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Cambridge City Council wants Memorial Drive reserved for pedestrians, cyclists during pandemic

The road closure would open up more space for recreation and prevent unsafe crowding as the weather warms.

The city of Cambridge wants to close Memorial Drive to car traffic every day during the pandemic to create additional recreation space. A portion of the road is closed on Sundays during the warm weather months.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Most every Sunday from April to November, a stretch of Memorial Drive closes to cars and becomes a riverside playground for walkers and cyclists that vastly expands upon the park that runs along the Charles River.

Now, the Cambridge City Council is pushing to close the roadway for recreation every day of the week during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The council on Monday voted to have the city work with the state agency that owns and operates Memorial Days about closing it to cars. The goal is to create more space for social distancing along the river, an already popular destination that figures to grow more crowded as the weather turns, despite stay-home advisories from the state government.


The agency, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, said it is reviewing the request but declined to share any further information.

The 5 to 3 vote was a reversal from the week before, when the Cambridge council tabled the idea due to concerns that creating more recreational space would lead to unsafe crowding. The shift reflects the fluid debate over whether to close roads to make room for more leisure as auto traffic dips sharply downward.

Over the weekend, DCR closed parts of its major parkways in the Boston area, including Day Boulevard in South Boston, to allow better social distancing at popular recreational areas. Also last week, Brookline officials voted to cordon off portions of public streets to add more space for pedestrians, cyclists, and wheelchairs in four already-busy areas near grocery stores or on major commuting routes. But Brookline declined to close roads for recreation, arguing it would send the wrong message and invite more people to congregate.

Other cities across the country and the world have taken different approaches. Oakland last week announced it would create a network of 74 miles of streets that would be closed to most vehicles.