Letter to the Editor: In Opposition to Paving the Reformatory Branch Trail Extension

~ Submitted by Kate Reynolds

I am writing to express my concern over the recent announcement that the Select Board will be once again bringing the issue of paving and widening the Reformatory Branch Trail to Town Meeting. I am opposed to the paving of the trail but also to the process by which it might be paved, namely, the idea that the Select Board can bring something to a vote a second time because they did not achieve their desired outcome.

This proposal has been presented partly as a way to “go green,” supposedly because it will result in a huge jump in commuter biking. On any given weekday there are few cars in the lot at Depot Park. Evidently, not many people from Bedford use the Minuteman Bikeway to get to work. It is unlikely that the less than two miles of trail between Depot Park and the proposed end of the paving is bracketed by residents who are clamoring to bike to work and would do so, if only the trail outside their backdoors was paved to the width of a road.

At best, more people “might” bike to work if the path was widened and paved. We don’t know how many. We do know that covering almost two miles of forest trail with bituminous asphalt will definitely have a negative environmental impact NOW. There is no “maybe.” It defies logic to think that we should pave over a trail with a carbon-based product, removing an enormous amount of mature tree cover during the process, for the hypothetical benefit of  a few people possibly biking instead of driving.

We just recently hit 100 degrees in May. It boggles the mind to think that our response, as reasonable and well-meaning citizens, is going to be to lay down more asphalt.

It is my hope that my letter will raise some new issues to think about as we prepare for yet another contentious town meeting. I also hope that people in town begin to recognize that many of us who are against the paving are not in need of “education,” but simply have valid convictions that differ from theirs. When we cast others as “misinformed,” rather than taking the time to truly consider their perspectives, we all lose out on a rich and honest dialogue.

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McClain, John
May 30, 2022 9:43 pm

We should not assess how valuable a multi-use path is based on how full its parking lots are.

Ted T. Martin
May 30, 2022 9:40 am

I am a bit different in my thoughts, somewhat biased perhaps, even redundant…I was always saddened when the train was tossed…It should have been modernized somehow, would be my dream. Having said that, I see a “paved trail” will apparently end at Concord, they want it more “natural” ;) rather than a perfectly smooth lighted path through the woods, a more back to nature, rustic if you please trek…

Back in the day, Hobos used to be seen hiking from the Concord direction, big sack over their shoulders, before my time I believe, they would stop at my maternal grandmother’s small “farm” on Cutler Street, do some chores for her, they did it for something to eat, rather than pay…But then “progress” enters…

vittorio raho
June 1, 2022 8:06 pm
Reply to  Ted T. Martin

Are you in favor of paving this trail to Concord line? If so, why

Dave Draper
May 29, 2022 10:25 am

I regularly commuted to work on my bicycle using the bike path when I worked in the city. I rode from my house and not once did I park a vehicle at Depot Park. I don’t ride like I used to because the roads are not safe to commute on. Adding a few more miles to an existing paved bike path is a good thing.

Dawn LaFrance-Linden
May 29, 2022 9:06 am

As others have said, it is a packaged deal based on State and Federal requirements – and that package also includes the RR Ave improvements and upgrades. The project has passed all environmental requirements and meets the town’s tree policy. If you are annoyed at the town bringing this up again (after a long and confusing town meeting where a significant majority voted yes in both areas), think about how those who have been working in good faith for more than a decade to manifest the will of the voters as expressed in previous town meetings feel after their effort secured funded for the vast majority of the costs, design is at 100% -ready to go, and then the discovery of a legal housekeeping issue (which was the only thing we were actually voting on) is used to spike the entire project. The Select Board is working to dispel the confusion and refresh the memory of the town as to why we voted for it starting back in 2004/5.

Vittorio Raho
June 1, 2022 9:51 am

I will strive not to be held to what people voted on in 2004, which was likely a different mix of voters in Bedford. I imagine that group didn’t include many people who live in and enjoy Bedford for what it is, and people who usually don’t get involved in politics. The Select Board appears to be dispelling only the objection of residents who do not agree with the elaborate plans of the project. What is the confusion from the meeting? There are a lot of residents that feel this project is not worth the impact it will have on our town.

Mark Bailey
May 29, 2022 6:45 am

Thank you for supporting honest and rich dialogue. It saddens me that you’ve been made to feel that your convictions are not valid. No one is claiming that there will be an immediate, huge jump in commuter biking, but the history of such projects does demonstrate that “if you build it they will come.” 

According to the study cited below, Path users on the Minuteman Bike Path substituted 50,291 one-way motor vehicle commuter trips with active transportation trips from July – October 2019, which equated to 74,834 fewer vehicle miles traveled.” I can speak for myself in saying that in normal times I commute from Bedford to Boston four days a week, rain or shine, right through the winter. This personal commitment saved hundreds of car trips, and allowed me to feel like I was part of the solution, or at least not part of the problem. Along with several other residents who often ride with me, I have had the privilege of living on the East side of town since 2003. Part of my advocacy is simply wanting more residents to have the same opportunity that I have (without needing to add the complexity of driving to a parking lot to access the trail). 


