Letter to the Editor: Protect the Reformatory Branch Trail

~Submitted by Kevin and Kay Aubrey

Though we have lived in Bedford for over 20 years my husband and I learned about the plan to pave the Reformatory Branch bike trail when it was voted down at the last town meeting. Paving the pathway would destroy one of Bedford’s crown jewels, and we worry that most people in this town are unaware of the devastating implications of this project. The unpaved bikeway helps to preserve the last remnants of Bedford’s rural beauty. Especially since the pandemic started, the ability to ride the unpaved trail with its beautiful trees and shady cover in the hot weather is so soothing. On the unpaved trail, you meet many other walkers and bicyclists who seem to be in the same mindset. They are there to take in the unique and beautiful nature that the trail offers.

The paved portion of the Minuteman bike trail is more “workout oriented”. Cyclists often go at car speeds and don’t seem to care about pedestrians and casual bikers who just want to enjoy the beautiful nature around them. To put this letter together we got in touch with the local police departments to learn about bike accidents on the paved vs. unpaved portion of the trail and the results are shocking. In Lexington, they have docked 32 bike crashes on the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway since 2018.  Bedford does not keep statistics on trail crashes, and the Concord Police said they’ve had no crashes on the unpaved trail in the last two years though they did get a few complaints of people tearing down signs.

The Reformatory Trail paving project will profoundly affect our town and destroy one of the last vestiges of rural life we enjoy. This project will also greatly increase the number of people using the trail. At the last zoom meeting of Save the Reformatory Branch Trail citizen group, we learned this plan has been merged with water, sewer, and flood mitigation upgrades. However, the plan to pave the trail needs to be discussed separately so that we can vote at Town Meeting with our eyes wide open.

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vittorio raho
September 11, 2022 9:46 am

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this discussion. I’m coming from a very similar point of view actually. I’m a 15 year resident and also never heard I could vote on this until a couple years ago when I was told it was already decided by others and it was going to be done. I never had a chance to express my opposition. I live walking distance from the RBT and my kids grew up using it all the time. I enjoy using it 3-5 times weekly for the quiet peaceful serenity of it, and I know it will change the entire forest to bulldoze and make it asphalt. I hope enough people who care speak up so it has a chance of staying as it is.

Tim Bennett
September 9, 2022 8:08 pm

Arguing that paving the trail would ruin one of Bedford’s few remaining rural remnants is an argument that cannot be made in good faith. Paving well under 5 miles of trail does little to diminish the extensive network running throughout Bedford, a map of which is freely available to interested parties. And claiming that the “project will also greatly increase the number of people using the trail” is exactly the kind of exclusionary mindset that we don’t need in this debate. Everyone should be able to enjoy the increased accessibility a paved trail would afford, just as I have enjoyed walking on both Bedford’s wonderful blazed trails and Lexington’s bikeway that still affords both ample shade and wooded surroundings.

Amy Kelly
September 11, 2022 8:17 am
Reply to  Tim Bennett

Thank you for this clarification. Changing a road from dirt to paved does nothing to change anything else around the path or “destroy” anything. If anything it makes the beauty that surrounds the path accessible to more people, including wheelchair users.

October 5, 2022 9:48 am
Reply to  Amy Kelly

Amy 4.34 acres of trees would be destroyed. The current experience of walking on dirt under a tree canopy would be lost if the trail is widened and paved and the new surface creates faster traffic conditions.

Tim Bennett
October 5, 2022 11:53 pm
Reply to  Julie

If you actually think that this will create a meaningful change in the tree canopy, go through this dimensional analysis outlined below. Otherwise, please stop acting like it is an issue or will measurably change the character of the trail.

vittorio raho
September 11, 2022 9:30 am
Reply to  Tim Bennett

I think their argument was made in good faith after reading it. And when people are asking to protect the natural landscape and preserve part of Bedford the way it is, they are accused of being exclusionary in mindset. Anyone can use it right now, yet it doesn’t seem to attract the crowds on the minute man bikeway. I wouldn’t want to crowd any part of Bedford more than it is, and I greet anyone with a smile on the RBT, that is not exclusionary.

