Friday, June 14, 2024

Users of the Linear Park on Wednesday. It runs between Cambridge’s Alewife Station and Davis Square in Somerville. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Plans for a redesign of Linear Park in North Cambridge are based partly on faulty information that risks destroying tree canopy, city councillors said Monday in passing a policy order for the path’s restoration.

The order asks the city manager and Department of Public Works to consider reusing the existing design for the 30-year-old walk-run-ride path from Alewife Station to the Somerville line, keeping natural materials by not paving them over, implementing a climate resilience maintenance plan and even using existing “elegant” lamps and lampposts to avoid generating waste and adding to the project’s carbon footprint.

A plan to restore Linear Park has been in the works for nearly two years with a redesign that would widen the paved path and added seating, play areas and lighting. The widening of the path in an official estimate would cause six trees to be removed – “yet others who have studied this, who have expertise in the area,” city councillor Patty Nolan said, “have found that in considering any trees that could be damaged by widening the path, dozens more trees could be compromised.”

The number of possible compromised trees is unknown due to incorrect measurements of trees taken when the plan was developed – a fact acknowledged at a Committee on Public Planting meeting Oct. 11.

Every place staff checked a surveyor’s work, they were measuring a tree’s distance from the side farthest from the path, “so on paper it made it look like the trees were further away from path than they really were,” said Kevin Beuttell, the city’s supervising landscape architect. “We did field measurements to correct those, so those trees are now shown closer.”

Maggie Booz, a resident and member of the Committee on Public Planting, said during public comment Monday that at least 70 trees are within 3 feet of the existing pathway’s edge in Linear Park.

“A widening path risks their lives,” said Booz, who was also previously on the city’s Tree Task Force.

Linear Park, Nolan emphasized, does need restoration to improve the environment and for an expected influx of parkgoers after a large development opens in the area. But any plan for the park should make trees a priority as “essential infrastructure.”

“The Committee on Public Planting was also able to point out additional concerns about the irrigation plan and the maintenance strategy, things that were not included in the original plan,” Nolan said.

The resilience plan according to the order would restore the irrigation system, improve soils along the path and protect the trees’ “critical root zone.”

The point is to make sure city staff “is aware of and focusing on the essential tree canopy piece of Linear Park, which is some of the most consistent green space in all of North Cambridge,” Nolan said, and to take into account the word of experts on advisory committees – a potential guard against errors in planning.

The concerns of advisory groups must be taken into account, councillor Paul Toner agreed.

“I think we need to do a better job of communicating with them,” Toner said. “This is something that we need to take a close look at, and I think we can come up with a great solution for everybody.”

The council voted to refer the issue to the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee, where staff could respond more directly about the number of trees that could be affected and other aspects of the plan.

“When you add the fact that we have 50 percent of the national average of open space, that leads me to believe we’ve got to do everything we can to get this right,” councillor Dennis Carlone said.