The plan does not call for removing an enormous amount of mature tree cover, but rather incrementally moving back the tree line, and mitigating that impact per our policy. It would not be accurate to claim that there are only small-bore, “garbage” trees that are slated be removed, because there are some birches and beeches, but it would also not be far from the truth. WHat is absolutely true is that the project meets the town’s tree policy and has received approval from all relevant local and federal environmental permitting bodies. If we don’t feel the tree mitigation policy goes far enough, we should work to strengthen it. 

To repeat, your perspective is valid. I reached out to you by PM in the hopes of some honest dialogue. It’s true that the impact of climate change is directly upon us. It is also true that 40% of our town’s GHG emissions result from transportation. Non-car infrastructure, for getting around town, to get kids safely to school, and for better connecting to the region, can be an important part of the solution.

Vittorio Raho
May 29, 2022 12:56 pm
Reply to  Mark Bailey

In response to your statement that you advocate for paving because you are “wanting more residents to have the same opportunity that I have”
I would advocate for leaving the trail alone so people can enjoy the opportunity that is already there without forcing a huge environmental impact on our current trail.
If you have enjoyed it for years as is, you are wanting it paved not for yourself but for others ? Who are the others and what proof do you have that this will help anybody but commuting bikers? There is no proof of any of the claims of what this will do in the future, except of it’s immediate impact on our town by destroying a trail and disrupting many neighborhoods with construction over a long time. We don’t need to do this, it is a very safe trail just how it is for kids adults and animals. It’s a totally unnecessary disruption to our community and natural trails, they are beautiful just as they are. I use them 5 days a week.

Matthew Agen
May 31, 2022 10:33 pm
Reply to  Vittorio Raho

The proof is the Minuteman path and how many people use it for all kinds of activities. People had all these same arguments decades ago about paving it.

vittorio raho
June 2, 2022 10:41 pm
Reply to  Matthew Agen

I don’t want it to become the Minuteman Bikeway. That is a very busy fast paced congested thoroughfare. If you want that it’s right there for you. The RBT is a quiet natural trail wide enough and smooth enough right now to allow bikers, strollers, walkers etc to enjoy it. It remains peaceful enough to walk down it and escape the busy world around it. It should be valued right now for the way it is, not transformed into another modern street. These kinds of paths are getting fewer and fewer.

McClain, John
June 29, 2022 4:49 pm
Reply to  Vittorio Raho

“Who are the others and what proof do you have that this will help anybody but commuting bikers?” — at least two people spoke at town meeting who weren’t bikers and said it would in fact help them if the path was paved.

Lori Eggert
June 2, 2022 9:44 am
Reply to  Mark Bailey

Mark, it is very misleading to state that tree removal for this project is incremental along the tree line. If you consult the project documentation, you’ll see that the Town’s plans for the 1.7 mile trail show 30+ feet of clear cutting and grubbing in many areas, and up to 80 ft in some. Look at The Tree Removal Landscape Plan on the Town website for the Bikeway Extension: https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif6866/f/uploads/minuteman_tree_removal_plans.pdf.
The squiggly line labelled EXT TREE LINE (TYP) delineates where the trees are now. Outside the paved path is a larger squiggly line that is labelled PROP CLEARING AND GRUBBING (TYP). This is the line to which the trees and undergrowth will be cleared and grubbed. Clearing is clear cutting and grubbing is the removal of the roots that remain in the soil after clearing. The maps show that many PROP CLEARING AND GRUBBING areas are at least 30 ft across, and
wider in some places.
This is the plan that the Town has put before us. 
Unless we see a revised plan, we will be voting on much more than incremental tree loss; we will be voting on clear cutting and grubbing over large areas of natural beauty.

Matthew Agen
May 28, 2022 9:18 pm

Does anyone have any actual data/studies on the environmental impact of rail/trail conversions? If not, then it is not logical to be so sure that the impact is good or bad.

Vittorio Raho
May 29, 2022 1:04 pm
Reply to  Matthew Agen

I can assume it’s bad, no hesitation. They will be ripping up 2 miles of natural dirt trail and landscape and paving a street down it. I’m there all the time, it will disrupt tons of wildlife, plants birds animals etc
We have plenty of streets in town, this will be another one right through the woods. It’s bad, how can you say it’s at all good for the environment ? No hesitation here and I live near it. I know every turn of it, every vantage. To pave the whole thing, grade it, dig it up, smash all trees near it, impact the entire ecosystems around it. Leave waste and disrupt pipes and drains that are in the way. Are you convinced? Simple. It’s bad.

