Advocates Put Dedham Rail Trail On April Ballot

Supporters of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail have collected over 2,100 signatures to put an advisory referendum on the ballot for the town's April 11 municipal election.

A recently-paved section of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail in the City of Boston, pictured in October 2019. Across the town line in Dedham, advocates are still waiting for town leaders to move forward with a long-planned greenway that would link downtown Dedham to the Readville commuter rail station in Boston.
A recently-paved section of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail in the City of Boston, pictured in October 2019. Across the town line in Dedham, advocates are still waiting for town leaders to move forward with a long-planned greenway that would link downtown Dedham to the Readville commuter rail station in Boston.

Supporters of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail, a 2-mile connection between downtown Dedham, the town’s schools and the Readville commuter rail station, have collected 2,100 signatures to put an advisory referendum in support of the trail on the town’s ballot this spring.

The referendum, which will be on local ballots for the April 11 town election, asks voters whether they “favor, if there is no cost to Dedham taxpayers for design and construction, the creation of the so-called Dedham Heritage Rail Trail on the 10-acre parcel of public land that runs from East Street to the Boston/Readville line?”

Dedham advocates have been working to open up the abandoned rail spur as a greenway since the late 1990s, when the town bought the abandoned rail corridor from the MBTA for $1.5 million under a stipulation that the corridor would be preserved for recreational and transportation uses.

Environmental remediation was done in 2002, and various design studies have been completed – the rail trail was most recently identified as a top priority in public feedback for the town’s 2019 Open Space and Recreation Plan – but advocates say that actual construction has been stymied by a small but politically-connected group of opponents.

Georganna Woods, a Dedham town meeting representative and trail advocate, says that the non-binding referendum is designed to demonstrate to town leaders just how broad support for the trail really is, so that the town will finally pursue grants from the state’s MassTrails program for final design and construction.

“While we were collecting signatures, a lot of people were wondering why this is even controversial,” says Woods, who says that the Friends of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail collected about 2,100 signatures in only six weeks. “So our hope is that this referendum will take the alleged controversy out of the equation – the public will have spoken.”

The proposed greenway would link downtown Dedham (left) to the Readville commuter rail station in Boston. A short segment of the trail within the boundaries of the City of Boston has already been built. Courtesy of the Friends of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail.
The proposed greenway would link downtown Dedham (left) to the Readville commuter rail station in Boston (lower right). A short segment of the trail along Milton Street within the boundaries of the City of Boston has already been built. Courtesy of the Friends of the Dedham Heritage Rail Trail.

In the meantime, the Dedham Schools Department is commissioning a traffic study of the area near three of the town’s public schools to improve safety and access for students.

School officials and consultants from VHB are hosting a public meeting tonight to discuss a range of alternative safety improvements.

Dedham’s trail corridor passes through the campuses of several schools and associated recreational facilities, including the high school, Avery Elementary School, and a town swimming pool. The town’s middle school is three short blocks to the south of the proposed trail.

Kids bike to school along High Street in Dedham in October 2019. Car crashes injured at least 6 people on High Street and Whiting Avenue adjacent to the town's schools in 2019.
Kids bike to school past a broken speed feedback sign on High Street in Dedham in October 2019. Car crashes injured at least 6 people on the sections of High Street and Whiting Avenue immediately adjacent to the town’s schools in 2019.
Crash data from MassDOT shows clusters of crashes on High Street and Whiting Avenue, the main access points to three of Dedham's public schools. The corridor for the proposed Dedham Heritage Rail Trail is highlighted in red. Courtesy of MassDOT.
Motor vehicle crash data for 2017-2019 shows relatively dense clusters of crashes on High Street and Whiting Avenue, the main access points to three of Dedham’s public schools. The corridor for the proposed Dedham Heritage Rail Trail is highlighted in red. Courtesy of MassDOT.

Two east-west streets that run parallel to the trail corridor have a fairly high density of crashes, according to crash data from MassDOT (illustrated at right). And in 2014, a 25-year-old man driving a pickup truck struck and killed Anne McIntyre, a 70-year-old Dedham resident, while she was using a High Street crosswalk on her way to church.

Woods and her allies expect that building out the trail in order provide a safer route between the schools and surrounding neighborhoods should be a key recommendation of tonight’s meeting.


Public meeting information:

Dedham School Campus Traffic Circulation Study Meeting
When: Tuesday, February 4, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Where: Dedham High School Cafeteria, 140 Whiting Avenue, Dedham (use MBTA bus routes 34 or 34E, or take the Franklin line to Endicott).

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