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Provide Equal Access to the Bikeway

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

By John Mitchell

Originally Submitted to the Bedford Citizen August 17, 2022

When I was 17, my grandfather began using a wheelchair after a major stroke. Thanks to public transportation, he could get to most places that mattered to him, but his deepest wish was to return to church. The church was not wheelchair-accessible, though, so his wish wasn’t granted until his own funeral.

I thought of “Gramps” when Town Meeting voted last week to block completion of the Minuteman Bikeway Extension and make it an ADA-compliant space. Before the vote, a resident explained how the project would help her family, especially her husband, who uses a wheelchair. (Read her story in The Bedford Citizen). She lamented a world of “can’ts,” places her family cannot enjoy, and what a truly accessible public space would mean. Stories like hers are often unheard because people with disabilities are often overlooked. When the article failed, my heart sank.

Voters asked many questions about the project: “What about the trees?” “Will cyclists ride too fast?” “Why must I run on pavement?” It was clear they feared losing something they personally enjoyed. As a trail user myself, I get it. Time spent on the trail is exhilarating and restorative, and I see why many residents voted No to protect what they love about it.

But the critical question, which we must always ask, is: “Who are we leaving out?” CDC data finds that 1 in 7 American adults, and over 1 in 4 seniors, has a disability involving “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.” Most of us know someone with mobility issues. The proposed plan would have helped them immeasurably by creating a “shared-use” path aligned with federal and state accessibility rules, improving not just the surface of the path, but also parking, access points, signage, and sightlines that create accessibility. It would have served all kinds of users of all abilities—walkers, cyclists, stroller-pushers, hikers, wheelchair-users, and runners—making this recreational space truly public.

Our vote to block completion of this project was a vote to keep the trail out of reach for a significant portion of our community. They can’t use it. We put the enjoyment of some over equal access for all. I hope my fellow residents recognize what we have done for what it really is—an exclusionary act that ignores persons with disabilities. I hope in the future, we will do better for all our neighbors.

A note from the Opinion Editor: John Mitchell is the spouse of Select Board chair Emily Mitchell.

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