This letter was submitted by the Belmont Citizens Forum to the Belmont Citizens Herald, and published in the November 26 issue. It attempts to address common concerns about rail trail community paths.
The Belmont Citizens Forum appreciates the thoughtful letter from Michael and Tricia Crowley in last week’s Citizen-Herald (“Bike path … but at what cost?” Nov. 20) which mentions several misconceptions about the community path we propose for the land behind Channing Road.
Many residents have expressed support for this path because of its environmental, health, and transportation benefits. Concerned opponents also recognize those benefits, but ask, like the Crowleys, Why this path and in this location?
The community path would be located in a long-established, historic transportation corridor. Such corridors were identified and utilized well over 100 years ago for trains, but they are just as useful and important today in our densely developed communities. Community paths along both active and abandoned train tracks are as much part of our future communities as the local railroad was part of our historic past.
That said, Channing Road concerns are legitimate, and those need to be understood and addressed.
The Crowleys say “… this path will be located right behind my yard …” However, the strip of land purchased by the Citizens Forum is 30 feet wide. Our intention is to use 20 feet or more of that strip to buffer the path from Channing Road neighbors. The trees there now mostly shed their leaves every fall and thus provide little or no visual or sound screening for more than five months of the year. An effective landscaping plan using more evergreens will make this buffer zone more effective and attractive and will increase the neighbors’ protection from the visual and noise impact of the existing passing trains.
The Crowleys predict that “… all the trees that have been rooted for many years [will be] removed…” But we have no intention of removing long-rooted trees. In fact, our plan is to retain effective screening and increase the landscaping in the buffer zone.
The Crowleys note that the path would run next to a live rail track and express doubts about its safety. We are deeply concerned about safety, as are the MBTA and other state agencies. The state has been working on ways to fence a community path off from an active train track. Just such a fence will be utilized to protect pedestrians and cyclists from moving trains on the path scheduled to be constructed next year between Alewife T station and Brighton Street. A similar fence would separate the tracks from the path to Belmont Center.
Now, high school students and younger children regularly cross the tracks between Winn Brook and the high school, library, and playing fields on Concord Avenue, illegally and without protection. A safe crossing is something that the town and most residents have long sought. The Citizens Forum hopes to work with the MBTA on a solution. In the meantime, this issue should not limit progress in establishing a community path.
We believe the Crowleys’ other fears also can be addressed. Bike paths elsewhere do not increase crime or reduce property values. Similar concerns have been expressed when other such paths have been proposed, including the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington and beyond. Such paths can make it easier for police to patrol, and property values actual rise because of proximity to the path.
We have asked Channing Road residents to share their concerns with us, and we hope that continued dialogue will help all to better understand the concerns and the potential solutions. We would welcome the thoughts and input from Belmont residents regarding this proposed project. Inquiries can be addressed to Grant Monahon at 617-484-7094 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grant Monahon, President John Dieckmann, Vice-President