The Bedford Board of Health last week approved by a 4-1 vote a 400-word statement in support of the proposed Minuteman Bikeway extension.
The board’s rationale was that the project conforms to its core mission, which includes promoting physical activity, improving options for underserved residents, and enhancing safety.
Member Maureen Richichi, who drafted the statement, stressed, “We decided to look at the issue to identify public health concerns, to look at risk and protective factors, see if it fits in our mission, and if it fits a Board of Health goal then what would be an appropriate strategy.”
She acknowledged that there are “strong feelings on both sides.”
The matter will be decided at the Special Town Meeting that begins Monday night. The proposal is a narrow one: to authorize the Select Board to acquire easements needed to extend the bikeway along the 1.8-mile Reformatory Branch Trail.
The authorization, which requires a two-thirds vote, was narrowly defeated at the Annual Town Meeting in March, effectively derailing the long-planned project.
“This really does fulfill the mission,” said member Bea Brunkhorst. “Making the bike path more accessible really meets the goal of treating residents who are underserved.”
Ann Kiessling was the sole negative vote. She said at an earlier discussion of the issue that she was not convinced the paved extension would result in a net gain of activity.
She recalled a regional meeting at which a spokesman for a cyclists association observed that “a hard, accessible surface doesn’t have to be asphalt.” She added, “Whatever is wrong with the trail now can be fixed without paving it.”
Richichi countered that state bikeway accessibility guidelines say “unpaved surfaces can be appropriate during the process of moving forward to pavement.” She said asphalt requires less maintenance, has more longevity, can be plowed, and resists frost heaves.
She added, “This aligns with safe routes to school, which we’ve been supporting for nine years.”
Kiessling said she is concerned about the proximity of the Bedford Children’s Center to the bikeway construction area. Brunkhorst noted that Bedford schools have been safe construction sites while classes were in session. She also cited the safety improvements that would result from the Railroad Avenue shared-use path and the Concord Road underpass.
Member Anita Raj commented that her personal position on the issue might not be aligned with the board statement, “We might have personal opinions or are undecided, but we should endorse, or not, based on the mission.”
The board’s statement cites a recommendation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “that communities combine design approaches that connect activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations with the intent to make it safe and convenient for people of all abilities to walk, run, skate, bike, or use wheelchairs as a way to increase physical activity in a community.”