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Bay Colony Rail Trail Recap of March 4th Needham Public Forum


Hosted: March 4, 2013

Where: Needham Town Hall

Attendance:  Approximately 50 residents, and other interested parties attended

Summary: This event was hosted by the Needham Parks and Recreation Department to collect comments from the general public on particular aspects of the proposed rail trail.  To begin, Tad Staley, Chair of the Bay Colony Rail Trail Association (BCRTA) gave a brief synopsis of the proposed project.  As a privately funded project, the committee would raise funds to cover the cost of leasing the land from the MBTA for a period of 99 years.  Additionally they would cover expenses of construction and maintenance; minimal support would be sought from the town or state in an effort to streamline the project and prevent any impact on taxpayers.

A detailed aerial view map of the project was presented so that individuals could easily see where the trail would run, where the road crossings were and how this trail would allow access and continuity to several lovely areas such as the Town Forest to Village Falls Park and Red Wing Bay.

Breakout discussion groups, each led by a moderator from the BRTC were very lively, with the following themes arising from most groups:

  1. Intended use of the trail and who the users would be
  2. Abutter privacy and protection
  3. Trail access and parking
  4. Aspects of fund raising and funding of the project both immediate and ongoing
  5. Maintenance and safety of the trail over time
  6. Amenities to include such as signage, water stops, trash receptacles, seating
  7. Trail specifications (surfacing, width, separation)           

Background: The Rail Trail project would begin near the existing Needham Junction station on the currently abandoned line.  This trail would traverse through the southern portion of Needham, crossing Chestnut St, skirting the Town Forest and the Boy Scout Camp and ending at the Trestle Bridge that crosses the Charles River into Dover.  The scope of this phase of the project does not include any action on the bridge crossing.

This was the first of several public meetings planned by the BRTCA as a means of discussing this project and gathering input from the residents of Needham and other interested parties.

Additional information on the rail trail is available at www.baycolonyrailtrail.org 


DISCUSSION OF RESULTS

Sticker Exercise

An exercise was conducted whereby each attendee was given a strip of colored stickers, one of each color: red (high importance), Yellow (important) green (of interest) and blue (in question) and were asked to place their stickers on the topics posted around the room.  The results of this are as follows:

 

red

yellow

green

blue

total

Collaboration down line (Dover etc.)

10

3

8

0

21

Abutter Questions

5

4

5

6

20

Parking

3

4

4

9

20

Surface choice

0

14

4

2

20

Access

10

4

2

3

19

Maintenance

2

5

3

7

17

Trestle Bridge

2

6

5

2

15

Safety

7

1

2

4

14

who would use

0

1

4

2

7

Cost

0

1

4

1

6

Other

0

0

0

0

0

Total*

39

43

41

36

 

*Not everyone used all of the stickers provided them.

If one were to add the Trestle bridge in with the Collaboration, clearly this is an area that is high on the list of the attendees’ requirements.  (That would total 36 votes, 21 considering this urgent or most urgent). 

Break-Out Session Compilation

While this represents a static vote, the break-out groups represent lively discussion and a forum that allowed more latitude in meaning and communication. 

Common themes arose between groups and the points raised have been compiled and organized here for clearer communication.

Intended use of the trail and who the users would be

(the general consensus is that a rail trail makes better use of the land than the existing abandoned corridor)

  • There was an assumption that there would be a variety of users, including commuters, joggers, walkers, runners, bikers, strollers, rollerbladers, wheelchairs, skateboarders, X-country skiers
  • Residents were interested in seeing rules of use posted at access points.
  • Hours of use were proposed as dawn to dusk.  There are no plans to illuminate the trail.
  • Would motorized vehicles be allowed access (i.e. ATV’s, Scooters, Snow machines), dogs and/or horses be allowed? Most were opposed to horses and motorized vehicles but assumed leashed dogs would be allowed.
  • In general the groups felt that winter use would be best supported by NOT plowing the trail and so allowing snowshoes and skiers a straight, level surface to travel on.

Abutter privacy and protection

(Chief themes raised in this theme included privacy, safety and access.  With appropriate access and parking, it was felt that the project would have a minimal impact on the abutters.  Screening provided by vegetation would be welcomed by many to maintain a semblance of privacy.)

  • Richardson Road residents were present and discussed their concerns for privacy, both with cars infiltrating their neighborhood and people cutting through/across their property.  They liked the seclusion their location offers, yet the majority supports the trail’s installation.
  • There were questions raised about parking at or near abutter’s property for the reasons stated above; there are a limited number of properties that currently span both sides of the trail and that will be investigated further with MBTA
  • The use of vegetation, strategic plantings and natural buffers (fencing if necessary) would be beneficial to co-exist peacefully with the abutters.
  • Discussion surrounding privacy and protection of abutters’ property was an active discussion point in most groups.
  • Walker School was represented and wants to ensure there is controlled access, as this trail skirts the backside of their property.  They want to ensure that there will not be any unauthorized use of their property via parking or cut through, even on weekends, and they want to ensure their students do not abuse this trail.

