Second Healthy Bedford Grant to Focus on Connectivity

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Healthy Bedford coordinators Carla Olson, Heidi Porter and Sue Baldauf
Healthy Bedford coordinators Carla Olson, Heidi Porter and Sue Baldauf

At the August 19 Selectmen’s meeting, Healthy Bedford coordinators Sue Baldauf (Bedford Youth and Family Services), Carla Olsen (Healthy Bedford and Safe Routes to School) and Heidi Porter (Board of Health) gave an update about the second of two grant applications they plan to submit. The first grant was a “planning grant” with which, among other things, the coordinators administered a town-wide survey about quality of life issues in Bedford. The second grant—called an “implementation grant”— will focus on the issues identified as highest priority by survey respondents:  transportation and connectivity. The implementation grant, Baldauf said, will include two initiatives: a pedestrian master plan to look at sidewalks and trails; and a “circulator” bus that would have a regular, fixed route around town.

“Our plan is to think about applying for the implementation grant for $25,000 to do research on implementing both projects—not that we’d have them implemented [within the next 15 months] but that we’d research and work with existing groups [to see] whether this makes sense going forward,” Baldauf explained, adding that the Healthy Bedford coordinators were looking for feedback at this juncture from the Selectmen.

Selectman Caroline Fedele asked Baldauf how the concept of adding a circulator bus would work with the BLT local transit program now in operation.

“It’s conceivable that [the circulator bus] could work into [the BLT program] . . .  but it would be expanded service,” Baldauf replied. “We would probably need more funds, another driver and extended hours—and maybe another vehicle, at some point. That’s part of the research we have to do.

“Acton has a really nice model that we’ve heard about during [grant funder] meetings—we’d want to spend a little more time researching that,” Baldauf added.

Fedele, as Selectmen liaison to the Land Acquisition Committee, said that group is also focusing on connectivity. “Let’s make sure the lines of communication are open with them. It sounds like you’re going down the same path,” Fedele recommended.

Healthy Bedford’s Carla Olsen added that part of the research/ implementation effort will be identify existing resources—such as other committees working in the same areas—and collaborate with them.

Selectman Mike Rosenberg remembered that the BLT, in its early days, had a fixed route.

“Joan Melville is the best resource,” Rosenberg said. “She was the originator of the BLT and she still lives in Bedford.”

Rosenberg added that, in his opinion, the idea of a pedestrian master plan was “well worth pursuing” and that he would like to see “more data in support of priorities.”

“For example, I recently learned in our sidewalk discussions that South Road is not amenable to sidewalk construction because of drainage issues,” Rosenberg explained. “We have the densest population in town at the end of South Road. Is there direct access to the [bike path] or do [people from that part of town] have to go through trails or private property?”

Selectman Margot Fleischman noted the work that the Healthy Bedford coordinators have done to reach out to various committees and groups around town.

“I do think that there’s a certain amount of honing in on a set of thorny issues that we’re all struggling to deal with across different departments,” Fleischman said. “Everyone has a little piece of [the connectivity issue] and it’s hard to know who’s in the best position to move this forward.

“This kind of thinking and brainstorming and planning is going to be really helpful,” Fleischman continued. “My concern is that, although $25,000 seems like a lot of money, to deal with two separate concepts [like a pedestrian master plan and a circulator bus] might take up a lot of it. I’m concerned that we get far enough down the road with one or both of these ideas to get to an actionable point.”

Baldauf replied, “We see this $25,000 as seed money for the staff to do research. We don’t expect that the grant money will pay [entirely] for the master plan or for the bus. The grant would be to do the research and get the data.”

To actually accomplish the projects that result from the research phase, other potential sources of funding and technical assistance were identified: regional planning organizations, Community Preservation funds, public health resources.

“I can speak to the fact that transportation has been identified by many state-wide organizations and the federal government as being a public health priority, given that emissions from heavy volumes of vehicles is problematic” said Health Director Heidi Porter. “State-wide, they’re looking to expand public transportation to various locations—the subway as well as the commuter rail. It’s recognized as an issue, so there are programs and funding available to potentially support this kind of project. . . . We look at this as long-term sustainability.”

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