway Grant Program, administered by the Federal Highway Administration. The $88,000 grant ensures that the trail will run alongside Route 2. Other monies were provided by state funds - $22,000 came from the Massachusetts Highway Department - and municipal revenues. Williamstown and North Adams each contributed $5,000. Additionally, the project received a $3,000 grant from Fund for Williamstown, an organization created to “support innovative programs and services that will enhance the quality of life for residents of Williamstown,” according to the fund’s grant guidelines. Possible sources for future funding include the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Greenways and Trails Grant Program, the Self-Help Grant Program, federal and state transportation funds, according to Cariddi and Gaherty. A Path For All A self-proclaimed “health nut,” Cariddi wants the bike path to serve multiple purposes. “The bike path will definitely enhance tourism in my mind," she said. "The county is moving closer to recreation, to a visitor/tourist economy, and this will give [tourists] one more reason to visit.” Cariddi said she wants the trail to be easily accessible for exercise fanatics as well as those who prefer leisurely strolls. “Route 2 is surrounded by neighborhoods, and people should be able to just pop on the trail when they can,” she said. “I’d like to advocate for ways in which it would be easy for people to get exercise in their lives.” With the proposal's first phase poised to begin, Cariddi said she knows that bicyclists have more waiting time ahead before their bike tires churn along a new path. “This is a multi-year project and we’re working at it little by little,” she said. Jen Thomas may be reached via e-mail at jthomas@iberkshires.com or at 413-663-3384.
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