The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition discussed transportation system needs in the region during an economic forum Friday in North Adams. The challenge is upgrading aging transportation infrastructure to accommodate the aging population.
Many communities are adopting age-friendly strategies to provide opportunities to residents of all ages. Berkshire County, which joined the AARP network in 2015, is rural — and unless residents have a vehicle, it can be hard to get around.
Laura Kittross from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission says nearly 25 percent of residents are at least 60, and many are unable or unwilling to drive. She says the region needs to adopt age-friendly practices.
“We concentrate a little bit on older adults because we know that if we make the community work for the very youngest and we make the community work for the oldest, it works for the rest of us in between as well,” Kittross says.
Kittross announced a six-month pilot project, funded by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center at NBCC’s May Economic Forum. Berkshire County was one of six across the country to be funded by the center.
The effort will provide transportation to medical appointments for the elderly and for people with disabilities who are without other transportation options.
“And we like to say that an age-friendly community is a great place to grow up and a great place to grow old,” Kittross says.
Kittross says the program reimburses municipal Councils on Aging and other transportation providers – centered in Adams, Dalton, Lanesborough, North Adams, Pittsfield, Richmond and Sheffield – for giving rides to seniors in surrounding municipalities, too.
“There will be a centralized number that people will call,” Kittross says. “They won’t have to figure out who to call and try to get the right person on the phone. There will be one number that will go to Elder Services, and then that person will make the phone calls around to see if they can be accommodated either through the Councils on Aging or through their own volunteer ride program.”
In Berkshire County’s downtowns, many residents and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission want to see “complete streets,” which support automobiles, pedestrians, bicyclists, agricultural equipment, and freight and public transit. The aim is to increase economic development, provide recreational space and clean transportation alternatives.
For instance, the commission’s Eammon Coughlin says the commission wants to upgrade Eagle Street in North Adams with curb extensions, better street lighting, crosswalks, on-street bike lanes, and other sidewalk improvements.
“It's not a one-size-fits-all concept,” Coughlin says. “You know, there are a lot of different design solutions that can be implemented as part of complete streets.”
He says that could really make a difference for young people who want to be active and for the aging population who need safe and reliable infrastructure.
Other topics discussed were the work by the Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, Berkshire Community Action Council, the North Adams Partnership and the Regional Coordination Council to push for state legislation to address transportation issues.
MassDOT’s Ride Match program helps residents find statewide transportation options, like carpooling. Diane Hanson from MassRIDES says it’s reliable and good for the environment.
“And if you think about it if you just carpooled for one day a week, that's reducing the amount of cars on the road by 20 percent. That's a huge number,” Hanson says.
Also, the development of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail and a North Adams/Williamstown Bike Path that will go through Mass MoCA, which opens Building 6 on May 28th.