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Starts & Stops

Memorial Drive crowds facing two-week detour

Inline skaters, bikers, and walkers flock to Memorial Drive on sunny Sundays.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File 2015/Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Commuters have been bracing for months for the upcoming Commonwealth Avenue bridge repair project, which will cause major disruptions on the Massachusetts Turnpike in late July by closing all but two lanes in each direction.

Now, it looks as if the work could also frustrate those seeking some Sunday afternoon leisure in Cambridge.

Riverbend Park — as a stretch of Memorial Drive is known on Sundays when it closes to traffic and becomes a pedestrian boulevard along the Charles River — will fall victim to the project for two days this summer.

Worried about severe gridlock, the state Department of Transportation has asked the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which has jurisdiction over the road, to keep Memorial Drive open to traffic on successive Sundays — July 30 and August 6 — to help offset the Turnpike lane closures. DCR approved the request.


Since the 1980s, DCR has been required by state law to close a section of Memorial Drive to Sunday traffic between April and November with rare exceptions such as emergencies.

Ari Ofsevit, a Cambridge resident who advocates for more pedestrian-friendly streets, criticized the potential closures.

“This is a way people can go out and enjoy the river without traffic coming along it. To say we’re not going to do this for two of the nicest weekends of the year because it might inconvenience some drivers?” Ofsevit said. “There’s no reason to close it.”

DCR initially planned to keep Memorial Drive open to vehicles during a test run of the Turnpike closures in May, saying that “that severe road congestion would hamper emergency vehicles’ abilities to navigate through the area.” But officials had a change of heart, and Riverbend Park opened after the test run ended early.

A path forward?

A gate between the Quincy Adams Red Line station and the surrounding neighborhood has long been locked, blocking pedestrians from a footpath that leads directly to the station. But there appears to be momentum toward opening the gate, the latest twist in a saga that has lasted more than three decades.


The gate’s history is a bit murky, but city officials asked the MBTA to close it sometime in the 1980s over neighborhood concerns that riders would treat the neighborhood as a parking lot for the station. But without the path, neighbors had to loop around to the front of the station, a much longer walk along a major road.

Now, some neighbors want the gate reopened after all these years, and Mayor Thomas Koch may join them. Chris Walker, a spokesman for Koch, said several factors have caused the city to reconsider its position. Some neighbors have stepped up their lobbying, and the MBTA announced it would refurbish the path as part of a renovation of the station, an unusual strategy if the path remains closed.

A neighborhood group, the Penn’s Hill Neighborhood Association, has taken a poll of residents and found that 74 percent of respondents were “strongly in favor” of reopening the gate. While skeptical of the results, the neighborhood’s city councilor, Brian Palmucci, wrote on Facebook that “without a doubt there is growing sentiment toward opening the gate.”

No decision has been made yet, and may not be for a year, Walker said. Even if the vast majority of neighbors support the project, the city still needs to ease the concerns of those who don’t. That may involve imposing residential parking in the neighborhood or working with the MBTA to establish a pick-up and drop-off system, he said.


Still, the debate has begun.

“We opened the door to opening the gate,” Walker quipped.

Road (and rail) trip

State Senator Eric Lesser hopes the third time is a charm. For the third straight year, the Longmeadow Democrat is pushing for the state budget to include funding for a study of high-speed rail service between Boston and Springfield.

The state Senate has already approved the provision and Lesser is hopeful it will be included in the Legislature’s final budget. The proposal made it through the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by Governor Charlie Baker.

Lesser took to the road on Monday, stopping in Boston, Framingham, Worcester, Palmer and Springfield to rally support for the study, which has been endorsed by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Much of the journey was by car, to highlight that the two cities lack a rail route, outside of a daily Amtrak trip that goes to Chicago.

Lesser said previous studies have looked at a Boston-Springfield route, but a more focused review would help officials better understand the costs, benefits, and feasibility of the project. Lesser thinks high-speed rail would give Western Massachusetts better access to jobs in Boston while giving Boston workers less expensive housing options to the west.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.