The Transportation Committee recommends the Town fund the 25% Design of the Minuteman Bikeway Extension. There is clear direction from the Town Master Plan (2002) that developing this path is a high priority and that it will help make Bedford more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Three years ago the Town funded a surface study comparison to determine which surface type would best meet the needs of the community. The study was completed and the results show:
- For durability and maintainability a paved surface is rated the best
- For weather resistance, especially in New England climates, pavement is best
- Maintenance costs for the soft surface alternatives were 10 times that of pavement
- The surface most friendly to the wide variety of users expected on the trail is pavement
- A hard surface is best at containing the rail bed toxins
Because the Transportation Committee is responsible for addressing the transportation needs of the Town, our assessment was weighted heavily on meeting those needs. However, we note that State Trail User Count surveys show that our current paved bikeway is also the most popular rail trail for our recreational trail users including walkers and other non bicycle users.
Although some current recreational users of the trail will be disappointed that the trail will be made accessible to more people, our committee's responsibility is to allocate important town resources in a responsible way that best meets the community's needs. Bike commuters, whether they live, work, or travel through Bedford should be encouraged with safe, all-weather, smooth surfaces. Our new Safe Routes To School program will benefit with a bikeway that links neighborhoods with 3 schools in Town, and the West Bedford residents will gain a much needed 'sidewalk' access to Town Center.
It should be also noted that there are over 20 miles of maintained conservation land trails in Bedford that are designated for 'passive recreation' use such as walking, and there are four conservation areas with walking trails near the neighborhoods along the Minuteman Extension path.
The maintenance issues and cost difference should not be minimized. Although some have asserted that the consultant's estimate for soft surface maintenance costs are high, our review of other trails in the area, including our own stone dust trail show that it is very difficult to keep a soft surface trail ADA (handicap accessible) compliant. It also should be noted that 12 years was used in the study for pavement longevity. DPW plans to resurface our MM bikeway in 2013, 20 years after the initial installation. The yearly monies required to maintain a soft surface and keep it ADA compliant can be be much better used for other important underfunded projects in Town such as new sidewalks and repairing old ones.
We expect the project managers to work closely with our Conservation Committee to ensure the proper safeguards are taken to protect the wetlands and conservation lands abutting the trail. As with other rail trails in the area, we believe a greater public presence on the Minuteman Extension will help prevent the illegal intrusions and dumpings that occur there now.
In summary, given that the new trail will serve as an 'extension' to the popular paved bike path in Bedford, both as a recreation and a transportation asset, the Transportation Committee believes a paved Minuteman Extension is the right choice for Bedford.