Hemlock Lane Residents Request Sidewalk to Improve Safety

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Hemlock Lane links major roads – Image courtesy of Google Maps (c) Google 2012, all rights reserved

The Transportation Advisory Committee and town engineer Adrienne St. John of the DPW met on October 17 with a number of concerned Hemlock Lane residents to discuss construction of a sidewalk on their street.

Saying that Hemlock Lane has become more dangerous since it was “discovered” by drivers diverted around the Shawsheen Bridge construction—and that the volume and speed of cut-through traffic, already bad, has worsened as a result— residents approached the Transportation Advisory Committee with the goal of re-igniting Town interest in a sidewalk project there.

The DPW’s St. John said that, about ten years ago, a town Sidewalk Committee identified Hemlock Lane as one of several locations where sidewalks were a high priority. The DPW followed up by touring the length of the street on foot to inspect the lay of the land and talk to residents.

“Everyone agreed that a sidewalk would be beneficial,” St. John said. “[But] the issues today are the same as ten years ago.  For the connection from Hemlock Lane onto Page and down to Shawsheen, we need easements. [That includes] the property owner on the corner and everyone on Page Road down to Shawsheen because. . . we need to make that connection a viable link. You really don’t want [pedestrians] to leave Hemlock, come onto Page Road and then have no place to go. You can’t expect people to step out into traffic and make their way across Page to connect.”

St. John added that constructability issues presented several challenges: trees on the Burlington Road corner would need to be removed; utility poles on one side of the street and a steep slope on the other side brought ledge and water drainage complications.

On the sloped, east side of the street, sidewalk installation would necessitate cutting into the hill and constructing a retaining wall. On the west side of the street, where the utility poles are placed, a sidewalk would have to go behind the poles, between the houses and the street. The poles, St. John said, vary between one and three feet from the curbing. Removal or repositioning of the poles—which belong to NSTAR—is impractical. “That’s just not a quick process,” she said.

St. John explained, also, that sidewalks must be flat—only pitched slightly to direct water away from private property and onto the street—and they must be 5 feet wide to comply with ADA regulations as well as with the width of the sidewalk snowplow.

Residents asked, if the sloped side of the street was chosen, whether things like irrigation systems and retaining walls already in place would be made whole at the end of construction. The Committee and St. John assured them that this would be done as a matter of course.To determine what the challenges are, St. John said each property would be assessed individually.

Although both sides of the street present issues, the biggest concern is the nexus between Hemlock Lane and Page Road. A safe way for pedestrians to connect either to another sidewalk or to a dead end street or cul-de-sac neighborhood must be found.

Crosswalks on Hemlock, either conventional or raised, were discussed as were speed bumps and other traffic-calming possibilities. Selectmen liaison Margot Fleischman encouraged the residents and the Committee to consider what other strategies might be effective in addition to a sidewalk.

Residents then spoke about their experiences living on Hemlock Lane. “I know that we have more children on our street now than we ever did before,” said Heidi Shamlian. “I can speak for a few of my neighbors who want [a sidewalk] there. They’re afraid for their kids and it’s getting busier and busier. . . I take my dog out for a walk and Ihave to be really careful. ”

Her husband Dave added, “I remember when our kids were young, we couldn’t even have them learn how to ride a bike on the street. We had to take them to a parking lot; there was absolutely no place to do it [on Hemlock] because the cars would be coming so fast.”

Another resident added, “Everybody recognizes how dangerous the corner [of Hemlock and Page Road] is, but that’s where the bus stop is.   The kids have to get off there with cars flying down there—there’s no crosswalk—and then they cross to a street with no sidewalks. . . It’s bad, especially if there’s snow. The road is narrow to begin with.”

Transportation Advisory Committee member and Hemlock Lane resident Ralph Hammond recalled that there was a fatal car crash and a nearly-fatal bike crash at the same corner.

Another resident, Monther Mardini, said, “I have all the confidence in the [Town’s] engineering department that they are going to find a solution—no matter what it is. That’s the easiest part. But the most difficult part is how do we get there?  What are the things that we really need to do—as citizens— that will convince the ultimate authorities [to build a sidewalk]?”

In response, Selectmen liaison Margot Fleischman laid out a pathway going forward and encouraged the residents to work with the Town.  “The reason that your input is so important to this process is working out the crucial details and knowing which way we’re going. Having your general assent to the idea of having the sidewalk on [whichever] side of the street and your willingness to work with the DPW to come up with the solutions . . . is extremely important.”

Fleischman continued, “We also need to make sure we can afford to do it so we need to have some sense of what it would cost. There are funds in the Community Preservation budget that have been appropriated for new sidewalk construction but if this costs a million dollars, we can’t do it. If it comes in within the money that we have—or will have—then we have the financial part in place.”

St. John agreed to come up with two estimates— one for sidewalk construction on the west side of the street and one for the east side. Transportation Advisory Committee Chair Bob Dorer said that he will draft a letter to the Selectmen—Bedford’s Road Commissioners—so that the matter can be placed on an upcoming Selectmen’s agenda. The Committee will share the letter with the residents for their input prior to sending it to the Town Manager’s office for distribution to the Selectmen. Dorer said that the Committee will also provide a list of pros and cons for the plan and for the various options available.

“The goal is to develop consensus and give the Selectmen something to work with so they can start to understand the issue from somewhere other than scratch,” said Dorer.

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