Proposal

Back in 2003, the Department of Conservation and Recreation created a master plan for the Alewife Reservation.

A lot has happened since that plan was drafted. Some of its recommendations have been implemented — notably the Fitchburg Cutoff Path that connects Brighton Street to Alewife. Additionally, of course, the Royal Belmont development on the Belmont Uplands has replaced some of the Silver Maple Forest.

One recommendation that has not yet been implemented is the construction of a path connecting Brighton Street west of Hill Estates to the Uplands. The proposed path is shown in green the Google Map frame below, roughly traced from the Master Plan (Findings and Recommendations, p.25).

The pedestrian path would go along the shores of Little Pond next to Hill Estates, cross a new pedestrian bridge and continue on to Acorn Park Drive near what is now the Royal Belmont. It would be intended for pedestrians and would be surfaced, but not paved — so few cyclists would be likely use it.

The benefits of the path would be:

  • Connect Winn Brook to walking paths in the DCR Reservation around Little Pond and along the Little River
  • Connect residents of the Royal Belmont to the Winn Brook neighborhood

The path in yellow in the map is an alternative route suggested by an abutter that is shorter and perhaps less disruptive to abutters. This alternative certainly merits consideration too — it is not quiet as direct to Winn Brook or the Center of Town, but by connecting to the Fitchburg path, it creates other possibilities.

Mail-to set for informal survey (N=470)

Recently, a constituent urged that this project be moved forward. I thought I would check in with people to get a sense of interest. I sent an email at 9:15PM on June 4 to 470 residents of the Winn Brook area — residents within a map-based selection for whom I had an email address as a result of their contact with my office. The map below shows the recipients of the email.

In the first 24 hours after I sent that email, 116 people took the time to visit this page and indicate their sentiments by completing a survey form asking a single question about their reaction to the path. I do not know for certain that the people visiting the page were the same as those that received the email, but during this period, the responses varied consistently — there was no run of the same response; it does not appear that anyone was stuffing the ballot box. Additionally, I added a facebook post after about 12 hours, but 85 people had already responded and it is unlikely that many clicked through on the facebook post. In summary, it appears likely that most or all of the responses were from area residents receiving the email.

First 24 Hours of Responses to question: Build the path — your feelings in a nutshell? (N=116)

Please don’t:2723.3%
I don’t care:1311.2%
Nice idea:3832.8%
Love this idea:3832.8%
Total:116100.0%

FAQ

I also received a number of direct email responses as well as comments on this page. Among those who had concerns and questions, the most common issues were:

  • How much is it going to cost? No study has been done, but there would be a little pedestrian bridge and, perhaps some board walk, so the cost would not be minimal. Getting a ballpark sense of the cost would require an inexpensive study which would be the first step.
  • Who is going to pay for it? The path would be on state land under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The path is an element of DCR’s Master Plan for the reservation. However, there is no current plan for DCR to address this path, the DCR capital budget is severely constrained and there is a lot of competition for park funding. Some private funding participation, possibly from the Royal Belmont owners (who have not yet been consulted), may be necessary.
  • Will the path reduce traffic in the area? I wouldn’t make that claim — the impact will be negligible on the huge flow of cut through traffic in Belmont and Cambridge.
  • Is this pedestrian path redundant with the bike path? It was hard to see on the original image supplied in this post, but it should be clear from the more legible Google Map above that the path makes a different connection. It saves a long walk for those seeking to make this connection without going on the Route 2 ramp. The path length is .387 miles while connecting the same two points through Alewife is 1.54 miles.
  • The tunnel under the tracks by Alexander Avenue is more important. Agreed. That project is well is underway.
  • Will this path attract homeless encampments? Not likely. The area it traverses is very wet.
  • Will this path be plowed? Probably not. The intention is that it would be unpaved, so not really plowable. Additionally, DCR’s plowing budget is limited and we have never been able to get them to consistently plow the main Fitchburg bike path. So, it is likely that in the winter, the path would require boots.
  • Does building this path necessitate closing other trails? No.
  • What are the impacts on wildlife and on wetlands? Good questions. We do not want to further fragment the forest habitat or create impervious surface. That argues for a fairly modest unpaved path.

