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State Commission Discusses Phase Two of River Plan

By Brian Loux


Representatives of the Metropolitan District Commission held the fourth public meeting last night to discuss the commission’s restoration project that is currently underway along Memorial Drive.

Presently, the construction project is divided into two phases. Phase one, which began this year, involves construction between Longfellow bridge and Fowler street (between MacGregor and Number 6). The plan involves removing Memorial Drive parking lanes as well as one lane of car traffic on the river side and the addition of a new “multi-use path” for bicyclists and rollerbladers. Once completed, the path and a foot path will extend from Vassar Street to the Cambridge viaduct near the Longfellow bridge. The plan also involves the redevelopment of the intersection at the Harvard bridge.

Memorial Drive will include more “turn pockets,” a phrase used by developer Ed Gardiner of Rizzo Associates to describe shoulders on the road to allow for cars to stop to drop off people.

“The phase is well under construction,” said Project Organizer Joe Orfant. “The construction will last 18 months ... but most will be done by next fall.”

Orfant said that their main concern is the construction along Harvard Bridge. He estimated that the bridge portion of the project will be finished by October at the latest.

MDC commissioner of policy Samantha Bussell said this portion of the project is funded by transportation bonds and park bonds, and in part by MIT in an initiative to increase the number of traffic signals along Memorial Drive. The total cost for the first phase is $6 million.

Second phase still being designed

The second phase plan will develop the new path and shore from the crosswalk at Burton-Conner to the intersection of Vassar Street and Memorial Drive. Though the funding may not be there yet, Orfant said, “the project will be bid by this fall.”

“The area from the BU bridge to the beginning of the multi-use path will resemble a wooded upland area with a stabilized soil path,” Gardiner said. Eight feet of vegetation will extend to the river and give “superior water treatment,” Gardiner said.

In addition, larger plaza areas similar to the covered bench areas currently seen along the river will be introduced on the Cambridge side. As well as creating meeting places, the roofed plazas will also serve to slow down users of the multi-purpose path as they approach an intersection. “We don’t want [the path] to become a highway,” Gardiner said.

However, because of the current situation of the state budget, “we are not sure when construction will begin” for the second phase, Gardiner said.

The Memorial Drive project is part of the MDC Master Plan in which the entire shoreline area of the Charles River Basin will be redeveloped. Some of these plans overlap with each other, the officials mentioned, and the area around the BU bridge may see more development before the project is complete.

“What we’re doing,” Bussell said, “is putting it together piece by piece.”

Public reacts to plans

As much as safety was a concern, not all intersections will be given stoplights, to the disappointment of some of the meeting’s attendees. “We still have some areas that will be playing chicken with traffic areas,” Gardiner said. Both the Burton-Conner and MIT sailing pavilion intersections will not have lights. Gardiner noted that both these places will have less lanes of traffic to cross instead.

For the most part, the median is planned to be lined with tall shade trees spaced symmetrically on each side of the road so that people may see the river easily from across the street.

An original plan proposed to clear cut trees already in the medians to allow for the better viewing, but this plan was sternly criticized by many in the public.

“We now want to do it over time,” said Lisa Decker of Brown, Richardson, & Rowe, a landscape consulting firm. Decker said that the new plan was to allow trees to dwindle on their own. Members of the public still had reservations about the plan.

“I see this plan and it all looks very suburban,” said one man in the crowd. “It is not pleasing to me.” A group of attendees also alleged that phase one of the program had begun without a license from the Cambridge Conservation Commission. MDC officials denied these charges.

Most of the concerns, however, revolved around the walking paths and new car lanes. One man argued that the reduction in traffic lanes would lead to more congestion along Memorial Drive, which officials denied on the basis of traffic pattern data.