Your Town Tuesdays: The Significance of Westfield


WESTFIELD, Mass. (Feb. 8, 2016) - For many Bay State residents the city of Westfield is not much more than an exit on the MassPike. But this college town could soon boast the state's longest protected bike lane and serve as a nexus of a network of bike paths stretching north to Amherst and south to New Haven, Connecticut.

Note the word is “could.”

There is a good plan and a great plan. With the good plan, Westfield will have a bike lane running the full length of Western Avenue which connects downtown with Westfield State University. But MassDOT, led by the state's Complete Streets Czar Luciano Rabito, is urging the city to use state funds to go with the great plan: a protected bike lane.

The plans were developed in response to a cluster of crashes – including some fatal collisions – identified in this college town.

Per usual, a handful of abutters were able to stall the plan. Mayor Daniel Knapik was opposed to the protected bike lane. And the college administration took no stance. And local bike advocates failed to sufficiently raise their collective voice.

In November, effectively the eleventh hour of the project's design phase, things changed. Voters elected a new mayor, Brian Sullivan. Westfield State brought in a new president, Dr. Raymond Torrecilha, both of whom were favorable to the path. And local advocates, led by MassBike's Pioneer Valley Chapter President Sean Condon, rallied to the cause.

“The city seems to be leaning towards it,” said Condon, who attended the public hearing held Jan. 26. Held simply to provide input for city officials on this one issue, the hearing filled an auditorium. “There were clear lines drawn between those for and those against. But more spoke for (the protected bike lane) than against.”

Supporters tended to be younger residents with children. Opponents typically were older. According to Condon, however, a number of elder residents spoke in favor of the path, noting it created a safer city for their grandchildren.

“The Western Avenue protected bike lane will play a significant role in connecting population centers and recreation destination,” said Peter Sutton, the new Massachusetts Bike-Ped coordinator. “It is a connector between major destinations including Baystate Noble Hospital, Westfield State University, the Westfield YMCA, Stanley Park, Highland Elementary School, downtown and off-campus WSU student housing, Amelia Park campus, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Westfield, Westfield Middle School South and more.”

And that is within the city. The connectivity to other cycling networks could amplify the impact this protected bike lane would have on Westfield’s economy and quality of life.

Currently the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail is less than four miles long but connects to the Southwick Trail and a network or 30 miles of trails extending deep into Connecticut. During this year two major developments are expected with the completion of the Westfield River Levee trail and the completion of a trestle bridge across the Westfield River. That bridge will connect Westfields trails to roads through Southampton and on to the paths of Easthampton, Northampton, Hadley and Amherst. Southampton remains the lone community without a rail trail in the area.

To the east, plans are developing that would see major bike-friendly initiatives in West Springfield  and Agawam, both of which are applying for Complete Streets funding. This week the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Joint Transportation Committee will be hosting an all-day seminar that focuses primarily on Complete Streets policies.

Writing this next paragraph is hard to do without sounding like an “as-seen-on-TV” ad. BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE! The recent development of Amtrak's Vermonter service has seen the opening of stations in Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield. Congress is pressing Amtrak to adopt roll-on access for bicycles. Public hearings are being held throughout 2016 on this subject along with other service elements of Amtrak. The public comment period has been extended through Feb. 16. To add your input, click here: NEC Future Comment Page

New policies within the Federal Transit Administration have also enabled municipalities to apply for funding to build bicycle accommodations – ranging from bike lanes to parking to signalized intersections – within a three-mile radius of any transit stop. Hence the entire greater Springfield area could see a labyrinth of bike friendly facilities.

All of this could patch into that Westfield network of trails and that protected bike lane. The entire Pioneer Valley could become one of the most bike-friendly areas in the United States with state officials seeing the value in marketing the “Happy Valley.”

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