Federal funding has been approved for a bike sharing service in western Massachusetts.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which controls federally funded transportation projects in Hampden and Hampshire counties, has approved nearly $1.2 million for ValleyBike, a regional bike share program that is tentatively scheduled to launch in summer 2017.
The program would make bicycles available to people for a small fee to make short trips. The cities of Springfield, Holyoke and Northampton, along with the town of Amherst and the University of Massachusetts have agreed to participate.
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is coordinating the project. Chief Planner Christopher Curtis said a pilot scale regional bike share system will benefit both residents and visitors.
" It is a fairly complicated type of program to launch, so we are doing all the steps necessary to get ready," said Curtis.
In discussing plans for the project earlier this year, Curtis said it would begin with 230 bikes and 26 stations.
Successful bike share programs operate in a number of places across the country with notable examples being Hubway in Boston and Citi Bike in New York.
" There are an every expanding number of bike share programs in communities large and small and we've taken a close look at many of those. They do provide a lot of interesting lessons and guidence for us moving forward," said Curtis.
Bike share programs are particularly popular among young professionals, a demographic seen as key to the economic future of the region.
" The idea is to provide opportunities for short commutes between key destinations. That might be the train station, major employment centers, shopping areas, tourists destinations, the colleges and universities in the area. We want to get people out of their cares and use alternatives as much as possible," explained Curtis.
Northampton will be the lead community for ValleyBike. The bicycling infrastructure is more developed there. But, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno expects his city to catch up.
"I believe Springfield is getting more pedestrian and bicycle friendly," Sarno said.
Springfield city planners envision a bike share system at Union Station, which will become the region’s largest multi-modal transportation center after an $88 million restoration is completed by the end of this year.
Likewise, Holyoke officials believe shared bikes could help with efforts to connect the city’s new downtown passenger rail stop with other parts of the city.
Bike share programs are touted as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while affording people a more healthy, active lifestyle.