Locals know it as the Assabet River Rail Trail, a new 8.6-mile rail trail that links five towns in the Massachusetts hills west of Boston, offering sweet riding, walking and running on a smoothly paved surface traversing woods and towns.
But if you ask the town planners in Acton and Maynard, two of the municipalities along the trail, they’ll tell you it’s called The Zagster Highway. That’s because the two neighboring towns worked together to join and expand a bikeshare program called Minuteman Bike Share. Four towns—Lexington, Concord and now Maynard and Acton—are part of Minuteman, which has a total of 44 bikes at seven stations. The system includes a mixture of public and private funding, and in its first full year in Lexington attracted 765 members who made 1,300 trips.
Acton and Maynard joined Minuteman in October 2018, and although the program has gone into hibernation for the winter, fall use figures for the two towns suggest strong adoption. “That’s what we were hoping for, what we expected,” says Bill Nemser, Maynard’s town planner. Nemser worked with Kristen Guichard, Acton’s senior planner, to bring the two towns into the bikeshare scheme, because shared mobility projects made so much sense for both.
“We enjoy working with Maynard,” says Guichard. “We worked well together on the Assabet River Rail Trail project and bikeshare was a natural way for us to implement aspects of Acton’s Master Plan, which has a lot of goals around economic development, transportation, and safer walking and cycling.” Nemser agrees, saying that Maynard’s master plan has many of the same planning needs. In fact, the two have worked together on many local and regional planning issues.
With shared ambitions, the two again worked together on a plan. They had three goals: ease car congestion, improve transportation around their towns, and make cycling and walking easier for people. The pair hoped the solutions would also help them with a problem many communities face, the all-too-common “last mile” issue: how do you get folks from their homes and offices to mass transit options? In this case, the issue was how to help people get to the commuter rail station at South Acton, a busy hub for commuters from Boston’s northwestern suburbs headed into the city.
One of the answers was Zagster. “We knew anecdotally that bikeshare programs helped with these problems,” says Guichard. Both planners sent surveys to residents of their respective communities and asked about bikeshare. “The response was tremendous,” says Nemser. “People look at it like an amenity. It improves the quality of life, and plus it just seems really cool, especially because we have the trail right here.”
The two decided to work on adding stations and bikes in their towns at the same time. But while residents were supportive of the concept, town funding was limited, especially in Maynard. That’s when private sponsorship came in. Mill & Main, an apartment complex in Maynard, signed on as a sponsor and hosts one of the towns’ bike stations. Acton’s town meeting approved funding, which was supplemented by sponsorship from West Acton Village Works, Pro Tech, and—this being New England—Acton’s Dunkin’ Donuts.
Nemser also points out that the Town is emphasizing to local businesses that the Assabet River Rail Trail offers new opportunities for marketing to trail users. “It is something I am not sure the business community recognized right off the bat so we made a point to highlight how the additional traffic may be something to tailor some business strategies too” Nemser says.
When winter loosens its grip on central Massachusetts, the Acton and Maynard Minuteman stations will come out of hibernation, two in Acton (one at the South Acton train station and one in West Acton) and one in Maynard. “We’re looking forward to the reopening,” says Nemser. “I tell people that bikes are good business. Good for sponsors, good for riders, good for our towns. Businesses here have a real opportunity to capitalize on Zagster’s presence.”