Letter to the Editor: Provide Equal Access to the Bikeway

~ Submitted by John Mitchell

When I was 17, my grandfather began using a wheelchair after a major stroke. Thanks to public transportation, he could get to most places that mattered to him, but his deepest wish was to return to church. The church was not wheelchair-accessible, though, so his wish wasn’t granted until his own funeral.

I thought of “Gramps” when Town Meeting voted last week to block completion of the Minuteman Bikeway Extension and make it an ADA-compliant space. Before the vote, a resident explained how the project would help her family, especially her husband, who uses a wheelchair. (Read her story in The Bedford Citizen). She lamented a world of “can’ts,” places her family cannot enjoy, and what a truly accessible public space would mean. Stories like hers are often unheard because people with disabilities are often overlooked. When the article failed, my heart sank.

Voters asked many questions about the project: “What about the trees?” “Will cyclists ride too fast?” “Why must I run on pavement?” It was clear they feared losing something they personally enjoyed. As a trail user myself, I get it. Time spent on the trail is exhilarating and restorative, and I see why many residents voted No to protect what they love about it.

But the critical question, which we must always ask, is: “Who are we leaving out?” CDC data finds that 1 in 7 American adults, and over 1 in 4 seniors, has a disability involving “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.” Most of us know someone with mobility issues. The proposed plan would have helped them immeasurably by creating a “shared-use” path aligned with federal and state accessibility rules, improving not just the surface of the path, but also parking, access points, signage, and sightlines that create accessibility. It would have served all kinds of users of all abilities—walkers, cyclists, stroller-pushers, hikers, wheelchair-users, and runners—making this recreational space truly public.

Our vote to block completion of this project was a vote to keep the trail out of reach for a significant portion of our community. They can’t use it. We put the enjoyment of some over equal access for all. I hope my fellow residents recognize what we have done for what it really is—an exclusionary act that ignores persons with disabilities. I hope in the future, we will do better for all our neighbors.

A note from the Opinion Editor: John Mitchell is the spouse of Select Board chair Emily Mitchell.

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Molly L Haskell
April 15, 2022 2:48 pm

At Pittsfield State Forest, there is a new, paved, ADA-compliant trail, named Tranquility, and it is beautiful. The tree canopy is uninterrupted, and trees grow right up to the edge of the path. In contrast, the Reformatory Branch plan had a 30 foot clear cut of trees, and a wide, paved, flat path. Check the link to the plan below. I lived on the other side of Bedford for 18 years, steps from the paved section of the Bikeway. I can tell you it is a hazard with cyclists zooming at top gear. The planned extension would have amounted to opening a cyclists’ Autobahn. No one with children or disabled loved ones would have wanted to set foot there. And that is pretty much the way it is right now on the paved end of the Bikeway. We can and ought to make the Reformatory Branch ADA compliant, whether paved or some other ADA substrate. And it needs to be designed with physical elements (gates, baffles, etc.) that force cyclists to slow down. Theyhttps://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif6866/f/uploads/minuteman_tree_removal_plans.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2ZKTbeKH3Fywlq6Bz_n8GE5ZAGjJHANZiy0wqCzd3NvomF3IDGx8DuUnc

Last edited 1 year ago by Molly L Haskell
Chris Lennon
April 11, 2022 9:37 pm

Has the Narrowguage rail trail been forgotten? It runs from the town center to the Billerica line. In particular the surface in the section from Fawn Lake north is very smooth, firm and with good drainage. Take a look! A beautiful shared use trail.

There are construction standards to make unpaved paths accessable and ADA compliant. Accessability does not require pavement.

Would it be possible to improve the Reformatory Branch trail with a smooth accessable stone dust surface with good drainage? Is that a consensus solution?

McClain, John
June 29, 2022 5:06 pm
Reply to  Chris Lennon

To fund the work, that state is requiring pavement. I think the problem with stone dust trails is they can become vary degraded in the spring. Also as the women in town meeting discussed, the Narrow Gage is unusable for her husband unless it is absolutely dry.

Danny White
April 7, 2022 8:47 pm

Just curious why can’t they use the path that goes all the way to Cambridge ? People act like it’s only a mile long you don’t have to stop at the Lexington line

Mario Mendes
April 9, 2022 12:10 am
Reply to  Danny White

I could not have said it any better.

Leah Devereaux
April 10, 2022 8:19 am
Reply to  Danny White

This argument doesn’t stand because why don’t those opposed the path use the other 34 miles of wooded, inaccessible trails in Bedford? If we are going to add in Lexington and beyond into the mix then able bodied folks have hundreds of miles.

Catherine Van Praagh
April 7, 2022 9:13 am

This was one of my biggest concerns as well. We have over 30 miles of unpaved biking, hiking and walking trails in Bedford, and only one mile of shared-use rail trail. Because it dead ends in downtown Bedford and the demand for accessibility is high, it does get a lot of use at depot park. I was deeply saddened to see a minority of voters close the door to so many people, throwing out several prior town meeting votes and a decade or more of work on the part of our town volunteers and staff. So many of the concerns expressed at the meeting had, in fact, already been addressed (track coaches were not concerned about finding practice areas, the state conservation commission already okayed the plan, etc.), but some folks arrived convinced by misinformation they’d already seen or heard.

Chris Lennon
April 11, 2022 9:42 pm

There are over eighty miles of paved roads and sidewalks in town. If pavement is required there is plenty.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think bikes are allowed on all of the trails. They are certainly not encouraged.

Leah Devereaux
April 7, 2022 12:16 am

Thank you for sharing this so eloquently, John. Thank you for advocating for families like mine. Thank you for showing up and speaking out!