One of the Planning Board’s goals for this year is to increase safe and inviting ways for allowing pedestrians to travel through Hopkinton, and it is seeking the community’s input at a virtual public forum on Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m.
Planning Board chair Gary Trendel explained in a phone interview that the idea for this initiative came about because of comments the board received from the community.
“We have consistently been hearing from residents that they want more walkability and what I would call more pedestrian connectivity,” he said. “We thought that we could maybe apply some planning principles to increase access. Like all things like this, we wanted to bring in the public and hear what they had to say.”
In response to the comments, the Planning Board conducted “an extensive pedestrian connectivity survey” last year, Trendel noted. The board will use the survey data as well as information gleaned from the public forum to create a multiyear plan for new sidewalks and trails.
“The majority of respondents said they want to have more trails and sidewalks,” Trendel said of the survey results. “These are the people who get out three, four, five or six days a week.
“We were pleasantly surprised by how many people want to be able to happily and safely walk downtown,” he continued. “We want to better understand how people use sidewalks and trails through their feedback.”
In addition to travel, he stressed the physical, mental and health benefits that recreational walking promotes.
“I know firsthand the health benefits of walking and biking,” Trendel said.
The pandemic also increased the public’s awareness of the social and physical benefits of being outdoors. Trendel said he and his neighbors enjoy making connections with the people who walk through his neighborhood to connect to the Center Trail.
“For me, Hopkinton has some amazing assets,” Trendel explained, noting the popularity of the trails. “We have three lakes and two beautiful state parks in Whitehall and Hopkinton State Park. But for some places, right now you need a car to get there.”
Increased safety measures such as sidewalks and trails will promote “good traffic” to the trails and other town resources, he said. The public input session will help the Planning Board determine the best locations to increase access.
Trendel envisioned creating trail loops of between 2-4 miles, which he said is the “optimal distance” for walkers. One example he gave would be to connect the downtown area to the Southborough commuter rail station. Creating walkability to the downtown also potentially could stimulate vitality in the business district as people take the time to explore local shops they might pass by in a car.
The Planning Board is taking some initial steps to increase pedestrian connectivity, according to Trendel. There are two articles for new sidewalks that will be voted upon at the Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 1. He called these articles “low-hanging fruit” that could be addressed now.
One proposed sidewalk would connect Chestnut Street with Wild Road and Smith Road. This would increase pedestrian access to the downtown area for residents in the Connelly Hill and Ravenwood areas. He noted that a young person was struck by a car in that area several years ago, which prompted the discussion about sidewalks.
The second article proposed sidewalks that would connect Blueberry Lane to EMC Park.
“The idea is that we can create really nice 2- or 3-mile loops,” he said.
Visit the events calendar at hopkintonma.gov for more information on the upcoming meeting, including the link.