Belmont Community Path

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.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

5 replies on “Belmont Community Path”

  1. Is there any reason why the solution here can’t be to open up a pedestrian/bike-only passage way to Channing Road itself? There was an opening there for a long time, and it closed (naturally) once the improved bike path opened. You can see it still on the satellite view of the area

    It is hellishly dangerous to try to bike alongside Blanchard Ave. When I take the Belmont bike path from Alewife, I always ride on the sidewalk until I get to Eliot Road, it’s the only way for me to bike to Belmont Center or the Farmer’s Market.

    I understand the homeowner’s hesitancy about having a path behind their yards. I live on a private foot path and there is always loads of traffic essentially passing through my “property” but it doesn’t really feel like a security hazard. Just sometimes a privacy inconvenience. There is also the issue of increased traffic of students around the train tracks behind the high school.

    Funneling bikers onto Channing Road itself would alleviate both issues. If there are objections to residents not wanting bike or pedestrian access to their street proper, well, that I would have no sympathy for.

  2. Thank you for speaking to this issue. What were your reasons 15 years ago for opposing using the railroad path area to develop the Community Path?

    From the studies I have seen, residents almost always oppose a path behind their own property and then nearly 100% are glad within a few years of having a path put in. What do you see as the barriers to this path be put in?

  3. Kate, you are quite right that opponents usually come around after a path is built. Most bike path neighbors end up feeling very fortunate. There have been cases where abutters insisted on a barrier and then after the path was built they wanted holes cut in the barrier so that they could access the path. That has been a pattern across the state.

    But abutters do have legitimate concerns of privacy and security. We need to address those concerns.

    These are the difficult choices that the Selectmen need to address.

  4. Dear Sen. Brownsberger – I very much appreciate your post on this topic, and your discussion on it.

    I will circulate this statement at our next Community Path Advisory Committee meeting this week.

    Regarding the comment that the potential abutters’ concerns are just as valid as they were 15 years ago, I would like to add that one thing that has developed since then is the large growth in Rails-With-Trails, both within Massachusetts and nationwide. This trend has led to more data further supporting strong safety records of Rails-With-Trails. There is also wider acceptance by the State for Rails-With-Trails, and more are being built (e.g., East Boston Greenway, Manhan Rail Trail).

    This is a current concern being raised by some potential abutters. I imagine it was also raised during your tenure as a Selectman.


  5. Lisa – if there is a path from the end of Channing Road, it would either need to traverse the church parking lot (there is a gate, but it has always been closed when I checked it) or property now owned by French and Mahoney on which they are building garages and offices for their construction business. I’m inclined to think that it could perhaps happen, but I can see reasons why French and Mahoney would be reluctant — it’s their property, they have trucks on it, obviously they are going to be worried about liability. There’s an easement along the rail edge of their property that would allow a path along the railroad to reach the path to Alewife.

    I agree about riding on Blanchard/Brighton. I don’t know why, but it’s not at all comfortable for me, either.

    From the point-of-view of someone on a bicycle, Channing would not be a bad choice for an on-road bike path — it is wide, straight, has no through car traffic, good access from Winn Brook, and would deliver people directly to the backside of Belmont Center. It does leave people with the problem of comfortably getting across Leonard and Concord; that’s not ideal. Running a path along the RR tracks gets you directly across both roads with a decent connection to the next section, whether it is reached by continuing along Concord, or looping under the tracks and up to the Clark Street bridge.

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