By Seth Daniel
If innovation, Millennials and technology jobs are coming to Revere and the North Shore, some advocates would argue that they’re coming by bicycle.
“When you talk about transportation policy, the idea is to protect the job creator,” said Richard Fries, president of Mass Bike. “We’ve tailored all our transportation for a guy in a convertible in 1955 living in southern California. Today, it’s more likely to be a young person on a bike. The kid spending money to be in our economy has a different idea of transportation than we have about transportation. They’re riding bikes to get around. Some 65 percent of the population doesn’t drive, so why is 100 percent of our transportation developed for people who do drive?”
Fries added that 72 percent of 18 year olds in Massachusetts have no driver’s license, 17 percent of college age kids statewide travel by bike and 50 percent of the traffic on the Longfellow Bridge in Boston is by bike. He said that closer to Boston and in corridors where bike paths exist – such as the Minuteman Trail communities – the numbers of riders is higher.
“The continuity isn’t quite there yet,” he said, noting that it should be about planning for cars, bikes and pedestrians. “It’s like Christmas lights. They don’t work when there is a break in the circuit. You put them all together and they light up and great things happen. It works the same way with bike paths…Venture capital companies are dumping billions of dollars into businesses on that Minuteman corridor.”
Advocates from several communities, including Revere, along the Northern Strand Trail bicycle and pedestrian path met for the first time in many years to hear updates from organizers and communities about the progress being made on the path.
The Northern Strand Trail – also known as Bike to the Sea – was the dream of Steve Winslow and his wife in 1993 at their Malden home. The idea was to connect to existing bike paths in Boston and Somerville across the Mystic River, through Everett, Malden, Revere, Saugus and Lynn – ending at the beach on Lynn Harbor. It was patterned after the Minuteman Trail in Arlington, but the journey has taken quite a bit longer.
A good deal of the path is now completed, though there are still major holes in Lynn. Another major missing piece is the stretch in Everett from Rt. 16 to the Mystic River waterfront – along with a bridge access to Assembly Row over the Mystic River.
Though Lynn is pretty far behind, Revere officials said they have completed their small portion of the trail – which goes through Linden Square, North Revere and the Rumney Marsh.
“The most scenic part of the whole trail is out on Rumney Marsh,” said Julie DeMauro of Revere on the Move. “A lot of people don’t realize how beautiful it is until they bike out on the trail.”
DeMauro said they do have a challenge on the Revere portion of the trail because it is in the Rumney Marsh, an area of critical environmental concern (ACEC). Due to that designation, the path cannot be paved with asphalt, which organizers said is a critical piece to the success of the path.
DeMauro said they have used recycled asphalt, which works well, but isn’t the smooth bike surface that is in Malden and Everett. That will be a problem that will have to be solved at the regulatory level.
Revere does have a critical connection, though, under Rt. 1.
She also said they have seen a lot of cyclists breaking off the trail and heading down street bike lanes to Revere Beach.
In Everett, the key piece to fill in on the path is from Rt. 16 to the Wynn waterfront project.
“We see the great possibilities for us if we connect to the Orange Line across the Mystic River,” said Jay Monty, and Everett transportation planner. “Every day Rt. 99 is clogged. People use it to avoid the tolls or the Tobin Bridge. It really inhibits our ability to develop the City. Making the connection to the river and across the river would likely tip the transportation mode share quite a bit.”
He said that the Wynn Boston Harbor project has agreed to help study the implementation of a bridge connection. Meanwhile, the owners of the Gateway Mall have been in conversations about reviving the MEPA requirement of connecting the bike path from Air Force Road to the waterfront.
“Some 20 years later and three management companies later, that’s been forgotten, but we’ve had conversations with them about it and they’ve reach out to the Department of Conservation and Recreation and are talking about engineering that now,” he said.
The City of Everett has put in a grant from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) for money to study the creation of that connecting piece.
Malden Mayor Gary Christianson said the path in Malden – which is probably the strongest link in the Northern Strand – has been one of the best projects he’s worked on as mayor.
“This project has been the single greatest impact project I’ve worked on as mayor,” he said. “For year’s we’ve been trying to figure out how to bring our diverse population together and this project has done it.”
State Sen. Tom McGee (D-Lynn), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he wanted to make sure resources were devoted to forms of transportation like bicycles and pedestrians.