Letters

Why I voted against Bedford’s $30 million road bond

Friday, March 14, 2014

By JEFF RAPSIS

I’m writing this before the elections on Tuesday, March 11, so I have no idea if I’m in the majority or the minority on the town’s $30 million road bond.

I voted against it. So if it passed, I guess I’ll look on the bright side: At least we’ll get a good portion of town’s road maintenance backlog taken care of in the next few years.

But if it failed, I’d see it as a second chance to rebuild our roads not just for cars and trucks, but for bikes and people, too.

That’s the main reason I voted against the road bond. Sure, it was needed, thanks to years of underfunding. But it contained no specific provisions for bikes or pedestrians.

This lack seems particularly glaring when you consider that a committee recently released the “Bedford Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity Master Plan.”

This study, done as part of the process of updating the town’s overall master plan, involved nearly a year’s worth of research into how Bedford should improve its road system to better accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. The study was prompted because lack of places to safely walk or ride bikes was the No. 1 quality-of-life concern of Bedford residents.

The report identified the easiest ways to overlay bike and pedestrian routes on Bedford’s existing road system. It recommends a mix of better, wider paved shoulders, bike lanes, and additional sidewalks in key areas.

It all sounds pretty reasonable. And now that we have our own high school, Bedford needs to be pedestrian-friendly, which we are not.

I’ll never forget the time a few years ago when my wife actually tried to walk to the library from our house on County Road. This meant crossing Route 101 at Meetinghouse Road, which you can almost do as a pedestrian if the traffic is either light or extremely heavy and nothing’s moving.

She waited for the light to change and tried crossing, only to be immediately honked at by a driver who rolled down his window and yelled at her something like this:

“Hey lady, don’t you know this is a state highway?!”

Well, yes, she did. But she also wanted to walk to her town library. And she couldn’t without risking her life.

So I was heartened when I learned of this committee’s work. But then I wondered how much of it had been incorporated into the town’s $30 million road bond. So I checked, and the answer was: none at all!

Really? We’re being asked to commit to spending a huge sum of money on rebuilding about 30 percent of our town’s road network, and there was nothing in the plan requiring any accommodations for pedestrians or bikes?

I made some calls around town to ask about this. Yes, in rebuilding roads, the town will now often include a slightly wider shoulder than it would have in the past, as it did with Meetinghouse Road last year. But nothing in the $30 million road bond required the town to follow recommendations from the bicycle/pedestrian connectivity study.

Town officials may adopt the report for eventual inclusion in the town’s Master Plan, which guides general development policy. But the road bond was on the ballot this year, without any accommodation for pedestrians and bikes.

And that’s a shame, because out of 59 miles of road scheduled to be rebuild or rehabbed, a total of 8.7 miles were identified as key links in the proposed town bike/pedestrian network. That’s significant. We won’t have a chance to do this for another generation, so it ought to be done right. And until plans for road rebuilding accommodate pedestrians and bikes, I’m not supporting them.

Oddly, my vote against the road bond put me in the same company of the Bedford Taxpayers Association, with which I usually don’t see eye-to-eye. After all, they’re the ones whose decades-long advocacy of penny-pinching helped put our roads into the state they’re in today.

One other reason to vote against the road bond was that the Union Leader actually editorialized in favor of it. A good rule of thumb around here is that if the Union Leader takes the trouble to comment on a Bedford issue, then that’s reason enough to vote the other way.

Jeff Rapsis is a newspaper publisher, educator, silent film accompanist and caretaker of multiple dogs who lives in Bedford.

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