Over the bend at Cambridge’s Riverbend Park


by Steve Nadis, Cambridge Chronicle

Cambridge — Every Sunday, from late-April to mid-November, there’s a nice little spectacle along the Charles. Cars are barred from Memorial Drive between Western Ave. and the Eliot Bridge. People can roam freely, without fear of being run over by cars. Instead, they can be run over by joggers, skateboarders, bicyclists, bladers, rollerskaters, and pole-flailing travelers on strange cross-country skiing conveyances. I don’t know what those contraptions are called, and I’d just as soon keep it that way.

But that’s the great thing about “Riverbend Park.” People can get around by any means they like, so long as they’re not getting around in a noisy, gas-guzzling vehicle. There’s plenty of room for folks to do as they please, without bothering anyone else. Except for me, a chronic malcontent. Some of the faithful customers just get on my nerves. I’m sure they’re all standup individuals–the kind of citizens we hope that Cambridge is made of—yet they still bug me.

So I’m going to vent a little, simply because I can. It’s not easy to get a column, and they make it hard for a reason. Because once you have one, you’ve got a license to gripe. It’s not only permitted, it’s expected. And I’d hate to let people down, especially after all the palms I had to grease to get my personal “whine space” in this town’s leading weekly.

Before I launch into my usual tirade, I should say that I’m a great fan of Riverbend Park and have been ever since it started 25 years ago. Sometimes I’m there on foot, sometimes on bike, but mostly on rollerblades. If I’m in town, and Mem. Drive is shut down, I can’t let a Sunday pass without making a brief appearance or two. No one’s keeping statistics, but I may well be the most regular of the regulars.

If I like it so much, what’s to complain about? Nothing really, except a few individuals who get under my skin, like “Spinny,” who’s always twirling around on his blades; the “Crossover King,” who takes over half the boulevard with his continuous, wide-arcing turns; the “Circus Performer,” who’s always doing stunts on his bike; and all those “Big-Wheel Bladers,” who speed by so fast, I feel like I’m going backwards. Again, none of these characters is doing anything wrong. It’s just me, taking my role as local curmudgeon a bit too seriously.

Which brings me to my main beef with the DCR–formerly the MDC-the agency charged with converting Mem. Drive into this idyllic country lane. Some of their employees are too eager to let the cars back in, sometimes a half hour early, as if the poor vehicles couldn’t survive elsewhere for another 30 minutes. I also hate the fact that they wait until the last weekend in April to shut down the drive, considering how nice it can be in early spring.

That’s bothered me for years, and I finally tried to do something about it. I complained to DCR and got the runaround, but I did find out that the park’s schedule is mandated by state law. I then contacted a state rep. who pointed me to the appropriate statute (Chapter 457 in the Acts of 1985). She said I’d need to get other people onboard to have a chance of extending the season at Riverbend Park. A “groundswell” would be good, she said, but I’m not a groundswell-inspiring personality. If pressed, I might be able to deliver my immediate family (with appropriate bribes) and next-door neighbor (with appropriate threats), but that wouldn’t get it done. I spoke with a local conservation group, which was sympathetic to the cause, though unwilling to take the lead. That burden would fall on me.

Ordinarily, I’m not much of an activist. And when I do activate, it tends to be on my main issue, which is bike racks. I make weekly calls to the DPW, trying to get more racks at my kids’ elementary school. I took all my negative momentum from that and poured it into my next cause: getting a stop sign at the corner of Green Street and Hancock, which is an intersection I’ve always considered treacherous. It now appears that new signage will appear someday, hopefully before my kids are off to college. Now I’ve taken all my muckraking experience and channeled it into the fight of my life, Riverbend Park (aka Little Bighorn).

As any general knows, you need allies when waging a three-front war. If I’m going to get anywhere, I’ll have to reach across the aisle, so to speak, and hold hands with my Riverbend associates—Spinny, Crossover, Circus, Big-Wheel, etc. Facing a coalition like that, I don’t see how the state will have any choice but to give the people what they want and indeed deserve: a longer run on Memorial Drive, especially in early spring, when the flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and one irascible columnist/grouch is compiling a new litany of grievances.

Columnist Steve Nadis has office hours on Memorial Drive on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. He’s the rollerblader going in a straight line, at a moderate speed, without twirls or wide-arcing turns.

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