I took a fairly short 13-mile bike ride this afternoon on the new, southern part of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, over the not-quite-finished Route 2 overpass and on to the West Concord train station, where the trail ended. From there I rode west on Laws Brook Road to the Acton line before heading back and then north to NARA Park, where I looped around before heading back to my car. Stretches of the path were technically closed, but we all ignored the signs and barriers and had a great time.
A proposal to extend the Minuteman Bikeway from Bedford Depot to the Concord line was defeated earlier this week even though an overwhelming majority of residents voted in favor of it. And that’s a good excuse to rant a bit about how difficult it is to build anything these days.
Bedford, which has an open town meeting, voted by a margin of 350 to 258 to spend $1.5 million on the project — then voted 363 to 235 in favor of taking by eminent domain the easements needed to expand and pave the dirt trail that’s currently there. As Mike Rosenberg reports in The Bedford Citizen, that’s 60% — a substantial margin, but short of the necessary two-thirds.
Now, New England town meetings have been voting down needed spending plans for generations. When I was a kid growing up in Middleborough, town meeting delayed building a new high school for years, resulting double sessions. But the just-say-no mentality appears to have gotten worse.
New York Times columnist and podcast host Ezra Klein has explored on several occasions why we have given a veto to a minority of loud NIMBY types. We are dealing with a pretty horrendous housing shortage in this country and especially in this state, yet it’s proven nearly impossible to build more-dense developments near transportation hubs. Those who want to preserve their two-acre lots in the suburbs turn out to have a louder voice — and more power — than the rest of us.
As I understand it, the eminent domain takings in Bedford weren’t going to result in any houses being removed. I’ve ridden along the dirt path that’s there now — it’s called the Reformatory Branch Trail because it used to run all the way to the Concord prison — and it’s in the middle of the woods.
And I’m not saying that opponents didn’t have at least an argument to make. A lot of trees would be removed, and the dirt trail, currently underpopulated, would probably become as crowded as the rest of the Minuteman. Which is to say, very. Moreover, the improved Minuteman would end at the Concord line, as there are no plans to extend the Reformatory Branch through Concord to the center of that town. The presence of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge would probably make it impossible in any case.
Yet I’m told that the Reformatory Branch becomes a mud bowl whenever it rains — something I haven’t experienced, since I’ve only ridden it on sunny days. Some residents have also pointed out that a paved path would be more accessible to people with disabilities. In the end, none of that mattered to the minority of voters who wanted to stop the project. And that’s where we are.
Rosenberg describes the proposal as being “on life support.” Ready for interment is more like it.
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens has spoken out against the cancellation of a speaking appearance by his Times colleague Nikole Hannah-Jones at the Middlesex School in Concord. Stephens is an alumnus and a member of the board of trustees. Stephens told Christopher Galvin of Boston.com:
I had no knowledge that an invitation had been extended to Nikole. I had nothing to do with the decision not to bring her to the school. The first I heard about it was when someone sent me her tweet… I don’t believe in canceling speakers.
Stephens is a conservative who has written critically about the 1619 Project, a reimagining of the role of slavery in American history that Hannah-Jones oversaw and for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.
Good for him for standing on principle.
I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re only in the beginning stages of learning the story behind the Middlesex School’s decision to invite, and then uninvite, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to speak during Black History Month. Middlesex is an exclusive prep school in Concord. Hannah-Jones is best known for the 1619 Project, a reimagining of the role of slavery in American history that won her a Pulitzer Prize.
What always amazes me when something like this happens is the failure of the imagination we see on the part of those in charge. Does David Beare, the head of school who issued a limp statement about concerns over “individuals from outside our community” making a ruckus, really think this is going to end well either for the school or for him? This is not North Carolina.
A few other points worth noting. Among the school’s trustees is New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a conservative and frequent critic of so-called cancel culture. Will he speak up on behalf of his Times colleague? Another prominent trustee is Cass Sunstein, a well-known Harvard Law School professor and a good bet to criticize this abomination.
Of possibly more significance is that Robert and Anne Bass are both vice presidents of the board. As Gabriel Snyder observes, the Basses are “part of a billionaire family that has bankrolled a lot of campus conservative outrage over the years.”
Stay tuned. There is going to be much more to come, I’m sure.
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I tried out my new Sony point-and-shoot camera during a 10-mile bike ride, out and back, along the Battle Road Trail earlier today. I picked up the camera so I could document places I travel to over the next year for Ellen Clegg’s and my book project. The results were much better than I can get from a phone — especially inside shots. Overall, I was pretty happen with the results.
We rode 16-plus miles today along the Minuteman Bikeway from Lexington center and the Reformatory Branch Trail from Bedford to Concord, which was new to use. Enjoy!