In-brief: A proposed on-road route along Concord Ave. poses serious safety concerns and runs counter to the community’s wishes. A December 7 meeting with engineers is your chance to speak out.
After almost three decades, Belmont is tantalizingly close to realizing a long-held dream for residents: construction of a safe, off road pedestrian and bike path through town, linking Belmont’s neighborhoods and commercial centers with trails and transit to the east and west of us: the Minuteman Commuter Trail and Alewife MBTA Station and the developing Mass Central Rail Trail. As I write, an engineering firm hired by the town, Pare Corporation, is weighing various routes through town and soliciting feedback from residents in a series of walking tours and meetings.
I’m writing, however, more out of concern than hope. Among the top-ranked routes under consideration right now is one that I fear is neither safe nor feasible. If adopted, this route will steer the Community Path project into a dead end or, if not, leave our town with a path that is dangerous and little-used.
I’m writing to ask for your help to make sure Belmont builds a safe and usable Community Path, starting with attending a meeting on December 7 at 7:00pm in the Chenery Auditorium and voicing your preference for a safe, off road Community Path.
To be clear: at this stage in the planning process, no decisions have been made and all routes and options for the Community Path are very much “on the table.” But with just one public meeting left before the engineering firm begins working towards their final recommendation, it is critical that Belmont residents to urge the town’s consultants and The Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee to put physical safety of pedestrians and cyclists first when considering Community Path routes.
This Path stuff is confusing, so I’ll try to make it simple. At issue is how best to route the eastern end of the Community Path which will connect the existing Fitchburg Cutoff Bike Path that terminates at Brighton Street to Belmont Center, approximately 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) away. To picture it: this is the stretch of track that runs behind Belmont High School and the football field, all the way down to Belmont Center.
This part of the proposed Community Path poses few engineering challenges. An abandoned railroad right of way on the north side of the Commuter Rail line provides ample space for a path that is wide enough to accommodate traffic in both directions. A path here would be set well back from the tracks on one side and from residential and community properties on the other. There is plenty of room for landscaping and soundproofing to insulate neighboring properties from activity on the path, as well.
Such an off-road route fits with the desires and priorities of the community. In a 2013 survey completed by 1,050 Belmont residents, 80% said that having the path be “off road” was the most important characteristic of the project.
However, at a public meeting to discuss the Community Path last Wednesday, November 16, that safe, off-road route along the tracks was ranked below a complicated, ribboning course along Concord Avenue that would require a substantial re-engineering of parking and traffic flow along one of the town’s busiest thoroughfares and that would simply not be safe for pedestrians and cyclists.
This “path” (if you could call it that) would be pulled across more than a half dozen intersections with busy roads and lot entrances along the way. Vehicles and distracted drivers would be frequent interlopers. Bike and pedestrian encounters with vehicles crossing the path would be frequent and unavoidable.
The Belmont Community Path has always been imagined as just that: a community path that is a resource for the whole community. It’s hard to imagine a mother pushing her child in a stroller or an elderly couple out for a stroll who would be willing to risk being struck by a vehicle along this busy stretch of path. Such users would steer clear of this part of the Path – reducing its utility to Belmont.
Fortunately, all is not lost. The engineers at Pare who are evaluating routes are still in “listening” mode and have scheduled a meeting for December 7 in the Chenery Middle School auditorium with the express purpose of addressing “hot button” issues such as this. There is still plenty of time to make clear your preference for the construction of a safe, off-road route. Attend the December 7th meeting and voice your opinion, or write an email to Jeffrey Wheeler, Belmont’s Senior Planner at: firstname.lastname@example.org and make your feelings known that way.
I urge you to get involved and make your voice be heard on this important piece of 21st century infrastructure in Belmont!