Advocacy - Then and Now
Cambridge landscape architect, Charles Eliot (1859-1897) conceived of the Charles River as the centerpiece of a regional park system for Boston. His vision was made possible through the acquisition of the river banks by the City of Cambridge and the Boston Metropolitan Park Commission. Comprising of the river and shore lands between the Historic Charles River Dam and the Watertown Dam, the Charles River Basin was designed to provide river scenery and recreational opportunities to Cambridge residents. The riverfront was transferred to the public domain in the 1890s.
Sketch Plan showing the existing and proposed public reservations upon the banks of the Charles River – Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot
A plan by the Metropolitan District to widen Memorial Drive and remove trees to ease traffic flow gave rise to the Citizens’ Emergency Committee to Save Memorial Drive and the campaign to Save the Sycamores.
Rendering of MDC’s plan for Memorial Drive prepared by the Citizens’ Emergency Committee to Save Memorial Drive
Metropolitan District Commissions police break up ‘Save the Sycamores’ protest
Weekend closures of Memorial Drive to cars is part of Isabella Halstead's enduring legacy. In 2021, Memorial Drive, from Mt Auburn St to Western Avenue, becomes Riverbend Park on Saturdays and Sundays from April through the end of November.
Isabella Halstead (1907-2006) helped to found The Friends of Riverbend Park, a group that sought to make the closing of Memorial Drive a weekly event. Ms. Halstead successfully lobbied Senator Ted Kennedy to call the Metropolitan District Commissions Commissioner on the Friends’ behalf.
2002: Charles River Basin Master Plan
In 2002, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), which has managed and maintained the Charles River Basin since its completion in 1910, published the Charles River Basin Master Plan as a guide for the management and maintenance of the parklands, parkways, and water basin.
In 2003, the MDC merged with the Department of Environmental Management to form the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
2004-2019: Memorial Drive Greenway Rehabilitation
In response to the Charles River Basin Master Plan, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has been working to rehabilitate and restore the Memorial Drive Greenway.
Phase I, completed in 2004, focused on the region between Fowler Street and Longfellow bridge, and reduced the cross section of the eastbound travel lanes by eliminated 1 parking lane and 1 travel lane, in order to increase parkland space.
Phase II, completed in 2016, restored the river bank, built new pathways and new parkland furnishings for the region between the Longfellow Bridge and Boston University Boathouse.
Phase III, will focus on the section between the Boston University Boathouse and Eliot Bridge. The goal is to improve the safety and pedestrian/cyclist user experience.
In 2019, the DCR held two public meetings to discuss their plans for the improving conditions on Memorial Drive. The focus of the Phase III project focuses on the section of Memorial Drive between the Boston University Bridge to the east, and the Eliot Bridge to the west. Presentation slides and meeting notes can be found on the DCR Memorial Drive Greenway Improvements, Phase III website.
Ostensibly a bike path, the waterfront Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path is popular among pedestrians, runners, and cyclists, and is in urgent need of maintenance and widening. The pathway is in disrepair, with several segments of poor quality pavement and insufficient width to safely accommodate all users of the path.
Pedestrian and bicycle safety groups stage a Trees+ Bikes rally to lobby for protected bicycle lanes along the full length of Memorial Drive.
2019-2021: Stalled Progress on Phase III
Initial proposals left the roadway completely unchanged, locking in another generation of highway traffic and dangerous conditions on the riverbank. The public meetings in 2019 generated over 1200 public comments. We at the Memorial Drive Alliance recently reviewed all of the public comments and determined that:
88% of people demanded a safer parkland for people who bike
81% of people demanded a safer parkland for people who walk or run
45% of people demanded tree canopy protection and expansion
97% of people demanded change along Memorial Drive citing one or all of these priorities
In response to overwhelming public feedback, the DCR made some improvements to their original design, including major safety improvements to the BU roundabout and a road diet adjacent to Mt Auburn Hospital. However, since June 2019, there have been no project meetings, designs, or solicitation of public feedback.