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Weekend closures of Memorial Drive will return April 30, but only on Sundays, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation announced Monday — despite resident calls to maintain the full weekend closures of the past three years.
The DCR tweeted the decision to close the road Sundays until Nov. 12, which drew criticism from some Cambridge residents and Harvard affiliates for defying the Cambridge City Council’s vote to keep Memorial Drive closed to vehicles on both Sunday and Saturday.
City Councilor Patricia M. Nolan ’80 responded to the DCR’s tweet, tagging and asking Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 to keep the road closed on Saturdays as well.
“Thousands of residents and overwhelming majority in the neighborhood and on city council want it,” she tweeted. “Democracy and responsive government will prevail.”
In October 1985, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a law to close a portion of Memorial Drive to vehicles from Western Ave. to Gerry’s Landing Road from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Sunday to create a space for recreation. The closure, according to the law, begins at the end of April and continues until mid-November.
In 2020, however, the DCR began closing Memorial Drive on Saturdays in addition to Sundays, at the request of the Cambridge City Council. The Saturday closures continued alongside the required Sunday closures through 2021 and 2022.
Cambridge residents and Harvard affiliates previously shared how the closure of Memorial Drive on Saturdays yielded significant benefits at a Feb. 13 meeting. At the same meeting, other residents living on side streets affected by increased traffic during these closures asked the city to keep the road open Saturdays.
The traffic closures enjoy support among many Harvard undergraduates, and some have taken concerns to the public comment sections of prior City Council meetings.
“I can’t believe that they’re thinking about stopping closing the road,” Zoë A. Clark ’26 said.
Clark said “the experience of being out in open air is much more than any traffic jam that these other people might face,” referring to the resulting increased traffic that Cantabrigians have bemoaned at City Council meetings.
In an interview, Councilor Marc C. McGovern said the traffic is not “as bad as what some people have made it out to be,” adding he lives in the affected Riverside neighborhood.
“When you see hundreds of people enjoying the river, I can sacrifice a couple minutes of my time,” he said.
On the DCR’s decision itself, McGovern said he “would think that, at the end of the day, creating more opportunity for people to recreate and to get out will probably be more in line with their mission.”
“They are the Department of Conservation and Recreation — hard to have a lot of recreation on Memorial Drive when you get cars zipping up and down at 50 miles an hour,” he added.
DCR spokesperson Ilyse Wolberg wrote in a statement to the Boston Herald that the road is returning to its pre-Covid schedule. Full weekend closures came with “concerns about elevated traffic and pollution in surrounding residential neighborhoods,” according to Wolberg.
“While this effort was a success in expanding access to outdoor recreation, it was not without its negative impacts,” Wolberg wrote.
The Harvard College Democracy House, in partnership with the Walkable Mem Drive campaign, circulated a petition Tuesday among Harvard students against the DCR’s decision to limit the traffic closures to Sundays.
“I’m skeptical of the claims of Riverside residents that complain about increased traffic on other streets,” Micah I.K. Williams ’23-’24 wrote in an emailed statement. “Either way the goal should be to reduce car travel overall, and the city/state are entirely capable of taking action to do this.”
“The problem isn’t Riverbend Park — it’s cars,” he added.
In a Tuesday message to the Dunster House email list, Williams wrote that he hoped to organize a protest Saturday in support of Saturday closures.
“If DCR won’t shut the road down, we can shut it down ourselves,” he wrote.
—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at email@example.com.
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