The MassDOT Rail Trail Program is a statewide initiative that seeks to transform disused railway infrastructure into mixed-use pathways for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. This program creates transportation options that allow greater opportunities for recreational space and reduce reliance on personal transport modes. The program was initiated in 2017 when an Interagency Trails Team was established, led by the Governor’s office. The purpose of the team is to help develop a unified vision for a trails network and translate that into strategic investments, policy innovation and an enhanced relationship with municipal partners.
Funding for these trails is provided by MassDOT’s five-year Capital Investment Plan which set aside more than $203 million for the construction of multiuse pathways. These trails vary greatly in scope and scale and often serve as the only bike and pedestrian-friendly access way between towns that otherwise lack public transport infrastructure. Aside from connecting municipalities via existing railway infrastructure, these trails serve as important recreational assets that create spaces for residents to walk run or bike free from safety concerns associated with vehicles or other roadway traffic.
Of the rail trails constructed, projects such as the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail between Lowell and Concord exemplify the impact which multimodal pathways can have in local communities. This path alone covers more than 25 miles of pedestrian and bicycle-only pavement. Further expansion of this trail is expected to continue with connections between Concord, Sudbury, and Framingham in the coming years. With more than eight different municipalities included in current plans for this trail alone, the Brue Freeman Rail Trail speaks to the equitability of shared-use recreational spaces for communities of such widely varied geographies and demographic compositions.