City Weighs Opening Brattle St. to Traffic

The Cambridge Committee on Parking and Transportation will conduct a hearing on March 29 to decide if Brattle Walk, the experimental pedestrian mall, will be reopened to automobile traffic in April.

Last fall, the Cambridge Traffic Department closed the street for a six-month temporary period at the request of the Planning for People Committee, which decorated the street with donated paint and trees. The six months end March 15.

Cornelia Wheeler, former city councillor and chairman of the Planning for People Committee, said she expected that the project would remain intact at least until the hearing. "Nobody is quite sure who makes the final decision," she said.

An informal poll among the city councillors revealed that a measure to save Brattle Walk might pass by a small margin.

Also on the Traffic Committee agenda is an alternative proposal by Councillor Alfred E. Vellucci which would close Brattle Street up to Harvard Square and open Waterhouse Street to two-way traffic.


The present Walk, which was originally to include most of the Brattle Square area up to Harvard Square, extends on Brattle Street from Church Street to Brattle Square.

Many of the area storeowners are opposed to the project, maintaining that it has hurt business. But Richard Dow, a member of the Planning for People Committee who losses stores in the area, cautioned that the general business recession and student unrest have also contributed to the change in shopping habits.

Dow said that his objections to the Walk are that, "it looks lousy, the implementation was poor, and it's just a little place that doesn't go anywhere."

When the plan was first proposed, merchants complained of possible traffic chaos and the kind of people who might populate the mall, but their fears proved unfounded, Wheeler said.

A planning study by the firm of Moriece and Gary in 1970 envisioned the project as a means to reduce pollution and congestion and increase the pedestrian space of the Square area.

Wheeler admitted. "The Walk is not a thing of beauty, but it was done on a shoestring. It was a compromised area and nobody wanted to put much into it."

Wheeler said better enforcement of the traffic rules in the project area was needed. Delivery trucks and motorists seeking an illegal shortcut still use the street.

"No one denies that the pedestrians deserve a break," one storeowner observed. "But he now runs the risk of getting hit by a ten ton truck. Why not just close the street on Saturday and Sunday when there are crowds of people and no deliveries?"

Brattle Walk pedestrians appear to enjoy the experiment. In a poll conducted by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, 80 per cent of the respondents favored retention of the Walk while 12 per cent opposed it. Petitions at the Cambridge Adult Education Center have already garnered over 1000 signatures for the project.

All sides on the Brattle Street issue agree that some solution to the heavy inner-belt traffic through Harvard Square is necessary. The merchants are demanding that more parking facilities and traffic planning accompany say arrangement.

Kennedy Link

The Planning for People Committee wants to link the Brattle project to the Kennedy Library Plan and the city plan for Harvard Square, which will be completed in the spring.

The Planning for People Committee developed out of the Social Responsibility Group of the Unitarian Church on Church Street. "We hope other groups in Cambridge will follow our example and take similar action to improve their neighborhoods," Wheeler said