The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 26, 2007


Jack Troast (left), Deb Belanger and John Bakewell of the Pedestrian and Bike Safety Advisory Committee confer on plans to create new pathways along Carlisle's major roads. Not pictured is Eileen Faber. (Photo by Mollie McPhee)

After years of setbacks, pathways head down the final stretch

Think nothing ever gets done in town government? A dream is about to be realized that may restore your faith. If all goes as planned, pathways radiating from the Town Center will be in place by next June, and summer walks into town may once again become part of Carlisle life.

The pathways will travel along East Street as far as Partridge Lane, along Lowell Street as far as Old Morse Road, and along Concord Street as far as Bingham. The plan also includes resurfacing Bedford Road pathways with asphalt. If all boards issue approvals by November, work such as tree removal and stone work can begin this fall in preparation for next April when the asphalt can be poured. Installation is expected to take four to six weeks and target completion is June 8, 2008.

But before prep work can begin, a number of approvals are needed. The Conservation Commission reviews all four roads on October 25. The Planning Board and tree warden will hear Concord and Lowell on October 29, and the Historical Commission will weigh in at a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board on October 30. In addition, the Carlisle Conservation Foundation must approve asphalt repaving of a pathway that crosses protected land on Bedford Road, with approval also required at the state level.

Twelve years of planning

Deb Belanger has led, pushed and prodded the project from its beginnings 12 years ago. Along the way, she has been joined by other current Pedestrian and Bike Safety Advisory Committee members Jack Troast, who is chair, John Bakewell and Eileen Faber. All share a vision of a walkable Carlisle. "It would be nice if families could walk safely in and around town," says Belanger. "The Sunday walk that was possible many years ago no longer is."

Brought together by the late Vivian Chaput in 1995, the committee's founders included Art Milliken, Tim Eliassen, Nancy and Rik Pierce, and Gwyn Jones, along with Belanger. In 1997 it became an official town entity and gained its unwieldy name, which most shorten to "the pathways committee." Membership has rotated over the years, with Kristine Bergenheim, Heather Hedden and Nancy Szczesniak also serving.

Pathways were first proposed and rejected at a Town Meeting in 1973. That defeat led to two decades of inaction, but the new pathways committee was motivated and energetic. It undertook surveys, held public meetings, heard abutter concerns and received input from numerous town boards. With the cooperation of the Carlisle Department of Public Works, which agreed to provide some manpower, a pathways proposal to borrow $150,000 came before Town Meeting in 2003 and passed by the required 2/3 vote.

That money was to fund a five-year plan that would complete a "school loop" the first year, with other pathways to follow. The school loop included crushed stone walking paths along Bedford Road. The stone surface had been chosen for its natural look consistent with woodsy Carlisle and its historic Town Center. However, after the pathways were constructed, the Board of Health ruled that herbicides could not be used on them. They became weed infested, and it was found that the cost of on-going maintenance without herbicides was prohibitive.

A variety of new surfaces was vetted for durability, use by roadsides, easy maintenance without herbicides, tolerance of wet conditions and ADA compliance. "This took a lot of time and energy," says Bakewell, who was heavily involved in the testing. The only surfaces that met all the criteria were concrete and asphalt. As $100,000 of the original $150,000 remained, and the stone surface already laid would provide a good asphalt base, it was decided to return to the voters with a new plan.

The Community Preservation Act (CPA), passed in 2001, had offered a mechanism for the town to set aside funds and have them matched by the state. The 2007 Annual Town Meeting approved the use of $300,000 in Community Preservation Act funds, plus the unspent $100,000, to resurface the Bedford Road pathways with asphalt and continue the pathways from the Town Center. The project went to bid this summer and was awarded to Allied Paving of Chelmsford at a low bid of $260,000, not including unforeseen extras.

Get out and walk

To encourage pathway use, the committee is working with the state's Executive Office of Transportation and the Carlisle School to adopt "Safe Routes to School," a program providing community education, prizes and student recognition of kids who walk to school. As for seniors, Belanger notes some still drive to Concord to walk because the pathways here are too uneven. With the new asphalt surfaces, "they will have confidence to put their feet on the pathway. I think we're going to see a lot more of them."

Says Troast, "What's nice about this project is that in addition to providing pedestrian access along busy roads, the pathways also provide access to trails. There are lots of opportunities to create more linkages." Bakewell notes that, as an example, the Bedford pathway ends at Kimball's, but there is a trail to Cutter's Ridge that will form a circuit once there is an East Street pathway. "This is not about an individual part of town," says Bakewell. "It's about a network of trails and pathways to create loops throughout." In developments where walking is safe, he frequently sees people out and about. "If people have access to walkable roads, they'll use them. I expect to see more people out walking, and I hope that happens."

"The democratic process is difficult," says Bakewell as he looks back. "It's easy to say no, but hard to create change." Troast agrees. "It was a difficult process, but what I'm pleased about is we came up with a solution that met a diverse set of objectives." He salutes the people who supported the effort. "This wouldn't have been possible if it were just the committee. It takes a town."

In spite of the battles fought along the way, Belanger says the feedback she hears now is overwhelmingly positive. "People really want it. They ask why it hasn't gone in yet." She especially hears from her Boy Scout troop members who use the existing pathways and want more. Troast says it's gratifying to run on the Bedford path and "encounter joggers and strollers. I hope to continue to see more."

When the pathways committee first met, Town Hall was in the library and Belanger's teenage son was a two-year old toddler. Although it's taken more years than expected and "I can't begin to count the hours," Belanger looks back with satisfaction, "I'm very pleased we're able to do this infrastructure for the town. I think the pathways will change the way people live." Observing the Carlisle students who now feel free to navigate the Town Center after school, one might conclude they already have.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito