I’ve recently been asked by constituents to comment in written form on the conversation about where to locate a community bike and pedestrian path in Belmont.
The decision on this issue belongs to the Belmont Board of Selectman. I am unaware of any route for the community path that does not require access to public land belonging to the Town of Belmont. I am fully respectful of the Board’s role in this process and I look forward to working to implement whatever final choice the Board makes. The Selectmen are hosting a discussion on the issue on January 22 at 7PM at the Beech Street Center.
While my main goal is to support the Board of Selectmen’s efforts, I feel obliged to respond to my constituents who have asked for my comments.
When I was on the Board of Selectmen in 1998, we considered the proposal for a path along the controversial segment behind the Channing Road properties. At that time, I met with Channing Road residents and recognized their concerns about privacy and security. I came down against use of that segment at that time.
15 years later, the Channing Road residents’ concerns are no less valid. However, it is reasonable to ask again whether we can find a way, using barriers or otherwise, to respect their concerns while putting to use the valuable transportation corridor which lies behind their homes.
That long, narrow stretch of land is protected by state law as a transportation corridor. There is a reason for that protection: it is usually impossible to assemble continuous stretches of land in highly-built communities; existing corridors are therefore effectively irreplaceable.
In general, there is considerable safety value to separating cyclist and pedestrian traffic from motorist traffic. Over the past 15 years, we have made significant progress in creating off-road bicycle and pedestrian paths in the region. I have been an active supporter of that progress — working hard to complete the path from Brighton Street to Alewife, the path from Watertown to Alewife and the path from the MysticRiver to Alewife.
In addition, there is considerable regional benefit to completing lengthy off-road path segments across multiple communities. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has leased a right of way from Berlin to Waltham for the purpose of constructing a multi-use trail. Belmont could be part of a through connection from Cambridge to that trail. However, the Channing Road segment would solve only part of the connection problem in Belmont and so it is not necessarily the best through-travel option. Of course, simply connecting BelmontCenter to Brighton Street would be a real benefit.
One final consideration is the possibility of constructing a tunnel or bridge crossing the tracks to connect Winn Brook to the High School. When another tragedy occurred on the tracks recently, this idea, long under discussion, came again to the foreground. Construction of a crossing might, or might not, tie into the conversation about a path.
My role in the present round of conversation has been to try to bring information to the table by funding a study of all options. That study, conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, was completed in 2012. It is now under consideration by the Board of Selectman who have created the Community Path Advisory Committee to assist them.
As a Belmont resident who does cycle, I hope that we are able to come together as a community around a plan that strives to address everyone’s concerns and increases safe travel options in and through our community.
If the Selectmen do choose to use the segment behind the Channing Road homes for the path, I will, as State Senator, be very diligent in fighting for state funding to build fencing or other measures approved by the Selectmen to protect the privacy and security of Channing Road residents.