MILTON -- Many people claim to want a bike path in their town, but, as is the common refrain, "not in my back yard." Recreation path proponents go head-to-head with abutting property owners concerned about an increase in crime and traffic in their neighborhoods. Often neighbors are pitted against neighbors.

So it is in Milton, where a discussion Wednesday night of the pros and cons of a multi-use recreational path in the southern part of town became spirited as residents debated one potential route drafted by a local business owner.

The meeting, originally designed to be a workshop to gather public comments about ancient roads, future roadways and a possible bike path, drew dozens of residents, most of whom were interested in discussing the recreational path. While the town did receive some comments on ancient and future roads, which will help in the drafting of an official town map for the comprehensive plan, much of the discussion focused on the positive and negative aspects of a bike path, Planning Director Regina Mahony said.

Before the meeting, Colchester resident Rick Sharp, who formed the Milton/Colchester Bicycle Path Group a little more than a year ago and has since spearheaded efforts to draft a bike path route, sent out 1,000 maps by mail to residents in the southern part of town. This map, which outlined a route that cut behind the Andrea Estates neighborhood and included a spur into that neighborhood, set off sparks among many of the residents in that region.

"I live on Andrea Lane, and my main concern is the risk versus the gain. My concern is crime," Milton resident Brian Labarge said. "With the bike path comes increased routes for criminals."

Another Andrea Estates resident worried about people hanging out in the woods behind his property if there were a bike path there.

"How do you not make it party central?" Peter Jensen asked.

Sharp, who worked on getting the Burlington bike path built in the 1980s, dismissed residents' fears about increased crime and loitering, saying there was no evidence of crime's spiking once the bike path was built.

"Criminals do not ride bicycles. That's what they found out in Burlington," Sharp said. "They're not going to take your TV away on their bike."

Charlene Wallace, the operations and trail development director for Local Motion, a bicycle advocacy group based in Burlington, attended the meeting to gauge where Milton was in the process. While the residents seemed interested in a bike path, there were some misconceptions about crime around bike paths elsewhere, Wallace said.

"There has been no significant crime issue around the bike path in Burlington or Colchester," Wallace said.

For years after the Burlington bike path was built, Local Motion tracked police records for the neighborhoods abutting the path and found that most of the residents' fears of crime were unfounded. Wallace says neighbor opposition is normal and the concerns raised in Milton were nothing out of the ordinary.

Because the process of creating a bike path takes at least three years, Wallace said it's unlikely that lines will be put on town maps any time soon. Instead, it is likely that the Selectboard will create a committee to look into the best possible routes and the potential funding sources for the project, Mahony said. As for the meeting, Mahony said she was pleased at the level of public involvement.

"I think it went well as a first step of the process. We've got enough to know that it's something the town wants," Mahony said. "We'll definitely put it in as a recommendation in the town plan."

Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or