Panel Prioritizes Pedestrian Paths, Traffic Calming, Bus Stops

April 5, 2024

There are little paths and passages in many parts of Bedford that are short-cuts and cut-throughs linking neighborhoods. 

Perhaps a formal inventory and better maintenance of these connections would enhance walkability townwide.

That may come to pass, as the Bedford Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday agreed that one of its priorities for the year is something member John McClain called a “pedestrian permeability improvement program.” (He cracked, “I just made that up today.”)

The committee met virtually on Wednesday and brainstormed for almost an hour on possible initiatives. Members agreed to also focus on “systemic traffic calming,” bus stop accessibility and shelters, and the accumulation and use of data. 

Some of the topics are expected to be on the agenda when the group meets with the Bicycle Advisory Committee in May.

“There should be opportunities to build more pedestrian cut-throughs,” fostering neighborhood connectivity, said McClain as he introduced the subject. He mentioned a path connecting Winthrop Avenue and Walsh Road, as well as a connection from the Minuteman Bikeway to Wiggins Avenue employment centers.

Town government could inventory the pathways and maintain and improve them, McClain continued. Signage would be an important asset. He said there is also potential with boardwalks across conservation land and commercial landlords whose parking areas may serve as shortcuts. 

“Runners know where they are, all these little hidden gems,” as do neighborhood kids, said Dan Brosgol, the Select Board member of the Transportation Committee. Sandra Hackman, representing the Council on Aging on the committee, noted that the connecting path between the Narrow-Gauge Trail and the Bedford Marketplace needs improvement.

McClain also introduced the question, “Should we adopt a more systematic policy for traffic calming?” Member Scot Shaw concurred, saying, “I would love to ask the DPW: Are there things we could just put into place when roads are being redone?”

“We know that speed limits don’t work. You really have to do something with the road’s geometry,” McClain said.  Still, he continued, “Eventually every road in town needs work. Let’s systematically lower the speeds.” 

Dawn LaFrance-Linden, committee chair, replied that it would be hard to get town support. 

“We’re having enough difficulty getting people to recognize 25 miles per hour,” the current default speed limit, said Shaw.

The Select Board adopted a traffic-calming policy in December 2022. The detailed process, which hinges on surpassing data thresholds, is initiated by the neighborhood. 

Members also agreed on the need for accessible bus stops and more bus shelters. Hackman was frustrated by the lack of progress on a new building at 310 The Great Road, where a shelter is part of the plans. Veterans often wait there for the MBTA bus to the Veterans Administration Hospital, she said. Shaw also noted that the MBTA uses lack of accessibility as a pretext for reducing the number of bus stops.

Several members noted that many motor vehicle accidents are not reported to police, thus obscuring empirical evidence that could lead to traffic safety improvements and calming.

Shaw suggested one reason may have to do with insurance claims. McClain said he favors improved reporting, “not that I have a concrete idea how to do that.” Brosgol agreed that “we need to find a way for the police to know.” 

LaFrance-Linden said the committee will bring up the topic during its next conversation with the Police Department’s traffic officer, and “there might also be a public awareness campaign.” She expounded on the role of data – not just accidents but also pedestrian counts, bus riders, traffic counts, travel times, and origin-destination evaluations. 

“We need a system where we could be collecting some of the data continuously, to see the longer-term trends,” she said, an extensive project with “challenges, benefits, and potential gains.”

The committee maintains a list of potential projects. Others mentioned at Wednesday’s meeting were:

  • Additional Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority service. McClain noted efforts in Arlington and Lexington to extend the Red Line beyond Alewife Station. Such a project would temporarily close the Minuteman Bikeway, he acknowledged. Hackman noted that in some cities, bus and bicycle lanes overlap and “it works beautifully.”
  • Expanded Bedford Local Transit service. Members recognized the town’s difficulty in hiring a Saturday van driver. “I’ve heard requests for more lateral service,” McClain said, specifying trips to commuter rail stations in Concord and Woburn. Another possibility, he said, would be “dedicated service to Alewife.” 
  • “A number of people say the school buses are not working for them,” said McClain, often because children are “harassed.” This adds to additional traffic on the roadways around schools, he said. 
  • Paving the Narrow-Gauge Trail, particularly around the VA Hospital where runoff results in periodic washouts. Hackman reminded the committee about resistance to proposed paving of the Reformatory Branch Trail, a state project that would have widened the existing trail. 

Some committee members also noted the need to implement sequencing and synchronization of traffic signals to improve flow along The Great Road. This was recommended in a report to the Select Board in late 2022 by Jacobs Solutions. Committee member Sean Laffey, a transportation engineer, said the cost of equipment to achieve this may be a deterrent.

“We have some needs here. This town could be so much more livable if we could fund a few things,” Hackman said.

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Chris Lennon
April 5, 2024 9:26 pm

Why is the only option for a shared use rail trail to pave it? As I write this I am traveling to Missouri to ride the KaTy trail. 240 miles of mostly unpaved trail. I’ve ridden the Erie canal trail, the Pine Creek trail, the GAP trail and the Confederation trail. What is uniformly true of all those famed trails is that if the drainage is good, the surface is good. It is also true that if the drainage is bad the surface is bad EVEN WHEN IT IS PAVED. Why not address the root causes of water flowing across the Narrowguage and solve the problem?

Last edited 1 month ago by Chris Lennon

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