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City of Cambridge Projects Aim to Reconnect Communities Around Alewife Station

A map of the Alewife/Danehy Park area of Cambridge highlighting new off-street bike and pedestrian trail projects in the works. One dotted line represents a path along the north side of the MBTA Fitchburg Line, linking Alewife Stn. in the NW (upper left) to Sherman St. in the east (lower right) alongside several labelled apartment towers, including the Jefferson Park public housing. A second green dashed line represents a new path that would connect Danehy Park to New Street and Concord Avenue (at the bottom edge of the map). Solid green lines near the upper half of the map indicate existing paths in the Minuteman Bikeway and Mass. Central Rail Trail networks.

A map of various new bike and pedestrian connections being planned in the Alewife and Rindge Avenue neighborhoods of Cambridge. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

The City of Cambridge is working on two major trail connections for pedestrians and cyclists in the vicinity of Danehy Park in North Cambridge with a new $2.4 million grant from the federal government. 

The first project, the Danehy-New Street Connector Path, has been underway since 2021, and the City has since held open houses, community site walks, visioning sessions, and two public meetings, the third of which took place last month.

This project began out of a need for improved connections to Danehy Park. Currently, large highways lined with strip malls block off access to Danehy Park, one of the city’s biggest recreation areas, from surrounding neighborhoods.

The project aims to address these issues by creating a new and improved community corridor along an abandoned railway line behind the Fresh Pond Mall. 

Upon completion, the Danehy-New Street project will provide a new car-free connection linking North Cambridge to the Alewife area, Danehy Park, Fresh Pond, and the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway in an ecologically improved, landscaped corridor. 

The project will allow the City to consider future connections to other nearby destinations and neighborhoods, and will incorporate amenities to encourage a comfortable, calm, natural, and inclusive environment for users of all ages and abilities.

Project Map of Danehy-New Street Multi-Use Path Project location. From left to right, 2-D map shows Concord Avenue, Fresh Pond Mall, New Street, Danehy Park, Danehy Dog Park, Cambridge Champions Track & Field, MBTA Fitchburg Line, North Cambridge Catholic Cemetery, and Sherman Street. Along curve between Concord Avenue and Sherman Street, map shows project plan for crossings indicated by blue dotted lines, tree planting indicated by small tree graphics, and points of entry indicated by red dots.
Source: March 26 2024 Danehy-New Street Connector Path public meeting slide deck

This project aims to have its design finalized this summer for construction to start in the spring of 2025.

Participants who attended the March public meeting shared their personal experiences and feedback, with a recurring point of concern regarding the Concord Avenue path entrance between the Sunoco gas station and the Adams Fireplace Shop. 

Many participants spoke up about how there is a blind spot at the corner with the fireplace shop turning onto and entering the bike path, proposing traffic calming measures such as an easement to reduce sharp turns onto the path and potential collisions as a result.

For more information, including a map of the study area and project updates, visit the Danehy-New Street Connector path web page.

Fitchburg Crossing Project gets the green light

During last month’s meeting for the New Street path, planners also addressed a separate but related project that recently won a major federal grant: the Fitchburg Crossing Project.

The City of Cambridge has had a long-standing interest in creating a pedestrian and bicycle crossing of the MBTA Fitchburg Line, which divides the residential area around Rindge Avenue from Danehy Park. Residents reportedly have been walking across those tracks despite the heavy rail traffic and lack of safe crossings. 

In 2022, at the beginning of the Danehy-New Street Connector Path project, Cambridge City Council requested funding for the Community Development Department to analyze the potential of a new crossing using city-owned land in the area.

After conducting a feasibility study last year, the City of Cambridge applied for a federal grant from the Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods (RCN) program to fund construction for this crossing, as well as a multi-use path between Steel Place near Alewife Station and Sherman Street, on the north side of the MBTA tracks.

Then, on March 13, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $2.4 million grant to fund more advanced design for the project. 

The plans call for a shared-use path from Steel Place, beneath Alewife Parkway Bridge, along the north side of the Fitchburg line, to Sherman Street in the east. This shared-use path will provide a safe and convenient route for pedestrians and cyclists, enhancing connectivity in the area.

Cambridge’s Rindge Avenue neighborhood has the largest concentration of affordable housing in all of Cambridge. It is the city’s largest environmental justice community, and the only neighborhood in the city that fits all three census criteria of low-income households, English-isolation, and minority populations.

Today, the rail line and nearby highways isolate that neighborhood’s residents from the wealthier neighborhoods of Cambridge. 

But by bridging the Fitchburg Line, this project aims to provide transportation justice and environmental equity by giving the neighborhood a way to connect safely and easily to Danehy Park and other nearby green space.

Besides improved park access, the bridge would also improve access from Rindge Avenue to grocery stores, restaurants, and a movie theater in the nearby Fresh Pond Mall (although there have also been concerns raised about the traffic and air pollution that people endure along Alewife Brook Parkway – a problem that this project won’t address).

Unlike the New Street Connector path, this project is still in its early stages. Over the next few months, project efforts will focus on bringing a designer on board to further develop the design of the bridge crossing project.  

Project Map of Fitchburg Crossing Bridge Design. From left to right, 2-D map shows Danehy Park, Danehy Dog Park, MBTA Fitchburg Line, North Cambridge Catholic Cemetery, and Sherman Street. Map shows project plan for pedestrian bicycle bridge connection between Rindge Avenue and Danehy Park and a proposed path connection to Sherman Street indicated by blue dotted lines.
Source: March 26 2024 Danehy-New Street Connector Path public meeting slide deck

Participants of last month’s public meeting also proposed feedback on the Fitchburg Crossing project, sharing feedback on the design of the bridge, namely if it would be over versus under the trains, and how that bridge height may impact those crossing with bikes.

Updates on the project will be regularly provided through email newsletters and on the Fitchburg Crossing project website.

Rindge Connectivity Project seeking community feedback

Additionally, the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) has recently begun collecting community input to inform the Rindge Connectivity project.

This project will move forward to both improve the open space and connections along Rindge Avenue, and intentionally connect the community to nearby community resources like shopping areas and parks. 

Community feedback surveys across nine languages showed that 75% of respondents want to see improved connectivity within their neighborhood. 

Since this finding, the CRA has conducted focus groups in multiple languages with residents along Rindge Avenue, and most recently held a Community Open House in January to expand the conversation and continue gathering community feedback. 

More information about that project can be found on the Rindge Avenue Community Connectivity project website.

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