Walking along the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early fall, the first thing you notice is how quiet it is. Following the tracks of a former B&M Railroad line, the first phase of the new greenway runs through a sparsely developed area in Watertown, and for much of the trail there is little traffic noise to be heard. The vegetation on either side of the trail has been allowed to grow up, hiding the outside city and further blocking noise. There were also surprisingly few people; in a half hour spent walking the trail I only encountered a single jogger.
Experiencing only this section of the path, a visitor might never realize that, when completed, the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway will be one of the most central and important links in Metro Boston’s expanding greenway network. Phase one, running between School and Arlington Streets, was finished in 2011. In June 2017, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) announced that funding had been secured for the second phase of the project, running from Arlington Street to the Fresh Pond bike trails. There are also plans to extend an existing spur of the greenway across Arsenal Street to Arsenal Park and the Charles River. When completed, this trail will act as a critical link, tying together the Charles River Paths with the Minuteman Trail, Somerville Community Path, and Mystic Greenway, among others.
|Watertown-Cambridge Greenway Phase 2 and Connections|
While the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway will serve as a critical connection between existing trails, there is still work that can be done to ensure that it is a well-known and widely used community asset in the future. Doug Brown, a Cambridge resident who founded the group Friends of the Greenway, says he would like to see the Greenway become a destination, and not just a place that people pass through on their way to somewhere else. With the funding for Phase two secured, Brown has shifted the Friends’ focus to advocating for design elements like lighting, seating, and public art. “If you’re going to spend 3.1 million dollars on a project, it’s a chance to do something really special,” Brown said. Even mundane things like routine maintenance can make a big difference. Since opening, the vegetation adjacent to the phase one section of the greenway has become overgrown, crowding the path in a way that some users may find unattractive or intimidating.
“If you’re going to spend 3.1 million dollars on a project, it’s a chance to do something really special."
One of the few benches along the trail, located at the start of the Arsenal Street spur.
Wayfinding is another concern. Since the path is largely separated from streets and sidewalks, neighborhood residents may not immediately know where the path is, or where it will lead them. DCR has already installed stone markers with engraved maps along the first phase of the trail. The markers are a good first step, but only show connections to other trails, rather than neighborhood centers or surface streets. Combined with a lack of “You are Here” markers, it can be difficult to find one’s current location on the map, unless you are already familiar with the neighborhood.
“What we think is really important is wayfinding. We don’t want people getting lost when they get to that intersection.”
Stone marker at the intersection with Arlington Street.
Wayfinding is especially important where the path intersects with surface streets, especially busy ones like Arsenal Street. Andy Compagna, a member of the Watertown Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, has been working on the greenway extension, which will connect the existing spur to the Charles River. This short, but complex stretch crosses over Arsenal Street and through Arsenal Yards, a new mixed-use development, whose first phase is set to open in 2019. “What we think is really important is wayfinding,” Compagna says, “We don’t want people getting lost when they get to that intersection.” Safety is another concern, and the current plan includes a dedicated cycle track through Arsenal Yards. “There are a lot of different categories of cyclists,” Compagna notes, “but our focus has been on families and children and really trying to help all users feel safe.”
The Watertown-Cambridge Greenway is a success story, and credit should be given to DCR, the cities of Watertown and Cambridge, and numerous community and advocacy groups in making it become a reality. When completed, it will be a major step forward in creating a continuous, interconnected network of greenways across Metro Boston. However, we should remember that the quality of connections matter just as much as quantity. Design features like signage, furniture, lighting, and planting will make a big difference in attracting new and diverse groups of people to a trail or greenway. Even when trail projects have been planned or built, we can always work to make them safer and more inviting for all.