Harvard Fords the River

Monorail, tram, scooters among planners’ visions

Getting to the Business School and the rest of Harvard’s undeveloped land from Cambridge might look like a short, if dangerous, walk across the ice-bound Charles.

Although they have ruled out walking on water, some Harvard officials have been considering even more farfetched proposals to span the gap between the river’s shores.

Ever since news of Harvard’s big land purchases across the river in Allston started swirling in the late 1990s, faculty, planners and professional consultants have been dreaming about everything from monorails to subways to Segways to connect the archipelagos that constitute the University’s sprawling empire.

“There are lots of things we could do,” says Kathy Spiegelman, director of the Allston Initiative and Harvard’s lead land planner. “While the Harvard population numbers probably don’t correspond to a need to build a subway, or other things like that, for Harvard the investment in major things might be worthwhile in the long-run.”

According to Vice President for Administration Sally Zeckhauser, the first question everyone asks about Allston is always what will move there—a controversial issue yet to be decided by the powers that be.

The two main options on the table involve moving a cluster of graduate schools, anchored by the law school, or creating a major science complex, with an emphasis on biotech research. But second question everyone asks, Zeckhauser says, is always how Harvard will get its people to Allston.

That is the question that everyone loves.

Oft-beleaguered Harvard planners, who regularly must deal with Byzantine restrictions on building in Cambridge, become animated and run for their maps when the conversation turns to transporting people to Allston.

Students at the design school have been raising high-powered eyebrows with their big ideas.

Even faculty members who are less-than-thrilled at the prospect of packing up and moving themselves to Allston are brimming over with ideas of what could bring them over the river.

Anyone who ever owned a Brio train set, Lincoln logs, or some Legos is now taking the opportunity to fantasize about the life-sized possibilities of spanning the river to Harvard new campus.

The Road to Allston…

Currently, the main way to get from Cambridge to Harvard’s future campus in Allston is a cracked, bottlenecked two-lane road that runs across the Lars Anderson Bridge from JFK St. to North Harvard St.

Flanked by the forbidding walls of the business school on one side and Harvard Stadium on the other, the old road to Allston is bumpy, uninviting, and something of a thorn in Harvard’s side.

The harsh realities of the transportation system currently in place—a cramped roadway, meager city bus service, and a still-growing shuttle system—have kept faculty and planners buzzing with ideas that range from the practical to the whimsical.

The promise of expanded shuttle service is not enough for professors on the serveral committees exploring Allston’s possibilities for everything from museums to science.