Bike Path Spur Dispute Resolved

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as seen from the rail trail.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as seen from the rail trail. 2011

One of the goals of the Open Space Recreation, & Multi-Use plan in Northampton, MA, has been to create little rail trail spurs throughout the city so that more residents have easy access to existing Manhan Rail Trail and Mass Central Trail.

Some of the trail links are welcomed by their neighbors. One link was vehemently opposed.

The spur from the section along King Street in downtown out to the road was the subject of a dispute from the property owner and the City of Northampton. The City wanted the Catholic Church which was doing renovations to its church parking lot to include a spur from the trail which was behind the church, to King Street, which was in front of the church’s lot. The church objected to the City Planing Board’s requirement that the spur be built as a condition for the building permit for the rest of the work, and sued the City. [You can read more about the background in my previous post, Letter to the Editor – St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton.]

While it seemed the Church didn’t want the City to tell it what to do with its land, they also didn’t want people crossing the property for fear of disruptions to their religious services.

I saw this situation a little differently.

In letter to the local paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, I wrote:

Being a spiritual person and a cyclist, Lynn Shelley’s letter published May 27, and the Springfield Diocese’s decision to sue the Northampton Planning Board, saddens me. I think the church’s proximity to the rail trail is a huge asset. Connecting to it could enhance the church community in so many ways.

I don’t know how, or if, the lawsuit got resolved, or if the church came to see the trail spur as an asset as I suggested, but a recent ride past the property shows that the spur did indeed get built.

This is how the spur looks as of May, 2013.

image

Here’s hoping that the spur works out well for the parish community and for rail trail users.

My full letter to the editor is reprinted below:

Editor,

Being a spiritual person and a cyclist, Lynn Shelley’s letter published May 27, and the Springfield Diocese’s decision to sue the Northampton Planning Board, saddens me. I think the church’s proximity to the rail trail is a huge asset. Connecting to it could enhance the church community in so many ways.

Ms. Shelley’s letter objects to the Planning Board’s requirement for a connection to the rail trail on spiritual grounds. I can appreciate her wariness of having non-attenders interrupt services and events. I wouldn’t want that either. The site will not be developed as currently configured. Buildings and parking are being relocated. Why not put the rail trail connection away from the buildings? Post signs that the parking is private.

But these concerns only take the rail trail as a burden to be suffered, rather than a unique opportunity which could enrich the parish community.

As a child, I attended youth events at my church by bike, on the road. Here in Northampton, we’ve provided the community with the means to travel to all sorts of places on a safe rail trail. I wonder if some of the parents of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton will be more likely to send their children to church events knowing they can travel by bike or walk. The church of my youth had a thriving youth program precisely because so many of us could get there on our own. I’d have to think twice about letting my children travel that stretch of King Street.

Might this connection to the rail trail become an asset to parish youth programs?

In my adult years, I continue to use my bike to travel to my faith community. I see many adults using the rail trail for exercise and to attend to errands. As Ms. Shelley notes, many attenders of the parish are elderly. Driving a car will not always be an option for them. Alternate means of transportation for elderly members could include walking and biking the rail trail, away from the traffic of King Street. Perhaps those who can no longer drive would appreciate the freedom that the rail trail affords them? What about current attenders who choose not to drive?

Could the rail trail provide a means for arriving at services for those who cannot, or choose not to drive?

I’m not Catholic, so I have not felt the pain of giving up a beloved worship space as parishes consolidate. But as Catholic Churches in Western Massachusetts are now regional, instead of neighborhood, places of worship, try thinking of a connection to the rail trail as a way to help worshipers be part of your community. I have faith that it can.

Sincerely,

Gina M. Nortonsmith
Northampton

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About Pedal Paradise

Cyclist, Mom, Travel Nut, Bike Riding Empower-er!
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