Friday, May 2, 2003
Warrant Article 17: Town to vote on pathways
Thirty years ago an article to create paths in the town center went before voters. The article was defeated at Town Meeting, some say, because it was considered too expensive and the idea of paths was just too new for its time. Next week at Town Meeting a pathways Article will again be put before voters, and the reasons for the Article and the opposition from some are much the same today as they were then.
The article asks for a total of $150,000 in funds to be used over five years to construct a school loop path in the town center, with further paths traveling from the center down parts of East, Lowell, Concord, and Westford Streets.
The paths would alleviate what many see as a significant pedestrian safety issue in the town center and along many of Carlisle's major roads, says Deb Belanger, chair of the Bike/Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee . The paths will help both children and adults walking in the center by providing a designated safe area away from traffic lanes and are planned for use by pedestrians of all ages, and also by family cyclists.
The Bike/Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee was set up by the Board of Selectmen in 1997 to address concerns over pedestrian safety in the town. The group studied the pedestrian and bike safety issue for more than five years. It surveyed residents in 2000 and held many meetings open to the public to gain their input and advice. In January, the group presented a footpath plan to the Selectmen recommending a system of paths in the town center and down the major roads leading out of the center.
The complete plan covers ten years but the plan is divided into two five-year parts at the recommendation of Selectmen who want the town to have a chance to see the progress of the paths before making a decision on the entire plan. Each year the Selectmen would allocate the funds to proceed with the next section of pathway. The second half of the plan would be voted at a later date and would see the paths extend further down the major roads leading away from the center. A copy of the plan is available at the Gleason Library and in the Planning Board offices at Town Hall.
Because the Warrant Article is a one-time debt exclusion, exempting it from Proposition 2-1/2 tax increase restrictions, it requires a two-thirds vote to pass at Town Meeting. The article also requires a majority of voters to approve it by ballot on Election Day. Approving the article would not permanently raise the tax base, as a budget override does, Belanger said at a recent meeting. The debt exclusion means that property taxes would rise only until the time the project is completed.
Because of the two-thirds votes needed, a Pedestrian Safety Ballot Committee recently formed to gather public support to see the pathways article succeed. The Article, number 17 on the Warrant, may come before voters on the second night of Town Meeting, a time when fewer people are often in attendance. Residents from the five major roads — Bedford Road, East, Lowell, Concord and Westford Streets — have volunteered to contact their neighbors to attend Town Meeting for the Article vote and to follow up with a vote at the polls.
There is no denying that traffic on Carlisle's roads is on the increase. The latest traffic volume figures for Bedford Road updated this month reveal that about 10,000 cars a day travel on the road in a 24-hour period, compared with 7,000 cars in 1989, according to Carlisle Police Chief Dave Galvin. Figures for East Street indicate that road sees 4,000 cars a day, compared with 2,700 cars in 1996, the last time a traffic count was done. Galvin, in a letter to the Board of Selectmen last December, urged Selectmen to support the pathways project. "The need for pathways is directly related to traffic volume....Our roadways are and will continue to be heavily traveled by cars and trucks. Our residents, young and old, should be able to safely walk from one point to another without the fear of being struck by a car or a truck."
Selectman Vivian Chaput agrees. "Traffic is so much worse now. Paths are a very important issue, a major safety issue," she says. "It's very difficult for seniors and children to walk in the town center. For a very minor impact on town finances, [the pathways Article] would make it possible for youngsters and adults to be off the roads to get from place to place." The Board of Selectmen voted 4 to 1 to support the path Article.
"Dangers exist more now than ever before, when more vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians must share the same right-of-way," says Marilyn Harte, former chair of the 1973 path committee. "Do we have to wait for a fatality to happen before we do something?"
Paths, not sidewalks
The paths would be separated from the road by existing natural boundaries of stone walls and trees when possible, or a strip of grass to delineate the path from the road. Plans call for the paths to be four to five feet wide. After discussions with the Carlisle Historical Commission, the footpaths committee determined that crushed, compacted stone dust, rather than asphalt, would suit the town best and blend with the natural scenery. The Historical Commission approved the location of the paths in the historic district and the path materials.
An example of what the paths look like is at the Carlisle School. The initial path at the school constructed last year runs along the perimeter of the castle playground, just inside the stone wall boundary.
The project would be completed with the help of the Carlisle DPW to defray costs, and also using outside contractors. Maintenance would also be done by the DPW, including snow removal in the winter, and other maintenance in the spring and fall, such as branch removal. In some winters with a lot of snow, parts of the path may not be readily usable, but "eventually it will be plowed," said Belanger.
The committee looked into using state Chapter 90 highway funds to construct the paths, but the paths would have to be "done by the state, to state standards," said committee member Tim Eliassen. The state restrictions require that the paths be much wider than what's now proposed, and they would have to be paved, something the town clearly does not want, he said.
A proposed school loop path is the first priority. The exact location of the school loop path was determined by the committee, the Carlisle Department of Public Works and the Carlisle Police based on the best sight lines for optimal safety, rights-of-way, the path's environmental impact and cost factors.
Most of the proposed path system on Bedford Road is in the road's right-of-way. Surveying was completed to determine the town's right-of-way using original pins and drill holes left when the road was constructed, according to Belanger. The pathway committee contacted all homeowners on Bedford Road to talk with them about the proposed path along the route. Whenever the path crosses onto private property, the committee will work to negotiate an easement with the property owner.
The loop would run from the Carlisle School along School Street to the corner of Bedford Road where it would turn and follow Route 225/Bedford Road past the Gleason Library and the post office. After the post office, the path would cross over Route 225 at a cross-walk to be located in front of a home at 142 Bedford Road.
The Route 225 crossing after the post office was put in to take advantage of an existing path, Old Bedford Road, and to avoid wetlands that would be difficult to span on the side of Route 225, said Belanger. The Carlisle Police Department advised on the best site for the road crossing, she said, and the crossing walkway would be painted on the road and have signs, similar to the walkway in front of the library.
After the crosswalk, the path would continue along the opposite side of Route 225 on the existing town road, Old Bedford Road, past Seawright Daylilies and the fields owned by the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, past some private driveways to Kimball's Ice Cream stand. The path would return via Bedford Road to Church street and the Carlisle School.
Two additional Route 225 crosswalks are planned, one at the Banta-Davis playing fields and one at Church Street where the path would return to the school. The exact location of the crosswalk at Church Street will be determined by examining the safest spot to cross, said committee member Art Milliken.
The Route 225 crosswalks, particularly the one at 142 Bedford Road, are a safety concern to some. Bedford Road resident and pathway abutter Penny Zezima, said that while she's not against the path, she is concerned that a crosswalk is unsafe at that location. The traffic coming from Bedford has increased on Bedford Road, she says, because commuters heading west can no longer take a shortcut onto Church Street, as it was recently made a one-way street.
With the increase in traffic, the traffic's speed, and foliage affecting the view in the summer, Zezima says she's concerned about the crosswalk and children walking across Route 225. "It's on a curve, and in the summertime there's not a long view," she said.
Opposition cites timing, scope of project
In recent years since the current path system was proposed, opposition has ranged from concern over how paths will change the rural appearance of the town, to how much they will raise taxes. Residents living away from the center believe they won't see any direct benefit from the paths since they don't have access to them.
Larry Bearfield of the citizen's group, the Carlisle Committee for Tax Fairness, says the group has discussed the pathways article and has decided to come out against it. "Both the timing and the scope of the project," are issues for the group, he said. While he agrees that paths in the center make logical sense, "How can we justify pathways at a time when the police need a new cruiser, yet they are holding off on a request for one?" he asked. He also said the group questions the scope of the pathways project as it extends beyond the town center, and agrees with concerns over the Route 225 crossings. "We need to answer more questions," he said of the proposal. However, Bearfield said the group acknowledges and approves of the tremendous volunteer effort that has gone into the paths article.
