Open Letter: Making the Right Call on the Community Path

The following is an email communication I sent to Belmont’s three Selectmen dated February 11, 2019. In it, I discuss the Board of Selectmen’s pending decision regarding the route to be followed by the planned Belmont Community Path.

The Selectmen will make a final decision on that route at their Monday meeting, February 25th (tomorrow) starting around 7:30 PM. If you support the Community Path, please plan to attend or send an email voicing your support to the Selectmen.

You can email them, collectively, at:

To: Adam Dash, Chairman, Mark Paolillo, Vice Chairman, Tom Caputo, Selectman

From: Paul Roberts
Subject: Making the right call on the Community Path
Date: February 11, 2019

Mark, Adam and Tom: I know that you’re continuing to weigh the town’s options for the Community Path ahead of your final decision later this month.

As you mull your options, I just wanted to reach out and strongly encourage you to move this project forward decisively by adopting the North Side route from Brighton Street to Belmont Center. Belmont badly needs the Community Path. And, as Pare indicated in their study: a safe, off-road route through town that keeps pedestrians and cyclists physically separate from vehicles is the priority. 

I think it is clear that the North Side route, which was rated very highly by Pare, is the best option from an engineering, cost and safety perspective. I do fear that continuing to pursue the fatally flawed and expensive south side option or, alternatively, entertaining other less highly rated route options will drastically delay if not halt progress on the Path and jeopardize state and federal funding to construct it. 

I don’t need to tell you that the stakes for the Community Path are high. Ours is a town with a growing population of bike commuters and pedestrians. Just this Sunday, the Boston Globe included this story of a 40 year old Watertown educator, Allison Donovan, who was killed in a cross walk in Somerville by a speeding car. This was the second pedestrian death in a week after a woman was struck and killed West Roxbury, possibly as a result of solar glare

I note these stories to state the obvious: on our crowded surface roads, full of hurried, distracted drivers, the intermingling of pedestrians, bikes and cars is often deadly. In just the last year, Belmont has been the scene of a deadly pedestrian accident. We need to do everything in our power to make it the last. 

To that point: I know from speaking to Tom that one option you may be considering is a route that snakes around onto Hittinger Street. As I mentioned to Tom: that route adds considerable safety risks to the Community Path with no clear advantages in terms of cost, complexity, engineering or anything else. It requires path users to traverse a number of driveways and the entrances to busy parking lots at the PureCoat/Crate Escape building. While such routes are often unavoidable with paths constructed in dense, suburban/urban areas like Belmont, in our case no such compromise is needed. Belmont is lucky to have a completely viable off-road route with clear title or easements, plenty of space, no grading issues and solid set backs from private property and the tracks. That is the North Side route. 

As I noted emphatically at the BOS meeting last month: the only obstacle to the North Side route is opposition by abutters. Their arguments against the Path are many colored: privacy, public safety, drainage, and aesthetics. These are all very understandable and manageable problems that can be addressed with the path design, landscaping and other inexpensive fixes. None is a deal breaker – certainly not on the magnitude of the south side, which requires the purchase or taking of one of the largest commercial properties in the town – and a site with known environmental remediation issues. Simply put: NIMBY objections are understandable, but they are a poor reason to commit Belmont tax payers to millions of dollars of added costs for this project or, alternatively, to send children, commuters and pedestrians across busy drives on Hittinger, intermingle them with cars on Brighton and direct them across an at-grade rail line to the entrance to the Fitchburg cutoff trail.  

As you know, politics is often about making tough choices. I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that Belmont elects you to make tough choices that are in the best interest of the entire town and all 25,000 of its residents. Now it is up to you three to have the broad shoulders and strength of conviction to make the right choice for Belmont. I look forward to hearing your decision on February 25th. 

Paul Roberts, TMM P8