In Turnaround, Cambridge Council Endorses Car-Free Memorial Drive

Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Photo by John Phelan, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 3.0.
Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Photo by John Phelan, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 3.0.

On Monday night, the Cambridge City Council voted to endorse the closure of Memorial Drive to car traffic for the duration of the stay-at-home order associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With most City Councilors participating by teleconference, the order passed by a 5-3 margin, with Councilors Marc McGovern, E. Denise Simmons,  and Timothy Toomey opposed.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui submitted a “present” vote, neither supporting nor opposing the order, at the end of the roll call when it was clear that the order had passed.

The concept of closing Memorial Drive to car traffic still needs approval from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which controls the four-lane highway that monopolizes Cambridge’s riverfront.

But Councilor Patricia Nolan, a co-sponsor of the order, suggested at Monday’s meeting that DCR officials may be looking to close more park roadways to automobile traffic after successful trials last weekend on Greenough Drive in Watertown, Parkman Drive in Jamaica Plain, and Day Boulevard in South Boston.

During discussion of the order on Monday evening, Councilor Nolan reported that she had spoken with a DCR official who called the outcomes of this weekend’s street closures “phenomenal.”

A person riding a bike enjoys plenty of room on a section of Day Boulevard that was closed to car traffic for the weekend of April 11-12. Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
A person riding a bike enjoys plenty of room on a section of Day Boulevard that was closed to car traffic for the weekend of April 11-12. Photo courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“They had no problems, they had no complaints. This weekend’s weather was quite nice, and yet the streets were not overcrowded… The pilot had the results they had hoped for. It opened up parkland to provide more space for people who were using it,” reported Nolan.

It was the third time in the past month that the Council discussed the resolution, after Councilor E. Denise Simmons maneuvered to postpone a vote on March 30, and after a 5-4 vote to table the same item on April 6.

A second policy order, which requests city staff to identify “streets in each neighborhood that could be closed to all non-essential traffic for the duration of the Health Emergency,” remains tabled on the City Council’s agenda.

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