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Comment Letter Re: a car-free option for Memorial Drive Phase III

Comment Letter Re: a car-free option for Memorial Drive Phase III

Commissioner Leo Roy
Department of Conservation and Recreation

May 9, 2019
Dear Commissioner Roy,

As part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Memorial Drive Phase III redesign between Eliot Bridge and the B.U. Boat House we ask that you consider a car-free option in the planning process.

As recently highlighted by Governor Baker’s Commission on the Future of Transportation, 40% of Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from transportation infrastructure and vehicles, half of which come from passenger vehicles alone. The pressing need to limit passenger vehicle trips, in concert with the City of Cambridge’s 1992 Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance, justify consideration for a car-free Memorial Drive.

This planning process allows the State a unique opportunity to enhance regional park access by connecting adjacent parks (Riverbend Park, John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, Riverside City Park, Riverside Press Park, Magazine Beach, and others) to the Charles River. Creating truly safe and accessible connectivity between walking and biking facilities along the Charles River and adjacent neighborhoods will have lower positive impact then a car- free option. By limiting vehicle infrastructure, the State will be expanding space for new parkland and an expanded tree canopy. Limiting car access to Memorial Drive will align with ongoing climate resiliency initiatives by reducing GHG emissions, increasing green space, but also by establishing space for further flood mitigation, an ongoing issue near Magazine Beach and Micro Center.

This concept of a car-free Memorial Drive is not new, but a logical extension of the existing weekend Riverbend Park Street closures, which demonstrate the desire for this type of expansive riverfront parkland. While recognizing that over 1,000 vehicles use Memorial Drive during peak hours, we believe that ongoing transportation initiatives including the Green Line Extension, the Allston I-90 Multimodal Interchange, West Station, the Grand Junction path and regional rail concepts, and the MBTA’s Better Buses initiative will provide viable alternatives in the long-run, significantly reducing the need for Memorial Drive as a private vehicle throughway.

The existing sub-standard conditions of the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path along Memorial Drive currently have high usership. There are currently over 1,000 daily bike commuters and over 1,000 daily runners and pedestrians. The existing conditions do not provide safe accommodation for existing users, and with future expansion of the regions multi-use paths, including the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway and the Grand Junction Path, this section of paths will see increased daily users. Providing safe and reliable accommodations for sustainable transportation and recreation modes should be the highest priority of the DCR.

There is precedence for a project of this scope, as when a two-mile stretch of a busy highway along the Seine in Paris, France, was permanently closed to cars in 2016, and turned into a bicycle and pedestrian promenade. This type of project could prove to be similarly iconic for the Charles River.

This is a complicated project. We recommend, along with The Charles River Conservancy and Magazine Beach Partners that a task force or advisory group be created to help better inform decisions throughout the process. The groups listed on their letter can help you provide better transparency and inclusiveness in the project. While early in the planning phase it is important to consider this highly impactful, once in a lifetime opportunity to restore Cambridge’s public shoreline. Thank you for your consideration of this unique opportunity to prioritize climate resiliency and public health.

Sincerely,

Tony Lechuga, LivableStreets
David Read, Longwood Area Cyclists
Alex Auriema, Memorial Drive Bicycle Group
Nathanael Fillmore, Cambridge Bicycle Safety
Janie Katz-Christy, Green Streets Initiative
Steven Nutter, Green Cambridge
Becca Wolfson, Boston Cyclists Union
Brendan Kearney, WalkBoston

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