How a minority of voters killed a plan to extend the Minuteman Bikeway

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.

Sociopathy on wheels along the Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway, looking west at Lake Street in East Arlington.

One of the best parts about living just north and west of Boston is easy access to the Minuteman Bikeway, a 10-mile paved path that extends from the Alewife T station, at the Cambridge-Arlington line, to Bedford Center. There are also spurs to Somerville, Belmont and Concord. I’ve biked, run and walked on it many times since we moved back to the area seven years ago.

On Saturday, though, I saw something I’d never witnessed before. I was running west, coming up to Lake Street in East Arlington, when the driver of a car pulled up to the path and proceeded to drive onto it, make a three-point turn, and then head off. I don’t think it was possible that he was confused about what he was doing. It was pure sociopathy.

I tweeted about it, and it went modestly viral:

It turns out that there are people in East Arlington who’ve been tracking such incidents — and that what I witnessed was actually predicted back in 2017, when plans were unveiled to improve the Minuteman crossing at Lake Street.

A couple of years ago I was running along a different stretch of the Minuteman at night, with a headlamp, when a driver lurched onto the path and started heading toward me. In that case I think he realized he’d made a mistake and appeared to be trying to figure out how to get off the path.

So what could be done? I suggested a couple of concrete barriers, but someone advised that you need to be able to get ambulances down the path. Someone else suggested collapsible bollards.

Certainly you need something. Riding your bike on a busy city street is dangerous, even when decent bike lanes have been established. You ought to feel as though you’re safe on a designated bike path.

A snowy run along the Minuteman

A cold 5-mile run along the Minuteman this afternoon from Arlington Heights to Lexington Center and back. As always, they did a great job of clearing the path. It was a little slippery, but that couldn’t be helped.

Charles River ride

Looking south from the Eliot Bridge. Nineteen-plus miles along the Minuteman, Alewife and Charles River bike paths to Watertown Square and back. It was a beautiful day for a ride.

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Feeling like fall

Biked 23-plus miles along the Minuteman Bikeway, end to end, and back via the Alewife Brook Greenway. Check out the fall colors at Great Meadows. Soon it will be snowing!

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Christmas 2020

Merry Christmas, everyone! We have come through a year of fear and loss. Let’s hope for better days ahead.

Minuteman Bikeway, Lexington

Bedford Depot

Twenty-three-mile-plus ride, mostly along the Minuteman.

From Lexington to Concord along the Minuteman and Reformatory Branch Trails

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!

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Where we started.
The route.
Minuteman terminus in Bedford.
Smile!
Reformatory Branch Trail.
Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve.
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
Along the trail.
Near the end in Concord.
Big sky.