John McClain
September 11, 2022 7:02 pm
Reply to  vittorio raho

Anyone can use the path unless they are in a wheel chair, they have balance issues, they have the wrong sort of bike, the path is too muddy, etc. This isn’t just speculation on my part. I have one neighbor who can’t safely walk the path, I have another who can’t use it when it gets too muddy. See also https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2022/03/letter-to-the-editor-the-value-of-a-truly-accessible-path/

This land is a unique resource for an accessible path that connects the town together, it should be made accessible at all.

Last edited 1 year ago by John McClain
Mario Mendes
September 21, 2022 6:48 pm
Reply to  John McClain

Do you mean they can’t use the already paved parts of the trail too?

Because when I want to use unpaved part, I have to go to the other side of town as the part of the trail near me is paved.

Sometimes I read comments like yours and it almost feels like what’s being said is that if this part of the trails is not topped with asphalt then these people with disabilities/difficulties will be locked in the house because there is no where else they can go to enjoy a walk. And that’s definitely not the case. I know it is not what you meant.

I’m not against giving them more access. I’m against it being topped with asphalt.

Kay Corry Aubrey
September 12, 2022 11:21 am
Reply to  Tim Bennett

Hi Tim & the other folks who responded. I try to do a bike ride on the trail every day in the good weather and it is well utilized by a wide variety of people, some of whom are disabled, bikers, walkers, and people pushing baby carriages. The dirt trail is quite navigable and safe. Being able to bike along a wooded trail from JGMS all the way to Great Meadows and Monument Street/Old North Bridge in Concord is one of Bedford’s unique treasures and once this is gone it will be gone forever. To get a concrete sense of the impact of the paving project, you might look at the fluorescent surveyor flags that the town has set up just east of Lavender Lane that mark off the 30 feet of trees that will be cut down to create the paved path.

Tim Bennett
September 12, 2022 9:24 pm

Last time (in early August, before returning to college) I went on the trail in my road bike, I suffered a punctured tire. This is not the first time this has happened to me on the Reformatory Branch Trail, despite having logged more miles on the Minuteman trail. Having run cross country for a number of years in highschool, I can attest to the trail being nigh unnavigable for cyclists during even the most mild of rainstorms. I understand that these experiences are anecdotal, but I imagine that they are ones shared with other members of the community.

Mike Barnes
September 13, 2022 11:24 am
Reply to  Tim Bennett

I popped a tire on my car in the mall parking lot and its pavement

Mario Mendes
September 21, 2022 6:51 pm
Reply to  Tim Bennett

Bedford is in dire need of paving all the streets then because we’ve had 2 punctures in one car last year, and one on our other car a couple of months ago.

John McClain
September 9, 2022 12:26 pm

The town did have a separate discussion about paving the path at 2010 ATM. I wasn’t here then, but my understanding was it passed by a comfortable majority and main drivers were accessibility, overall cost (higher up front costs, but lower maintenance), and the availability of state / federal funds.

Mark Cieplinski
September 9, 2022 6:30 am

Did the Bedford Police provide crash statistics for the paved portion of the trail that runs from the Lexington line to the bike depot over the same time period?
Based on your logic, there should have been a number of crashes occurring on that stretch of pavement as well.
Additionally, what did Lexington categorize as a crash? Are those single bike incidents, dual, pedestrian involved, resulting in injury, etc..
I appreciate your passion for the trail but would appreciate a more thorough account of the data available.
Painting with wide brushes and providing partial information does not properly educate the public.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mark Cieplinski
John McClain
September 10, 2022 10:13 am

A proper comparison of accident statistics also needs to look at how much use each path saw during the period.

Kay Corry Aubrey
September 11, 2022 8:30 pm

Hi – as we mentioned, when we put this post together we got in touch with the Lexington, Bedford, and Concord PDs to ask about accidents on the paved and unpaved portions of the trail. The contact at the Bedford PD told me that they do not collect separate crash statistics accidents that occur on the trail. So that info isn’t available unfortunately. Thanks to everyone for your comments on this very complex project.

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