WELLFLEET — On the same day almost a year ago that Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, March 10, the select board, state officials, and more than 50 members of the public attended the last in-person meeting about the extension of the Cape Cod Rail Trail bikeway here. Next week, that contentious conversation will resume, but without the state’s involvement — at least for now.
The Wellfleet Bike and Walkways Committee (BWC) will hold a virtual discussion on Monday, Feb. 15 to gather opinions on potential bikeway routes from Wellfleet to the Truro town line. BWC chair Peter Cook said those ideas will become part of a methodical approach to comparing every possible route — including the route proposed by the state, even though that one has so far proved controversial.
The bikeway, which currently stretches 25.5 miles from Station Avenue in South Yarmouth to Lecount Hollow Road in South Wellfleet, is managed by the state’s Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Its long-term goal is a bikeway that runs the whole length of the Cape.
Two new sections are planned for Wellfleet, and the agency is ready to move forward on the first, which will extend the path about one mile north of where it currently ends to the DCR’s Wellfleet Hollow Campground (formerly Paine’s Campground) on Old County Road. This first phase should be completed in 2022, according to Olivia Dorrance, the DCR’s press secretary.
Meanwhile, progress beyond that point is “on hold,” wrote Jim Montgomery, commissioner of the DCR, in a September 2020 letter to the select board. Trying to fulfill the wishes of the April 2019 town meeting, the select board had asked the state to postpone planning and construction of the bike trail beyond Old County Road due to public safety concerns.
While the commissioner’s letter acknowledged the town’s desire to find alternatives, it suggested his agency saw little chance that a better route could be found. The limitation, Montgomery wrote, is that “DCR does not own any other rights of way.”
That is why the second phase of the DCR plan has the path joining the state highway at a new trailhead terminus in a parking lot off Route 6, near Oriole Lane. As presented at the public meeting last spring, the project would involve the state’s Dept. of Transportation (DOT) in repaving and adding bike lanes and a sidewalk along the highway.
That is where Wellfleet’s worries about safety are focused, in spite of Montgomery’s position that what is proposed is “the safest and best approach” possible.
This is a town whose worries run deep.
In August 2013, 16-year-old Miles Tibbetts was riding his bike to work when he was struck and killed by a car. He was crossing Route 6 about 100 feet south of Cumberland Farms, not far from where the new Rail Trail terminus is planned.
A third of a mile north of that spot, Route 6 meets Main Street.
“There are so many accidents at that intersection,” said the select board’s Helen Miranda Wilson. “It’s one of the most dangerous in Barnstable County.” At last spring’s meeting with DOT and DCR, Wilson reminded officials that the town had been waiting for that intersection to be redesigned.
Lack of action on that front has not inspired trust in the state’s plans, but Wilson believes further communication could change things. “The process has not been as good as it might be,” she said. Up to now, she added, “Plans have been made without people being on the same page.”
Town Administrator Maria Broadbent said she expects a meeting proposed by the select board to bring together all stakeholders, from the BWC, to the National Park Service, to state agencies. It is expected to be scheduled in the next few weeks.
‘Two Separate Worlds’
Cook said the Feb. 15 session is only part of the BWC’s preparation for new negotiations with the state. Members are also reviewing past studies by the Cape Cod Commission, the DCR, and the National Park Service, he said.
The Cape Cod Commission’s Outer Cape Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan from 2017, he pointed out, recognized that the location where the bikeway would meet the highway is “an area of concern,” and one that would require further study.
From there, the committee is building what Cook calls an “analysis methodology” that will weight community goals and objectives in order of priority. He knows already, though, that “safety is a primary concern.”
Some townspeople acknowledge there will be pluses to having the bikeway meet the highway. And the location of the trailhead terminus, select board chair Michael DeVasto said, provides an incentive and a false sense of security for recreational cyclists to visit nearby destinations, such as PJ’s restaurant.
Even with the addition of sidewalks and the improvements to the bike lanes along Rt. 6, DeVasto argued that it is an unsafe corridor for inexperienced cyclists. Connecting casual cyclists to Route 6, which is appropriate only for the most experienced cyclists, is a “convergence of two separate worlds,” said DeVasto. He remains cautiously optimistic about pushing the conversation with the state forward.
Some residents are proponents of the DCR-DOT plan. John Cumbler, who served on the BWC for six years before resigning out of frustration, said that, although the plan isn’t perfect, he believes safety concerns could be mitigated by reducing curb cuts.
Cumbler said that while “it would be wonderful to have an alternative route,” his concern is that the search for a viable one has become “a chimera — a false phantom of an idea that will stall any bike path extension.”
“An alternative bikeway route is not unrealistic,” Wilson said. But, she added, “what is unrealistic is thinking there is any safety in the plan with curb cuts.”
“The key is, we’re all neighbors,” Cook said of his role bringing those two worlds together. He hopes the BWC’s efforts will bring results “everyone can be confident in.”
The bike and walkways committee meeting will be hosted by the Wellfleet Community Forum on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Email [email protected] to request a link to join.