~Submitted by Dawn LaFrance-Linden
Bedford is blessed with natural beauty and an abundance of trails through extensive conservation lands and parks. Of the more than 30 miles of unpaved paths, the 1.7-mile Reformatory Branch Trail, a former rail bed for the B&M Railroad, is uniquely suited to provide a safe, economical, environmentally friendly, year-round, active transportation alternative to our congested roadways.
Nationwide, the Rails to Trails movement is popular and successful because it repurposes the existing connectivity provided by a rail network—built to link population centers to desirable locations—to take advantage of the human disruption that already went into making that route flat, straight, and wide.
Paving the Reformatory Branch Trail and linking it to the Minuteman Bikeway—via a separated multi-use path along Railroad Ave—will improve mobility and community connectivity in Bedford while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing accessibility.
Transportation is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Making it easier for people not to drive, both for commutes and local trips, will make a significant difference.
The ability of residents with mobility issues—related to wheelchair use, balance issues, and more—to enjoy Bedford’s greenspaces is severely curtailed by inaccessibility. This multi-use path will provide the access they deserve.
This project has been in process for decades, transparently and with revisions based on public input. Town-elected officials, staff, and volunteers have carefully crafted the project and secured state funding. It is at the 100% design point and ready for construction.
Now, a last-minute, legal housekeeping issue has been identified: the town doesn’t own bits of the trail, and permission from Town Meeting is required to buy them at fair market value. That is what the vote is about.
Town Meeting has repeatedly approved this project at various stages, including a specific vote to pave the trail. Massachusetts will provide $11 million in funding because it is a significant regional transportation infrastructure improvement project.
This project provides an environmentally responsible option for recreation and transportation and opens access to natural amenities to an underserved population. It addresses safety (with an underpass crossing Route 62 and sidewalks for students walking to JGMS), improves infrastructure (with mitigation for flooding issues and signal improvements on Railroad Ave), and provides regional connectivity (with a separated multi-use path linking the Minuteman Bikeway and the Reformatory Branch Trail).
This is a good project and responsibly funded. We should get it over the finish line.