Since 1975, Memorial Drive in Cambridge has been closed to cars every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., transforming in to Riverbend Park. Originally the idea of a neighbor in Cambridge Isabella Halsted, it is one of the oldest such continual “open streets” events in the country, and it is enjoyed by thousands of residents from across the Commonwealth every week, who can have eight quiet hours to walk along the river without the constant din of automobile traffic.
Except the DCR doesn’t seem to like it. Columnists have noted in the past that they often let cars on to the road before the closure officially ends. The city has requested that the closings continue year-round, but to no avail. DCR is required to close the roadway to traffic by statute passed in 1985, but they do the bare minimum.
There is a condition in that statute, which is that:
the [DCR] may at its discretion suspend
any authorized closings, if in the judgement of said commission such
authorized closing poses a threat to public safety and should any
emergency arise in which said commission in its judgement deems it
necessary to alter the authorized closure.
This is sensible. If there were, for example, a fire along the roadway which required response, or if Soldiers Field Road was closed for repairs, we’d want the DCR to have the authority to open it to traffic. But this summer, the DCR is taking a different tack. With the closure of some lanes of the Turnpike for a construction project, MassDOT is worried that there might be some traffic in the area. They asked DCR to suspend the closure. Traffic is not a threat to public safety—if it were, Boston would be unsafe every day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. (longer if the Sox are in town)—but the DCR rolled over and said “sure, we’ll close it, what do we care?”
They may not care, but we do. DCR may not realize it, but this is important to many residents of Cambridge, Boston and the Commonwealth as a whole. They need to hear from us, and from our legislators. If you use Riverbend Park on Sundays—if you’ve taught your kid to ride a bike there, or walked along the river there, or ridden a Hubway there, or drawn in chalk there, or simply enjoyed the quiet along the riverbank there—it’s time to take action. Here’s how:
- Contact your legislator. If you don’t already know your Senator and Representative, you can find your legislator here. (Here are maps of districts, you can find a zoomed-in map of House districts here and Senate districts here). Remember to contact your own representatives first. They represent you.Here is a sample letter to write; feel free to customize it and remember to be polite, concise and specific.
Dear Sen ___ and Rep ___,
You may have seen a recent Globe article that the DCR plans to close Riverbend Park in Cambridge for two weekends this summer.
This is unacceptable. Statute stipulates that DCR may only authorize such a suspension of the park if there is a “threat to public safety”. It is hard to fathom how a construction project on a separate roadway in Boston constitutes such a threat.
Riverbend Park has been a part of Cambridge for 40 years, and I visit the park with my family every weekend to experience the riverbank without the constant drone of nearby traffic. I do not support this suspension. I would ask that you reach out to DCR and demand that they rescind this suspension immediately.
Ask specifically that they follow up with you and let you know what they have found.
- Contact the DCR. Your state tax dollars pay for the DCR’s work. Let them know you’re unhappy. The contact for these announcements is Mark Steffen, and his email is Mark.A.Steffen@state.ma.us. Better yet, give him a call: 617-360-1715. His phone should be ringing off the hook. Contact the DCR in general as well, and remember, be firm but polite. If the DCR feels that the public is behind them, they may be more willing to change their minds. Remember, phone calls are better than emails, but both are good.
- Contact MassDOT. They are the ones who have made this unreasonable request in the first place. According to the project page, the best contact is James Kersten at 857-368-9041. His phone shouldn’t stop ringing on Monday, either.
- Contact the Governor. Again, calling is better than email. Don’t take too much of their time, but make sure to explain yourself and your position. The DCR works for the Governor. If they hear from enough of us, they might be able to make a call to turn this around. Here’s their number: 617.725.4005.
- If you live in Cambridge, contact the city council. You can email all of your councilors at email@example.com. Note that the council has already asked that Riverbend Park be extended year-round, so they’re on our side, but it’s good for them to hear from their constituents about it. You can also contact the city manager to ask that he take action as well: 617-349-4300.
Is this small potatoes compared with abhorrent policy on the federal level? Yes. But in Massachusetts, we don’t have much say beyond calling our legislators and asking they fight the good fight. As Cambridge’s own Tip O’Neill often said: all politics is local. Your voice matters. Your voice can be heard.