Memorial Drive changes are off to a good start, but groups still share five significant concerns

Representatives of the Memorial Drive Alliance, a collective of Cambridge and Boston environmentalists, cyclists, pedestrians, runners, city officials and members of prominent local community organizations, are committed to an improved Memorial Drive Parkway and share the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s mission to protect and enhance state natural resources for all to enjoy.

Overall, we are pleased by how the state is addressing concerns with the initial Memorial Drive Phase III design released in early 2022. Members of our group support enthusiastically the following elements of a revised design:

  • The road diet, reducing vehicle travel lanes to two from four for most of the project area.
  • The effort to preserve and protect the culturally important allée of London Plane trees and addition of 22 London Plane trees and 59 native trees.
  • Elimination of proposed retaining walls, keeping the pastoral nature of the riverbank.
  • Elimination of the Gerry’s Landing Road eastbound slip lane, increasing usable parkland.
  • Improved stormwater management features and reduction of impervious surfaces.
  • Addition of two pedestrian crosswalks; benches; and other amenities for park users.
  • Restoration of sidewalks along the north side.
  • Improved pathway connections under and over the Eliot Bridge.

But we continue to have strong concerns about aspects of the revised design and ask to see the following steps taken:

Fully separate paths by repurposing the existing roadway: The plan specifies a new 10-foot paved path directly beside a 5-foot aggregate path for most of the project area, inviting safety conflicts among users traveling at different speeds. Repurposing the existing roadway will enable critical separation between travel modes in this high-traffic area, a concern that has been raised consistently in public comments. In addition to enhancing the safety and comfort of users of all ages and abilities, putting the paved path within the existing roadway right of way will offer significant environmental and economic benefits by eliminating the need to regrade the steep slope along the riverbank, eliminating the use of bioengineered coir rolls and increasing the amount of parkland available for stormwater capture and retention. Signs and surface painting as well as the careful planting of trees between the two path types can further reinforce safe, separated multimodal travel.

Implement additional traffic calming measures: The road diet and elimination of highwaylike guardrails alone will not prevent cars from driving at excessive speeds, as is evidenced on Greenough Boulevard and Fresh Pond Parkway. Rectangular rapid-flashing beacons are insufficient on roads with faster travel speeds, are ignored routinely by drivers and are not compatible with the pastoral nature of the riverbank. Alternatively, in addition to reducing the speed limit to no greater than 25 mph, consistent with Cambridge’s nonresidential roads, further physical interventions are needed and preferred:

  • Additional, raised crosswalks, including one initially proposed between Hawthorn and JFK streets;
  • Improving the safety of people crossing Hawthorn Street by making physical changes to reduce the speed of westbound vehicles turning right off of Memorial Drive and improve sight lines;
  • Treatments such as speed tables, speed humps, pinch points (such as medians and curb extensions) and chicanes along tangent and curve sections to reduce perceived roadway width and lower vehicle speeds; and
  • Gateway designs that cue drivers that they have entered a parkland environment, such as physical and visual distinctions including art, greenery or parkland signs to communicate the transition to a low-speed, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly corridor.

Restore the viewshed with smaller plantings rather than viewing platforms. The proposed placement of viewing platforms invites safety conflicts among users who are stopping to admire views and other users who are continuing to move along the paths. By protecting the natural riverbank with planted edges and vistas (rather than installing an engineered edge), the need for viewing platforms can be avoided.

Leverage nonprofit partners, neighboring institutions and the City of Cambridge to support park amenities and plantings. Partners have expressed interest in supporting tree planting and ongoing maintenance, which is of great importance for their long-term success. Similarly, the state should work with partners to site and care for key amenities including seating, water fountains and trash bins.

Coordinate with the Department of Transportation on urgently needed improvements to the Eliot Bridge. We understand that the agency is developing a plan to restore the crumbling masonry of the bridge; it is important that the two capital projects be coordinated.

Overall, we support the state’s efforts to expand access to Charles River parkland, enhance safety for active transportation and recreation, improve water quality and preserve the cultural history of the pastoral landscape. We look forward to continuing a productive conversation on how to achieve these shared goals.

The Memorial Drive Alliance Steering Committee and Memorial Drive Alliance

The Memorial Drive Alliance is listed as including A Better Cambridge, Bike Harvard, Cambridge Bicycle Safety, Cambridge Citizens Coalition, Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan, Cambridge City Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Cambridge Committee on Public Planting, Cambridge Residents Alliance, Cambridge Urban Forestry Task Force, Charles River Conservancy, Friends of Memorial Drive, Friends of the Community Path Extension, Friends of the Grand Junction Path, Friends of the Mystic to Charles, Green Cambridge, Green Streets Initiative, Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, Livable Streets Alliance, Longwood Area Cyclists, Mass Bike, Mothers Out Front, People for Riverbend Park Trust, 350 Cambridge-Somerville, Rte. 16 Traffic Calming Coalition, Sierra Club MA, Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets and WalkBoston.