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State Parks Agency May Revisit Misinformed Decision to Reduce Park Access In Cambridge

"I continue to advocate for a solution that reopens Riverbend Park on Saturdays while also doing more to address the concerns of abutters," said Cambridge state Rep. Mike Connolly.

A crowd of people on bikes rides down an empty four-lane highway. On the left side of the roadway are large trees and multi-story brick buildings; on the right is the Charles River with the Boston skyline in the distance.

People on bikes ride down Memorial Drive on a Saturday July 2023 in protest of the DCR’s decision to restrict park access in favor of automotive traffic. Courtesy of Car Free Boston.

Officials from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the state's parks agency that also manages some of the region's most dangerous and polluted roadways, are re-opening discussions with Cambridge officials and state legislators regarding the city's desire to re-open Riverbend Park on Saturdays.

“DCR is committed to ensuring that the community has access to recreational opportunities," wrote DCR spokesperson Chloe Gotsis in an email to StreetsblogMASS. "Commissioner Arrigo plans to meet with the City Council, city manager, and Cambridge delegation and will determine a plan for meaningful community engagement.”

State Rep. Mike Connolly, who represents part of Cambridge in the State House and has been an outspoken supporter of the park events, also confirmed that "conversations are ongoing" with DCR and its parent agency, the Executive Office for Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA).

"I continue to advocate for a solution that reopens Riverbend Park on Saturdays while also doing more to address the concerns of abutters," wrote Rep. Connolly in an email to StreetsblogMASS last week.

Park closure decision was based on false and disputed information

For the last three years of Gov. Charlie Baker's administration, the DCR blocked off a long segment of Memorial Drive in Cambridge to let people enjoy an expanded riverfront park space on Saturdays and Sundays from spring until late fall.

Those car-free weekends were extremely popular among Cambridge residents. The City of Cambridge convened several public meetings in 2022 to hear feedback about the events, and residents at those meetings overwhelmingly supported keeping cars out of the park all weekend.

But this spring, the new administration of Gov. Maura Healey, who pledged during her campaign that she'd be "laser focused" on cutting greenhouse gas pollution, announced that they would cancel the Saturday Riverbend Park events in order to prioritize motor vehicle traffic.

The DCR kept the motives for that decision shrouded in secrecy until this summer, when a public records request unveiled a memo from the Healey's new Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Rebecca Tepper (the EEA is DCR's parent agency, and is also in charge of implementing the Commonwealth's climate policies).

The publication of that memo revealed that Sec. Tepper's decision had been based on several factual inaccuracies and disputed claims.

Nevertheless, as a result of that decision, Riverbend Park has remained closed on Saturdays this year in order to favor motor vehicle traffic on the Cambridge riverfront.

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