Bedford - By Ben Aaronson
Pedestrians drew a line in the sand — or in the dirt, more accurately — at a public hearing last week to discuss whether to pave over a nearly two-mile- long gravel path in West Bedford.
Several residents spoke out against a proposal to pave and widen the existing dirt trail as an extension of the Minuteman Bikeway. The plan would add an additional 1.9 miles to the regional bike path, which currently spans 11 miles from Alewife Station in Cambridge to the Bedford Depot. By extending the path to Concord Road, it is hoped the Bikeway would eventually connect to a much larger regional trails system in Concord and beyond.
Opponents of the extension said the current path is already accessible to bicyclists, but is much more suitable for walking, especially for those with pets and young children. Dori White Pulizzi, whose home on Evans Avenue abuts the path, read a statement signed by 16 area residents, including several abutters.
“I feel the existing dirt path is sufficient and that paving a path through the woods would not be a wise use of the town’s financial or other resources,” said Pulizzi, who runs a day care center and often walks with children on the path. “The existing dirt path is not a point A to point B prospect but rather a reminder of country life to be enjoyed for its inherent value… We fear that paving this particular trail will rob residents and their children and animals of an opportunity to enjoy nature in a slow-paced and safe environment.”
Pulizzi said she was concerned that paving the path would transform it from a quiet backwoods trail into a bustling “urban thoroughfare.” Pulizzi and others related close encounters with speeding cyclists and roller bladers while walking on the paved Minuteman Bikeway.
“At best, speed intimidates walkers… At worst, speed completely discourages pedestrians from using the trail… In short, there seems to be an unspoken assumption that the Minuteman Bikeway is predominately meant for speed,” Pulizzi said.
Cindy Barbehenn of McMahon Road said she was worried about being run off the road by bikers on their way to and from Concord.
“We don’t need to have 5,000 people and their $2,000 bikes zooming through there,” Barebehenn said.
But Frank Richichi, a Norma Road resident and a former member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, said most high-speed cyclists would not use the bike path because it is too slow, preferring to stick to the roads. Richichi said a paved path would make a larger area of town more accessible, especially to children who must rely on their parents to drive them were they want to go.
“There are a number of new places in town for which this could be an important access point. In particular, I see it as a possible access point for children,” Richichi said.
Bob Sawyer, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, said he would like to see more kids biking to and from school.
“I’d like to see them on a paved bike trail so they can get to school on their own,” Sawyer said.
Proponents of paving the path cited safety concerns with the existing dirt trail, which forces users to avoid large rocks and other debris.
As an avid mountain biker, Dan Hurwitz of Liljegren Road said he had been against paving the path until recently when he hit a rock and tumbled to the ground. Hurwitz said he would now lean towards paving the path so more people could use it.
Hurwitz said the debate boils down to a culture clash between bicyclists and pedestrians, similar to the feud between skiers and snowboarders. Hurwitz said the frustrations can cut both ways, as oblivious pedestrians often impede cyclists on the Bikeway.
“This is a classic example of people who enjoy one [activity] wanting it one way and people who enjoy another [activity] wanting it another way,” Hurwitz said.
But a Carlisle resident, speaking in favor of paving the path, said the discussion should not be a case of bikers versus walkers. The resident said the problem is not with cyclists riding too fast or pedestrians walking taking up too much space, but rather it is an issue of common courtesy when sharing the road, or , as she put it: “There are jerks everywhere.”
In the end, the answer may not be asphalt or gravel, but a third option.
The Community Preservation Committee last week voted to recommend allocating $15,000 for a feasibility study to explore the use of stabilized soils as an alternative to asphalt on the proposed bike path extension. The material is believed to be a possible compromise as it is safer and more stable than gravel, but slower and less obtrusive than asphalt.
The CPC will present its funding recommendations to voters at annual Town Meeting in March.