Letter to the Editor: Share the Path – Vote YES 

~Submitted by Dawn LaFrance-Linden

Bedford is blessed with natural beauty and an abundance of trails through extensive conservation lands and parks. Of the more than 30 miles of unpaved paths, the 1.7-mile Reformatory Branch Trail, a former rail bed for the B&M Railroad, is uniquely suited to provide a safe, economical, environmentally friendly, year-round, active transportation alternative to our congested roadways.

Nationwide, the Rails to Trails movement is popular and successful because it repurposes the existing connectivity provided by a rail network—built to link population centers to desirable locations—to take advantage of the human disruption that already went into making that route flat, straight, and wide. 

Paving the Reformatory Branch Trail and linking it to the Minuteman Bikeway—via a separated multi-use path along Railroad Ave—will improve mobility and community connectivity in Bedford while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing accessibility. 

Transportation is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Making it easier for people not to drive, both for commutes and local trips, will make a significant difference. 

The ability of residents with mobility issues—related to wheelchair use, balance issues, and more—to enjoy Bedford’s greenspaces is severely curtailed by inaccessibility. This multi-use path will provide the access they deserve. 

This project has been in process for decades, transparently and with revisions based on public input. Town-elected officials, staff, and volunteers have carefully crafted the project and secured state funding. It is at the 100% design point and ready for construction. 

Now, a last-minute, legal housekeeping issue has been identified: the town doesn’t own bits of the trail, and permission from Town Meeting is required to buy them at fair market value. That is what the vote is about. 

Town Meeting has repeatedly approved this project at various stages, including a specific vote to pave the trail. Massachusetts will provide $11 million in funding because it is a significant regional transportation infrastructure improvement project. 

This project provides an environmentally responsible option for recreation and transportation and opens access to natural amenities to an underserved population. It addresses safety (with an underpass crossing Route 62 and sidewalks for students walking to JGMS), improves infrastructure (with mitigation for flooding issues and signal improvements on Railroad Ave), and provides regional connectivity (with a separated multi-use path linking the Minuteman Bikeway and the Reformatory Branch Trail). 

This is a good project and responsibly funded. We should get it over the finish line.


The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.


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Doug Muder
3 months ago

All summer, I used the existing Minuteman Trail to bike to my physical therapy appointments on Hartwell Ave. If that trail had been as rutted and rocky as the current Reformatory Branch Trail, I’d have been in my car, jamming up the Great Road with the rest of you.

EMcClung
3 months ago

Pretty rough calling the taking of your land a “housekeeping issue.” Know, too, that some people, due to disabilities or age, cannot be on a path with speedy bikes because they cannot hear well or move quickly. Speed will be hazardous to many people on the trail. A paved bikeway will make speed a threat to pedestrians, just as the speed of automobiles is a concerning issue on our roads. There will be no police on the bikeway, though.

Nancy Wolk
3 months ago

The vote is simply on the town buying the land. The vast majority of owners had no clue they owned parts of the trail. Public lands should be owned by the public.
It’s really that simple.

Robin Steele
3 months ago
Reply to  Nancy Wolk

Nancy I just realized you are on the Board Of Assessors and would probably be the most knowledgeable about this, why didn’t the town know who owned the property?

McClain, John
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin Steele

Because in 1963 when the town acquired the right-of-way no one realized that in 1873 only part of the right-of-way had been bought out-right by the Boston & Lowell Railroad, while other parts were only easements that expired when the tracks were taken out.

Robin Steele
3 months ago

I believe eminent domain is more important than a last minute housekeeping issue. People are facing part of their property being taken, permanently or temporarily. The town leaders do not usually support eminent domain and in this case it is affecting 43 or more abutters.
Also this project has never been brought to town meeting for approval. It was only done as design plans, with the thought being the voters would have approval on the final design. This did not happen due to the state funding.

Nancy Wolk
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin Steele

Most of these abutters didn’t know they owned the property under consideration, and they had not been taxed on that property. All will be financially compensated. Temporary property possession during construction is something that often happens.
People are scared of the word “eminent domain”. It’s a legal process. That’s all. If a property owner refused to sell, then there would be a court issue.

McClain, John
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin Steele

Didn’t over 60% of Town Meeting implicitly approve the 100% design in the Spring?

Robin Steele
3 months ago
Reply to  McClain, John

No

McClain, John
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin Steele

What did Town Meeting think it was voting for?

Catherine Van Praagh
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin Steele

Normally, I’d agree, but in this case both the town and homeowners (due to the history of the railroad and the intended handover by the RR company) thought the property was already under the ownership of the town. It was only during a very deep dive on the deeds that the issue was uncovered. In most cases, not only have the homeowners never paid taxes on the property in question, they are also being offered payment for land they never realized they owned.

Mark Bailey
3 months ago
Reply to  Robin Steele

Fears of town leaders too eager to use eminent domain are provocative but unfounded when we remember that it is we the voters who are asked to authorize even this very limited action, which consists primarily of acquiring rights long believed to be the town’s property anyway; land folks didn’t know they owned and haven’t been paying taxes on, for which they are being compensated at highest market value, or in the case of RR Ave. existing well-documented sidewalk easements. Also anyone interested in engaging on every detail of the design of a significant municipal project need only get in the committees, join the meetings, attend the hearings.

The notion that the state has wrested control from our community is also unfounded. This project was Bedford initiated from the start and has been consistently supported by town meeting. We enjoy a close partnership with the state, which also makes things like the Middlesex Turnpike improvement possible. We always have a seat at the table on projects like this. It is not accurate to say it is due to state funding that the approval process has happened as it has.

Robin Steele
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Bailey

I have been on boards in this town for years. Design plans mean approval of those plans at a town meeting when funding is needed. That never happened with this project.

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