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Cambridge City Council Weighs Memorial Drive Traffic Closures, Mental Health Outreach

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The Cambridge City Council debated a policy order to expand Memorial Drive traffic closures and discussed an upcoming Cambridge mental health resources report at their weekly meeting Monday.

Councilors Patricia M. Nolan ’80 and Burhan Azeem presented a policy order regarding the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s decision to only close Memorial Drive to traffic on Sundays this year. The change represented a rollback of the pandemic practice of closing Memorial Drive to traffic on Saturdays and Sundays, transforming the state highway into Riverbend Park.

On Feb. 27, the council voted 7-2 to direct the city manager to work with relevant departments and agencies to continue the Saturday and Sunday Memorial Drive traffic closures. Despite this, the DCR, a Massachusetts state agency, issued its decision to revert to Sunday closures on April 3.

According to Nolan, the proposed policy order details “the history of this entire quest for many of us in the city to simply open up the park for another day” and asks the DCR to release the information that the department has that ultimately led to their decision.

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“This is about listening to the community. This is about honoring the community,” Nolan said. “That’s why I think it is incumbent on all of us and on DCR and the city to find ways to minimize whatever impact there is.”

Councilor Paul F. Toner said he agrees with the DCR’s decision and will not support the policy order.

“If anybody’s going to do anything, that’s our legislature about changing the law to make it Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

Councilor E. Denise Simmons exercised her charter right on the policy order, delaying further discussion until the next council meeting.

The council also discussed a proposed mental health outreach initiative detailed in an April 5 report by the Cambridge Public Health Department, which discusses expanded access in underserved communities. The report recommends a $26,500 effort involving local education events, resources for non-English speakers, and expanding awareness of the city’s mental health programs.

Officials from the CPHD fielded questions on Cambridge Health Alliance, a health and hospital provider serving Cambridge and its surrounding areas.

Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan asked about the amount of funding devoted to expanding outreach in low-income and marginalized residents.

“I’m just really deeply concerned about people with fewer resources being able to get access to the help that they need,” he said. “In terms of publicizing and making them aware, I certainly appreciate that effort, but it just feels like $26,000 is just not going to get us very far.”

Derrick L. Neal, the city’s chief public health officer, said the funds would be targeted toward engagement with those who need it most.

“It’s to refer those individuals into the behavioral health system that Cambridge Health Alliance has developed,” he said. “Is this going to be adequate and will it serve everyone? No, but it’s a great start, and our intention is to build upon and expand upon this service.”

The council will reconvene April 24, 2023, for regular city council meetings.

—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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