Report on Belmont Community Path Public Meeting, January 22, 2014

The Selectmen of the Town of Belmont appointed a Community Path Advisory Committee about a year ago, and held a public meeting about the Community Path, which I attended last night. The Community path would go east-west through Belmont, and would be a segment of the Mass Central Rail Trail, which when complete, would run from Alewife Station in Cambridge all the way to Northampton.

Google map of the project area, for reference is http://goo.gl/maps/oHEjl

The Community Path table of contents Web page is at http://www.belmont-ma.gov/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_BComm/CPAC/

Maps of potential routes are at http://www.belmont-ma.gov/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_BComm/CPAC/belmont-community-path_potential-routes_20131129ir.pdf

I have photos of Channing Road and the rail line at http://john-s-allen.com/galleries/Belmont%20Bikeway/index.html

I have older comments and documents about the Belmont Bikeway under the Belmont heading at http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/belmont/belpath.htm. My opinions have warmed in favor of an off-road path west of Belmont Center since I wrote those comments, because of Belmont’s willingness to consider (and spend money on) other path alternatives besides the circuitous and hilly McLean option. I still support Pleasant Street/Alexander Avenue as an additional through route which avoids the difficult intersections around the railroad bridge in the middle of town. This route is much more promising following recent improvements to Pleasant Street. The block of Alexander Avenue west of Leonard Street is still one-way. It cries out for a contraflow bike lane.

I can report following the meeting:

  • Support for the Community Path was nearly universal at the meeting. A few people who commented expressed reservations about one issue or another, (usually privacy) but even abutters spoke in favor of the trail. Residents understood, based on the example of the Minuteman bikeway, that crime, noise and property values were non-issues.
  • Through Belmont Center and to its east, the preferred option, by far, is on the unused width of the rail corridor between the Belmont railroad station and Brighton Avenue.
  • Plans were shown for that route including various safety and privacy/screening options.
  • An underpass under the rail line at Alexander Avenue between theĀ  Winn Brook neighborhood north of the tracks and the High School south of the tracks also was mentioned, and clearly, most residents support this. .
  • Another possible route through and to the east of Belmont Center would be on Concord Avenue and around Claypit Pond (past the High School) to Hittinger Street. This would, however, not be consistent with the trail elsewhere, and would be longer. (I currently ride Waverly Street to School Street Cottage Street to Concord Avenue and onward to Hittinger Street to make this connection, but it is not consistent with the connecting trail segments. I would hope though that a contraflow bike lane is installed in the segment of School Street which was recently made one way during morning and afternoon school bus unloading/loading times.)
  • A third option would be on lightly-traveled Channing Road, but this also poses challenges at intersections, particularly at Cross Street and Leonard Avenue at the west end, and also at the east end with a connections through private property.
  • Several options were shown west of Belmont Center: mostly north of Pleasant Street, over the hill on the McLean Hospital property; or along the Fitchburg branch rail line; or mostly south of the rail line using lightly-traveled streets and passing through the Belmont DPW yard. These options are less well-defined. See the document iwht maps of potential routes for details.
  • Several residents spoke up for a flat route and for neighborhood access all along the trail — in other words, not the McLean route — but the flatter routes have some issues with making good connections and with privacy of abutters.
  • I found some of the details of the Concord Avenue and Channing Road options troublesome, involving intersections with delays and hazards. The most glaring example was a proposal to make Channing Road one way except for the last block at the east, which is a dead end, and construct a two-way, one side of the street raised cycle track. Channing Road is a residential street with very light traffic east of Cross Street. The cycle track is proposed to be 12 feet wide in the one-way segment andĀ  a totally inadequate 7 feet wide in the two-way segment, and it would cross numerous driveways. Its effect would be to legitimize wrong-way and sidewalk cycling, which have been proven hazardous. The appropriate treatment on such a street is a low speed limit and traffic calming.
  • Several commenters said that they were terrified to ride on roads. Certainly, this is an issue for children and novice cyclists, and some of the main streets in Belmont are no picnic for bicyclists, but on the other hand, improvements to local streets are needed to make connections to the trail. One commenter spoke up about inexpensive “bicycle boulevard” treatments — “all you have to install is flowerpots.” There is already a treatment much like this in Belmont, shown in http://bikexprt.com/massfacil/belmont/belpath.htm (second from last photo on the page, with accompanying text) and in fact, bicycle boulevards should be practical to create connected routes on man residential streets in Belmont. Riding on streets, and pedestrian improvements outside the trail corridor, do need to be addressed if for no other reason than that construction of the trail will also increase cycling and walking elsewhere. There is nothing about this in the project documents.
  • Everything which has been proposed is conceptual as of now. There is no decision about which route will be improved, and there are no final designs.
  • As the Selectmen readily admitted, there also is no money allocated to build any of this. I expect that eventually there will be, but in the mean time, low-cost and no-cost measures such as educational campaigns and bicycle boulevard treatments could improve cycling conditions in Belmont, and set the stage for access to the trail once it is constructed.
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