Bike Committee Reviews Railroad Ave Options for Minuteman Bikeway Extension

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

At their October 2 meeting, Bedford’s Bicycle Advisory Committee reviewed three options for Railroad Avenue reconstruction and formed a subcommittee to be led by member Brian O’Donnell to help determine the safest way to connect the current Minuteman Bikeway with the so-called Reformatory Branch extension.

The three Railroad Avenue options were first presented by engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) at an abutters meeting on September 25 to provide input to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, funder of the connection project. Citing the concerns expressed by Railroad Avenue residents, the subcommittee will now consider the best design to safely share the road with cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, an increased number of bicyclists and other bikepath users.

Looking at all three options, Bicycle Committee Chair Terry Gleason said he believed that Option 1—with 10 foot travel lanes, 6 foot sidewalks on both the north and south sides of the street, 4 foot road “shoulders”, a reduced impact on trees, and no need for land takings—is most likely to be endorsed by VHB and Bedford’s Department of Public Works.

Gleason said, “The issues [the subcommittee will address] are: is there a safe way to have a bike path in the front yard with driveways where people are backing out? And, even if we choose the shared-use path option that takes advantage of the [Town’s existing 10 foot easement], we still have to address what to do about the Taylor and Lloyd property [because] we don’t have an easement there.”

Options 2 and 3, as presented by VHB, vary the width of the travel lanes, the location and width of the sidewalk(s), the impact to trees, and include land taking by eminent domain. The full Power Point presentation, including schematic drawings, can be accessed on the DPW website: https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/file/file/030211_presentation.pdf

O’Donnell, in agreeing to chair the subcommittee, said that— from what he’s observed relative to recent town issues—a comprehensive, long-range viewpoint is the best one to adopt.

“What needed to be learned from the 54 Loomis Street [redevelopment discussions] was that people were frustrated because they couldn’t see the long term plan—it was [being done] parcel by parcel,” O’Donnell explained, speaking about controversy surrounding a redevelopment project in the Depot Park overlay area adjacent to Railroad Avenue. “I think you’re going to eventually get some of that same concern on Railroad Avenue.

“Understandably, VHB and the Town’s planning have been based on the static ownership of these properties [along Railroad Ave.], which may or may not be a sensible assumption,” O’Donnell continued. “Some businesses are probably destined to be there a long time and some may not be. There was a time—not so long ago—when the Taylor and Lloyd property was thought of as a possible DPW location. What the long term prospect is for that parcel is uncertain.

“To broaden this [perspective], if there’s any place in town that would seem likely to have a variety of things happening to it—short and/or long term—it would seem to be the Railroad Avenue area,” O’Donnell added. “The Taylor and Lloyd parcel stands out as not fitting in right now. If anyone thinks that in perpetuity the property will be used for the purpose it’s used now—a facility for trucks— that might not make commercial sense. . . . It’s probably in the Town’s best interest to be proactive and take a look at this.”

O’Donnell also said that he has learned from the research he has already conducted that the Taylor and Lloyd property has a “fairly complicated set of easements” because of the MBTA’s retained right-of-way ownership at the rear of the parcel, following the line of the old railroad bed.

“It has been through many permutations with easements granted and relieved and added back in,” O’Donnell said. “It has been separate parcels, it’s been combined parcels. It’s been a lot of things. Whether the owners plan on it being what it is now for the next fifty years, I have no idea. But, it would seem that basing the plan for what’s going to go on down here on current usage, assuming that it’s indefinite, may not be the best assumption.

“When you look at the economic viability of it. . . . There’s no way you would ever be able to get the current use for that property permitted today if you were starting over under current conservation restrictions with the proximity to the wetlands,” O’Donnell added.

“I’m just suggesting we should look at broader community objectives rather than just looking at the solutions [for the extension] along Railroad Avenue,” O’Donnell concluded.

Committee member Dave Enos agreed that a change in the type of traffic along the street could potentially attract different kinds of businesses to the area.

The next step in the Bicycle Advisory Committee’s review process is that O’Donnell will present the subcommittee’s findings and the group will then make its’ recommendations to the DPW and VHB. Committee Chair Gleason said that another design review meeting will be held at a later date to gather additional public input.

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