SOMERVILLE — As Shahar Bracha walked toward the new Gilman Square MBTA stop on a sunny Friday morning last week, the best route to get there seemed like a no-brainer: the freshly-paved Community Path extension right in front of her.
After being delayed several times in recent months, the new section of path still isn’t officially open to the public. But Bracha has seen others walk or bike past the propped-open segments of chain-link fencing to access it — so she took her chances and slipped through.
“It’s been a bit confusing because it’s walkable and bikeable,” said Bracha, 29. “People have been using it all the time. Every time they close [the fence] people open it again and use it. Why not just open it?”
That’s the question residents have been asking officials for months now, as the prime season for long strolls and bike rides has finally arrived. For many, it’s been frustrating that the long-awaited path, a key part of the Green Line Extension project that runs alongside the tracks from Somerville to Cambridge, is still blocked off nearly six months after the new T stops opened.
Amid the confusion and anticipation, they’ve been using it anyway.
Since at least mid-May, residents have been weaving their way around barricades to get a sneak preview of the path. On Memorial Day weekend, when the early summer conditions made it all the more enticing, the path’s gates had been moved. Although it was unclear who did it, excited cyclists and pedestrians were quick to travel down the corridor — only to find it closed off again the next day.
While they don’t encourage trespassing, city officials say they empathize with those who can’t wait to try it out.
“I’ve been looking forward to the [Community Path] more than I was the Green Line,” said Somerville City Councilor Matthew McLaughlin, who grew up biking in the city. “I feel people’s frustration that it’s not complete yet because it feels like it was always an afterthought. To me it was always the best feature of the Green Line Extension.”
The T said in an e-mail Monday that contractors are still working on the last items on its “punch list” of tasks that need to be completed before the path can officially open, including meeting the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When transit officials gave a tour of the path to state legislators in May, they said they were aiming to open by mid-June. But residents have complained that they haven’t heard any updates since.
Officials have received hundreds of emails about the delays. Questions about when it will be accessible are so frequent, City Councilor Jake Wilson set up a website called IsTheCommunityPathExtensionOpen.com, which provides a simple answer: “No.”
Wilson said he’s also irritated by the mystery of when it will finally open.
“City staff are also in the dark about this,” he said. “My website is just a very meager attempt at doing the bare minimum of communication.”
State Representative Mike Connolly, whose district includes Cambridge and Somerville, has had the same frustrations about the lack of communication from the T.
“Even though I can see that there’s been a lot of progress, they haven’t really engaged with the level of explanation that I think our community deserves,” Connolly said. “My message has just been, be transparent. Show us your punch list. Show us your work charts. Tell us what you’re doing and what has to be done. Be up front.”
Yesterday, the Somerville legislative delegation met with Bill Ferrari, Acting Program Manager for the GLX project, to discuss the status of the Community Path Extension and other "punch list" items on the Green Line Extension Project. The MBTA recently announced a mid-June grand… pic.twitter.com/b4fWYRoEOh— Mike Connolly (@MikeConnollyMA) May 4, 2023
Connolly said constituents are especially eager to see it open because of the role they played in advocating for it back in 2016, when state officials considered trimming it from the Green Line Extension project to cut costs.
“It was people in Somerville who stood up and said, ‘No, it’s absolutely necessary,’” he said. “It’s a huge triumph.”
The delays — and at times silence — make it seem as if the path extension, which connects to the existing path on Lowell Street, isn’t a top priority.
“It’s really unfortunate that they have to end it on such a mysterious note,” Connolly said.
On a recent trip to the extension’s access points, Connolly saw encouraging signs that opening day is getting closer. He observed sections of path that had been dug up and repaved at the proper grade, and firefighters doing final inspections.
Some segments were blocked by easy-to-move chain link fence, which people effortlessly side-stepped and ignored in order to get on the path. Others parts had no fencing at all, but construction equipment could be seen blocking the way farther down. In other parts, fencing was locked in place with chains, so accessing it was clearly off-limits.
While scoping out the progress, Connolly noted oversights that troubled him, including metal signs at shoulder height with sharp edges and an emergency exit door on a section of path that was left open, and led directly onto train tracks.
He shared some these findings on Twitter, where he’s become Somerville’s go-to source for updates on the path in the absence of information from the T.
We’re getting closer to an official opening for the Community Path Extension in Somerville and Cambridge. This morning, the Somerville Fire Department is out walking the path to get more familiar with it, and GLX contractors are continuing to work on remaining punch list items. pic.twitter.com/RfA6V5BP00— Mike Connolly (@MikeConnollyMA) June 2, 2023
“I’ve been trying to push the T to communicate,” Connolly said.
Along the way, near the Gilman Square stop, he met Josh Rosenstock, 49, who passed by Medford Street on a bike.
Rosenstock opted to use the roadway rather than the restricted bike path, but said he was as eager as others to start utilizing the long-anticipated protected lane.
“I think everybody’s impatient,” said Rosenstock. “Big picture, all of this is amazing and such good news for everybody. Short term, we’re all chewing our elbows off.”
Nearby, at a detour bike lane set up due to ongoing construction at Somerville High School, Connolly also found problems.
Two flex posts meant to keep cars away from cyclists had been moved — evidently by GLX contractors — and cars were driving the wrong way directly into the path of cyclists.
Connolly called his contacts at the T to report the issue, and tapped out a tweet thread calling it “an outrageous road safety hazard.” It was another indication that he and others were scrutinizing their every move before the path opens — whenever that might be.
“This is how it goes,” he said. “I go out for a bike ride, I look around, I see something outrageous, and then it’s time to do the work.”