Call To Action: Show Support For Belmont Community Path Monday Evening!

Belmont's Board of Selectmen will hear from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) on Monday evening. We need you to show your support for a Community Path in Belmont.

Belmont’s Board of Selectmen will hear from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) on Monday evening. We need you to show your support for a Community Path in Belmont.

In-brief: Supporters of an off road Community Path linking Belmont Center and Waverley Square to Alewife and the Minuteman Trail need to come to the Board of Selectmen’s Monday Evening (Dec. 14) meeting to hear a report from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) and to show their support for 21st Century Infrastructure in the Town of Homes. I have created a Facebook Event where you can RSVP and let your friends know you’re attending. Visit it here.

Supporters of the proposed Community Path that will extend an off-road pedestrian path through Belmont need to mark off their calendars for next Monday evening, December 14th at 7:00 PM. That’s when our Board of Selectmen will hear from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) on progress towards creating an official proposal for constructing a path that might be put out to bid.

The Community Path is a critical piece of 21st century infrastructure that, as currently envisioned, would replace an abandoned right of way adjacent to the Commuter Rail tracks. It will run across Belmont to the Waltham border, connecting Belmont Center and Waverley Square to each other via a safe, off road route and linking them with an existing path along the Commuter rail tracks that terminates at Brighton Street and runs all the way to the Alewife MBTA Station and the Minuteman Trail.

bike path

The recent extension of the Community Path from Alewife to Pleasant Street is beautiful – and heavily used by Belmont residents. (Photo courtesy of

But, like any proposed change, improvement or addition to our Town of Homes, the Community Path faces opposition from a small group of abutters whose properties back up to the Commuter Rail tracks along Channing Road. This same, small group of homeowners blocked a similar proposal in the mid 1990s, as well. This is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, plain and simple. In fact: that is literally the case here. The Community Path would abut the back yards of these residents. Ironic.

This blog has been covering the Path going back to 2009. It’s now seven years later and still no path. Also ironic: China has lain more than 12,000 miles of high speed train tracks in the time it has taken us to build a bit more than a mile of bike path.

That’s why – this time around – it is critical that everyone who wants to see safe, car free transportation options in Belmont come out to show support for an off road path through town, along the abandoned right of way, and for the continued work of CPIAC.

Right now, the CPIAC is charged with creating an RFP (request for proposal) that can be used to solicit bids on a feasibility study of the proposed path. Before it can put together an RFP, however, there needs to be agreement about the exact route of the Community Path.

That would seem to be a simple task. A route on either the north or south side of the existing Commuter Rail line was the clear recommendation of the Community Path Advisory Committee (CPAC) which studied this issue for more than a year and issued a final report more than a year ago, in June 2014. You can read that detailed report here.

Towns like Somerville have recently opened off-road bike paths to accommodate the increasing numbers of bikers and walkers. Guess what: they're beautiful.

Towns like Somerville have recently opened off-road bike paths to accommodate the increasing numbers of bikers and walkers. Guess what: they’re beautiful.

But the work of the Committee to arrive at an exact route has been stymied by continued and vocal opposition to the rail-side path by abutters and even by appointees to the CPIAC itself who – it seems – would be happy to see no path built at all, or to push a convoluted and expensive route that deviates from the rail side path at Brighton, snaking out to Concord Avenue and then joining back up with the tracks somewhere past Belmont Center. This would be an inferior route that would benefit nobody aside from Channing Road abutters and cost taxpayers and the Town far more to construct.

Still, faced with resistance from abutters, obstruction within the CPIAC itself and mixed signals from the Board of Selectmen, the CPIAC is looking for a mandate to move forward.

For Monday’s meeting, the BOS has asked the Committee to present a general update on the status of work and to outline planned next steps for the Committee.

For its part, CPIAC is seeking clarification on what the Board of Selectmen would like included in the RFP for the feasibility study. Specifically, the Committee wants to know whether the Board of Selectmen want to see a focused (and less expensive) RFP that is limited to the CPAC recommendations, or an expansive RFP that asks for feasibility studies of considered but non-recommended routes like a path along Concord Ave.