Next Steps

Based on the initial level of neighborhood interest, I will try to get some more definition for this proposal and consult further with the neighborhood and with the town and the state. We should remain open to alternative positions for the path that might be equally desirable as connections, but less disruptive to abutters and/or to wildlife.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

Join the Conversation

32 Comments

  1. There are a lot of homeless persons in Alewife area. The path will be a shortcut to bring many uncertainties or even dangers to Winn brook neighborhood. Please don’t build it.

  2. I marked “I don’t care” in the survey, although it’s not actually an accurate response: none of the options express my feelings. The devil (when there is one) is always in the details. With the minimal details given here, it’s not possible to have an informed opinion. What would be the cost…how would it be funded…would some existing, desirable trails be closed (as seems to be indicated in the graphic)? A path which is purely for pedestrians, excluding cyclists, doesn’t seem very practical. I like the idea of connecting these two neighborhoods, but answers to these and other questions will make all the difference in whether this is a benefit to the community, with pros outweighing the cons.

  3. I would love to see this project move forward. The important aspects for me are access year-round for it to be an effective part of transit planning, and the connection at Brighton should align with a bus stop and access to routes that head easily to Winn Brook fields and Town Centet.

  4. The idea is clear but there are details, which are missing and it is hard for me to judge. Some clarifying questions:
    1. Is this path expected to reduce traffic in the area?
    2. What are the demographics of the renters? Are these families with kids who attend Winn Brook or just young professionals who need quick access to Alewife? Will the path be built for their recreational benefit or to address an existing need? Obviously, this path will benefit almost exclusively the residents of Royal Belmont and before leaping into conclusions, let’s first understand if they will really benefit from such development.
    3. How much will the path cost and who will pay for it? While I don’t know the details, it seems to me that the luxury residences should belong to a wealthy developer who might be willing to foot the bill. As far as town and state budgets go – it is all a zero sum game (unless taxes are raised). If we spend money on this path, it means that something else won’t get built and we need to be careful.

    At this point, I can’t support or reject the idea unless more cost/benefit analysis is added.

    1. Nikolay, I couldn’t agree more. There is too little information provided for us to weigh the pros vs. cons.
      I’m also wondering where the pressure originated from for this idea, and who is continuing to push it forward. Is this something that people in the immediate community are asking for, or a non-resident altogether?

    2. I agree on funding- it needs to come from the development itself. It should not delay the more important connections of Waltham to Belmont Center, which has been delayed long enough. I support what is clearly an access improvement for Royal Belmont residents who cover the full demographic age spectrum, but I could not see this going to the Town for funding before the Community Path is funded.

  5. Based on the limited nature of the proposed path and somewhat redundant nature of it with the bike path I would not be in favor of it. I just don’t think many people would use it. I’m sure there are many other better uses of the time, effort and money.

  6. Nice idea. Agree that more details are needed. The route appears somewhat convoluted and perhaps could be shortened east of Little River. Unless it is paved and available for cyclists, this seems more of a recreational than a transportation path. In addition, the sidewalk on the access route to Route 2 (to Lake Street) is in need of an upgrade, is currently not safe. Thanks for your efforts working on this

  7. I am a resident of the Royal Belmont and have discussed this path with a number of others who live here. To walk to the rest of Belmont now, they walk along the narrow sidewalk on the access road to Route 2. Many of them have young children and take them on walks often. This path would be a beautiful way to connect us to Belmont Center.
    I also have friends who live in the Winn Brook area who would enjoy using this path.

    1. I agree with Charlene, the long round about way for pedestrians to get to Belmont Center from Royal Belmont is unpleasant, to put it mildly and offers little protection from fast moving vehicles. This could be a great local connector.

  8. I like the idea of more walking paths in general — but I’m wondering how this path will be accessed. Without bike access and no parking, the use may be limited.

