The Cambridge City Council adopted a policy order April 13 to consider the closure of Memorial Drive to cars in an effort to create more space for residents to exercise and encourage safe social distancing outside.
The policy order asks City Manager Louis A. DePasquale to work with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to explore closing the road along the Charles River until the end of the statewide stay-at-home advisory.
Councilor Patricia M. Nolan said cities across the country — from Brookline, Mass. to Oakland, Calif. — have already implemented similar measures restricting certain streets to pedestrians.
She pointed to the success of a DCR pilot project in early April which closed three major streets in the Boston-area to vehicles.
“They had no problems and no complaints,” Nolan said of the pilot project. “This weekend’s weather was quite nice, and yet the streets were not overcrowded. There were not the gatherings that one might have worried about.”
Laure Astourian, a Cambridge resident, called into the April 13 Council meeting to support the policy order, saying she has encountered a growing number of crowds on walks around her neighborhood.
“It’s like playing a game of Pac-Man on the sidewalks,” Astourian said. “I end up walking in the middle of the street and then, of course, cars come. But, really, we don’t have much of a choice.”
Another Cambridge resident, Yonah Freemark, directed the Council’s attention to the city’s population density, noting that many Cambridge residents live in apartments and do not own a car.
“Cambridge is desperately in need of more space for its pedestrians and bicyclists,” Freemark said. “The idea that allowing pedestrians to walk in the street will cause more crowds is specious. Why is it acceptable to allow drivers to continue using the streets as if nothing has changed?”
In addition to supporting the closure of Memorial Drive, Freemark also advocated for a related measure that would require city officials to identify other neighborhood streets that could be closed to encourage more social distancing outside.
“If we are worried that too many people will enjoy taking advantage of this outdoor space we might provide them, the answer is not to close off the outdoors,” he said. “It’s the contrary; we should expand outdoor space, such that the risk of crowding is zeroed out.”
The City Council did not take action on that proposal at the April 13 meeting.
Nolan emphasized that, though stay-at-home guidelines remain in place, the city of Cambridge is not barring people from leaving their residences.
“We are not in lockdown,” Nolan said.” Some people think we should be but we are not.”
“This is simply about giving them more space and aligning with the guidelines,” she added.
—Staff writer Charles Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @charles_xu_27.
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