By Rebecca Dravis
01:29AM / Thursday, June 01, 2017
The new legs of the bike path were part of the transportation discussion.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition has been on the move this year.
Breaking from its long tradition of Friday morning forums at First Baptist Church, the coalition took some different approaches this year under the leadership of new Executive Director Amber Besaw. First was making a meeting go mobile throughout downtown North Adams, having another one on a Friday evening to try to attract different attendees and the latest change of pace: a forum on May 19 held outside at Colgrove Park.
"This has been a year of experimentation with our forums," Besaw said in introducing the Colgrove Park forum, which saw around 80 people alternately soaking up and hiding from the sun on a warm spring day in the city's newest gathering spot.
The topic of that meeting was, appropriately enough, "You CAN Get There From Here," focusing on transportation issues and solutions. Participants rotated — transported, if you will — through several "stations" to learn about some new — and some old — initiatives happening in the transportation realm in Berkshire County.
Some of the stations focused on public transportation. Representatives from Berkshire Regional Transit Authority gave a quick overview of how the "B" bus works, including the use of the Charlie card, and there was even a bus training session after the forum ended. They also talked about massridematch.org, which is a searchable database for people to get transportation options.
In other stations, the focus was on connecting people who need rides with people who can give rides. Age Friendly Berkshires representatives discussed how a grant would be funding an upcoming program that would allow towns that have Council on Aging transportation vans to service smaller towns across town lines. The "New Ride" program through Mass Rides was also explained as being like "a dating site for carpools," matching people with potential carpool partners.
Also, Erica Girgenti, from the town of Adams Council on Aging talked about her role on the Regional Coordination Council, a program of the state Department of Transportation. The RCC has published a "Ride Guide" that is updated regularly as well as began the "HINT" (Help I Need a Ride) program that assist people who need help getting to out of town or out of state medical appointments.
"It can be really expensive for some people," Girgenti said.
One station focused on walking and bicycling as forms of transportation, offering updates of the Eagle Street project in North Adams that aims to make a more pedestrian friendly street, as well as the proposed bike path in Williamstown that will eventually link to the North Adams bike path, which will eventually link to the newly expended Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Adams.
And one station even explained a new program that helps people get their own car so they don't have to rely on any of the other transportation options. Berkshire Community Action Council's "CAR" (Community Action Rides) program helps qualified residents take a financial literacy program and then connects them with a low-interest car loan through Greylock Federal Credit Union and a safe and affordable used vehicle from Haddad Auto.
Executive Director Deborah Leonczyk said there is even a safeguard built into the program, in which BCAC will make one payment a year if the participant falls on a hard time, like a job loss or unforeseen expense.
"What we want to do is help them over the hump," she said. "If they're committed, we're committed."
The participants in this Coalition forum were committed to tackling the issue of transportation — which is always top on the list of Berkshire County struggles when needs assessments are completed. After they talked about some of the barriers to transportation — including inflexible bus schedules, unsafe bicycle lanes and a lack of train service to Boston or New York City — some people offered suggestions to solve those problems, including expanding the presence of Uber and other private ride services in the area as well as just letting residents know what's available and encourage them to use it.
North Adams resident Donna Motta, who regularly attends the forums with her husband and children, said she was excited by all the options but has another take on the problem.
"I really think it's a matter of changing mindsets," she said, talking about how she hoped more people would have a positive attitude about taking the bus, walking or riding bikes whenever possible. "We don't NOT have the option of a car. We get to walk."
As for the coalition, its next meeting is on the move, too: its annual meeting is set for Friday, June 23, at the Williams Inn in Williamstown. Reserve a spot online.