Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lexington Trail

A few years ago, I noticed that an extraordinary agglomeration of coffee shops was to be found in the center of the town of Lexington (that place west of Boston where the set-to with the British started). Service-oriented businesses of this kind are very interesting; although Christaller's Central Place Theory would normally suggest just one of each kind of service in a small center, it sometimes occurs that a positive effect arises from the agglomeration of several, seemingly competing, businesses.

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In the case of Lexington, both coffee shops and bicycle shops (and one combined coffee/bicycle shop!) enjoy the benefits of being a destination that attracts more than the expected number of customers.

Many factors may contribute to a thriving downtown, and the general prosperity of the region certainly contributes. Lexington is one of several contiguous communities with the highest incomes and housing prices in Massachusetts, which in turn is among the highest states on both measures. Massachusetts also has an exceptionally heterogeneous landscape, though, with field, forest, water, and built environments closely intermingled. In this context, the carefully configured confluence of transportation systems is vitally important.

As my own town -- with some help from some of my geography students -- works toward the improvement of local trail networks, I am sharing a few observations from a short walk in Lexington yesterday, with my favorite librarian and our somewhat crazy dog. This is not so much a photoessay as an Instagram assortment, but it does have a few lessons for anyone thinking about trails in their own neighborhood.

The Lexington Depot houses the Lexington Historical Society.
It is also a convenient place to stow bikes, under a nice canopy.
Because the railroad went through the station, so does
the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.
These old sidings are a reminder that the main trail is formed in the old rail bed. The United States reached a peak of railroad miles around 1910, with a steady decrease ever since. This means that throughout the country are many miles of potential paths, already graded for easy riding, and with ownership or easements that facilitate connections that would cost a fortune to make through new land purchases. As the Minuteman Trail makes clear, these paths are also wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles.
One reason that trail projects can be successful is that while they combine recreation, the enjoyment of natural and historic areas, they also have economic benefits. Hit and Run Sports and Games is an excellent example of a business well-suited to bicycle-oriented development. Accessible from both the street and the trail -- with a hand-made sign listing some of its wares -- this is youth-oriented business is ideally situated. 
ACROSS Lexington uses both the commuter path and other lines of connectivity to bring together the entire town, as the long version of its name implies: Accessing Conservation land, Recreation areas, Open space, Schools and Streets in Lexington. We found this marker just off the rail trail -- it helps residents and visitors alike to know and appreciate what is in this community.
Here Pam and our microdog head toward the one thing that every town should have: a public visitor's center. Easily reached by foot, bike, car, and bus, this center provides rest rooms, respite, and information -- a low-cost investment in civility and marketing that benefits residents, visitors, and local businesses alike.

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