Two decades of building a bikeway

Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen
Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen

Back in 1988, a few folks had an idea about turning an old rail line in Stoneham into a trail. It was a cutting edge idea, at the time – the rails to trails projects were just kicking off. But the land was publicly owned, and it seemed like a good idea. Twenty-seven years later, the plan has final cleared (almost) all the hurdles required to break ground. My own part in this saga was trivial from that big picture perspective, but it was extremely illuminating for me.

Looking from the outside in, it can be awfully hard to get a hook into local politics. For example, googling my selectmen before a vote revealed… pretty much nothing (fun fact – my blog posts are like time 20 hits on nearly all of them). You can find some general information on what they do for a living. One or two of them have campaign pages, which reveal, well, nothing. Without a hook into the community, it’s hard to tell the obstructionists from the development-happy, the cooperators from the blockers, the sensible from the selfish. It’s almost impossible to educate yourself to vote responsibly when neither you nor anyone you know has any insight into these candidates.

Then came the Greenway. This project was so incredibly clear cut, I didn’t need a 20 year Stoneham veteran to explain the ins and outs to me. The pro was that we had an amazing project on public land paid for by state funds and sponsored by MassDOT. On the opposing side we had… uh…. safety concerns (which were bogus – the crossings will be much safer with the new work to be done) and uh… … The funny thing was that despite voting down a delay of a vote, and then voting down the initiative in the October meeting, no one could or would articulate a real & compelling reason why they didn’t think Stoneham should have this awesome amenity. The reasons, I believe, were all buried in relationships, history and some selfishness on the parts of the businesses who had been using the land for years with little or minimal compensation to the public. (I’m left to speculate. Anyone who’d prefer to explain the real reason is free to leave a comment!)

So in this complex community, I finally had a touchpoint. Using information available to me, I could see that the Greenway was good. This provided me the entryway into understanding more about the town. My involvement started out very lightly. In 2011 I walked the Greenway route. In May of 2013 I wrote about the project. In a sign of my outsiderness, I tried to reach out to the Selectmen using the publicly available contact information (which was rather unsuccessful). Then this fall, at the request of a friend, I went to the Town Hall meeting where the vote was both delayed and denied.

I was shocked into action. The excuses for failure were SO LAME. And they looked very much like they were going to successfully kill the project. I spoke at the meeting, and came to the attention of the advocates. Coming back from that meeting, I wrote a letter to the local newspapers. I reached out to the supporters, and helped collect signatures for a special town hall meeting. I engaged in the ad hoc group that pushed to get out the vote over a one month period. I walked door to door with my kids. I cold called 200 likely voters (a more pleasant experience than usual, based on the fact that 99.8% of the town thought the Greenway was a great idea). I called for the vote in the special Town Hall meeting, packed to the gills with hundreds of usually unheard residents who had answered our calls to support the project.

The townhall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end
The Town Hall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end

My portion of the effort was definitely at the eleventh hour and much less than that of others, but when the time came for drinks afterwards, I got the invite. I sat at a table of people who had poured years, tens of thousands of dollars and their hearts and souls into making the town a better plan to live, with no ulterior motivation. There was elation. There was exhaustion. There was a vague sense of unease that the opposition might find one more thing we hadn’t known about or thought about to block the project. I looked at those people, still struggling to put faces and names together, and settled into my place in the community.

Many things have come from this effort. The largest, of course, is that we now have a Greenway (assuming nothing bad happens from here on out). We have invited many residents of Stoneham to their first ever Town Hall meeting – hopefully some number of them become more engaged in guiding our community. I hope that the older entrenched interests in the town have realized that there are many more people in Stoneham than the handful of hundred who have historically done so much for the community, and that our planning needs to take both new and old residents into consideration. And I – I hope that I and my neighbors become more engaged in the town. Finally, enduringly, I have made some new friends in this adventure, who may be my friends in this great town for years to come.

What about you? Do you understand how your town ticks? Are you a voter? How do you figure out how to vote on local issues? How does a stranger come to become a local in your community?

Get the Greenway Going!

Friends, I had the opportunity to attend a Town Meeting last night. This is my letter to the editor about the topic. If you don’t live in Stoneham, feel free to ignore. If you do live here, please – in addition to reading my note – contact your Selectmen to let them know you expect their enthusiastic support of the bikeway!

Fellow Residents of Stoneham,

I’m a mother to two young boys: six and nine. In just a few years, my oldest son will get to go to the great new Middle School we’ve built. In order to get there, though, he’s going to have to cross Montvale and Main Streets. Right now those crossings make me nervous. When the Bikeway becomes a reality, my kids – along with many of others in town – will have a much safer way to walk or bike to school. The bikeway will give us a safe place to teach our kids to ride, connect our community and bring biking enthusiasts to spend time and money in Stoneham!

Recently I attended a session on the future of Main Street. One of the points that was made was that Stoneham needs to attract young families to stay vibrant. Our population is aging. To support them at the level they deserve, we need to promote growth and vibrancy in this town. Our Main Street lacks the foot traffic it needs to attract new companies like Starbucks, and to support local businesses like Angelo’s or Cleveland Fence. In an amazing coincidence, Stoneham has a nearly finished plan for a Greenway (multi-use trail and park) with $5.5 million dollars of outside funding to make more foot traffic happen. Construction could begin as early as next year. By the time my 3rd grader is headed to Middle School, he could take the Greenway!

