By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Town Engineer Adrienne St. John and Trish Domigan from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., came to the Selectmen on July 1, looking for directions regarding which route to focus on for the Minuteman Bikeway Extension link. For months, two options for the connection have been discussed: either Railroad Avenue or the Elm Brook path, which runs parallel to Railroad Avenue and Washington Street and traverses conservation land.
Although Railroad Avenue has been identified by various committees—and by the State’s Department of Transportation (DOT)—as the more likely connection between Depot Park and the trail head of the Reformatory Branch/Minuteman Bikeway extension, both options present complications.
[For previous articles from The Citizen about the issue, visit: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/02/08/minuteman-bikeway-extension-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place/ and https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/06/11/minuteman-bikeway-extension-inches-forward/ ]
Railroad Avenue provides the straightest trajectory from the current Minuteman Bikeway terminus to the Reformatory Branch and is therefore favored by DOT as the better link, according to St. John and Domigan. Selectman Margot Fleischman agreed, saying that the Elm Brook path—because of its natural state and location in conservation land—is a “non-starter” as a bikeway extension link, adding that Railroad Avenue is in dire need of work in any case, whether the State funds the necessary repairs or not.
“To me, there is only one alternative,” said Fleischman, who sits on the Transportation Advisory and Bicycle Advisory committees, as well as being active in the Safe Routes to School initiative. “Railroad Avenue needs to be reconstructed anyway. We can’t keep on going with it the way it is. With the conservation issues along Elm Brook, I really don’t see why we’re considering that option, although I agree that it’s a lovely path. Also, the Elm Brook doesn’t help kids get to school [because it connects with the Reformatory Branch beyond the middle school, via the Mongo Brook trail.]”
Domigan agreed that the State would probably not fund the necessary work on the Elm Brook trail that would make it a viable bikepath link and admitted that conservation land hurdles would be hard to overcome.
“The Minuteman Bikeway is a prominent bike path in Massachusetts,” Domigan said. “If you come along that paved Minuteman path, then get to South Road and have to divert to a more recreational trail like the Elm Brook. . .I’m not sure that MassDOT would even be willing to consider that. The other issue is whether you would want to pave the Elm Brook trail. It wouldn’t fit into the environment there and I don’t believe that DOT would consider any other type of surface.”
“I would presume it would invalidate any kind of State aid if there was a gap in the bikepath [between Depot Park and the beginning of the Reformatory Branch] and we just said, ‘OK, you’re on your own going on Railroad Avenue?” asked Selectmen Mike Rosenberg.
“Right. We asked the DOT that question,” replied Domigan. “Since this is such a prominent bikeway and since it will be heavily used as a commuting corridor—and the proximity from current end of the bikepath to the extension is so short— they want to make sure that the link is created in between and that it meets state and federal standards.”
A third option for the link, proposed by Ken Larson—owner of the red building at the corner of Railroad Avenue and South Road that houses The Bikeway Source—was also rejected from consideration because it involved resurrecting a now-muddled railroad right-of-way that traverses privately owned commercial land.
A meeting to alert property owners along Railroad Avenue of the coming changes due to the project will be scheduled and then documented for the State’s review.
Domigan emphasized that the State is in “full support” of the extension project. “Adrienne and I had a meeting with DOT a month ago and it was a terrific meeting—extremely positive. They’re just waiting for the paper work to get compiled so they can process everything.”