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.