  9. I support this expansion. I use the Fitchburg cutoff regularly for commuting to Alewife by bike, running for exercise, and riding for pleasure with my family. My sense is people are unaware or take for granted just how many people use these trails. New paths would certainly be welcomed and utilized by many.

    It bothers me how often priority is given to cars in cases like this. The contribution of car emissions to climate change comes with a very real financial expense. One that is likely much higher than the cost of a pedestrian path such as this.

    My main concern is that I noticed recently how many homeless/transient people have taken to camping in the areas off the Fitchburg path. I see Cambridge employees regularly cleaning up after them. Interestingly enough, maybe add paths will help this as there will be less out of the way spots for them set up.

  10. Although I am a fervent supporter of projects that get people out of their cars, I have all the same questions as Nicolay. Please keep me in the loop as this information becomes available. An additional question: would the existing path then be converted to a bicycle-only path? It’s currently shared between cyclists and pedestrians and seems to work fine. I’m wondering why the proposed path would be restricted to pedestrians?

    1. I think it’s intended to be low-impact on the wildlife area, so perhaps more similar to the Clay Pit Pond path idea, but those seem like the kind of details that come about from discussions.

  11. I like the idea, and have the same questions as Nikolay. I’d likely use it if I just want to go for a walk, but not for a walk to Alewife to catch the T – for that it’s the long way around.

  12. I echo the response of others,that until more information is forthcoming,such as cost,how it will be funded etc.I am not in favor of this project

  13. On principle I agree with building a path that will make it easier for people to safely walk to school with young children. I agree with Nikolay’s questions and comments, and I also agree with others that it should be made available to cyclists as well. Finally, on the question of the persons experiencing homelessness who are camped near the bike path, I would like to see a more compassionate response. Could you please work with stakeholders (the legislature, cities of Belmont and Cambridge, local hospitals/accountable care organizations, social service agencies, justice system) so that 1) people experiencing homelessness will have a safe place to stay and a chance to rebuild their lives, and 2) people walking the bike path and living in nearby neighborhoods can feel safer? Thank you for your consideration.

  14. I love this idea! I’d use it both for dog walking and as a way to get to Cambridge Discovery Park.

  15. Adding more non-car connections between this section of Belmont/Cambridge and Winn Brook is a good idea. I’d like this plan even more if the path were designed to accommodate bikes, making it a more viable connection to Belmont Center and the commuter rail as well as residences and businesses on Acorn Drive. I agree with the comments that sidewalk improvements on Acorn Drive are needed as well, especially if this path is built.

  16. As a resident of Hill Estates, I am strongly in favor of this path being completed. I’m also a cyclist (and a motorist, a pedestrian, and T rider all depending on the day-sometimes all four in one day) and generally favor more bike and walking infrastructure that makes it easier for me to not use my car. Even though I’ve lived in this apartment for two years, I’ve never visited Little Pond because it doesn’t seem accessible, so would be eager to enjoy more nature close by with my family via the proposed path.
    The design of the path should take into account the fact that this neighborhood is vulnerable to sea level rise/storm surge in future climate change projections (see Cambridge’s scenario planning).

  17. I want to second Pat Guthrie’s comment. This is a great idea that would create a short off road walking circuit from the Winn Brook neighborhood to Alewife via the Fitchburg cutoff path then back to Winn Brook via Acorn Park and this new path.

  18. Thank you for bringing this question up in a way that encourages community input and discussion. I am in favor of this path, as it would be a benefit to the many Belmont residents who live at the Royal Belmont as well as the folks who live in the Winn Brook neighborhood. Creating better routes for walking and for connecting with nature benefits our community, and creating a marked trail discourages people who do go exploring from venturing into the sensitive wetlands. It also gives the people who live at the Royal a quicker way to get to Winn Brook, Joey’s Park, and Belmont Center, helping them to be engage more as residents of Belmont. I hope that the DCR can partner with the community and the owners of the Royal Belmont to move this forward.

  19. But what about the bike path? I’ve heard it’s almost done, but see no indications of completion.

  20. I agree with Nickolay
    Also too many unanswered questions
    I still feel this project is not healthy or safe
    For the Hill Estates Residents

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