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Local Residents, Harvard Affiliates Rally to Close Memorial Drive to Vehicle Traffic Saturdays and Sundays

Cambridge residents and Harvard affiliates protested against the opening of Memorial Drive to traffic on Saturdays.
Cambridge residents and Harvard affiliates protested against the opening of Memorial Drive to traffic on Saturdays. By Julian J. Giordano
By Jina H. Choe and Samuel P. Goldston, Crimson Staff Writers

Cambridge residents and Harvard affiliates gathered at the John W. Weeks Bridge Saturday to rally against the decision to close Memorial Drive to traffic only on Sundays, rather than for the whole weekend.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation announced that a stretch of Memorial Drive — also referred to as Riverbend Park — would close the road to vehicles on Sundays only in a tweet on April 3, drawing criticism from Harvard students and Cambridge city councilors. In response, the Harvard College Democracy House circulated a petition the following Tuesday on campus to demand full weekend closures.

The shutdown of a portion of Memorial Drive to vehicles began when the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law in 1985 to close a portion from Western Avenue to Gerry’s Landing Road from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Sunday for recreational purposes.

At the Cambridge City Council’s request, the DCR began closing Memorial Drive on Saturdays as well starting 2020 through 2022.

The DCR’s April 3 decision defied the council’s 7-2 vote to keep Memorial Drive closed to vehicle traffic on both Sunday and Saturday.

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui briefly spoke at the rally, sharing her strong support for the traffic closures, in keeping with the City Council’s majority vote.

Massachusetts State Rep. Michael L. Connolly said he was “very disappointed” by the DCR’s announcement.

“I think there’s a way for us to open Riverbend Park on Saturdays while at the same time addressing the concerns of abutters, and we’ve heard a lot of great suggestions,” he said. “I take a 7-2 or 8-1 vote by a city council to mean a lot. That’s the reflection of the will of our community.”

In a statement to the Boston Herald, DCR spokersperson Ilyse Wolberg wrote that the road’s reopening on Saturdays marks a return to its pre-Covid schedule. The full weekend closure created “concerns about elevated traffic and pollution in surrounding residential neighborhoods,” she wrote.

“While this effort was a success in expanding access to outdoor recreation, it was not without its negative impacts,” Wolberg wrote.

Christopher A. Cassa — a member of the Memorial Drive Alliance, a local group focused on natural preservation and enhanced pedestrian access for Memorial Drive — said he was “extremely disheartened” by the DCR’s decision.

Cassa, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor, said in an interview that the concerns about traffic backups from residents who live in neighborhoods affected by the traffic closures “need to be respected.”

“We really hoped some sort of study or mitigation would have been done to fix those issues and address the issues so that we can actually make sure that we enjoy the open space for people, but also make it better for residents who had concerns,” he said.

Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, said the DCR’s decision was “frustrating” because there is a “vast amount of community support for the space.”

“The fact that the DCR did this without a real public process where residents could come and talk about the concerns, talk about how great the open space is — that was really disappointing to me,” he said.

Lawrence added the rally’s purpose is to “urge the DCR to reverse this decision.”

“If this rally doesn’t convince the DCR to change its decision, I think we will definitely be seeing a lot more action, but I’m confident that this will be a demonstration that shows that support,” he said.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at jina.choe@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at samuel.goldston@thecrimson.com.

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