Obviously, the more routes a firm has to study, the more expensive the contract to do the feasibility study will be. And, considering that the CPAC already identified numerous concerns over all the non-track side routes, it would mostly be money wasted on behalf of abutters.

It is critical that Belmontonians who support the path and who want to see the Town invest more in infrastructure to support bikers and walkers show up for Monday evening’s meeting and use their voice and their presence to send a strong message to the Board that Belmont wants a Community Path and won’t accept further delays on this important project or the kind of dithering that has characterized the town’s approach to the Path so far. I have created a Facebook Event where you can RSVP and let your friends know you’re attending. Visit it here.I’ll see you there!






  • Maura Mullowney

    Paul, it is not really that simple. This is more than a NIMBY issue. This is also an eminent domain issue because the priority route suggested by CPAC has sections that are over private property. In fact, I don’t believe any of it is publically owned property except for the DPW yard. It is a combination of privately held property, MBTA property, and Belmont Housing Property. Building this path will require land takings. This path is supposed to be for the community so looking at alternatives that will allow the path to best serve the community is actually a financially wise decision. If people like yourself would start to work with and actually listen to the abutters and property owners, then perhaps we could build consensus on a route that works. Maybe it would meander a bit but maybe it would be built. The alternative is to keep writing pieces like this that polarize the community, we can all dig in our heels and we can see where we in another seven years. Your choice.

    • Well – there are issues at Clark that could involve land takings. But there are alternative routes that would not (across Pleasant st., for example). I would encourage Clark Lane folks to ardently support the path and push for the alternative route.

      I think the NIMBY label fits along Channing, where the issues raised are either fictitious (crime, etc.) or can be easily resolved with landscaping, privacy fencing, etc. In fact: property owners along Channing stand to see the size of their back yards increased by about 10′ through land donated to the town by the current owner. As Charlie Conroy said at the BOS meeting: its time for folks to become part of the solution, rather than just trying to delay or kill this project.

      Clark Lane is a recognized friction point and my guess is that there’s a compromise. I’m willing to work with anyone to make the path a reality. I’m not willing to have fact neutral debates with folks who really just want to kill the idea and are willing to latch onto any pretext to do so.

  • Adam Weinstein

    I’m a supporter of the bike trail, and unfortunately I can’t make this meeting but I am very interested to hear how it goes – let us know.

  • Jonathan Birge

    Paul: I don’t have a dog in this fight, since I doubt I would use the path much, and while I live in Belmont, my house is nowhere near it. I don’t know anybody who will be affected by it. That said: quite frankly, you’re being extremely insensitive and callous. It’s one thing to call “NIMBY” on people who are abutting, but my understanding is that private property is proposed to be taken. Eminent domain should only be used in extreme situations. A bike path for rich people is not what I would consider a pressing civic need that warrants the government taking away private property. There is a word for this, too: Bike Path Politics. It’s what local politicians often resort to when they are incapable of solving the real problems facing a town. I can’t believe we’re talking about bike paths when the town is going bankrupt.

    • Umm…this town isn’t going bankrupt, Jon. And pedestrian paths aren’t for rich people, Jon, any more than roads are. Do your homework, my friend, and then come back and comment.

      • Jonathan Birge

        We needed an override to make ends meet in a school district that has the state’s worst student-teacher ratio. We’ve got massive unfunded pension liabilities overhanging the town. Within the decade we’ll certainly face another budget shortfall, and the next time it’s unlikely we’ll get an override. So if we’re going to spend money on a bike path, I hope it’s going to be cheap.

        And while you may not like the characterization as recreation for rich folks, it’s certainly not poor folks that you see riding bikes down the Minuteman every weekend through wealthy suburbs. It’s completely disingenuous to compare this to a road. It disproportionately helps well to do people, and it’s not essential for working class people to get to their jobs.

