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Planners aiming to cluster trails

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / March 18, 2012
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A regional planning agency is working to expand networks of pedestrian and bike trails in 13 Greater Boston communities, including Dedham, Westwood, and Quincy, to encourage more people to travel via two legs or two wheels.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council is looking to connect clusters of communities with trails so that people might be able to safely pedal or walk from their homes to locations they need to go regularly, such as their workplaces.

“If you had asked me four years ago if I would be able to bike to work, I’d have said absolutely not,’’ said Sarah Kurpiel, a transportation engineer and planner with the regional agency.

Today, she can. Kurpiel lives in Jamaica Plain and says she is able to bike to her office on Temple Place in Boston because of road access provided to cyclists.

“But Boston has put in 50 miles of bike lanes in the last three years alone,’’ she said. “The moral of the story is making sure plans don’t end at community borders, because not all people live and work in their own communities.’’

Kurpiel and fellow council planner David Loutzenheiser are working on a scheme to connect communities into clusters by painting in a dedicated lane on existing roads for bicycles when possible, or planning for lanes and/or sidewalks when new roads are constructed.

In addition to Dedham, Westwood, and Quincy, other communities under review by the council include the cluster of Hudson, Stow, Maynard, and Marlborough to the west , and Chelsea, Everett, Revere, Malden, Saugus, and Lynn to the north.

The work is being funded with $115,000 in state and federal sustainable-community grants. The cost of implementing the plan would be borne by individual communities.

The planners are trying to find ways to provide safe access to major pedestrian and bicycle routes or destinations within the clusters. Those include projects under development like the Assabet River Rail Trail from Marlborough to Acton, the Dedham Rail-Trail, which would link to the Neponset trail, and the Bike to the Sea, or Northern Strand Community Trail.

In Dedham, for example, the planners are looking at ways to join a series of quiet back roads to link busy Dedham Square with the Legacy Place mall. The town’s two primary shopping areas are big draws for foot traffic, but they are split by busy Route 1.

A number of improvements for bikes and pedestrians are already being planned as part of the town’s multimillion-dollar Dedham Square Improvement Project, including safer crosswalks and better traffic flow, according to environmental coordinator Virginia LeClair.

“We do see cyclists in Dedham, but we could see a lot more if we created a feeling of safety with paths,’’ LeClair said.

She said the town is hoping to develop a network of trails from the Dolan Recreation Center on Common Street to Hebrew Senior Life’s NewBridge on the Charles housing complex and beyond, she said. “We talk about creating a kind of spine for the community, or a network of trails. There are so many possibilities.’’

It helps that the Metropolitan Area Planning Council sees Dedham as the missing link between Boston, Needham, and Westwood, LeClair said.

Once planning for all the clusters is done by the regional agency, each town will be responsible for implementing the recommendations using state Chapter 90 funds, which are usually dedicated to tasks like resurfacing roads, officials said.

Westwood town planner Nora Loughnane said one of her priorities has been to find ways to connect the Main Street commercial district with the Islington Community Center area. But other streets will lend themselves nicely to the networking effort as well, she said.

“We are thrilled that this will be a fairly large-scale effort,’’ she said.

Westwood had sought grant funding to work on bike and walking paths, as had Dedham, Kurpiel said. And since the two communities also share a border, and each is passionate about increasing opportunities to travel by foot or bike, they were the perfect places to start to form the first cluster, she said.

Separately, the planning council is proposing to work with Quincy planners to recommend a priority greenway from Boston that would also offer access to major employment centers, local schools, and parks. It would be dovetailed with the city’s massive ongoing redevelopment effort downtown as its own trail cluster, in the planning agency’s view.

“Any effort to enhance pedestrian and bike access is something the city certainly supports,’’ said Kristina Johnson, Quincy’s principal planner.

A big part of the city’s revitalization will be the Adams Green project, a new public space that will connect the Quincy T station with City Hall and the Church of the Presidents, where the Adamses are buried. Part of that rehab entails streetscape and traffic management, Johnson said, which is where the planning council factors in.

“Quincy already has a fairly decent sidewalk system,’’ she said. “We’ll let MAPC take the lead on this and come in and take an inventory.’’

Westwood has already pledged to improve pedestrian and bike access to and between schools, fields, conservation land, shopping, and churches - all the places people go, Loughnane said. That’s part of the town’s own master plan that can be enhanced by the cluster effort.

“We also want connections with our neighboring towns in Dedham, Norwood, Dover, and Medfield,’’ she said.

The town recently established a stone-dust path on Gay Street that runs parallel with the roadway, making walking and biking not only more pleasant but also safe. So far, the path has been very well received, Loughnane said.

“We would love to expand it all the way to High Street in Westwood Center, and then to Washington Street in Dedham,’’ Loughnane said. “They would be the simplest. We’d just have to paint lanes.’’

Nahatan Street to Norwood is also an option for expanded bike and pedestrian use as part of the regional council’s plan, she said. And maybe Route 109 to Walpole: “People walk and bike there, but there is no dedicated route.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at

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