The Arbor Resources Committee (BARC) voted the position at its most recent meeting, “after research, site visits, and careful consideration.”
Another town board, the Board of Health, is poised to support the project at a meeting later this month.
The future of the state-funded bikeway project will be decided at a Nov. 14 special town meeting. The specific article proposes authorizing the Select Board to acquire easements along the route – easements that are essential to building the bikeway.
In its statement explaining the decision, BARC said “the project will result in a significant loss of tree canopy and under story.”
Supporters of the project have pointed out that the canopy has been restored along other bikeways, but BARC addressed that: “Trees are under assault from climate change, insects and diseases never encountered before. We can no longer assume that the trees we remove can be easily replaced or that the small replacement trees will survive to maturity.”
“Many mature trees are being sacrificed to make room for cars to park,” the statement continued. “It is difficult for residents to evaluate the tree loss on this project because large areas such as the parking lots and ramp are not clearly delineated. The small demonstration area at Lavender Lane was chosen as ‘typical’ but does not convey the variability in size of the area to be cleared along the entire trail.”
When the bikeway articles were presented at Annual Town Meeting, BARC did not take a position. It was pointed out only that the plans were acceptable under the town tree policy.
In its recent statement, BARC acknowledged that “the mitigation for the lost trees on this project meets the requirements of the town tree policy, based on the data provided. However, this project highlights some of the serious weaknesses of the 2018 tree policy, such as equating an acre of clearing to only 10 trees for mitigation and seriously undervaluing trees.”
A participant at last week’s public information event on the bikeway proposal noted BARC’s opposition. Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell replied that “BARC’s lens is to look at its impact on trees and they take that very seriously, and we appreciate that.”
However, she continued, the Select Board and town meeting “have to evaluate projects more broadly” and consider other “quality-of-life issues. We also have a fiduciary duty to make sure we are taking advantage of opportunities for outside funding.”
BARC also based its decision on more general reasons. “Invasive plants continue to spread unchecked throughout town and this project will only add to the problem,” the statement said.
Also, “Bedford is losing trees at a rapid rate. Few of these trees are being replaced and the problem is getting worse. This project contributes to the problem.” Globally, “Tree loss contributes to warming, which in turn puts stress on the remaining trees. This and other feedback loops are causing the climate to change faster than predicted.”
Meanwhile, the Board of Health did not vote to take a position on the project at its September meeting, because, as member Ann Kiessling pointed out, that was not on the agenda. That will have to wait until the Oct. 17 meeting.
But during a discussion, some members indicated they feel the plan is consistent with the board’s mission, which is the criterion for setting annual goals.
The mission reads: “The Board of Health strives to help neighbors lead healthy lives in Bedford. The BOH is dedicated to serve all residents of Bedford, particularly the underserved and to promote healthy people, healthy families, and healthy environment through compassionate care, education, and disease prevention. The BOH will identify emerging public health needs, create needed regulations, set policy, hold hearings, and consider variances.”
Member Maureen Richichi was the lead advocate. “The evidence is there that having these shared-use paths adds to general health and well-being,” she said.
Richichi said the bikeway extension would meet several of the mission’s points. “Most people don’t get the recommended levels of physical activity,” she said, and the town only has 1.2 miles of “paved and fully accessible” bikeways. “That additional 1.8 miles fits with accessibility and our serving the vulnerable.”
She also cited the safety improvements planned for Railroad Avenue and the Concord Road trail crossing. Also, a federal report “looks at how communities can connect to useful destinations. Walkability of neighborhood environments [is] good for elderly.”
Member Anita Raj said she is ready to approve a statement on the proposal. “I think this is the greater good. The goal is to increase accessible, safe paths.” Committee Chair Susan Schwartz, hoping that a statement will not be regarded as political, cited the “intergenerational” benefits of the improvements.