Planners aiming to cluster trails

June 15, 2012 - 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.
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