ValleyBike Demonstrates Viability of Bike Sharing In Smaller Cities

Pedal-assist electric bicycles help users cover longer distances in a more rural part of the state.

A ValleyBike station on the UMass-Amherst campus. Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts.
A ValleyBike station on the UMass-Amherst campus. Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts.

ValleyBike Share, the bike-sharing system that serves six towns in the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts, has closed its second season of operation with nearly 200,000 miles clocked on its fleet of electric pedal-assist bicycles.

ValleyBike got started in 2018 with 45 stations in five cities and towns: Amherst, Holyoke, South Hadley, Northampton, and Springfield. This year, it added four new stations in Easthampton, plus new infill stations in Northampton and Springfield.

“It serves a lot of purposes, but the big idea was to give people mobility options,” says Wayne Feiden, Director of Planning and Sustainability for the City of Northampton, which administers the program. ” About 35 percent of these bike trips replace single-occupant vehicle trips, and our startup funding was actually from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program grant, with the intent to get more cars off the road.”

Data from the system show that ValleyBike users took 75,506 trips this year, and traveled a total of 197,731 miles before the system closed for the winter in the season’s first snowstorm earlier this month. 

That works out to about 2.6 miles per ride, higher than the average trip length for most bike-sharing systems. ValleyBike’s coverage area spans over 100 square miles across the valley, from the northernmost station at UMass-Amherst to the southernmost station in Springfield.

A map of the ValleyBike stations and its service area in the Pioneer Valley as of 2019.
A map of the ValleyBike stations and its service area in the Pioneer Valley as of 2019.

Feiden says that the more spread-out nature of the Pioneer Valley, where long stretches of farmland separate the villages and downtown areas of the six participating cities and towns, factored into the decision to electric bikes. “We decided to use pedal-assist bikes so we could be useful to more people, not just college students and 20-somethings.”

Although state law is ambiguous in its regulation of pedal-assist bikes, Feiden says that the Pioneer Valley’s off-street bicycle paths are locally controlled (unlike in eastern Massachusetts, where most bike paths are controlled by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation) and that the participating towns have agreed to allow electric bikes on those routes.

For the upcoming 2020 season, ValleyBike’s administrators are working to add additional stations in three more towns: West Springfield and Chicopee in the southern end of the region, and in the north, the town of Hadley, which would connect Northampton and Amherst via the Mass Central Rail Trail Norwottuck Branch.

Feiden says that although the system’s ridership and revenue numbers are exceeding expectations so far, the towns are still looking for a title sponsor who can make the system financially sustainable for the long term.

“That’s my one fear, that we don’t yet have a title sponsor, and we need one to be sustainable,” he says. “We think it’ll give someone a lot of visibility, so we hope we get it soon.”


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