CHICOPEE — The city will join the region’s bicycle sharing program in the spring, providing a link between multiple communities that have joined the service over the past two years.
City officials started the process to join ValleyBike last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic created multiple delays in getting it up and running.
“We jumped on board. We wanted to be part of it and a lot of people were asking about it,” said Nathan Moreau, associate city planner. “We are filling in a gap in service.”
ValleyBike began in 2018 with electric-assist bikes that can be rented from docking stations in several communities. People can pick up a bike from one place and drop it off at a different docking station when they reach their destination.
Bikes are rented often through a cellphone app. Rates range from $2 for 30 minutes to $90 a year to take unlimited rides of up to 60 minutes. There are a variety of membership plans people can use and discounts for students and those who live in public housing, said Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability and one of the officials behind ValleyBike.
Last year the bikes were ridden about 196,000 miles. Some ride them for commuting, shopping or to do errands. They are used a lot for recreation based on the fact they are rented most often on the weekends, Feiden said.
“We want to give people transportation choices,” Feiden said. “There is no question it is reducing vehicle trips, and although it is electric-assisted, you have to peddle some so it is giving people exercise.”
ValleyBike now has a presence in Amherst, Easthampton, Holyoke, South Hadley, Northampton and Springfield, with the University of Massachusetts Amherst providing the most riders.
The addition of Chicopee is an important link in the program since it is in the middle of Springfield, Holyoke and South Hadley, Moreau said.
The three docking stations will be across from City Hall, at Rivers Park off Meadow Street and in the island at the intersection of Church Street and Broadway, where the monument topped by a giant granite ball honoring Gen. Arthur MacArthur sits.
The three locations were selected because they are crossroads that lead in multiple directions people may want to go, Moreau said.
The one at City Hall is at the start of a short bike path that runs along the Chicopee River. Past Grape Street the path turns into a gravel road that is not officially part of the bike path but is used as such and connects to Szot Park and the Chicopee Senior Center.
Rivers Park is a few streets over from a proposed bike path, scheduled to be completed in April 2022, that will run along the shore of the Connecticut River.
A $1.1 million federal traffic congestion mitigation grant is providing the money to expand ValleyBike into Chicopee as well as Hadley and West Springfield. It pays for things such as bikes and equipment for the docking stations, Feiden said.
Chicopee’s Department of Public Works will install the concrete pads at the three stations and Chicopee Electric Light will provide the electrical connection, Moreau said. The city pays $5,000 for administrative and maintenance costs, he said.
Regionwide, about 35% of the funding to keep the program rolling comes from user fees. The remaining amount comes from sponsors who can support anywhere from one docking station to those in multiple or all communities, Feiden said.