Moving Forward with the Belmont Community Path

The view looking east along the north side of the tracks near Alexander Avenue, where this statement urges that the path should be routed.

This statement is jointly authored by Senator Brownsberger and Representative David Rogers.

The pieces are finally coming together to build a Belmont community path that will make an important contribution to community safety, but one important decision remains.

Through the good efforts of a series of committees, the Town has developed a path route connecting Waverley Square through Belmont Center across Brighton Street to the existing path to Alewife Station.

Over the last few months, we have worked with MassDOT to further vet that route and get the project in the queue for consideration for state funding.

The state has now officially recognized the regional and local significance of both the north-south connection from Concord Avenue to Alexander Avenue through an underpass and the east-west connection from Brighton Street to Waverley.

This recognition came in the form of the Letter dated July 26, 2018 from the Highway Division’s district director to Board of Selectmen Chair Adam Dash reciting that the Highway Division’s Project Review Committee has evaluated the project and found it eligible for Federal Aid Highway Funding.

This finding means that when a design is ready and all major issues are resolved, we can actively compete for federal funding through the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization process. Federal and state funds will pay for 90% of the costs of the project. (Some have asked if the federal contribution is at risk as a result of congressional politics. The answer is: probably not — construction funds are important to all politicians.)

It also means that MassDOT will work closely with us to resolve the outstanding issues and move the project forward.  Their assistance is important because of the close proximity of the project to the MBTA tracks.  They have, in fact, already appointed a project manager to assist us.

Conversations with the state have highlighted some of the complex right-of-way and engineering challenges associated with the West end of the project — from Clark Street to Waverley.  Working with the state, we have conceptualized that as “Phase 2”, which can be pursued separately at a future date.

“Phase 1” of the project has two logical subparts — the new underpass to Concord Avenue and the path from Brighton Street to Belmont Center (or a bit beyond).

The new underpass has huge convenience and safety benefits.  State officials recognize those benefits and strongly support it.  The town is moving forward rapidly to design that part of the project.

As to the east-west connection, there is a major remaining decision to make: whether to route the path on the north side of the tracks all the way from Belmont Center to Brighton Street, or whether to cross through the new underpass to the south side of the tracks at Alexander Avenue.

The town initially proposed that the path cross through the underpass at Alexander Avenue and run behind the High School on the south side of the tracks to Brighton Street.   Cyclists and pedestrians would then need to cross the tracks again at the grade crossing at Brighton Street to reach the existing Fitchburg Cutoff path to Alewife.

MBTA officials are uncomfortable with this routing because of the safety issues raised by running additional bicycle and pedestrian traffic from the path over the tracks at Brighton Street.  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.

We are hopeful that the town will 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.  This routing will make the project an unambiguous win from a safety standpoint and improve its funding prospects substantially.   To the extent that north side abutters have local concerns, we should strive to address those concerns with respectful mitigation measures, not by compromising the safety of the path.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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28 Comments

  1. Is it possible for you to put an image of the map of the two alternative routes on this website so that we can visualize what the two alternatives imply about location? Perhaps I missed this before but I can’t visualize where the new proposal will be from the verbal description. It would be very helpful.
    Thanks.

    1. This presentation by the Pare corporation from last year shows some of the options for a Brighton Crossing, the underpass at Alexander, and the various routes that were consider. Start at page 11. I think the two choices being considered are E3a (north side of tracks) and E3b (south side of tracks, exact routing contingent on school reconstruction etc).

      https://www.belmont-ma.gov/sites/belmontma/files/u151/meeting_8.pdf

      Other presentations can be found here:
      https://www.belmont-ma.gov/community-path-implementation-advisory-committee-cpiac/pages/community-path-feasibility-study

  2. Hi Rep. Brownsberger – Thank you very much for your thoughtful assessment and update of the Belmont Community Path project. This is indeed an important project, and it is helpful for people to see things moving along. Thank you again for posting this update and for helping to publicize the status of the project.

  3. Thank you for the update and for supporting this project!
    I cannot personally see what is the problem with crossing the railroad tracks. People and cyclists are doing it now, so I can’t see more risk added. When a cyclist or a pedestrian has to come from the south side of the tracks, then s/he will need to cross them in any case.
    If the path is on the south side of the tracks, adjacent to the High School, it will definitely help the kids getting there safely. It may also reduce the drop-off traffic. I can see a number of advantages to stay south of the tracks. Furthermore, there was a lot of opposition in the past from the residents abutting the tracks on the north side. I am not aware of any subsiding on this issue from them and I wonder – do we need to fight this all over again (waste years) when there’s a very good alternative?
    My suggestion is to try to convince MBTA with a thoughtful argument.

    1. With a North side route those traveling from Alewife to Belmont Center would have no need to cross the tracks at all. Yes people are crossing those tracks today but a successful path would be expected to significantly increase traffic along the path (which is a good thing) and mostly east-west.

      As to the High School even with a north side route there will be a very safe underpass at Alexander for easy access to the High School.

