Cambridge Fights to Unsnarl Traffic

Harvard Square, Pedestrian Mousetrap Still Baffles Architects, Motorists

Harvard Square, Cambridge's nationally notorious traffic intersection, is in a whirl this month. The City Planning Board, in another desperate attempt to unsnarl the pedestrians from the buses from the cars, is experimenting with a rotary traffic plan. So far, the daily scrimmage of man against machine has grown only more exciting, hardly any less dangerous.

Before the war, rotary traffic around the subway kiosk was attempted with disastrous results. At that time, there were trolleys to cope with, and the experiment permitted two-way traffic on the avenue nearest the Coop. The end result was only more confusion, and the police, city planners, et al, went back to the method of directing traffic with the help of a traffic booth and loudspeakers.

This traffic booth was in itself part of a previous experiment to ease congestion in Cambridge. Installed both at Harvard and Central Squares in 1936, two of them were intended to supplement the traffic lights. Manned by officers who could mix insults with instructions, they weathered considerable criticism to remain the key method of handling traffic.

New Traffic Tricks

Rotary traffic under the new system involves more than merely an automotive merry-go-round. In addition to keeping traffic circulating around the kiosk in a counter-clockwise direction, the current plan involves the elimination of all trolley-busses and removal of trolley-car track. To speed subway traffic, the exit on Massachusetts Avenue near Wadsworth House has been turned into another entrance. Bus loading stations have been moved from the kiosk to in front of the Coop, and the traffic booth and traffic lights both eliminated.

Edger W. Davis, Engineer for the City of Cambridge, yesterday stated that the present rotary experiment would continue "for at least 30 days." If after that time, however, the situation remains snafu, the Planning Board will temporarily revert to the old helter-skelter routing system.

An Ancient Problem

Some 15 years ago, students and faculty in the Department of Architecture at the Graduate School of Design grew extremely interested in the Harvard Square problem. Numerous student projects were devoted to the task of getting pedestrians across the street without making them run, and getting cars through the Square without forcing them to stall.

Working with Martin Wagner, associate professor of regional planning, two students completed blueprints in May, 1947, for the most extensive and far-reaching solution to the traffic question that was ever been seriously proposed (see map).

Working on the theory that any re-routing of traffic in existing channels was only a stop-gap measure, these three devised a revolutionary scheme to redesign the entire Cambridge shopping center (see model). Creating new arteries of traffic and increasing parking space, their blueprint for a safe-and-sane Harvard Square would solve the automobile problem now faced by every city laid out in the days of the horse and buggy.

Undoubtedly too expensive and too revolutionary to be accepted by local citizenry, this plan has been shelved by the Architecture Department. As Professor George Holmes Perkins 26, chairman of the Department of Regional Planning has explained, the department no longer bothers with the Harvard Square problem. Apparently he feels that the only practical solutions are too grandiose for City planning Boards to consider at present and too expensive for taxpayers ever to approve.

For short term solution, however, Professor Perkins offers the following suggestions: (1) get through traffic routed through the Square in sunken arteries, (2) remove the subway kiosk and relocate bus stops, (3) increase parking areas ten-fold.

The Great Scheme

The vast 1947 project suggested the razing of many existing business structures, the rerouting of Massachusetts Avenue along Mt. Auburn Street (see map), and the elimination of what is now Harvard Square. A multi-unit shopping center under one roof would then be constructed (F on map). Each merchant would hold shares in this redevelopment project, entitling him to store space in the new all-weather shopping center.

One of the most fundamental features of this plan would be pedestrian cross-walks bridging Massachusetts Avenue at strategic locations. According to Wagner, shoppers would have to realize that they, as well as vehicles, should obey certain rules as to where and when to cross streets.