After years of planning and searching for funding, a regional bicycle-sharing program launched this week in western Massachusetts.
With her own bicycle broken, Jaz Tupelo was looking forward to renting one of the brand new bikes that became available Thursday afternoon for short trips around Northampton.
" I am very excited about being able to have a bike when I need it," said Tupelo. " Also, I don't have a lot of storage space where I live, so it will convenient to go somewhere and have there be a bike for me."
ValleyBike, the first bike share program in the Pioneer Valley, operates in Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, Holyoke, Springfield, and on the UMass Amherst campus.
Plans call for there to be 500 bikes available for rent at 50 stations by the end of July.
It is the first pedal-assist bike share program in New England.
" It is not a moped, it is not an electric bike, it is a pedalec," explained Alain Ayotte, CEO of Bewegen Technologies, the Canadian maker of the bicycles. " You need to peddle a bit, keep your legs going and then the motor will help you if you go up hill, or against the wind. You won't break a sweat on your journey."
He said ValleyBike is the largest pedal-assist bike share system in North America.
National studies have found the typical bike share user is a 20-30-year-old professional. Pedal-assist should expand the demographic for ValleyBike, according to Wayne Feiden, Director of Planning & Sustainability for the city of Northampton.
"So for the vast majority of trips we make shopping, eating, playing, going to work. Bike share can replace that," said Feiden.
He said if people used a bike share instead of a car for most trips under three miles it would have a big impact on the environment.
"Even people who never use it should benefit because it will take cars off the road," he said. "It is a lot less expensive for us to have a bike share program than to widen or add more roads."
A one-way ride costs $2. Trips are limited to 45 minutes, but additional time can be purchased. For frequent users, there is an annual membership of $80. Payments can be made online or at kiosks at the bicycle stations. A phone app shows the availability of bikes at each station and can also be used to unlock the bikes.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz began advocating for a bike-sharing program after he was elected in 2011. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission secured $1.3 million in federal transportation funds in 2015 to purchase the bicycles and the charging stations.
Narkewicz said Northampton took the lead in implementing the program.
"I'm really excited that this day has come," said Narkewicz.
At an event Thursday to celebrate the launch of ValleyBike, there was a brass band and a bicycle parade.
Because of the threat for thunderstorms, it was held at the Smith College Indoor Track and Tennis building.