Fincom Chair Tony Allison also believes the timing of the article is wrong, "We asked all school and town departments to come in within the levy limit, including the school and the police department. It's inappropriate to tell other departments to cut their budgets and to support a pathways expenditure. It's not necessary this year."
Allison said everyone on the FinCom supports the pathway from the center to the Banta-Davis fields. However, the FinCom split on recommending the entire five-year pathway plan, which also includes extending the paths from the center down the major roads. Four committee members voted in favor of the paths plan, and two, including Allison voted against it, with one abstention from Deb Belanger who is both a member of the FinCom, and chair of the paths committee.
The Finance Committee recommends approval of Article 17, "with actual financing methods and timing to be determined with the advice and counsel of the Finance Committee." Regardless of his opinion on the timing of the article, Allison strongly emphasizes that the extraordinary volunteer effort of the pathways group is "to be commended."
Others, not associated with any formal group or committee in Carlisle, are also opposed to new paths. "I like a small town, including the fact that there are no sidewalks," says long-time resident Bob Turley of Concord Street. "I hate to see the character of the town change." Turley said he thinks the paths will give people a false sense of security about their children's safety. Paths in the center make some sense, he said, but not the paths along the main roads. Turley is also against raising taxes, "I'm concerned with the cost of anything that is not needed with the state economy like this."
Back in 1972 the Concord-Carlisle League of Women Voters did a study of foot and bike paths in Carlisle. The Selectmen at that time appointed a Carlisle Bicycle/Foot/Woods Path Committee to look into the issue. The committee decided to propose a plan to construct paths in the town center and down the major roads in town, modeled after paths in nearby Lincoln and Wayland. Traffic was increasing at the time, said a member of that committee, Bonnie Miskolczy, and the roads in town seemed unsafe. In the five years between 1968 and 1972, traffic on the major roads in town had increased by 73%, said chair of the 1973 path committee Marilyn Harte.
A pathway article was placed on the 1973 town Warrant, however the article was defeated, says Harte, because it was thought to be too expensive, and perhaps, because the idea was too new for its time. Many who had lived in Carlisle for some time thought the initiative was brought up by "newcomers", and those on the paths committee had only moved to town in recent years.
Whatever the reasons for the defeat, it has taken 30 years for another path initiative to appear again before voters. "The price (of this plan) seems reasonable, considering the serious safety issues on our major town roads," says Harte, "Paths also offer health benefits at a time when doctors prescribe more and more the benefits of exercise."
Town center resident Liz Carpenter of Concord Street says she is in favor of the paths. "I like to walk around the center to the post office and the bank, but I have to walk on the edge of the road. It would be nice if there were a good path to take. It would make the whole environment safer and more pleasant."
Support for plan growing
The Planning Board voted unanimously to support the pathways plan. "At the recent town planning day with the public invited, the need for pathways was identified by many as a key issue," said Chair Kate Reid. While a path requirement has long been included in the town's subdivision regulations, they were not always required of every builder because sidewalks are not appropriate in every development, particularly those with few homes, she said.
However, new rules and regulations revised last year by the planning board are more proactive, and require developers to grant easements for grading for paths, or to contribute to a town fund for paths, Reid said. A pathway account earmarked for the purpose held $9,000 as of 2002.
Despite the opposition, the weak economy and the need for a two-thirds vote, the Pedestrian Committee hopes to see the Warrant Article to pass. "We may as well do the paths now," says committee member Tim Eliassen. "This is a good time in spite of the fact we are under the gun financially. There's not a better time in the foreseeable future. Other projects such as the Carlisle School expansion and the high school renovations will come up."
"We want to see some dirt flying," said member Art Milliken at a recent meeting, expressing the feeling of many on the committee who want to see the project get started. "I wasn't able to walk on paths with my children," Milliken said recently, "maybe I'll be able to walk on them with my grandchildren.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito