Letter to the Editor: Voters Asked to Make Value Judgement

~Submitted by John McClain

The Minuteman Extension article at the upcoming Special Town Meeting asks Bedford voters to make a value judgment on who belongs where.

As a former railroad right-of-way, the Reformatory Branch Trail is one of the few stretches of land in town suitable to be made into an accessible, multi-use path. It is also the only viable route to create a year-round pedestrian/bike connection between Depot Park and West Bedford. The people of Bedford have been working for almost two decades to make this vision a reality.

Because the land is unique, Town Meeting is faced with a choice. Do we (try to) leave it as is, or change it? Do we leverage its unique character to expand the circle of people who can use it, accepting that the same changes that make the path better for many of our neighbors, will make it worse for others?

Do we make Railroad Ave better for pedestrians, knowing that increased pedestrian use will require drivers to be more careful? Do we pave the trail knowing it will increase the number of people who *can* use the trail, but reduce the enjoyment of some current users? Do we add a tunnel at Concord Road so pedestrians and bikes can safely cross a busy, high speed road, knowing that it will cause temporary disruption to a nearby business for 2-4 months? 

These and other questions are value judgments that Town Meeting, and only Town Meeting, can make. For me, it isn’t hard. Railroad Ave is too important a route to leave it hostile to people outside of cars. For the Reformatory Branch Trail itself, I know a number of people who can’t use it at all, or have trouble with the path as is. They deserve to be able to get around town and have access to the adjacent conservation land. Robust walking and bicycling infrastructure also make it possible for Bedford’s kids to visit friends across town, or the library without needing a ride from a parent. Finally, extending the Minuteman provides a critical link moving us to a less car-dependent Bedford; combating climate change, and making us happier.

So, it is a choice, but a choice I encourage all registered voters in town to make with me. Please come to Special Town Meeting on November 14th, vote yes on Article 10, and make this unique path accessible to everyone.

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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November 4, 2022 5:00 pm

This article falsifies the “disruption to a local business” as only 2-4 months. What is not mentioned is that the paved bike path will now be within 10 feet of this business, which is a child care facility (conveniently not mentioned). The 10 feet is not just to the outside of a building, but 10 feet from the play area behind the business. There will also be much less tree and shrub separation between the trail and play area for kids from infant to pre-k age.

This 100% impacts the business FOREVER simply for the fact that some parents might be turned off by the idea of a public path just 10 feet from a playground with only a short chain link fence. I know that I would be hesitant if I didn’t know anything else about the child care facility, so they will definitely have potential business loss for the foreseeable future. As it stands now the path is barely visible through many trees/shrubs and is a much greater distance away.

Also, any kids riding their bikes who live in the Davis school neighborhood still would need to ride their bike along rt 62 for a quarter mile before getting to the path, so it’s nonsense to say kids will now be able to ride to see friends or go the library safely.

McClain, John
November 4, 2022 9:49 pm
Reply to  James

If I am reading the plans properly the path doesn’t get closer than 25′ to chain link fence on the North side of the BCC property. There is also substantial drop in grade from the BCC playground to the path. A 15′ plus foot buffer of trees will remain between path and BCC. See this letter from the town for more details.

As for kids in Davis Road neighborhood, the project includes a new sidewalk from the path to Bonnievale Dr. This leaves approximate 250′ of Concord Road uncovered to Sheridan Rd (which connects through to most of the Davis Rd. area). Not ideal, but better than the current 650+ feet plus the dangerous grade crossing of Concord Rd (which is also being fixed by this project). Hopefully as town we can work together to get a side walk put in front of the two houses between Bonnievale and Sheridan in the near future. Of course even before then, those East of Concord Road will have good access to the path.

November 5, 2022 10:01 am
Reply to  McClain, John

15 vs 10 ft, still very close to where small children play.

What’s wrong with flashing lights for a crosswalk such as near the town center or even a traffic light such as on Hartwell?

I agree there should be a sidewalk going farther.

McClain, John
November 7, 2022 2:05 pm
Reply to  James

25′ (not 15′), at its closest. The fence angles away from the path, and disappears from the plans so I can’t tell how much greater the typically distance is. Plus the grade separation, plus the 15’+ buffer of trees. Also seems likely people stopping on the path right next to BCC are going to be suspicious / get in the way. As for spots where people might loiter the new parking area and picnic table are if anything further away than the existing parking area.

As for a flasher, the situation is quite different than what is going on in the town center. At the Narrow Gauge (I assume this is the flasher you are talking about) the intersection with Great Road is between two signalized intersections, so cars are typically going much slower. The visibility is also a lot better in the Center. (on Concord Road the crossing with the RBT is right after a curve).

Also just practically speaking, most of the grade separation already exits at RBT and Concord Rd., so putting in a grade separation at Hartwell or Great Road would be a lot more involved (if practical at all…putting in a big grade change on multi-use path defeats much of the purpose).

November 2, 2022 2:49 pm

This letter casts this as a choice between the superhighway and the current trail. I see a no vote as no to the superhighway and yes to the search for an actual consensus solution.

A stone dust multi-use trail would meet all of the requirements levied by the town, including accessability, and retain the character that many cherish.

Chris Lennon

Tim Bennett
November 2, 2022 11:32 pm
Reply to  Chris Lennon

Luckily this trail will have a stone dust shoulder as well as being multi-use and not incur the massive cost that would result due to the lack of government funding.

McClain, John
November 3, 2022 12:35 pm
Reply to  Chris Lennon

Considering the financing is tied to a paved path, Town Meeting voted in 2010 for a paved path, and there are families in town that need a paved path, I am going to disagree with the assertion that stone dust meets all of the requirements. Town Meeting members are of course free to prioritize aesthetics over these other considerations, but let’s not pretend their isn’t a trade-off being made here.

As for what is the actual choice, facing Town Meeting, I guess I am less optimistic than you that there is an alternative plan that would have a higher net approval. I also don’t want to wait for another 10 or 20 years to find out.

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