For Community Path Supporters: Bennett as Selectwoman is the choice

If the Belmont Community Path is your issue, Jessie Bennett is your choice for Selectwoman in the Town Election April 2. A strong advocate for safe roads, Jessie has been a clear, consistent and vocal supporter of the Community Path. 

First, the obvious: all the candidates running for office in Belmont are good people. They all want what’s right for the town, though they may define that very differently. I thank all the candidates running for office for giving Belmont voters a choice this year!

If you’ve been reading Blogging Belmont, you know that the construction of The Community Path is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. You’ve read countless blog posts from me on this topic and you’ve likely seen me stand up and speak about the need to move forward with the Path at community meetings for years. (Yes, sadly: years!)

I write you today to say that if you want to see our Community Path built, Jessie Bennett for Selectwoman is the vote that will make it happen. I worry that a vote for her main opponent Roy Epstein is a vote to delay, defer, or even kill the Community Path.

Bennett is a consistent, steadfast Path Supporter

Jessie Bennett has made the safety of our streets and sidewalks one of her main projects and a critical plank in her platform for Selectwoman. She has been a member of Belmont’s Safe Routes to Schools Committee, the Transportation Advisory Committee, the High School Traffic Working Group and the Burbank Walks Committee. Jessie helped develop a program that received the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School Exemplary Program award.

Jessie knows that Belmont has delayed the Path long enough. Now is a time for action, not more hemming and hawing.

At many town forums regarding the Community Path over the years, Jessie Bennett has been a consistent and vocal advocate for the construction of the Path. As a candidate, Jessie has walked the proposed Path route(s) and weighed their various pros and cons. Jessie is a pragmatist: she is happy to see a Community Path built without being set on any particular route.

But Jessie is also acutely aware that Belmont needs to move forward with the project. Lives (literally) are at stake each day, as walkers and bikers take to our crowded roads stuffed with distracted and harried drivers.  As Belmont seeks state grant money to begin construction, Jessie knows that time is of the essence. Now is not the time to introduce 11th hour changes to the Path’s route through our densely settled community. It is certainly not the time to send mixed signals about the Town’s commitment to the Community Path project.

In short: Jessie wants to see the Community Path built – full stop. She knows the best way to make that happen is to build on the tremendous work done by previous committees that have studied the path as well as the work conducted by PARE, the engineering firm the town hired to devise a workable route through town. Jessie knows that Belmont has delayed the Path long enough. Now is a time for action, not more hemming and hawing.

Epstein: public doubts, secret plans & squishy support

In contrast, Roy Epstein, Jessie’s main opponent in the Selectman’s race, has not been a steady friend of The Community Path. Through the years and on numerous occasions, Roy has expressed doubts about the project and raised questions about the estimated cost of the Community Path to the Town. 

It would be an exaggeration to say that Epstein is an outright Community Path opponent. But Roy’s language about his support of The Community Path is worryingly squishy.


A Roy Epstein sign sits outside the French Mahoney property. The owners have opposed a Community Path that follows the north side of Fitchburg rail line.

For example: as recently as January 28th, speaking before the Board of Selectmen, Roy made a point of saying that he supports “a path through Belmont.” Note that he did not say that he supports this path or – even better – the Community Path. (You can watch the video here. Roy starts speaking at the 43:00 minute mark.)

Epstein has said he supports a path through Belmont, while proposing his own ideas for what route it should follow.

Sure, this is semantics. I get it. But if you’ve been to enough Path meetings over the years, you know what disclaimers like “I support a path” mean.

Roy’s actions are also illustrative. During that same Board of Selectmen session in January, Roy used Google Maps and other data cherry picked from Massachusetts Highway Department to raise questions about a proposed route along the north side of the Fitchburg rail line. That, despite the conclusion of the PARE engineering firm after extensive study that such a route was not only feasible but, in fact, very highly ranked. Belmont is moving forward with the recommendations made by PARE, not trying to undermine and question them. 

And, despite sitting on the Community Path Project Committee charged with implementing the recommendations of the PARE report, Roy in recent months has been quietly pitching his own plan to send the Community Path from the Fitchburg cutoff north along Brighton Street and around the far side of the French Mahoney property, across busy commercial driveways along the way. That’s a route that PARE never even considered, for obvious reasons. 

Epstein’s behavior earned him a public rebuke from Community Path Project Committee Chairman Russ Leino, who worried that the community would hear his proposal as coming from their Committee rather than from Epstein himself, when no such option was under consideration. From the perspective of a staunch Path supporter: Epstein’s willingness to go rogue on a critical segment of the Path at such a late date is a big red flag. 

As always, when presented with proposals like this, its useful to ask yourself “who benefits.” The standard for Belmont should be that the public benefits: public safety and public health, the broad population of Belmont.

I think that theme is very clear in Jessie’s advocacy for the Community Path. As for Roy, while I understand the benefits of his ideas to abutters like the French Mahoney property owners, I’m at a loss to see the “good of the public” and the “good of pedestrians” as a clear theme in his many statements and proposals on the Path. That troubles me.

Bennett will make the Community Path happen

I recognize that the Community Path is not the most important matter before our Town of Homes or even the most consequential. Still: I’m a jogger and a dad and someone who cares about and is looking to the future. The Community Path, for me, is a signature project that points the way to the Town’s future: as part of a vibrant, integrated, diverse and earth friendly Boston metro region that breaks the 70 year “roads, cars and malls” paradigm that has shaped so much of our built environment and, necessarily, our day to day lives. 

If you’re like me, you feel the same way – or maybe you’re just tired of taking your life in your hands every time you want to go for a stroll or hop on a bicycle to get somewhere? Whatever the case, Jessie Bennett is the smart vote for Belmont Selectwoman. Our town has haggled and equivocated and studied and questioned and triangulated enough on this 14 foot wide strip of asphalt. The time to build it is now. The person to get that done is Jessie Bennett!