Guest Column: Cycling Between Watertown and Boston


by Theresa Doherty, Watertown TAB

The Charles River is truly an asset to Watertown. Have you ever walked or bicycled along the Charles, maybe commuting into Boston or Brookline via the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path? If you have, you’ve probably come across intersections, such as crossing the Anderson Memorial Bridge, where bikes and pedestrians are backed up and waiting for a long line of cars to cross. These intersections can be overly congested and extremely dangerous, but thankfully, representatives of Watertown are working to change that.

On Tuesday, November 12th, the Watertown Town Council unanimously voted in support of a resolution endorsing the addition of pedestrian underpasses along the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path at the Anderson Memorial, Western Avenue, and River Street Bridges. The Anderson Memorial Bridge is currently being renovated as a part of the Commonwealth’s Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP), a statewide program run by MassDOT to improve the overall Bridge Health Index of Massachusetts bridges. The Western Avenue and River Street Bridges are also slated to be restored under the ABP within the next few years.

Currently, a runner or cyclist along the Boston side of the Charles could take a 3.5 mile trip along the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path, from the Cragie Bridge to River Street, without having to stop and wait for a light. The inclusion of pedestrian underpasses at these three bridges would allow that same runner or cyclist to continue for seven miles – from the Cragie Bridge to the Arsenal Bridge – without interruption.

The Charles River Conservancy is spearheading an advocacy campaign to persuade MassDOT to include pedestrian underpasses in their renovation plans for the Anderson Memorial, Western Avenue, and River Street Bridges. The underpasses are a much-needed addition to the parklands around the Lower Charles and are critical to help ensure public safety. According to a Connectivity Gap Study conducted by MassDOT in 2011, approximately 1,000 cyclists or pedestrians traverse these bridges every hour during a typical day. Creating a separated path would reduce risk for these thousands of users and would encourage more people to commute via bicycle.

Increased multi-modal pathways and greater opportunities for carbon-free commuting fulfill MassDOT’s own GreenDOT initiatives and Healthy Transportation Policy Directive, issued in September of this year. This policy directive mandates all MassDOT projects currently in design to be submitted for review by January 2014, in order to identify opportunities to increase “healthy transportation options” such as walking and cycling.

Having reviewed the pedestrian underpass proposal, MassDOT representatives claim that permitting would delay the renovation of the bridges, thus delaying the completion of the ABP. There is an obvious solution: build the structural support for the underpasses while the bridges are under construction. Most of the permits concern the approaching ramps that go over riverside land; the “tunnel” aspect within the bridge would take minimal permitting. Coordinating the construction efforts would save the cost of ripping up the bridges and surrounding landscape again, as well as minimize the disruption to traffic.

MassDOT has already issued a change order on the bridge project that moves utility lines out of the space that a future underpass would occupy. However, the agency is stiller lucent to install the structural supports for these underpasses. I applaud the Watertown Town Council for joining over 30 other elected officials, and nearly 50 local organizations, in recognizing and acting upon this opportunity that MassDOT is currently not willing to realize.

I hope more residents of Watertown will join the effort to advocate for pedestrian underpasses along the Charles. For more information on the Charles River Conservancy’s underpass advocacy campaign, please visit
Read more: Guest Column: Cycling Between Watertown and Boston – Watertown, MA – Watertown TAB
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