The Community Path is close to being realized but opposition from a small group of abutters still threatens to delay or derail this needed investment. Take a moment to email the Community Path Implementation Committee and the Board of Selectmen and voice your support for a simple, safe North Side route along the railroad tracks to move the Community Path project forward!
OK – so I got back from the Community Path Implementation Committee Meeting tonight. Rather than allow my head to explode, I’m just going to write a friendly note and remind the Blogging Belmont Community that our long-awaited, much anticipated and much needed Community Path is closer than ever to being realized, but it still needs the full community’s support…again.
The tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) version of this blog post – as I noted above – is that the Community Path is close to being realized but the need for a small change to the recommended route and opposition to it from abutters still threatens to delay or derail this needed investment in non-car transportation infrastructure. If you could take a moment to email the Community Path Implementation Committee and the Board of Selectmen and voice your support for the path to follow a simple, North Side route along MBTA land adjacent to railroad tracks, you will be helping to move the Community Path project forward and also help Belmont secure much needed federal and state highway funds to cover an estimated 90% of construction costs. ‘
To make things simple, just send an email firstname.lastname@example.org to reach the members of the Community Path Implementation Committee (or all the members I could find email for). Also, copy our Selectmen (email@example.com) and Town Planner Jeffrey Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org) on your message. Thanks!!
The meeting this evening was for the CPIC to consider a modification to the final recommendation of the feasibility study conducted by PARE Corp., the engineering firm hired by the town and submitted late last year. That plan considered many route options for the Community Path as it runs from the Cambridge line on Brighton Street, along the railroad tracks, to the Waltham line in Waverley Square.
The specifics of the full route aren’t relevant right now. But one segment is: the stretch from Brighton Street to Belmont Center. Taking many factors into account, including strong abutter objections along Channing Road, PARE ultimately recommended a somewhat convoluted route as its top choice that cross the tracks on Brighton Street at the termination of the existing bike path to Alewife in Cambridge, run along the south side of the Fitchburg line along the Belmont High School property then switched back to the North side at a new (and much needed)) pedestrian underpass at Alexander Road and then on to Belmont Center.
As the Path moves toward realization, there’s been lots of good news, as Senator Brownsberger recently noted. Among other things: the Massachusetts Highway Division’s district director has indicated that the Highway Division’s Project Review Committee has evaluated the project and found it eligible for Federal Aid Highway Funding that will pay for 90% of the costs of the project (!!)
MBTA worried about unnecessary track crossing
However, MBTA and state officials have expressed concern about one element of the plan: the at-grade railroad crossing for bikes and pedestrians on Brighton Street, which they consider an unnecessary safety risk. We can blow that off, but the stakes here are high. As Senator Brownsberger noted: “the competition for state-federal funds is stiff and these legitimate state-level safety concerns will significantly harm the town’s chances of getting funding.”
The alternative is for the Town (starting with CPIC) to “revisit its initial routing decision and choose the straight, safe and simple route along the north side of the tracks, which has already been identified by the town as a feasible contingent route.” As Senator Brownsberger indicated, “this routing will make the project an unambiguous win from a safety standpoint and improve its funding prospects substantially.”
As for the concerns of Channing Road residents about the impact on their abutting properties – privacy, drainage, and so on, Senator Brownsberger wrote that (Belmont) should should “strive to address those concerns with respectful mitigation measures, not by compromising the safety of the path” (emphasis mine).
Its important to note: the engineering firm that studied the path and recommended the final route was plenty supportive of the North side of the tracks. That segment was very highly considered. Given abutter objections and resistance, however, PARE ultimately went with a south side route, with the understanding that there were a number of possible deal-breakers along that route, including the redevelopment of the Belmont High School Property and an unacceptably narrow choke point by the Crate Escape building at Brighton Street that requires the town to purchase and demolish part of that building.
(Personally, I never understood that decision, especially since it seemed to step on what PARE said was a third rail of any route design: it directly impacted privately owned property. But I’d be lying if I said I followed the nitty gritty of the deliberations over these segments. Someone from CPIAC can probably explain how the south side route ended up on top – but my guess is that a small number of abutters’ objections to the north side route played a big role.)
(Idea) spaghetti: meet wall…
In any case, the purpose of Thursday evening’s meeting was to consider (and approve) that small change to the plan to pursue a north side route, remove the unnecessary at grade crossing of the tracks at Brighton and satisfy our would be benefactors at Massachusetts DOT, the MBTA and (by extension) in Washington.
The resurrection of the north side route option brought out opponents from abutting properties along Channing and stimulated their supporters on the CPIAC itself. The gist of abutters’ feedback and proposals was that Belmont should just push through with the south side route, MBTA and Mass DOT be damned.
To bolster their case last night, there was all manner of fantastical talk: of massive residential developments at Fresh Pond and in Cambridge that are just around the corner, but only accessible via a south side route; about the sanctity and safety of children and families who will be grievously disadvantaged and endangered on a path on the north side of the tracks, though not on the south; of unsightly retaining walls; of arsenic in the soil and the advantages of a costly and unsightly 700 foot pedestrian bridge running 15 feet over Brighton Street. (Note: the bridge would not solve the at-grade railroad crossing issue either).
Basically: it was a “spaghetti-meets-wall” situation with opponents throwing out any and every objection that sounded plausible. By the time I left at 9:00 pm, no vote had been taken and CPIAC was laboring to move the conversation forward amidst all the flying idea spaghetti. It was a very frustrating situation with a lot of community members’ time being wasted considering non-viable options, speculating about future developments that haven’t even been put forward by neighboring communities and generally rehashing old and disproven arguments. I’m not sure if a vote was taken last night. (I’ll update this once I hear one way or the other.) In the meantime, it would be good for the community of Belmont to show support for the Community Path.
Abutter objections are to be expected and I’m confident the final path that Belmont builds will be a win-win for the Town and for path abutters along Channing and other segments of the route. Now, without getting too into the weeds: take a minute to send a short email to the powers that be and make clear that you’re supportive of a north side path between Belmont Center and Brighton Street so that we can move forward with this important project!