        I’m all for the path, but we should be respectful to the people who will disproportionately bear the cost of this inessential government project so that we can ride bikes. If we can’t find a way to do this without resorting to forcibly taking land away from private citizens, the “community” path won’t be worthy of the name. Insulting those that oppose this isn’t going to help make it happen.

        Have a happy holiday.

        • Jon – I really appreciate your comments and I’m glad you support the path and that you’re reading Blogging Belmont. I will point out – again – that the points you’re making seem more based on emotion (or bias) than fact. US Census data shows that the biggest share of bike commuters are poor, not wealthy. I refer you to this from 2014:

          To quote: “Those with a graduate or professional degree or higher and those with less than a high school degree had the highest rates of biking to work, at 0.9 and 0.7 percent, respectively 1.5 percent of those with an income of $10,000 or less commuted to work by bicycle, the highest rate of bicycle commuting by any income category.”

          This is simply a question of Belmont investing in 21st century infrastructure – enabling alternative modes of transportation, just as we invested massively in roads for automobiles in the 20th century. It was a choice we made as a community and as a society (and economy). The same will be true of pedestrian ways like the Community Path.

          As for the override – I’m not sure why you think the political organization that won an override in 2015 can’t do so again in 2017. Its not like there’s “override juice” and once its used up, then its gone. These are political campaigns to educate and motivate voters. We did it once, we can do it again.

          The path _will_ be almost entirely paid for by state and federal money. But to qualify for that, we have to show that we want the path and are willing to commit to it: by paying for engineering studies and the path design. That’s a small fraction of the overall cost, but it is a kind of “table stakes” that the State and D.C. are looking for.

          Again: as I said in my article – I’m very respectful of the interests and rights of abutters. I don’t blame them for raising concerns. I really blame our political leadership for lacking vision and commitment to a project that will so clearly benefit our town, including walkers, cyclists, businesses on Brighton, Belmont Center and in Waverley. The BOS’s inability to actually commit to a course of action is, unfortunately, a well established pattern and is harmful for the town.

          As for the “you’re being disrespectful” – I’m just speaking the truth and using facts to support what I say. People say I’m “divisive” for calling attention to the fact that opponents are promulgating rumor and disinformation and trying to derail what everyone recognizes is an important project. That’s OK. I’m a journalist by profession – I’m totally cool with being disliked and having people angry at me.

          But let’s be clear: I’m just calling attention to the abutters’ efforts to delay/kill/derail the path. They havent exactly been secretive about their desire to do so. They don’t like it because they’d just as soon kill this project quietly, as they’ve done before. That’s not going to happen this time and they’re pissed. I don’t blame them.

          • Also: point of clarification – Belmont does _not_ have the state’s worst student teacher ratio, though that ratio (17:1) is certainly not good. DOE data shows a few districts with higher student to teacher ratios, though many of them are charters. Our override this year should bring our ratio down (and our district rating up in rankings like Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” up – for whatever that’s worth) but you’re right to point out that the student teacher ratio in Belmont is too high and that more investment is needed to bring it down to a level that will support the work of teachers in class – say 14:1 or 15:1.

          • Jonathan Birge

            You’re using selective facts. My problem is that you didn’t acknowledge in your original post that this isn’t just about people abutting. I probably share your opinion of the abutting folks’ objection. I’m worried the proponents of the path are sweeping the eminent domain issues under the carpet, and those are the more problematic cases. If I were on Clark, I’d be against this, too, since nobody seems willing to commit to doing this without land seizure. I know some of the alternatives don’t involve seizure, but I wouldn’t take my chances; I’d just oppose it. Unless we commit to doing this without resorting to eminent domain, I don’t see how this is going to go forward. Not only is it the right thing to do, I think, but otherwise people on Clark can (rightfully) tie this up for years in litigation.

            Lastly, I’m not sure why US census data matters here. We’re not even remotely representative of the US. A bike path in this area just isn’t going to connect people from South Boston or East Boston. By dint of its location, this will be primarily recreation for people in wealthy suburbs. This is not the kind of “public benefit” people usually associate with the extreme measure of private property seizure through eminent domain.