By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
On Monday, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the Community Path extension, a critical step in further unifying our neighborhoods, giving residents healthy alternatives to driving and supporting our local economy. You only needed to see the crowd of people gathered for the event to know how important this project is to our city, and that it never would have happened without the passion and unrelenting support of those in our community who believe in the urban renaissance that is reshaping Somerville for the 21st century.
A stream of people flowed down the Community Path to its current end point on Cedar Street where we held the groundbreaking ceremony for the newest segment of the path, which will extend to Lowell Street. Some were walking or running, some biking, and others came with kids in tow either on bike seats or on their own bicycles or kick scooters. The adults and kids alike painted a portrait of a city on the move, but no longer resigned to cars to move. It is, both figuratively and tangibly, a movement.
Becoming a more bikeable, walkable, transit-accessible city does not happen by chance. It happens when we install more than 25 miles of bike markings in the city, bringing our total to over 30 miles, and when we install 75 new bikes racks and 10 bike corrals. It comes when Hubway opens eight bike sharing stations throughout the city, with four more on the way. We know that if we build it, they will ride. In the past two years alone, we’ve seen bicycling activity in the city increase by 56 percent according to our snapshot counts.
And it happens when we extend the Community Path a quarter mile closer to Boston, where it will connect with the planned Lowell Street Green Line station, providing an important link for residents to access higher-speed public transit. We continue to work on shaping an environment where it is easy to walk, run and bike because we’ve seen that people will make that choice when the option is there.
It also happens when those in charge of the public purse commit to funding transit and public infrastructure projects. The approximately $2 million needed for this extension came with the help of the efforts of our legislators, our partnership with the Patrick administration and the dogged advocacy of local activists. Congressman Mike Capuano secured a $1 million earmark. MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration saw the value of the project and chose to fund it. Maxwell’s Green developer Davis Square Partners removed the existing railroad tracks and regraded the area. The Friends of the Community Path raised $5,000. All deserve thanks for making this extension a reality. This serves as another example, among a myriad of examples, of residents, government and private groups in Somerville coming together to address the needs of our neighborhoods.
I use the word neighborhood for a reason, because neighborhoods are what the Community Path—and Somerville as a city—is really all about. When you live in Somerville, you’re not flying through town in your car on your way back from an errand, the building outside nothing but a blur, until your pull in your driveway, park and hole up inside your home. You’re walking or biking to the store, seeing your neighbors along the way and taking in a fantastic array of choices offered by locally owned businesses where you’re more than a customer. You’re a regular. You’re a neighbor. It nurtures a vibrant business environment and quality of life for all residents. A recent New York Department of Transportation study found that after building a protected bicycle lane on 9th Avenue in the midst of the hectic traffic of Manhattan, local businesses along that lane saw up to a 49 percent increase in retail sales.
Our commitment to become the most walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible community in the nation is unwavering. Even more bike and pedestrian safety infrastructure will be added in projects such as the East Broadway and Davis Square streetscape projects. A brand new bike parking cage is currently under construction just outside of the Davis Square T station. Our Safe-Start and Complete Streets programs identify current issues and opportunities for improvement to build the best possible experience for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit-users, drivers alike.
And we will extend the Community Path all the way to Boston, alongside the Green Line extension, to make it even easier for drivers to become walkers, riders and cyclists reducing the cars and emissions on our roads. The Cedar-to-Lowell extension targeted for completion by late this fall is not the end. Just as our road networks connect us with our neighboring communities, our biking networks need to do the same. So we will get the Community Path to Boston, and we will connect it with the Minuteman Bikeway, the Malden and Mystic River bike paths and the 104-mile Massachusetts Central Rail Trail out to Northampton.
We are creating connections between our neighborhoods, beyond the city’s borders and we are building a healthy community. In Somerville, you can get there from here, no car required.