BRPC Supports Efforts to Designate 'Bicycle Route 7' Through Berkshires
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Long-distance cyclists may soon be directed to bike through the Berkshires.
The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials are developing a massive highway system designation throughout the country for long-distance bicyclists to map out routes. What is eyed as US Bicycle Route 7 would connect Connecticut with Vermont through the Berkshires.
"It's connecting regions and states much like the highway system," said Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Senior Planner Emily Lindsey.
BRPC is supportive of the agreement but the effort to get the designation will need the backing of the eight Berkshire communities whose local roads will be used. So far, four of those towns — North Adams, Williamstown, Great Barrington, and Stockbridge — have given the OK.
Kate Masztal, of the state Department of Transportation, has been working on getting the designation on the already dubbed the Western New England Greenway — a planned route connecting Norwalk, Conn., to Montreal. The Western New England Greenway mostly follows the US Route 7 corridor but seldom uses the road itself.
"It really wants to use more local roads," she said.
Masztal said the plan is to build the main route first and then develop "spurs" off it to other areas. The US Bicycle Route 7 designation is eyed to come into the Berkshires on Route 7 but then veer over Route 183 through Lenox and Pittsfield.
While the focus is on Route 7, Ashuwillticook Rail Trail also offers options along the parallel Route 8 through Adams. From there, it will go back to Route 8 into North Adams, through Williamstown and connect with designated routes there.
Lindsey said Vermont's portion has already been approved by transportation officials' group and Connecticut's portion is expected to be approved later in the spring. The Massachusetts portion links those two existing routes through the Western New England Greenway.
The municipalities on the route take on no additional liability nor are they required to upgrade roads or pay for additional signage, so Lindsey says there is no reason why they shouldn't support it. The AASHTO would be the final approval. From there, the route will be marketed in the bicycling community and placed on the Adventure Cycling Association's national map of networks, bringing more riders through the Berkshires.
"There is a lot of economic development tied to bicycling touring," Lindsey said.
Those involved in bicycling touring tend to be people in their 50s with disposal incomes, she said. On average each rider spends about $100 a day while touring. The riders will often deviate off the route to eat at local restaurants or stay at hotels. Those who do the activity are "really experienced cyclists," she said.
According to a 2012 study by the Outdoor Industry Association, recreational activities are responsible for $646 billion in direct spending and employs more than 6 million. The bulk of that spending is in hospitality, food, transportation, sight-seeing and related travel needs.
The study found that the recreation economy grew 5 percent annually between 2005 and 2011, even during the worst years of the global economic collapse.
In North Adams, plans are to run the bike path through Western Gateway Heritage State Park and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
"It is an economic generator, and people go out of their way to go to communities where there are bike paths," Michael Nuvallie, the city's community development director, said last fall in describing the bike plan. "They will spend a weekend in town and explore anything and everything they can get their hands on. They will stay over and they will shop and eat; it's an attraction."
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