Answers to Questions About A Community Path Through Belmont
Q. What is the Citizens Forum proposing?
A. A new stretch – less than a mile long – of a community path through Belmont. It will create a short route for pedestrians and bicyclists from Belmont Center to Brighton Street. At Brighton Street, it will meet an existing gravel path, scheduled to be paved and improved next year, to the Alewife T station. The total distance is 1.7 miles – a 10-minute bike ride or a half-hour walk. At commuting times, it takes longer to drive and now costs $7 to park.
Q. What is a community path?
A. It’s a wide path, usually paved, that is shared by bicyclists and pedestrians for exercise or commuting. No motor vehicles are allowed. A shared-use path is a wonderful amenity that will be used by a large part of the town’s population. It should enhance the quality of life in Belmont and bring more business to Belmont Center.
Q. Why is a community path from Belmont Center to the Alewife T Station important?
A. It will be a convenient route to the Red Line subway and easier access to a network of bike paths leading in all directions from the Alewife T station, including the Minuteman Bikeway. Belmont’s path is part of the Mass Central Rail Trail, expected one day to stretch 104 miles from Boston to Northampton, generally along the route of the former Massachusetts Central Railroad line. It would give residents improved low-cost travel options to and from Boston, save energy, and reduce greenhouse gasses from auto exhaust.
Q. I don’t bike and I’m not likely to walk to Alewife. Why would I want a path?
A. Virtually every bicycle commuter takes a single-occupancy car off the road. We should all see a difference in the amount of traffic in Belmont once a community path is in full operation.
Q. What’s the route in Belmont?
A. From Belmont Center to Brighton Street it would parallel the commuter rail tracks on the railroad embankment between the west-bound track and Channing Road. The Belmont Citizens Forum has purchased a strip of land on the north side of the embankment that the railroad sold off decades ago. Most of that land will serve as a buffer, with landscaping to shield abutters.
Q. What’s the likely route west from Belmont Center?
A. Bringing the community path to Belmont Center would be a major milestone. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has signed a 99-year lease with the MBTA for a bike path on the 26-mile abandoned right of way from Waltham west to Berlin, but the connection between Belmont Center and Waltham has not yet been determined.
Q. Won’t it be visible from backyards along Channing Road?
A. Not with proper landscaping. Our hope is to work closely with the abutters to design landscaping and fencing to screen the Channing Road houses and the path from each other.
Q. Will the community path be safe?
A. Paths next to active rail lines – known as “Rails with trail” – have- have been a success and are increasingly accepted. Most recently, the MBTA, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and other state agencies have designed and approved the community path to be built from Brighton Street to Alewife T station with the same black steel picket fence to separate tracks and trail.
Q. What about crime?
A. Generally, community paths do not attract criminals. An open and well-traveled community path should be an improvement on current conditions behind Channing Road. It will be more accessible to Belmont police and will prevent the unsafe situation where children cross the active tracks and congregate out of reach of law enforcement. The Arlington and Lexington police departments have 16 years of experience in policing the Minuteman Bikeway, one of the most heavily used community paths in the United States. Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan told us that the “value of the Minuteman Trail as a recreational asset far outweighs public safety issues, which are few and far between.” Lexington Police Lt. Mike O’Connell said, “Thousands of people enjoy walking, biking, jogging, skiing, snow shoeing, or rolling blading on the Minuteman Bikeway. There are few problems that occur except when people over-exercise during hot weather, collide accidentally with each other on the path, or use unsafe practices when crossing roadway intersections… I would therefore encourage neighboring towns to adopt similar safe and healthy recreation areas for their residents, too.”
Q. Will the path be lighted at night?
A. The community should decide whether lighting would be desirable and if so, what kind. The Minuteman Bikeway is not lit. If lighting would improve safety, it should be possible to design effective, low-energy lighting without shining lights into anyone’s home.
Q. Will the community path affect the value of nearby homes?
A. Experts say that properties close to a trail sell for a slightly higher price and sell more quickly. Realtors frequently mention the path in ads to attract buyers. Many homeowners who abut the Minuteman Bikeway have installed gates to improve their access to the path.
Q. Who will pay for the community path?
A. The Citizens Forum has acquired much of the land and expects to transfer it to the state. Eighty percent of the construction costs will come from federal funds. In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Highway Department typically pays another 10 percent, and local sponsors fund the remainder. The 10 percent local portion could come from Community Preservation Act funds and private donations.
Q. Will the community path become a financial burden to the town?
A. Path maintenance is inexpensive. In fiscal year 2006, Lexington’s Park and Forestry divisions spent roughly $700 per mile on the Minuteman Bikeway.
Q. Will the community path affect the value of nearby homes?
A. Experts say that properties close to a trail sell for a slightly higher price and sell more quickly. Realtors frequently mention the path in ads to attract buyers. Many homeowners who abut the Minuteman Bikeway have installed gates or passages to allow easy access to the path.
Q. Isn’t a route on the streets – Concord Avenue to Underwood Street and Hittinger Street to Brighton Street – just as good?
A. People don’t feel as safe riding on the streets, especially riding through traffic at Belmont Center. Though Concord Avenue and Underwood Street are now striped, they’re not heavily used. A May 2007 study of bike commuters at the Alewife garage during the morning rush hour found only 4 of 68 were from Belmont. A street route isn’t the same as an off-road, shared-use path reserved for non-motorized vehicles. Safety and congestion on our streets will not improve.
Q. Why not run the path on the other side of the train tracks, behind the high school?
A. The high school side does not have adequate room along the railroad right of way for a community path and would not achieve a safe, off-road route for pedestrians, bike riders, baby carriages, or commuters. Instead of crossing Belmont Center over the stone railroad bridge, that route would add more traffic to Belmont’s most congested spot, under the bridge.
Q. How long will it take to complete this new stretch from Belmont Center to Brighton Street?
A. That depends on many factors. Planning and funding take time, but construction can be quick. The 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway took 15 months to build.
Q. How can I help get the community path built?
A. The town’s leaders need to know that the public would like to see the path in Belmont. Send an email to the Board of Selectman saying that you support the bike trail in Belmont (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, a community path friends group is organizing. To join it, email email@example.com, write the Belmont Citizens Forum at PO Box 609, Belmont, MA 02478, or call 617 484 1844.