Watertown Branch Rail Trail Status, December 1998

At Watertown City Hall on December 29, 1998, State Senator Warren Tolman held a meeting to review the current state of a proposed project to link the Minuteman and Paul Dudley White bikepaths with an additional bikepath to be built on a railbed through Watertown.

While Tolman and others have attempted for many years to prod the state to acquire the abandoned right-of-way from railroad company Guilford Industries, several factors have combined to create momentum for the bike path. A study by the Massachusetts EOTC to study the prospect of buying the portion of the railroad right of way from Alewife to School Street is underway and expected to be completed by July 15.

Many of the approximately forty local people, including Town Councillor Alex Liazos, who is also involved in improvement efforts to Watertown Square, who attended the meeting strongly supported initiatives to continue the path along the railbed from School Street to Watertown Square, thereby connecting the downtown with traffic-free bike and walkways to the Charles. Tolman indicated that if the EOTC study advocates purchase of the railbed between Alewife and School Street, the state will likely purchase that portion. But it will be up to the citizens of Watertown and bicycle advocates statewide to provide grassroots support for the purchase of the parcel from School Street to Watertown Square.

Expressions of support for extending the path to more residents of Watertown must come soon, however. At the current moment six railbed parcels between School Street and downtown have been sold, and construction vehicles are currently grading the land. Certainly, more sales of this property or additional development may be made that preclude the establishment of a linear park if action is not taken soon. One owner, consulting firmVHB, has already agreed to provide an easement to allow bicyclists and walkers to pass through their property on the ten-foot right-of-way needed for a multi-use path. Tolman and Councillor Liazos felt that gaining similar right-of-ways might be possible for the other parcels, but only if local residents made their wishes known to their city councillors.

The approximately forty people at the meeting, including members of the Watertown Bicycle Committee plan to circulate a petition supporting the project as a whole and the extension of the path in particular. The Watertown Bicycle Committee will meet at Town Hall on January 4 at 7:30 to discuss the project, and the project is expected to be discussed at several future Town Council meetings.

I will be attending the Watertown Bicycle Committee meeting on the 4th, where a strategy to get a petition drive up and running and approaches to the EOTC study will be discussed. I'll probably be posting to this list to get your support -- particularly if you live in Watertown or Cambridge, help will probably be needed in terms of writing letters or circulating and signing petitions in favor of the project. Anyone who's interested and lives in Watertown is particularly encouraged to email me so we can build up some grassroots support.

For those of you who live in Watertown or Cambridge, getting on the horn with your city/town councillors and state representatives to put this plan on their radar screen would be a big help.

Lisa Williams, lwilliams@yankeegroup.com, ljw@ultranet.com

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