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Selectmen Approve Bike Path Committee

Use of path abutting Channing Road homes the major issue, according to Board.

Ready for another advisory committee, Belmont?

The voted last night, Monday, Aug. 15, to establish a committee that will recommend the direction and financing of the Belmont portion of the proposed bike trail from Cambridge to Berlin in central Massachusetts. 

And while the new volunteer resident group will oversee the entire route intersecting Belmont – from the Waltham line near on Trapelo Road to the Cambridge line on a new trail off Brighton Street – in reality, the greatest challenge facing the group will be finding an adequate solution between the interests of bike riders and recreational users in eastern Massachusetts and a group of homeowners along Channing Road who abut a proposed bike route along the MBTA's commuter rail tracks from Brighton Street to Belmont Center. 

"Channing Road ... is the major issue and that issue has be resolved as the first order of business for any consideration to occur," said Ralph Jones, chairman of the Selectmen, after hearing from several proponents and opponents to the trail running between the existing rail tracks and the homeowners property line.  

"We have some very distinctly different points of view," said Jones. "The abutter's concerns are all real ... so we have to find a solution that everyone can agree to and then the rest of it will fall into place," said Jones.

The Selectmen will soon release information for residents who want to apply for this newest of town committees. 

Transportation Planner David Loutzenheiser from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional planning agency, opened the meeting with essentially a repeat of his presentation from three month previous before a public meeting at Town Hall on May 19. 

Several issues needing a resolution

Using two maps, Loutzenheiser explained that the Belmont section of the Wayside Rail Trail bike path has a number of issues that will need to be resolved before engineers can begin the project including the need to cross over the commuter rail tracks in the South Pleasant Street area, grading steep sections near and bridging wetlands in the  Belmont Center vicinity. 

But it is the section between Belmont Center to the Brighton Street entrance of a newly-constructed bike path to Alewife Station in Cambridge that has sparked the most controversy.

Under a plan that would allow direct access from the Center to the Alewife bike path, the trail would use a 30-foot strip of land owned by the Belmont Citizens Forum, a 12-year-old environmental organization, adjacent to the commuter rail along Channing Road. The plan will also require the construction of a tunnel under the rail tracks near Alexander Avenue to reconnect the trail with Belmont Center.

Another path would take the trail along the outer edge of before requiring the path to use town streets to reconnect with the Alewife path. 

Proponents of the direct path from Belmont Center to Brighton Street stated a preference for a trail that does not use busy town roadways which will limit activities and usage.

Pros and cons

Anne Paulsen, a former state representative and longtime bike advocate, said that she remembers when her constituents in Arlington opposed a proposed bike trial in the 1980s, what would became the immensely popular Minuteman Bike Path.

Greg Warden of Hoitt Road said he travels an extra two miles over the Paul Dudley White Bike Path along the Charles River into Boston for work rather than use the bike lanes on traffic-laden Cambridge byways "because it's much more pleasurable on a trail than navigating city streets." 

Opponents to the Channing Road option – made up of mostly Channing Street homeowners – contend that they are not opposed to a bike path, the lost of privacy, difficulty in maintaining a significant level of public safety, environmental issues, safety concerns for bike riders when passing trains and the cost to the town as reasons for concern.

Channing Road resident Thomas McGovern said that you cannot compare the Minuteman Bike Path with the proposed Channing Road route due to the commuter rail trains.

"I cannot imagine hanging around the bike path with those trains screaming by," he said, adding that crime will effect his neighborhood as the path would be a "direct funnel" that police would have a hard time to control.

While there appears to be a great deal of enthusiasm for several aspects to a bike path in Belmont, "(w)e are quite a way from determining the path," said Selectman Mark Paolillo. 

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