Catherine Van Praagh
June 19, 2022 10:36 am
Reply to  Vittorio Raho

Having lived on the Bruce Freeman Trail during and after construction, I can attest that initially, tree cover is pushed back a bit and there is some disruption during construction. I can also tell you that nature is never static, and within a year or two, the canopy grew back, as other trees grew into that open space. As the trail was extended, and more points of access created, congestion was reduced – and I saw more and more people using the path to enjoy the natural beauty, exercise and commute. Many folks with mobility issues – from young kids learning to bike, to folks in wheelchairs and parents with strollers were able to safely enjoy the woods. Property values along the trail went up, and we never saw any increase in crime as some worried. We tear down trees and pave every day for cars and parking lots with no environmental gain – yet this project would make railroad ave and the 62 crossing safe, while increasing accessibility for everyone without depending on cars.

Julia Whiteneck
May 28, 2022 8:19 pm

The fact that there are no cars in Depot Park is irrelevant. Most people who bike to work start at their home and don’t drive their car to get to the bike path.

Paul J Bradford
May 28, 2022 7:42 pm

I like the idea of having a paved bike trail. I really like that I can bike all through Bedford, Lexington and Arlington, on a trail that is safe for bikes. If the current opponents of the bike trail extension had their way, the Minuteman Bike Trail would not exist, and I think we would all be the poorer.

The case for this project is not that paving the trail would result in a “huge jump” in commuter biking. Commuter biking is one of many uses of a bike trail.

The project would not result in removing an “enormous amount of mature tree cover”. A narrow trail through the woods would remove a relatively small number of trees, in relation to the size of the forest through which the trail runs.

Thomas Kenny
May 28, 2022 7:07 pm

My impression of the Town Meeting on paving the Reformatory Branch Trail was that it was confused, ill prepared and rushed to a vote that left many wondering what each vote meant. The fact that the first vote allocated the moneys for purchase of private parcels passed, but the second vote to allow that money to be spent failed, is proof enough.Debate was cut off and unlike the fire station vote, the concerns about impact of construction were not addressed.
One issue brought up was on past projects, construction debris and trash was left on private property without regard. This could be addressed with oversight by town officials to insure that phased cleanup and timely restoration of private property coincide with construction. Along with an active hotline for complaints and penalties built into the contract for failure to do proper daily housekeeping.
One question I have? Are State funds available for this project if it isn’t paved or are ADA requirements tied to the grant.Can underpass be a separate issue? Is wide ramp at underpass required or can access be limited to one side that now has an unpaved parking area?
As a bike rider, both paved and unpaved, I enjoy using rail trails and with the limited length of this particular trail along with having no office parks along it, paving would open up a different experience for elderly children and disabled than the often busy and overcrowded Minuteman Trail.
I will concede though that the argument that this will significantly reduce auto traffic is more wishful thinking than reality, but do believe this should be revisited. .

Peggy Lundgren
May 28, 2022 8:32 pm
Reply to  Thomas Kenny

I understand there are some politics at work here.
That aside, I agree with the writer. I live next to the unpaved trail. I love that I can walk with my dog and not worry about the cyclists. It’s a beautiful path to just enjoy being outside and taking one’s time, having a chat with other walkers/pet owners.
I also believe most bikes can use it but have to slow down.
There is an issue with out of control cyclists on the paved areas. Our family of 4 have had more than a few near misses. Cyclists going at that speed and ignoring pedestrians belong on the street obeying the auto laws.

Matthew Agen
May 29, 2022 1:06 pm
Reply to  Peggy Lundgren

The perspective that the bikers are crazy is a limited one. I live right on the Minuteman. I bike, walk, run, and walk a dog on the path. This gives me a broad perspective on all the users of the path. There are jerks among all groups. Recently, I came across 5 runners in a pack. They were spread from the dirt shoulder across the center line forcing everyone to accommodate them. I also came across two couples with 3 double-wide strollers and a dog. They were walking in pairs but two double-wide strollers abreast made them cross the center line. I was jogging and had another jogger overtaking. I let that jogger go to the left and tried to go to the right in the dirt shoulder but they let the dog wander and I had to go even wider into the dirt to avoid the dog. Since it was near the end of the path I passed them in both directions. As they crossed the bridge as they approached Depot Park while I was going in the opposite direction, they did not rearrange into single file so they took up most of the bridge. Then there are the 2-10 year old kids walking or biking who wander all over the path always risking accidents due to their unpredictability. But they are kids, most people are tolerant of their behavior. Plenty of bikers are courteous. Plenty of non-bikers are not. No group is free of jerks or people thoughtless about how the path is shared.