Trail access and parking

(some of these comments overlap with both the usage of the trail and the abutters.  This was a very well discussed topic in almost every group, either from the perspective of parking spaces or the perspective of actual trail access to a variety of points of interest)

  • Access: Suggested access points included
    • Needham Junction station area (which could provide parking on weekends), Safety with regard to crossing Chestnut Street and the live rail line would need to be addressed. One person suggested a pedestrian bridge over the live line.  This was by far the most preferred access point as it allowed downtown access to shopping etc.  This access would also benefit commuters and residents of the housing authority units.
    • Town Forest (to combine trail networks for walking). 
    • Between Charles River and Fisher Streets (site of an old rail station) which is near the southernmost end and allows access to Walker Pond, Village Falls and Red Wing Bay.  People who were from this area did not wish to see a large parking area installed, preferring instead a few spots.  It is noted that there is currently parking available and accessible at Village Falls, Walker Field and Red Wing Bay.
    • If an access leg could be constructed between the trail and High Rock School that lot could be open for use during weekends.
    • Post signage particularly in areas that abut but have no direct access, pointing toward the access points.
    • Make provision for emergency vehicle access and egress.
    • Parking:  designated parking was deemed necessary, on both the northern and southern-most points.  Bikers felt that additional parking would be unnecessary as they would bike to the access points; it would be too much trouble to load bikes onto cars for this short trail segment alone.  Walkers and those with small children, however, would require parking.
      • Limit number of spaces at the old station spot at the southern end of the trail off Charles River St
      • Find a way to utilize the existing Needham Junction (downtown station) parking for weekend use
      • Have a few additional spots along select areas of the trail such as the town forest or High Rock or behind Hartney Graymont.

Aspects of fund raising and funding of the project both immediate and ongoing

(this had some overlap with the surface and specification of the trail itself as the cost changed depending upon these choices)

  • There was not as much discussion surrounding this topic, but several issues were raised:
    • Concern that $10-15k annual requirement toward maintenance would be a lot to raise on a continual basis
    • How will it work
    • Will each town be separate?
    •  Can companies new to the town (i.e. through the revamped Needham Connection Business Park) be asked to sponsor segments as Mathworks did in Natick for a playing field?
    • Is BCRT eligible for CPA funds?
    • What is the cost of annual maintenance?

Maintenance and safety of the trail over time

  • Safety first:
    • Residents with young children had some concern regarding safety and ask about relief for hard fence/separation installations.
    • Several attendees expressed concern for an increase in criminal activity
    • Would the rail trail need to make accommodation for crossing guards? Signage? Pedestrian lights such as the flashers in Wellesley?
    • How would the liability affect the town?  Would a separate policy/rider be required?  Is there any additional liability for abutters if/when users move off the trail onto private property?  Concern about homeowners’ premiums.
    • Would it be expected that Needham Police would patrol the trail by bike?
    • Guard rails might be needed where the trail falls off steeply on the sides.
    • Maintenance:
      • Would DPW be responsible for maintaining the trail’s surface? Trash? Vegetation?  At what cost?
      • Trash cans.  Many felt they were needed, but several raised the question of increased annual maintenance costs.   Currently most town trails do not have trash receptacles.  Locations suggested:
        • All access points
        • Both ends
        • Parking locations
        • One group favored a carry in-carry out policy, with trash barrels at each end or in main parking areas.
    • Does this project’s maintenance fall under the stewardship of the town?  Park and Rec?  ConCom?
    • Will NStar clear cutting program affect the trail?
    • Consider creating a ‘friends of BCRT’ to fund maintenance
    • Only consider low maintenance vegetation to lower cost 

Amenities to consider including in construction:

  • Water fountains
  • Port-o-potties
  • Trash cans
  • Dividing lane stripe
  • Mile markers
  • NO LIGHTS (this is considered a dawn to dusk accessible area)
  • Way stations (i.e. park benches)
  • Bike racks
  • No phone boxes
  • Signage directing visitors to other trailheads/access points, parking, points of interest i.e. downtown, high rock school, pollard school, village falls, red wing bay, walker pond, town forest…

Trail specifications (surfacing, width, separation) 

One group suggested that it be a surface that was hard enough and stable enough to be used by all visitors.

  • Surfacing:  This was a very lively topic with a distinct split in opinions raised.
    • Asphalt Pros/Cons:
      • easier and less expensive to do the final surface the first time
      • provides best surface for road bikes, rollerbladers, strollers, handicapped access
      • strongly preferred by several groups.  “If it doesn’t happen now, it won’t happen.”
      • More versatile surface
    • Stone Pros/Cons:
      • Considered a ‘natural surface’
      • Might be less expensive to get the trail functional sooner
      • A stepping stone to getting the asphalt surface
      • Versatile, less expensive. 
      • Less intrusive to abutters
      • Less usable to road bikes and roller blading, etc.
      • How long does stone dust last?

Connection with additional rail trail experiences:

  • Northern section: a question was raised to make sure this effort does not preclude work on the northern section nor limit what can be done there.
  • Concern was raised with regard to Dover’s position on their portion of the Rail Trail.  A representative of the Dover group was present and stated that Dover has delayed their project launch to 2014 due to concerns over fundraising.  Dover township does not wish to spend money on this project and private funding will be required for 100% of the project.
  • The ‘Dream Trail’ would be one that connects from Cutler Park and includes the middle and Northern section of rail line.
  • The Trestle Bridge issues should be addressed now (excepting that Needham shares ownership with Dover and they are delaying this project a year)
  • The bridge needs to have the engineering study completed.  Currently the superstructure has been deemed unsafe and unusable.  The water level is too high at this time to continue the substructure study of the pilings.  The buttresses at each end are also unstable. The historic status of the bridge is being studied as well.

The next BCRTA meeting will be held on April 24, 2013 in the Needham Public Services Administration Building at 500 Dedham St.

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