Wednesday, June 19, 2024

State Rep. Mike Connolly speaks Saturday at a rally for Riverbend Park. Other speakers included Clyve Lawrence, left, and Chris Cassa, seen behind Connolly. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation was urged at a Saturday rally of nearly 250 cyclists and activists to expand Memorial Drive traffic shutdowns for weekend recreational use, going from Sundays-only to a schedule of Saturdays and Sundays. Speakers included state Rep. Mike Connelly, Cambridge Bike Safety member Chris Cassa, Harvard College student and Harvard Crimson transportation columnist Clyve Lawrence and Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and city councillors Patty Nolan, Marc McGovern, Denis Carlone and Burhan Azeem.

During the past three years of Covid limitations on indoor gatherings, the state had expanded Memorial Drive recreational shutdowns known as “Riverbend Park” to be Saturday and Sunday, but decided April 3 to revert to just Sundays. Officials’ explanations have only raised more questions – and the ire of some residents and activists. Responding to an outcry, the City Council voted 7-2 on Monday to solicit more information and urge a reconsideration. Councilor E. Denise Simmons was the most vocal in opposition to the order, citing Riverbend Park’s disruption to underrepresented communities in the Riverside neighborhood.

At the rally, Connolly called the state’s decision “a miss.”

The riverside gathering was organized by the Memorial Drive Alliance, a group of residents and activists who want to see the public banks expanded and more accessible for all. The organization has been pushing the DCR on a Phase III revision plan targeting the expansion of the green space and recreational area, as well as improvements of paths from Western Avenue to the Boston University Bridge.

The crowd rallies at the John W. Weeks Footbridge in Cambridge. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Cassa, who cited the turnout as “quite good for a gray day,” likened the gathering to the 1964 Citizens’ Emergency Committee campaign to save Memorial Drive when the Metropolitan District Commission, the predecessor to the DCR, wanted to remake it in the highway model of Storrow Drive, visible across the Charles River in Boston. Cassa concluded the rally with a call for all in attendance to contact the state and other local representatives to “respectfully” call for expanded weekend shutdowns to car traffic. Flyers with contact information were circulated to make the task easier.

Police lead riders Saturday in Cambridge on the Mayor’s Bike Bonanza 2.0, a 6-mile ride. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The day began with the Mayor’s Bike Bonanza 2.0, the second annual bike ride by Siddiqui designed to promote safe cycling, the city’s expanding bike lane network and minority-owned businesses. About 100 cyclists, many families with young children, showed up at City Hall for the event. After brief speeches from Siddiqui and Lonnell Wells of the Cambridge Bike Give Back program, a nonprofit that gives refurbished bikes to those in need, participants were led on a 6-mile, police-escorted ride with stops at Oggi Gourmet in Harvard Square and La Saison Bakery off Concord Avenue, where free snacks and beverages were served to riders. The ride concluded at the rally.