As the town of Westfield expands its network of trails, more and more residents are walking, running or biking on the pedestrian paths. But the city also sees motorists driving illegally on the trails, especially on the Midland Trace Trail.
“For the most part, accidental driving on the trail does happen, but it’s relatively rare,” said the superintendent of the Westfield Parks and Recreation Department. said Chris McConnell. “Here it’s more than likely done very intentionally because more than likely people think it’s an easy way to navigate this area.”
Part of the Midland Trace Trail runs east to west, south of Park Street, a popular destination with several restaurants and heavy traffic. McConnell thinks drivers use the trail as a shortcut because there are no bollards preventing access to the trail. McConnell said drivers typically take the Park Way Circle trail near Esler’s Auto Repair.
“I think most often (vehicles go down) towards (entrance to the trail) on Mill Street, but I’ve seen them once or twice go up Park Way Circle and turn west on Midland and head towards Poplar (Street),” he said.
McConnell said signage indicates that motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trail. He said the park service has considered installing bollards, but since there are no fences adjacent to trail entrances, he expects drivers to continue using the trail and damage turf when exiting trail to avoid bollards.
McConnell said no effort was made to catch motorists driving on the trails.
“I’ve only seen half a dozen such incidents, and it’s only been brought to my attention once or twice,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a bigger problem than what I’ve been told. Until it becomes a huge safety issue, the police department probably doesn’t have time to deal with it.
The owner of the Greek pizzeria, Curt Whitesell, said he has seen a dozen vehicles in recent years driving illegally on the Midland Trace Trail, which is directly south of his Park Street restaurant.
“We often joke about the cars driving along the Midland Trail south of Park Street, but in reality it looks like a serious crash is imminent,” Whitesell said. “In my eyes, this should be a high priority and a really easy solution from a city’s perspective. In an effort to bring even more new visitors to our community, the chances of this happening again will only increase.
McConnell encourages motorists to be patient in congested areas and not to drive on trails.
“We all realize that Park Street is a very busy place, especially during times of heavy traffic,” he said. “People need to be patient and use the street instead of using our pedestrian amenities to get around this area. Our trails are a tremendous asset to the community, and they serve as alternative transportation. So it’s for pedestrians, cyclists and walkers, and we want to keep them safe.