Minuteman Bikeway project. / Town of Arlington photo

UPDATED: As Arlington moves ahead with plans to connect the Mystic River Path to the Minuteman Bikeway, Bedford Town Meeting has shot down a proposal to extend the bikeway from Bedford Depot to the Concord line.

The Bedford Citizen reported: "The proposed Minuteman Bikeway Extension is on life support, after town meeting Monday failed to authorize acquisition of easements needed to complete the project. Although 60 percent of nearly 600 voters approved Article 11, that proposal included acquisition by eminent domain, which requires a two-thirds vote. That caught a lot of people by surprise, as it was only acknowledged after the vote."

On Tuesday, the Citizen reported, voters defeated the transportation-improvement component of the article, a $1.6 million proposal for a variety of projects. The vote for approval, 208-156, fell far short of the required two-thirds' vote for bonded articles.

'Excuse to rant'

The results led Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern journalism professor and media critic from Medford who uses the bikeway, called the occasion "a good excuse to rant a bit about how difficult it is to build anything these days."

He added: "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."

Citizen reporter Mike Rosenberg wrote, "Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell acknowledged that the vote shuts the door -- at least for now -- on 'many long-needed transportation improvement projects. The Select Board, town staff and the other affected boards will need to figure that out in the coming days and weeks.'”

The summary quotes Walter St. Onge, a former selectman and Finance Committee member, who urged a negative vote: “This is a poor way to do business. It’s a very generalized bond authorization, with no real certainty as to how the money is going to be expended, for what purpose, and why.”

Select Board member Margot Fleischman said money earmarked for the Minuteman Bikeway extension was defeated when Town Meeting did not vote to authorize the Select Board to obtain necessary easements.

Fleischman explained it was recently discovered that some parts of the trail, assumed to be town property, are actually privately owned, and utilities are buried there. She said the money will fund legal and engineering work because “we want to make sure we have continued public access, even as the extension remains an unimproved trail.”

'Bait and switch'

St. Onge said: “The description is a little bit of bait and switch. What you are saying now is different than what was described. I don’t see why we should appropriate more money for a project that is not going to happen.”

In his column, Kennedy cited New York Times columnist and podcast host Ezra Klein, who 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," Kennedy wrote, "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."

In Arlington, the town and the Arlington-based Mystic River Watershed Association are working closely with Toole Design group to plan the proposed 1.7-mile trail, focusing on the project’s central goal to improve safety and access for those walking and biking in the area.

The project, funded through an $80,000 grant from the Mass Trails Program and $10,000 from the Lawrence and Lillian Solomon Foundation, will review the existing trails and feasibility of creating new trails to connect two key multimodal paths. The meeting will focus on an overview of the project and discussion on key locations and design issues in the project area. 

Learn more at arlingtonma.gov/planning.

March 29, 2022: 2nd public meeting on Mystic path, bikeway held

This news summary was published Friday, April 1, 2022, and it was updated the same day, to include reporting offering further context.