Make an effort to retain paths, connections

Pedestrians are a lot like water.

Turn them loose, and they’ll naturally find the quickest way to flow to their destination, their paths unlikely to stick to established routes if there is a more convenient way – through a wooded area, say, or between buildings and along corridors not obviously fenced off to

deny passage.

It is perhaps the best metaphor to explain the network of informal pedestrian connections that take root in a community over time. Generally well intentioned and unencumbered by such details as property ownership, walkers tend to find the path that makes sense, and stick with it until it’s good and beaten in and used by others.

Unfortunately, the routes they establish are much like road ends (and to a lesser extent, parks); everyone loves the idea, until there’s one near their home. Then what is in concept a fine public amenity transmogrifies in the consciousness of the immediate neighbors into a magnet for interlopers, garbage and noise. And so wooded trails are fenced off, impediments erected to steer folks elsewhere.

We don’t have any particular qualms with whomever put up fences around the woods southeast of Winslow Cohousing, land which that group recently preserved under a private conservation easement. Fundamental to the notion of private property is the right to deny others access, and if the owners felt it best to protect their interests in such a manner, that is their prerogative. But we can’t help but feel that every time such a connection is broken, an opportunity is lost. (For another example, take a stroll to the back of the new Windermere mixed-use development on Madison Avenue, where you’ll find a gate that opens to...a wooden barricade, presumably not what was expected when the gate was installed.)

Recent history suggests that such paths and connections can be successfully integrated into our local, non-motorized transportation grid when the city puts its collective mind to it. Folks living south of Wyatt Way (on Cosgrove and neighboring streets) can make their way into town along several byways, one an excellent waterfront trail that was required as part of a development, another along the unopened Shepard Way right of way that was improved for pedestrians and bicyclists several years ago. The other end of that right of way was recently reconnected with Shepard and Grow Avenue, thanks to the city’s insistence that a path be established across the site of the new children’s museum.

A more longstanding public trail is a graveled path that connects Finch Place with Parfitt Way, a pragmatic route for anyone in a hurry to get to the pub. It does not seem to generate any problems, nor do the others.

As Winslow Tomorrow consultant and transportation planner Jim Charlier notes, the city can negotiate with property owners for easements by which to perpetuate limited public access to trails like those in the woods near Winslow Cohousing. Such arrangements would codify use, while protecting the rights of landowners. If a new effort toward such arrangements is a byproduct of downtown planning, our town will be that much the better for it.

We spend plenty on the highways. Let us not forget the byways.

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