The real issue is that the Minuteman is a highly in-demand resource which leads to overcrowding. If we have more paved path in town, it will spread out the crowds. Hartwell Forest, Elm Brook Conservation Area, and Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve either abut or are extremely close to the bike path extension so there will still be plenty of unpaved paths nearby.

Brian O'Donnell
May 28, 2022 10:21 pm
Reply to  Thomas Kenny

The writer makes the rather illogical point (previously made at Town Meeting) that the number of vehicles found parked at Depot Park reflects the level of commuter use of the Bikeway. Most of us who use the MMBW to commute actually ride from our homes to the bikepath and do not drive cars to Depot Park and leave them there for the day. Simply put: there is absolutely no correlation between the number of vehicles at Depot Park and commuter use. I would welcome opponents of the extension project to join any of us who commute on the MMBW to join us some day and we can have a good dialogue regarding what the extension will offer for young and inexperienced riders, the disabled, those seeking to not confront vehicular traffic on Concord Road, etc. Let us have useful dialogue based on shared experience.

Vittorio Raho
May 29, 2022 1:20 pm

Regardless of depot parking, if you use the MMBW, do you feel paving the stretch of RBT is necessary for your personal commute to the MMBW to commute to work? Is the environmental impact to our town required or is it a luxury ? It will have an impact on many people, especially the people who live right next to it and others who enjoy it thoroughly the way it is now. All that just to get bikers a few minutes closer to the MMBW? I ask you is it really worth it when you can be there in minutes right now.

Chris Lennon
May 30, 2022 10:18 pm

Brian, if all the users of the MM ride to the start of the MM on roads or the existing path then why do we need a special paved path? It is not illogical to point that out.

The claims of increased commuting with a paved path are overblown. There isn’t much added to the commuter shed by paving the Reformatory Branch.

vittorio raho
June 2, 2022 11:19 pm
Reply to  Chris Lennon

I feel the same. It just has a huge environmental impact. The MM bike path is quite accessible in Bedford to all who need it without this whole project. There are plenty of important things to do in town that are more useful and needed than this. Like putting a crosswalk light at the concord road crossing. Putting sidewalks on Railroad ave.

Matthew Agen
June 4, 2022 7:12 am
Reply to  vittorio raho

You are aware that sidewalks on railroad ave is part of this project, right? I’d like my kids to be able to walk to school without having to walk through the free for all zone between depot park and the end of the school bus yard. If this project falls through it could be a decade or never before the street gets sidewalks.

Nancy Wolk
May 28, 2022 10:39 pm
Reply to  Thomas Kenny

No. The state will not build the underpass without that section of the path being paved.

Please note. This was NOT a vote on paving the trail. (That vote was 2015) The vote was to allow the town to purchase the parts of the trail not owned by the town. Any owner of those lands can prevent v use of the trail if this issue is not resolved

Mark Bailey
May 29, 2022 12:24 pm
Reply to  Nancy Wolk

Actually it was at 2010 town meeting that we voted to pave it. https://www.bedfordma.gov/department-of-public-works/webforms/minuteman-bikeway-extension-project

vittorio raho
June 2, 2022 11:43 pm
Reply to  Nancy Wolk

That could be used as a fear tactic to suggest to people they must vote to pave and clear trees away so that abutters don’t close our trail down. Although you cannot predict human behavior, nobody thus far has ever tried to block the RBT. I realize a group voted to do this years ago, but as you can see there is significant opposition to the idea today. And I personally never had a chance to vote no, as it wasn’t common knowledge that it was happening. I’ve lived in town since 2007. Apolitical until now.

Mark Bailey
May 29, 2022 7:39 am
Reply to  Thomas Kenny

This is a package deal. State and Federal funds, which bear the entirety of the construction costs, are dependent on the ADA-compliant plan. We don’t get to pick and choose.

McClain, John
May 29, 2022 12:12 pm
Reply to  Thomas Kenny

The ADA compliance is a requirement for the state funds. I imagine the desire for the ramp is so people / bikes heading south on 62 don’t have to cross the road at grade to get on the path.

Vittorio Raho
May 29, 2022 1:29 pm
Reply to  Thomas Kenny

My impression is it is an unnecessary project that has been tied to other more useful projects hence the debate over doing it has deepened. It will have an environmental impact on the towns natural landscape. There should, I agree, be more discussion about its impact. I use paved and unpaved biking trails too. I shudder when people use an argument that suggest “anti pavement is anti ADA and elderly”
These groups can get just as injured on a paved as an unpaved trail. I think the MMBW is more dangerous for elderly, but that is conjecture, just as all these other claims about what the paved trail will do, it’s all conjecture. As far as kids using it now? I feel it’s as safe as it could be, and a great place to ride. The bike traffic is nothing like the MMBW and it can be navigated by beginners. Just my thoughts
Hope to discuss more…

Julie Brill
June 2, 2022 4:17 pm
Reply to  Thomas Kenny