~ Submitted by Erin Sandler-Rathe
I’m not sure anyone expected that one of the most hotly debated items at Town Meeting this year would be the paving of the Reformatory Branch Trail. There are valid reasons for leaving the trail unpaved, but the biggest reason to pass Article 11 is to avoid gaining a reputation for unreliability with neighboring towns, the Commonwealth and federal agencies.
Put simply, Bedford cannot afford to back out of commitments we’ve already made. Many of the services and resources we enjoy in Bedford rely on state and federal funding. As just one example, Bedford, Arlington, and Lexington were jointly awarded grant money to improve the Minuteman Bikeway under Massachusetts’ Rapid Recovery Program. As the program’s name implies, the intention was to quickly help businesses recover from the pandemic. The planned improvements increase access from the bikeway to commercial nodes: on and off ramps, more attractive and accessible backs of buildings, and signage to direct users to the amenities and businesses they’re passing. The partnership tapped into an underdeveloped source of economic traffic and has the potential to provide a huge boost to businesses that have suffered.
If we vote down Article 11, potential partners, including the Commonwealth, may think twice before inviting Bedford into future opportunities like this. Those who oppose paving might rejoice at the short-term outcome, but it’s nothing to celebrate. Voting down Article 11 will damage Bedford’s reputation with MassDOT and federal agencies, as DPW Director Manugian has already emphasized. The chief arguments against paving the trails are about how individuals currently enjoy using it: lower speeds for bikers, less crowding, more direct contact with nature. These are wonderful things! However, following through on commitments we’ve made to our partners as a town should outweigh individual downsides.
There are other issues coming down the road, like the MBTA’s zoning guidelines making multi-unit housing a “by right” use of land, where we will have to decide whether Bedford will isolate itself or step up as a reliable partner for the region. “No” voters on Article 11 should be clear that they are not just casting a vote for preserving this specific stretch of natural trail. A “no” vote on this article means stepping away from our commitments with key partners. I encourage voters, instead, to vote “yes” on Article 11 to endorse municipal cooperation and to reaffirm Bedford’s commitment to partnership.