Minuteman Bikeway Extension Hinges on Upcoming Special Vote
1:25 PM EDT on October 6, 2022
Next month, residents of the Town of Bedford will decide the future of their town’s Minuteman Trail extension project during a Special Town Meeting, where a two-thirds majority vote is needed to move the project into construction.
America’s Revolutionary Rail Trail, or the Minuteman Trail, as the popular bikeway is commonly known, currently spans 10.1 miles from Alewife station in Cambridge, to Depot Park in Bedford.
Last Thursday, over 60 Bedford residents gathered at Bedford’s Town Hall for one of two fall community forums to voice their support and concerns before the final vote on November 14.
The proposed 2.2-mile project would extend the Minuteman through Bedford from Depot Park to just the other side of Route 62/Concord Road, to the Town of Concord border, along a dirt pathway that’s locally known as the Reformatory Branch Rail Trail.
The project includes a shared-use path for the portion of the trail along Railroad Road, which leads to the Reformatory Branch Trail.
Early on in the design process, town officials believed the Reformatory Branch Trail right-of-way was publicly owned. But as design work progressed, planners learned that portions of the trail through wooded areas; not resident’s backyards, actually belong to the surrounding homeowners.
To gain ownership of the required right-of-way needed for the extension's construction, the Bedford Select Board needs residents’ approval, after which they can offer property owners the highest economic value for property, determined by an independent appraiser. Alternatively, property owners can also choose to donate their property to the Town.
Earlier this spring, a vote enabling the Select Board to use eminent domain to obtain that land and easements required for the trail received 61 percent support, narrowly missing the two-thirds majority needed.
The future of the trail will now be determined at a Special Town Meeting on November 14th, when residents will again vote whether to authorize the Select Board to use eminent domain for the trail’s extension.
Another point of contention is the paving of the Reformatory Trail, currently a dirt path with tree branches protruding from the ground.
In its present form, Shawn Hanegan, member of the Town of Bedford’s Select Board, says the trail “remains muddy and wet during the good part of the year.”
“The paved area will allow for safer biking and also for greater accessibility for those with mobility limitations such as people using wheelchairs and people who need a more stable walking service,” said Emily Mitchell, Chair of the Town of Bedford’s Select Board.
That town had already approved paving the pathway in a contentious Town Meeting in 2010, when a majority of Bedford voters endorsed paving the path after hours of debate.
But Thursday’s forum gave project opponents another opportunity to argue the point.
Bedford resident Lauren Highland asserted that “if you have a chair, if you’re differently abled, (the paved trail) is not going to be more accessible to you. It's going to be less accessible. (The town is) making it less accessible to anyone, but bikers. (The town is) giving up a diverse constituency for one constituency.”
“I’ve seen people take their chairs; it's a minority, but they are there and usually they’re with someone and they can get around,” added Highland.
On the other hand, Bedford resident Nancy Wolk highlighted that disabilities are not always visible, and in her case, walking on uneven surfaces is difficult for her.
“It would be lovely to go down the Reformatory Branch without being in pain because some people are afraid of pavement,” said Wolk.
“Some people seem to think disabled equals wheelchair, where that is just fundamentally not the case. Many issues can make it difficult for people to use the Reformatory Bike Trail, and we shouldn't have to fit people's expectations of disabled to ask for access," added Wolk in an email to StreetsblogMASS last Friday.
The project, which town advocates have been working on for 18 years, is fully permitted, has shovel-ready designs, and $11 million in state and federal funding committed (including $900,000 in investment from the Town of Bedford).
If approved, the project would also implement drainage improvements on Railroad Avenue and Commercial Avenue, which frequently floods after heavy rainfall, a new sidewalk along the north side of Railroad Avenue, pedestrian crossing improvements, and other associated utility work.
“The project was removed from the current year’s TIP (Transportation Improvement Program, the annual budget for federally-funded projects in the Boston region) after the March town meeting vote, and is slated to return to the TIP pending special town meeting approval. The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization has always been a strong supporter of this project and we are confident that funding will be restored,” explained Mitchell, Chair of the Select Board.
The next community forum will be held October 17th at 5 p.m over Zoom, and the special town meeting will take place November 14th at 7 p.m. in the Bedford High School Gymnasium.
See the Minuteman Bikeway Extension project page.