Five BARC members were joined by Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell and single members of the Conservation Commission and the Finance, Transportation Advisory, and Bicycle Advisory Committees.
The long-planned paved extension on the route of the so-called Reformatory Branch of the former B&M Railroad was derailed at annual town meeting March 28, when a vote authorizing the Select Board to procure easements failed to reach a required two-thirds minimum.
Although the state funding for the project was subsequently revoked, the Select Board plans to revisit the plan at the Nov. 14 special town meeting. The Greater Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization, which manages the funding, unanimously supports the extension.
One of the areas of contention in the debate is the need to remove the equivalent of some four acres of trees to accommodate the 22-foot wide bikeway – 12 feet of paved surface, three feet of stone-dust shoulder, and a two-foot embankment on either side. Significant tree removal is also necessary to expand planned parking areas.
Advocates have said that there are relatively few mature trees targeted for removal., The Arbor Resources Committee assembled to get a first-hand look.
Committee Chair Dan Churella said before opening the meeting at the end of Lavender Lane that he hoped the committee could walk the trail on either side of that short street, and check the sites for parking areas there and at the junction with Concord Road,
The volunteers began trying to determine the scope of the Lavender Lane removal; plans call for diverting the bikeway south of the parking. Then they walked about 100 feet east, alongside a “demonstration area” set up by the Department of Public Works. On each side, trees and wooden stakes are marked to illustrate the width, and the area to be “cleared and grubbed.”
As the group measured the width and identified prospective target trees, discussion of the project particulars accelerated.
Comments by BARC members Deb Edinger, Jaci Edwards, Molly Haskell, and Dan Smythe indicated their skepticism. Churella tried to keep the meeting on track; he explained that BARC members needed to view the extent of the clearing so they could “discuss pros and cons.”
Other members are unhappy with him because his personal opinion about the extension is presented on the town website as a statement from BARC. Churella’s sentiments are in paragraphs such as this: “The best way to get people to love and care for trees is to get them out among the trees and experience their wonder, peace. and majesty. Completing the Bikeway Extension would enable and encourage many more people to do just that. The benefits and gains would exceed the losses.”
At the site visit, Mitchell along with Mark Bailey of the bicycle committee and Dawn Lafrance-Linden, chair of transportation, were the advocates. Lori Eggert of the Conservation Commission, an abutter, indicated her opposition. Finance Committee member Steve Steele’s only point was that currently, there is no appropriation for this project.
The trailside discussion rehashed a lot of the project’s history: the state’s requirement for asphalt instead of stone dust, the inclusion of an underpass at Route 62; the decision to wait on Railroad Avenue drainage and sidewalk improvements so they could be rolled into the state project; the details in the 100 percent design.
The trailside session – which never became contentious – also examined aesthetic and environmental issues, and philosophical questions such as: is it preferable to disrupt a neighborhood resource for increased use by others, including non-residents?
During the two-plus hours the group was gathered on the trail, cyclists repeatedly bisected the conversation. The only comments were from a rider rushing at high speed; as he sped by he smiled and chanted, “Keep the dirt.”
Mitchell pointed out that, since acquisition of the easements is required to ensure complete town ownership, the route could turn out to be inaccessible even if the extension is never realized.
Other highlights of the discussion included:
- Edwards lamented the potential loss of the tree canopy along the Reformatory Branch. Churella replied that much of the current canopy is actually from larger trees beyond the corridor route. Bailey suggested that any loss will be temporary; other growth will fill in.
- Edinger commented that additional payments to the tree mitigation fund would not immediately impact the tree population, as there is already a surplus of money because there are no areas identified for planting.
- Lafrance-Linden pointed out that the site for the extension is not a pristine area; it is a right-of-way built for a railroad to move people from place to place.
BARC is expected to continue the discussion at its next meeting, perhaps as soon as later this week.
Community forums on the bikeway extension plan are scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 29 from 7-9 p.m. and Monday, Oct. 17, from 5-7 p.m. at Town Hall.