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DCR Starts Shutting Cars Out of Park Roads to Reduce COVID-19 Risk

Chickatawbut Road in the Blue Hills Reservation, pictured in summer 2012. Photo courtesy of Lee Toma/Bike Milton.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has closed several park roadways to vehicular traffic in the Boston metropolitan area in order to encourage safer physical distancing in state parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting this weekend, cars will be prohibited from from dawn until dusk on Fellsway West from Sheepfold Park in Stoneham to Parkway Road in Medford. The weekend closures will continue "until further notice," according to DCR officials.

DCR has also closed Hull Shore Drive Extension, a short oceanfront street that also serves as a parking area for Nantasket Beach in Hull, and Chickatawbut Road in Blue Hills Reservation between Milton and Braintree.

The CDC and other public health experts are urging sheltered-in-place population to stay physically active and continue getting outside (at safe physical distances from other people) in order to manage stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

But in the Boston area, where some parks have become crowded with people following that advice, policymakers and advocates are asking DCR and their municipalities to make more space for outdoor recreation by closing some streets to cars.

The DCR's current road closures are unlikely to provide much recreational benefit except for athletes who are able to run or bike long distances: relatively few people live within walking distance of Chickatawbut Road, Fellsway West, or Hull Shore Drive Extension.

The closure of these particular roads seems to be more about managing crowds by restricting access to parking lots than about making more space for outdoor recreation: DCR has also closed parking areas at the coastal beaches under its jurisdiction.

But the closures also offer a glimmer of hope for advocates who are pressing DCR to restrict traffic on its more dangerous urban parkways, where reckless drivers continue to wreak havoc on empty multi-lane roads, but hundreds of park users are crowded on narrow park paths.

On Monday, the Cambridge City Council is expected to vote on a policy order asking the DCR to close parts of Memorial Drive to give city-dwellers safer access to their riverfront.

DCR officials declined to comment on the city council's request.

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