~Submitted by Mark McInnis
It has been well-documented that there are people with disabilities who can’t use the Reformatory Trail (RBT). On the other hand, there are accounts of people who use wheelchairs and enjoy it. Should these cases define your view on the plan to pave? If you are interested in more info to help your decision, please read on.
The Census report on disabilities indicates that there are 3.6 million people who use a wheelchair, 7.6 million with hearing difficulty, 8.1 million with vision difficulty, and 2.4 million with senility/dementia. The Forest Service (USFS) suggests that 75 percent of all disabilities are not obvious at first glance. This reminds us that wheelchair use is one of many disability types. What can Bedford do to increase recreational options for all types?
Paving advocates suggest that a bikeway is the ideal solution “for all.” It’s important to consider problems on the Minuteman Bikeway before accepting that claim. The Lexington BAC has proposed speed limits on the bikeway “because the higher speeds of some bicyclists are making lower-speed users uncomfortable and creating hazardous conditions for all users.”
You may believe that bikeway benefits outweigh safety risks, and you may be right. But neighboring towns have been dealing with conflict on the bikeway for years and have identified speed as a problem. Is a bikeway with well-documented speeding problems ideal for a person who cannot hear, “On your left?” Is it ideal for people with impairments of vision or cognition, or limited mobility?
Paving and widening the RBT would replace a nature trail with a bikeway. When the trail is gone, it’s gone for people with and without disabilities. Some assume that people with disabilities are less interested in nature trails – not a good assumption. Adaptive hiking is a popular activity. USFS recognizes this. The goal of their accessibility guidelines is to “maximize accessibility while not changing the character or experience of the trail setting.”
We have an opportunity to “maximize accessibility” of the RBT without changing its character. It can be made ADA compliant without asphalt, tree-cutting, or land-taking. The cost would be a small fraction of the $1.5M proposed for eminent domain.
ADA compliance would be an important first step. Mass Audubon is creating twenty “All Persons” trails with braille texts and rope guiding systems. These are truly trails “for all.” Perhaps we could add these to our nature trail in the future.