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THE CONNECTICUT VALLEY
The Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts falls into three major areas with very different characteristics for bicycle touring. The northern part is lightly settled; the central part has moderate population density, with a mixture of farmland and college towns; the south end is dominated by the large city of Springfield and its suburbs.
For this reason, bicycle touring route choices are easier in the northern and central parts of the valley than in the south. The particular constraints and opportunities will be discussed in the comments on individual route segments.
General Prospects and Problems
The lightly-settled northern valley includes large forested areas, many in state parks. One of the touring routes proposed in this report takes advantage of these to provide an experience comparable to that of northern New Hampshire or Vermont. Another route follows the Connecticut River through woodlands as well as open farmland. Except for the major highways, most roads carry light traffic.
The central valley is more open, combining farmland, small college towns and, surprisingly, higher mountains than in the north. Several mountains -- Mt. Tom, Sunderland Mountain, Mt. Holyoke -- rise out of the middle of the valley, and all have roads to the scenic outlooks at the top. These are offered as bicycle route options, so tourists may follow an easy route in the flatlands or take on a mountain challenge as they please.
The central valley is also the location of several colleges and the University of Massachusetts. The recently opened Norwottuck Bicycle Path now connects the college communities and provides a central link in the longer touring routes.
Sprawl development is transforming the rural areas of the southern valley which are not already urban, to the detriment of bicycle touring. The present pattern of development, with construction of single-family houses along rural roads, requires long-distance automobile travel to work, and results quickly in loss of quality ofthe rural roads for bicycling. For this reason, the only touring route which this report recommends in the southern valley is at its extreme west, pressed against the Berkshire foothills. This route's useable life is limited unless road upgrades keep pace with traffic. Specific measures will be suggested in reports on the touring route. Good routes are possible in the urban areas, but will require significant improvements to attract any but experienced riders.
Bridges across the major rivers are few, and not all accommodate bicycles. The bridge problem is worst in the southern part of the valley.
The South End Bridge in Springfield is an important connection, but its sidewalk is in very poor condition, littered with glass, and lacks route markings. The roadway is unattractive for bicycling and connects with a limited-access highway on which bicycling is prohibited.
The next bridge north, the Memorial Bridge, is currently in the midst of a long reconstruction project, with design revisions underway. There is time yet to examine how to accommodate bicycles on the bridge. However, the west end of the bridge connects only to a rotary intersection with high-speed ramps, unfriendly to pedestrians or to any but experienced bicyclists.
Similar problems exist at the North End Bridge in Springfield, the Route 202 bridge in Holyoke, and the French King (Route 2) bridge between Gill and Miller's Falls. Westfield has only one bridge across the Westfield River, a major bottleneck for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.
Two bridges across the Connecticut River have been lost within the past decade. Several years ago, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission had earmarked the Wayside Avenue bridge in Springfield for rehabilitation as a bicycle-pedestrian bridge, and had allocated $500,000 to this project. However, the Massachusetts Highway Department insisted that the bridge meet load-carrying standards for a highway bridge, and it was torn down. The Schell Bridge in Northfield also was torn down recently. On a more positive note, the Norwottuck Bikepath between Northampton opened recently, using an abandoned railroad bridge over the Connecticut River.
Solutions to bridge problems might be found by examining all future bridge projects for their impacts on bicyclists and pedestrians, as in fact is required now for Federal funding is used. Existing bridges might also be adapted to accommodate bicycles better. For example, the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 91 bridges across the Connecticut River might be augmented by a bicycle and pedestrian crossing.
The Connecticut River waterfront represents a major unexploited and abused scenic and recreational resource. Long stretches of it in Springfield, West Springfield and Chicopee are isolated by railroad lines and major highways. Yet at least some stretches of these could be salvaged as waterfront linear parks, with pathways like those along the Charles River in the Boston area -- only better, as most Connecticut River bridges are elevated, eliminating crossing conflicts. Riverfront routes could be a key element in recreational bicycling in the area. [As of 1999, a major riverfront redevelopment project is underway in Springfield, and it will include paths.]
Holyoke could take an example from Lowell, whose riverfront parklands at old insdustrial sites have been a major success. A riverfront park in Holyoke could be a key link in a north-south route between Springfield and South Hadley, as Holyoke has bridges at both the north and south end.
A waterfront park does exist in South Hadley, marking the location of a historic canal along the river. A citizen's group is looking to expand this park with pathways, which could serve a useful purpose for bicycle tourists as well as local recreational riders.
North of Holyoke and Chicopee, there are long undeveloped stretches of riverbank, and a farsighted plan would manage this resource for public use. This report suggests another specific project, the creation of a bicycle route southwards from Northampton through lowlands along the west bank of the Connecticut River.
The Franklin County Planning Council has plans for bicycle routes in the Greenfield-Turner's Falls area. The author of this report supports most of that proposal except for a proposed bicycle path paralleling Massachusetts Route 2: a location which invites crossing conflicts and has little recreational attractiveness. A path along the river rather than along a highway would serve recreational needs far better.
Suggested Routes in the Connecticut Valley
The proposed routes in the Connecticut Valley interlock, forming parts of a flexible system which can be ridden many different ways. Unlike the Berkshire Valley routes, however, each individual described route segment is not conceived as an entire route or side trip in itself. Rather, riders are invited to build routes for themselves out of the various possibilities.
The core route, mostly suitable for novice riders, is between the town swimming area at the Northampton reservoir and Amherst College on the Norwottuck Bicycle Path. As will be noted, this route is missing a link composed partly of path and partly of street improvements; existing links on streets are not suitable for novices.
Routes extending from the core route offer longer tours at varying levels of difficulty. The possibilities should be clear from the maps and the written descriptions.
The following descriptions proceed generally south to north and west to east, though the interlocking routes prevent them from following this order exactly.