~Submitted by Bruce Bond
Some citizens want a paved- and others citizens want a natural-surface rail trail for all. Both are valid. At present, we have the best of both worlds.
Nonetheless, the Select Board and some Town officials show a bias for paving the Reformatory Branch Trail (RBT).
The Town’s website includes a photograph of one RBT puddle and one eroded spot on the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail as key evidence natural trails don’t work. However, the RBT (a natural surface trail), Battle Road Trail, Great Meadows path, and recently constructed path to the Henry David Thoreau cabin all “work.”
The Town acknowledges clearcutting 4.34 acres and installing asphalt paving is not environmentally sound. Their justification is a study (2021 MassTrails Study: Impacts of Shared Use Paths).
However, there are problems.
First. The unpaved Reformatory Branch Trail is already a Shared Use Path (SUP) with all of the benefits associated with shared use paths.
Second. The benefits of SUP are somewhat proportional to the population densities near them. Bedford is more rural and will never realize the extent of advantages stated in the MassTrails study for the Minuteman Bikeway.
Third. The quality/accuracy of the MassTrails study is questionable due to its statistically extremely small sample size, Year 2018 users surveyed versus Year 2019 users counted, and surveys conducted on only one weekday and one weekend day.
Fourth. The Town is using the MassTrails study (that excludes all of the degradations associated with SUP), as support for why benefits will exceed degradations paving the RBT. The MassTrails study only states, “Shared use paths may contribute many environmental impacts over their lifespan… ecological impacts, natural habitat and biodiversity impacts, stormwater management impacts, and carbon sequestration, among others.”.
Fifth. The MassTrails project team found respondents misinterpreted the survey when they reported the time/miles they commuted. More curious is that the project team used the higher numbers that they considered wrong.
Sixth. The MassTrails study used only 18 surveys for calculating reduced vehicle commutes, vehicle miles traveled, and environmental pollution, as well as higher safety. This is the basis for calculating some of the most impactful areas of the study the Select Board is using as support.
Seventh. The MassTrails study did not show that property values improved because of the shared use path. The study stated property values “were inconsistent… may be attributed to rail corridor activity prior the construction of the path.”
Overall. Paving cannot be justified.