By Marya Dantzer
What is the shortest distance between two segments of bicycle route in Bedford? When it comes to connecting two points that separate the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway and the Reformatory Branch Trail, there appears to be no straight line. A public hearing to discuss design options for the connection along Railroad Ave. will take place on August 4. (Ed. Note: This event does not yet appear on the town’s website calendar; the Bicycle Advisory Committee meets two nights later, but no agenda has yet been published.)
A signature goal of Bedford’s Comprehensive Plan is to reduce dependence on automobile transportation. But the reality of implementing such an aim is complex, in part because it engages multiple town boards, committees, and constituencies, and in part because allocating physical space for multiple types of traffic tends to be a zero-sum endeavor in which accommodating one form of transportation means constraining another.
The Bikeway/Rail Trail issue is a case in point, as discussion at the July 8 Planning Board meeting showed. Although the project is not subject to Planning Board approval, the board decided to submit what Jeff Cohen termed a “Planning Board vision” in response to options designed by engineering consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) for the Board of Selectmen.
A slide show describing the options may be found at https://www.bedforddepot.org/site-documents/Railroad_Avenue_options_060914.pdf. The presentation illustrates four design options, some of which would require land takings, tree removals, reconstruction of driveway aprons, or drainage upgrades. Planning Board members considered none of the options ideal, although as Planning Director Glenn Garber said, “the objectives are unassailable.”
Cohen had accompanied Selectmen on a walk-through of the site. He called joining the two trail segments “a needed improvement because it does not now feel safe for pedestrian use” due to the volume of personal and commercial vehicle and traffic, and sight lines restricted by a curve on Railroad Ave., just east of the proposed join. Although a travel lane for pedestrians and cyclists would shield them from competition with traffic in the roadway, however, it would not protect against vehicles—including construction trucks and chartered buses—potentially crossing the bikeway as they exit driveways of abutting homes and businesses.
At a greater level of detail, considerations of road width (to conform to emergency vehicle access needs), the siting of a pedestrian crossing, and signage or signals for traffic control are still to be determined
Despite the desirability of a fully connected Bikeway route from Depot Park to the Concord town line, the project has been subject to years of delay, chiefly because of difficulty of carving out dedicated space in an area long built out. The first feasibility study was conducted in 2005. Selectmen first considered it in 2008, and Town Meeting approved funding for project design in 2011. (State Transportation Improvement funding is expected for project construction.) Deciding where to site the connector became problematic, see https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/02/08/minuteman-bikeway-extension-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place. Ultimately, Selectmen approved the Railroad Ave. site and neighborhood discussions were conducted. The August 4 meeting represents a further step in this long process.
The Minuteman Bikeway is one of just over two dozen in the U.S. Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.