North Adams residents on bike path route: Not in our backyards

Chenaille Terrace resident Tom Albert is one of several homeowners along the street who have expressed concern about a proposed bike path that would run behind their properties. This photograph is taken from the approximate location of where the path would be built, with Albert's home in the background.

NORTH ADAMS — Supporters say a proposed bike path in Williamstown and North Adams is a great idea, but some residents who live on the route remain deeply concerned about the project.

Residents on both sides of the proposal filled City Hall on Wednesday as city officials and project planners hosted a public meeting about the one-mile bike path.

The trail, which officials hope to have 25 percent designed by the end of the calendar year, would connect the Williamstown border with the Harriman and West Airport in North Adams.

The trail's route begins at the former Spruces property and crosses Route 2 before running south behind several homes on Chenaille Terrace. From there, the 12-foot-wide, multi-use path would turn east onto property of the Harriman and West Airport.

The project is slated to receive $4.9 million in construction funding already allocated in the state budget; North Adams has allocated $160,000 in its state highway aid toward the initial design thus far.

The next step in the process is to submit the 25 percent design, hold a public hearing, and then move forward toward 100 percent design. Construction could begin in July 2019.

Among the obstacles to the path are the crossing of Route 2, wetlands, and the concerns of Chenaille Terrace residents, several of whom came out Wednesday to reiterate their opposition.

Alcombright said the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is willing to work with residents along the path to build fencing and provide access points should residents choose to have one.

Residents asked why the proposed path does not follow the Hoosic River in North Adams, unlike in Williamstown.

The Williamstown length of trail was simpler to design largely because most of the land was owned by the town or by Williams College. The path also had fewer obstacles, according to Lauren Gaherty, a senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission who has overseen the project.

"There's a lot more slope, there's Route 2, there's the river, there's the railroad," Gaherty said. "It's just busier [in North Adams]."

Planners have to consider the trail's impact on the airport, which needs to maintain the ability to expand should it desire, according to Matthew Kearney, of project engineer Greenman-Pedersen Inc.

Abutters to the project objected to the proposal because of its proximity to their homes, impact on their privacy, proximity to wetlands, and potential impact on wildlife. They painted a picture of the neighborhood as home to mostly retired residents who enjoy a quiet life without fences in their backyards.

"In this process, I personally I have felt demonized a little bit for not wanting this bike path," said Chenaille Terrace resident Kimberly Rose.

She acknowledged should could "understand why people want a bike path," but said "this land is not the place to go."

Jane Culnane, who also lives on Chenaille Terrace, said the bike path would mean a "24/7 loss of privacy."

"As a result of this proposal, the frustration on the street is palpable," Culnane said.

Culnane described herself as a biker who credited planners for the work they've done, but said she could not support the path as it's currently proposed.

"In spite of these valiant efforts, sometimes a round peg should not be forced in a square hole," Culnane said.

Several neighbors pointed out the water issues they deal with on their properties already.

Project officials said those concerns would be addressed during environmental reviews as the design process continues.

Chenaille Terrace resident Dennis Dostie questioned the cost of ongoing maintenance of a trail that skirts wetlands.

"The taxpayers of North Adams are going to have to pay for it," Dostie said.

But several residents came out to support the proposal.

Tony Pisano said he has friends who live directly adjacent to the bike path in Northampton and enjoy it.

"I don't think I`ve ever heard of a community that had a bike path where it was a detriment to the community," Pisano said.

Ellen Janis said she has a "lot of empathy" for the abutters, but she has found bike paths to be a "peaceful place."

"It's not loud, there's no trash, it's peaceful, it's quiet," Janis said.

Others noted the benefits of a safe connection between Williamstown and North Adams for commuters who don't own a car or would prefer not to use one.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Alcombright assured residents that the city and Massachusetts Department of Transportation would continue to work to assuage the concerns of abutters.

Alcombright also said while he is not empowered to name the path alone, he would refer to it as the "Cariddi Mile" in honor of former state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, a longtime advocate of the bike bath. Cariddi died earlier this year.

"I think this is a great way, when it comes to fruition, that we honor her memory," Alcombright said.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter