Letter to the Editor: Selected Comments from Message Boards about Paved Bikeways

~ Submitted by Armen Zildjian

I have been reading letters to the editor and town material regarding the bikeway extension project ahead of town meeting next month. Curiously there is little data drawn upon from surrounding trails and the impact on safety.

I read reviews of surrounding bikeways similar to what the town is proposing.  I encountered an interesting pattern, paved trails seemed to have higher instances of reviews focused on safety.

Bedford’s current paved section of the Minuteman Trail is approximately 1 mile; the proposal would increase the paved section to just over 3 miles.   As a comparison, the Lexington section of the same bikeway is approximately 4.5 miles.

With the Bedford proposal being similar in both usage demographics and length I researched the recent issues and sentiment of the Lexington section as we might face the same challenges here in Bedford. Here are some comments from the last 6 months from trail message boards dedicated to rating trails in Massachusetts:

“Nice walk but more of a bike highway than a trail. Took some nice paths off into the woods that were quite peaceful but that’s not really this trail.”

“Too busy and fast”

“This is an asphalt bike trail. Very busy, but pretty.”

“Busy. Bulldozing bikers.”

“Dangerous. Bikers going way too fast with no regard for others. Saw a near accident where the biker skidded to avoid a child who suddenly changed direction.”

“It is beautiful but locals only use the part between Arlington & Lexington on weekdays before the pedestrians take over the trail. Never on weekends. I have seen so many ambulances “

I then searched reviews over a 2-year period of the current Reformatory Branch Trail and found no mention of safety concerns or speed issues compared to the last 6 months of the Lexington section outlined above.

Viewing the proposal on the town’s website for safety measures, I found this language … “Town officials will enhance safety measures on that portion of the shared use path, including signage, education, and enforcement of rules”.

These measures already exist in the other towns, though it seems to not have changed behavior.  The question remains, why change an existing offering that is enjoyed by off-road bikers, cross country runners and those who prefer a meditative stroll?  Given the data, it looks like that will all be gone, along with 11m dollars to pave a 2-mile section of an existing trail.

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Barbara Feldman
October 10, 2022 11:16 pm

When my son was recovering from a concussion, the neurologist told him to walk and run on grass or natural paths. The flat, even surfaces of asphalt were limiting for physical and mental recovery. For some people with disabilities, the path needs to stay as it is.

Julia Whiteneck
October 9, 2022 11:26 am

Here’s the thing: the proposed path would be big enough for walkers and bikers. What I saw today in a short drive from Bedford to Concord and back: bikers on the sidewalks in town which I assume is because riding on the street is too dangerous, and bikers on Route 62 because the Reformatory Branch Trail is too muddy or covered in leaves making it too dangerous for bikers. Wouldn’t it be great if both these sets of people had a usable parallel trail to the inappropriate ones they are currently using?

Last edited 1 year ago by Julia Whiteneck
Robert Kalantari
October 8, 2022 7:26 am

Well said Armen, thank you for the research. I am not surprised hearing the comments people made about the paved bike path in Lexington. Hope the town will find a way to improve the safety concerns crossing route 62 without putting toxic asphalt in our beautiful woods. Let’s preserve the nature.

October 8, 2022 12:09 am

I know your question was rhetorical, but I’ll answer anyway.

Why change an existing offering … for $11M dollars?

Because that’s not what the project is. For me, the project is about safety, accessibility, and improving the path.

The $11M includes a safer Railroad Ave that’s less prone to flooding and is a safer place for kids to ride their bikes, a safer way to cross (under) Concord Road, a safer way to walk (along) Concord Road (sidewalks to Bonnievale).

Check out the MassDOT data analysis tools sometime: https://apps.impact.dot.state.ma.us/cdp/home. May 1, 2022, there was a car accident literally at the spot where the improved bike path will cross under Concord Road. March 13, there was another one a block away at Bonnievale and Concord. April 28 saw an accident on Railroad Ave, where the road will be improved.

None of these accidents seemed to involve bikes. And I suppose it’s easy to shrug these incidents off for that reason.

But I don’t. I’ve seen little kids riding in the shared “bike lane” on Railroad Ave lose their balance and accidentally swerve towards the middle of the road often enough to know that an actual, dedicated path is worth the investment. Ditto for teenagers riding their bikes at dusk and almost getting hit. Or just pedestrians trying to cross the road where that first tight turn is. Personally, I don’t need to wait for someone to get hurt; the problems are self-evident.

The project includes a wider, more accessible bike path. Read Sarah Blackman’s op-ed from a few days back about the accessibility piece. It’s important.

Path improvements
The path is going to be wider, which will help accommodate today’s traffic, let alone tomorrow’s. Pavement is easier for little kids to ride on. The path by the high school isn’t safe even for foot traffic; just check out all of the spray-painted manhole covers and tripping hazards that they put down for cross-country.

October 7, 2022 9:09 pm

But but but global warming… But but but emissions… But but but commuters… But but but accessibility… But but but free fixing railroad Ave… But but but underpass… But but but years of people’s hard work…

Tim Bennett
October 8, 2022 3:50 pm
Reply to  Mario

So true Mario. Thanks for bringing up these extremely valid concerns!

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