  4. Thank you Senator Brownsberger, Representative Rogers, and Belmont Selectmen for working with state officials to create the Alexander underpass. Let’s make it a reality this time whether or not the path is on the north or south side of the tracks. The Winn Brook neighborhood needs the underpass, and it will help with morning traffic.

  5. Thanks for all your work on this. It sounds as though significant progress has been made. I would also appreciate a map showing the alternate routes.

  6. I could not agree more! I have always thought the Community Path should take the simplest route and run along the north side of the tracks. If the point of the path is bicycle and pedestrian safety, then why on earth would we add another RR crossing? In the past month, two Belmont pedestrian women have tragically died, hit by cars (one in Belmont, one in Watertown). Adding trains into the mix raises the likelihood of further fatalities. Incidentally, last year a Belmont woman suffered serious injury at the intersection of Brighton Street and the RR tracks. Keep the path safe!!! Please!!!

    1. I have done a little more digging and have learned that the north path may require a huge retaining wall–16 feet tall, which is unsightly and incredibly difficult (not to mention expensive) to build. I’m also not sure how you engineer something like that to stand against a RR embankment. If true, that definitely changes my perspective on what makes sense in terms of routing the path.

  7. Thank you for this thorough update. There may be an additional saftey downside to having the path on south side of the tracks — that stretch would be pretty deserted at night — in addition to the slight risk itself, it may cause people to avoid using the path at those times, thus leaving bicycle traffic on the less-safe streats, defeating the purpose of the path. Just a thought.

  8. This is a great accomplishment. We hope that the path can remain on the north side of the track which will be simpler for the users and the builders. Is there room going past Frank french’s place of business? I know that there is resistance but proper landscaping can completely block the view towards Channing road. No wall should be built because that could trap people on the bike path. There would be no way to move to the side. Fred and Anne Paulsen

    1. There is technically “room” at the French property, but it is absolutely minimal. Other paths sometimes have narrow segments (e.g., the bridge over 128 on the Minute Man Trail).

      There was discussion (by the consultants hired to explore alternatives) of a bridge that would both clear the narrow portion of the French property and also go over Brighton Street. I think that seems like an extravagance to us, but in Pinellas County, Florida (where I grew up) a multiuse path has several bridges crossing busy roads. They don’t have snow there, however, which might affect the bridge design/expense.

      (example: https://goo.gl/maps/EdU3xzWkr9v I think this is actually the second bridge built at this site.)

  9. Thank you for the update Will. Good news that the project is recognized as valuable and important.

    I strongly agree that the path should be routed on the north side for the safety of all path users. I very much hope the Board of Selectmen and the rest of the town will also recognize this.

    I also believe many abutters would eventually want direct access to the path, which has been very popular in other areas.

  10. Many thanks Senator Brownsberger and Representative Rogers:
    Thank you for your efforts to improve transportation and traffic in our town Belmont.

    While the narrative is excellent, it was difficult for me to understand without a plan or drawing focusing on the main changes and new improvements.

  11. This is great news. Thanks for pushing this so far along. What an encouraging development.

    I agree with your urging for the Selectmen to adopt the all-north-side route. I bike the existing bath daily as a commuter, coming from the south side of the tracks. This means crossing the tracks on Brighton Street on bike twice a day. The crossing is well protected by gates, but why take the additional risk of making more cyclists and pedestrians cross the tracks there? The all-north route is safer, and with an underpass from Concord to Alexander, no bicycles or pedestrians would need to cross the tracks at Brighton any more.

  12. Thanks for this succinct update, Will. My family and I are super excited that the path is one step closer to reality. I understand the issue you cite that if the path goes on the south side of the train tracks, users will then have to cross Brighton St at the train tracks to access the Alewife extension. To me it makes sense to go with your proposal of routing the path along the north side of the tracks.
    However, the south side route was devised as a way to respond to neighbors on Channing Rd and I worry that they may move to stop the project. I wonder: is there a 3rd option of running the route on the south side and then creating another pedestrian tunnel at Brighton to go under the train tracks and bring riders up to the Alewife path side of Brighton St? Just a thought.

  13. Dear Will,
    I’m usually on your side, but I think you are not representing this issue accurately. From my sources the community is adamantly against the north side path routing, this was the routing that all agreed to and now the bike advocacy community is trying to resurrect the routing for their own reasons.

    As a cyclist and bike commuter into Boston for over 20 years, I don’t see how either route has a significant impact on safety. Having to cross the tracks or not at the Brighton Avenue crossing is a minor issue; you need to stop to cross this major road anyway and there are only about what, 20 trains a day?

    Lets stick with the agreed plan and get this needed path moving forward.

    1. Mike, I disagree. I really think it unsafe to route a new stream of traffic across the tracks — especially with the diagonal running through the stub gates. The opposite diagonal would still be a problem, but this path alignment really does raise concerns.

      I respect your opinion though and I’d be happy to talk. Give me a call on my cell: 617-771-8274.

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