At the Town Meeting last night, there was a lot of impassioned discussion, and the Board of Selectmen was not authorized to begin negotiations on the temporary construction space needed build the Greenway. (Funny note: John DePinto and Robert Sweeney both voted against giving themselves the authority to help move the Greenway forward!) I worry that MassDOT, who’s giving us the $5.5 million, may think Stoneham doesn’t want or support the investment in public space and resources. They might pass us over in favor of another town that speaks with a more unanimous voice about wanting that investment. The no voters on article 10 last night said they needed more time and more clarity, but we don’t have an infinite amount of time to make this happen before we might need to look at funding this ourselves. Delaying the support of this project could risk our funding.

Not a single person at the meeting last night said they DON’T want the Greenway for Stoneham, but I’m afraid that might be the unintended outcome of delay. So I’m asking all of you: local businesses, Selectmen, football parents, voters, leaders and visionaries in Stoneham. Ask your questions. Get your answers. Find your clarity. Do it fast, and once you understand, throw your whole-hearted, active and vocal support behind this phenomenal opportunity to make Stoneham an amazing place to live.

Brenda Flynn

Stoneham – Tri Community Greenway

For those of you who do not leave in Eastern Massachusetts, you now have my permission to skip this post.

Those of you who live in the greater Boston area – not so fast.

This amazing tunnel runs under I93 and connects the communities.

I live in Stoneham – a small town that happens to be 11 miles from the soaring skyline of Boston. My community was hit hard by both September 11th and the Marathon bombings, but it’s generally a quiet place. I really enjoy living here. I have phenomenal neighbors. The schools are (so far) excellent. I can walk to just about anything worth walking to, including a used book store and a theater. (In the sadly lacking department, I CANNOT walk to good coffee. Woe!) Just yesterday, we had the annual Stoneham Town Day where the entire town turned out wearing their Stoneham gear and bounced in bouncy houses, painted faces, raised awareness and hung out.

A hundred years ago, my community – like so many others – had a railway running through it for local deliveries. Again, following the pattern, with the rise of the car the railway fell into disuse. Now in the 21st century, we’d like to reclaim our right of way and build a bike path alone the publicly owned lands. This is FANTASTIC. It will connect our community to two neighboring communities, going under the freeway. (I wrote about the really neat freeway underpass here.)

The project – the Tri Community Greenway – has been in progress for longer than some voters have been alive. But it’s ALMOST THERE. Here’s what they’ve accomplished:

  • Almost all the route has been planned, with official plans accepted by Mass DOT.
  • The bikeway has obtained legal rights to the land with a 99 year lease from the MTA. All previous leasees’ leases have expired and the land is now legally free and clear for the public good of Stoneham.
  • With one exception (we’ll get to that in a moment), every business who had previously been using the public land has created and executed a plan to get the bikeway through the route. Special thanks to companies like Cleveland Fence who worked hard and negotiated in good faith to make it happen.
  • Most critically, the Bikeway has obtained federal funding for construction for 2014. Seriously, people, they can break ground before my kid hits third grade.

Of course, there’s one catch. One person has decided their driveway is more important than an entire community’s needs, and despite many good faith efforts by the Greenway committee, this person is refusing to move the 500 trucks worth of fill they put ON PUBLIC LAND and is now trespassing. They have been served with an eviction notice. I have to admit that it makes me really angry to think of one person ignoring both legal and moral obligations, who is willing to destroy a project that will serve the people of the community their business is in.

So… what can we do? First, there is a meeting of the Stoneham Board of Selectman on Tuesday, September 10th 2013. I intend to be there – with my children – to let the Selectmen of Stoneham know how important their leadership on this issue is to me, and to my community. This is not a project that needs you to open your wallet (see also: federal funding!). This is a project that needs you to use your voice to make sure that the community comes together to push it across the finish line.

You can find contact information for the Stoneham Board of Selectman here: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/board-of-selectmen – let them know what you think! You can also find WAY MORE details about the greenway here, including the published plans, a map of the final route, the history of the project and community, and tons of pictures.


For your voting reference, I have also sent an email to every single one of the Selectmen, letting them know about my feelings on the topic. I’m including the replies below! I sent them all emails on 9/8/13 at 7:45 pm.

Ann Marie O’Neill – 8:50 pm 9/8/13

Dear Brenda,

Thank you for making your voice heard. The bike path is important not only because it will be a good asset for Stoneham, but also because bringing the citizens of Stoneham out to demand action from their leaders represents a major policy shift. We deserve better and we have been over looked for too long. Thank you for getting involved and thank you for encouraging your friends to speak out as well. If you are able to come to Tuesday’s meeting please introduce yourself. One of the most rewarding aspects of this role has been to meet my neighbors.

Thank you,
Ann Marie

Robert Sweeney – Chairman – 8:30 am 9/9/13

i support the bikepath always have feel free to call me

Thomas Boussy – Vice Chairman

Strong Greenway supporter.

John Depinto – no response yet
Sent second request on 9/28/2014 11:20 am

Frank Vallarelli – no response yet
Send second request on 9/28/2013 11:25 am