Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Criminal bicyclists

(yeah, sure, "Law and Order" has episodes where the perpetrator rides a bicycle but...) I went to a community meeting in 2000 or 2001 about the Metropolitan Branch Trail, and a resident made a comment about how the trail would bring crime to the adjoining neighborhood.

I scoffed. But over the years, I've come to realize that this is about "the other." Anyone who is potentially different than you is to be feared.

This makes it difficult to change things that need to be changed, and to bring people together.

Chuck sends us a link to a Boston Globe article, "Suburban peace vs. pedal power: Sudbury group sounds alarm over proposed bike trail," about the planning for a bicycle trail. From the article:

Looking out at a lushly wooded area beyond a stone wall on her 100-acre estate, Carole Wolfe's face darkened. There, in the distance, she said, nervously pointing a finger, stretches a former rail corridor that, if some have their way, could bring trouble upon this town where her family's roots date to Colonial times. "Instead of solitude," Wolfe said, "you'd be having people."

Wolfe is among a band of vocal Sudbury residents raising the alarm against a proposed bike trail along a pathway where trains once chugged.

Opponents of the "rail trail" say the path would draw hundreds of thousands of bicyclists who would bring with them noise and other disruptions into what is now a pristine landscape. Hordes of bikers, walkers, and rollerbladers would scare away wildlife, they say, and invite crime from trespassing to vandalism and assault. ...

The Sudbury trail would be a segment of the proposed 25-mile Bruce Freeman trail beginning at the Lowell-Chelmsford line and winding to Framingham. With gas prices escalating and alternative transportation increasingly popular, bike trail supporters say their decades-long push for the trail is now a no-brainer. Connecting to major mass transit hubs, such as the West Concord commuter rail terminal, it would provide a good alternative to driving, they argue.

"The public benefit far outweighs any other concerns," said Tom Michelman, president of Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, honoring the late longtime state representative from Chelmsford.

Sudbury remains a holdout. The wealthy hamlet of stately Colonials and rolling farmland, where change comes slowly, could obstruct plans for a continuous path. Opponents of the rail trail in Sudbury - who created Sudbury Citizens for Responsible Land Stewardship to fight the plan - say they are prepared for a lengthy battle. Jim Nigrelli, president of Sudbury Citizens, called the rail-trail advocates "strong-minded"; other opponents are more blunt. "It's like a cult," Maurer said. ...

Already, the fight has been marked by aggressive maneuvers. Maurer said she has covertly monitored e-mail communications among the trail's supporters, hoping to gain a tactical advantage. Nigrelli said that a supporter of the trail accused his group of stealing supporters' signs from town center. ...

Some opponents have gone so far as to make unusual threats. If the trail is built, some said, they will sell their land to developers who want to build dense clusters of affordable units.

This is the kind of behavior that makes me not think well of people. And this reflects something you see sometimes, about "neighboritizing" public spaces that could be open to people more broadly. It's a different form of segregation.

Interestingly, contrast the Globe story above with the Globe's "Shifting Gears" column, and the story "Wheels of good fortune: Popular path is burnished with new bike racks and rest area, and backers have plans for more trails." From the article:

What makes the Minuteman unique, Johnson reminded me as we lounged on the Lexington town green, is the way it links so many sites and public lands. Walkers and bikers can stop off at playing fields and city parks, from the Arlington Reservoir (swimming permitted) to the woods and wetlands of the 120-acre Alewife Brook Reservation and the 183-acre Great Meadows in East Lexington. The historic Old Schwamb Mill in Arlington is worth a pit stop (also the site of new bike racks).

The 11-mile Minuteman bicycle trail has 2 million users annually. There is a blog focused on the trail, "Minuteman Bikeway Rail Trail," and quarterly trail user meetings. The Clear the Trail initiative is working to get communities to remove snow from the trail in the winter. The town of Arlington did so last year.

New banners posted at the Arlington entrance to the Minuteman bikeway trail in Massachusetts. Image from the website.

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