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Thanks for the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway (but let’s keep learning lessons that will make it perfect)

The Watertown-Cambridge Greenway on a sunny June day. (Photo: Joseph Poirier)

The new Watertown-Cambridge Greenway shared use trail is a treasure. The path is a beautiful and useful addition to the parks and trails of Cambridge and Watertown, and is the product of years of hard work by municipal, regional and state planners and implementers, to whom we owe appreciation and thanks.

The 2 km greenway is a shared-use path with one end near the Fresh Pond water treatment facility and the other at Arsenal Street in Watertown. The greenway sits within the right-of-way of the former Watertown Branch Railroad, which is now a paved road with beautiful landscaping, simple amenities, and well-designed stormwater management.

Although it has only been (officially) open for a few months, the greenway has no shortage of regulars. On sunny days I see dog walkers, bike commuters, recreational cyclists, kids on rollerblades, scooters, runners, toddlers in bike trailers, multi-generational families walking together – all types of people walking and rolling. Part of what makes the Greenway so special is that it facilitates all types of travel: commuting, shopping, recreation and more. I have already replaced some of my car trips to the Watertown mall with cycling on the greenway; the safety of the shared-use trail reduces the stress I usually feel when carrying large items on my bike in mixed traffic.

Path users have made informal “desire line” additions along an embankment and through a fence. (Photos: Joseph Poirier)

I consider this project a huge success, but not without some lessons learned. In my opinion, the most important of these lessons is to anticipate and meet the demand for trail access. Although the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway has several access points to major destinations accessible by American Disabilities Act standards, there are places where people have made their own way. The biggest problem with access seems to be at Star Market, where the clear “desire line” is an informal dirt road on a steep embankment; the formal access point forces many people out of their direction and spending more time crossing the parking lot. In another case, residents of a building that had no access to the road took matters into their own hands: they knocked down their fence and built a bridge to the road with the pieces. These desire lines show the types of path access demand that planners should anticipate in future shared-use path work, such as those occurring on the Danehy park connector and Grand Junction projects in Cambridge.

The path could also use lighting to help people feel and be safer when traveling in the dark. This will be especially important in winter, when the days are short and many travel and shop in the dark. There are several path lighting options that are visually unobtrusive and minimize impacts on wildlife.

That being said, this path is an incredible asset to Cambridge and Watertown that will serve residents and visitors well for decades to come. The municipal, Commonwealth, consultant, construction and other workers who contributed to this project deserve kudos for a job well done. Thanks!


Joseph Poirier is a Cambridge resident and regular Watertown-Cambridge Greenway user.

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