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OVERALL PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This report was generated under a contract issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management to survey potential bicycle touring routes in the Connecticut and Berkshire valleys.
The report proposes a system of bicycle touring routes, mostly on existing roads and highways. The hope expressed in issuing the contract was that developing such routes would encourage tourism in Massachusetts. Experience with the existing Boston to Cape Cod bicycle touring route and similar facilities in other states bears out this assumption.
Bicycle touring plays a larger part in the Vermont's economy than the state's best-known export, maple sugar and syrup. Similar stories can be told in other states and Canadian provinces: Oregon, with its comprehensive plan to improve highways for bicycling; Wisconsin, with extensive bicycle trails on abandoned railroad beds; Quebec, with a strong, ongoing governmental program to promote tourism by bicycle.
Except for Cape Cod and the islands, Massachusetts lags in developing bicycling as an attraction for tourists and as an economic resource. Yet Massachusetts offers ideal locations for bicycle touring.
Western Massachusetts offers easy, flatland riding on bicycle paths and quiet rural roads; excellent routes for point-to-point touring; unmatched cultural attractions; and several of the most intriguing and spectacular mountain riding challenges in the eastern United States. Western Massachusetts is located close to major population centers, with easy access by car, bus, rail and air. So why do bicyclists immediately think of Vermont instead?
Some answers: Vermont has been home since 1973 to the nation's first packaged bicycle tour company, whose name is an advertisement for the state. Vermont also has a more rural image than Massachusetts, though a Vermont wooded mountain and town green are indistinguishable from those in western Massachusetts.
Meeting the Needs of the Bicycle Touring Ridership
Generally, the ridership for bicycle touring routes consists of adult bicyclists. Some ride regularly for exercise and transportation in their own communities. Many will bring their own bicycles on vacation and organize their own tours.
However, packaged bicycle tours have become highly popular since the mid 1970s, and offer many advantages including prearranged bookings and routes, trained tour guides and a van following the group of riders to provide refreshments, mechanical assistance and even a break from riding if the exertion is too great.
The organized tours attract customers who may be inclined toward fitness, but are not highly experienced as bicyclists. For these, the special services that the tour companies provide are essential. The tour companies offer shorter and less challenging rides for beginners, and many people have found their introduction to bicycling through these tours.
Some packaged rides, and the routes on which they travel, are suitable for novice and child riders as well. This report points to facilities suitable for all levels of riding skill.
An Information-Based Strategy
To attract bicycle tourists, Massachusetts needs to publicize its attractions and promote the bicycle touring business. But also, Massachusetts can continue to do something which Vermont has not done: designate, develop, maintain and improve a system of bicycle touring routes.
Bicycle touring routes can be developed at very little cost. The main need is to provide information -- to let potential users know of the routes. As with the existing Cape Cod route, a simple map brochure is the key to this effort. The brochure, which bicyclists can carry with them, permits them to follow the route. Production and printing costs run to a few tens of thousands of dollars, and the brochure can even pay for itself through sales if developed as a commercial project.
The cost of preparing maps compares favorably with the typical cost of bicycle paths of $100,000 per mile, or a similar cost to add shoulders to a heavily-traveled road to carry bicycle traffic comfortably. Even directional signage is more expensive than a brochure. While these measures are sometimes desirable, they are far less cost-effective, at least initially, than providing information. It is for that reason that the main thrust of this report is to suggest routes on existing roads; however, the description of each route section includes recommendations for follow-up improvements.
[Note: since the completion of this report in 1993, publication of detailed bicycle route maps for all of of Massachusetts has been completed in the private sector by Rubel Bikemaps, transforming this suggestion into reality. Some of the routes on the Rubel maps were based on the research conducted for this report. Maps and books for the project area are listed in the Bibliography of this document.]
Additional Publicity and Promotion Efforts
Additional measures are necessary to spread the message of the attractiveness of bicycle touring in western Massachusetts:
Touring companies need to know that western Massachusetts is an attractive location for their tours. A package including the suggested route brochure and other informational publications from the Massachusetts Office of Tourism could be mailed to tour providers. Follow-up informational services could be provided to assist tour providers. Massachusetts entrepreneurs should be encouraged to develop locally-based bicycle touring businesses.
Information also could be made available to the local media to encourage local businesses to provide services required by tourists using the routes, and to encourage residents to make use of the routes.
National and regional bicyclists' organizations should be made aware of the routes and of how their members can obtain information on them. Several national organizations, in particular Bikecentennial and the League of American Wheelmen, publish catalogs of bicycle route information, and resell published maps and brochures through their offices.
National bicycling magazines could be encouraged to write up the routes. This is not difficult to bring about, as the magazines are always looking for riding locations to describe.
The participation of regional and local governmental agencies is needed to assist in maintaining and improving the routes, and to coordinate regional planning efforts with the development of the routes.
A major promotional effort could be made through scheduled events. Berkshire and Connecticut Valley bicycle festivals which invite riders at all levels of ability to enjoy the opportunities around them, and attract bicyclists from outside the local area with a selection of rides and evening activities. Bicycle clubs in New England have organized such events in the past, but they have been publicized only in the community of active bicyclists. The need is for events with a wider variety of attractions to attract all types of of bicyclists. The events should offer the choice of weekend-long participation with overnight lodging, or day-ride participation. Opportunities for follow-up include membership solicitations from bicycle clubs and mailings from bicycle shops.
Such events are not a new idea: for example, the cross-state rides organized by major newspapers in the Midwest have been flourishing for many years. Developing such events in Massachusetts will, however, require a significant effort on the part of local bicyclists, sponsors and governments. [The MassBike ride, first run in 1998 by the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, is just this type of event.]
Bicyclist-oriented facilities are needed at state parks: The proposed bicycle routes pass through and near many state parks and reservations. Some appropriate facilities include: directional signage to park facilities when the bicycle route or entrance is not the same as the one commonly used by motor traffic; hiker-biker campground places offered at low cost without the electric or sewage hookup needed by motorized recreational vehicles; designated paved-road and dirt-road bicycle routes in the parks; bicycle parking racks at heavily-used locations such as visitor centers, campgrounds and beaches.