A Town Council Subcommittee supported the idea of doing a pilot program to close a portion of Greenough Boulevards to traffic on weekends during parts of the year, similar to Memorial Drive in Cambridge.
The section of the roadway, sometimes called Little Greenough, runs between North Beacon and Arsenal streets, and provides a link between the two thoroughfares. On Dec. 10, the Committee on Economic Development and Planning voted to recommend that the full Council request that the state do a pilot study of closing the road on the weekends during the spring, summer and fall, and examine the impact on traffic.
The roadway is controlled by the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which closed it during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea proved popular with many said Watertown Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee member Amy Plovnick said.
“I think the closure of Little Greenough over the spring and summer opened our eyes to what this road could be — having access to the river for recreation,” Plovnick said. “And a lot of people in Watertown and nearby communities enjoyed using the road when it was closed to vehicles during that time.”
A petition asking the close Little Greenough got more than 400 signatures, Plovnick said. Some people wrote in that they enjoyed using the road to inline skate, and one family said their children learned to ride their bikes without training wheels on Little Greenough during the closure, she added.
The petition called for closing the roadway full-time, but in the fall, when the Bike & Ped Committee presented the petition to the Town Council, the request was to close the roadway on weekends.
Some worried about what closing the roadway would do to traffic in East Watertown, even if only on weekends. They noted that the nearest link between North Beacon Street and Arsenal Street is Louise Street, a residential road west of the Arsenal on the Charles. Others said that the Town already has plenty of pathways along the river for residents to use.
Greenough sits near the Arsenal Yards, the redeveloped portion of the former U.S. Army Arsenal, which became the Arsenal Mall. Other developments have been built on Arsenal Street and East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she worries about the traffic impact if Little Greenough is closed off.
“I am not opposed to open green space, it’s not that I oppose recreation, it’s an issue of the happening on Arsenal Street and all of the surrounding area and the congestion we are going to be facing as a community. And by closing this roadway we are eliminating this one link this area has that can give us a little bit of relief, like an expansion valve that could be available,” Kounelis said. “We are looking at weekend closings. When look at the Traffic Impact study of Arsenal Yards, the greatest impact on the community, based on the theater and retail space, would be on weekends.”
Some asked if the parking areas on either end of Little Greenough would be accessible for people with limited mobility, or families with small children who must drive to the area. Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he would like to see those parking areas remain open.
Who owns the roadway is not quite clear. While the DCR has taken control over the road, former Watertown Recreation Director Tom Sullivan wrote an email to the subcommittee saying that when the former Arsenal was sold by the Federal government to the Town of Watertown in the 1980s the property went all the way to the Charles River, including the roadway. The Committee asked Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon to look into who exactly controls Little Greenough and the surrounding area.
Councilor Lisa Feltner, who is on the subcommittee, supported the recommendation to have the full Council reach out to the DCR to see if the road could be closed on weekends. She noted that the Town is looking at things it never had during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 had such as huge impact, we were willing to do some things, such as closing (Little Greenough). Another example was outdoor dining (on sidewalks),” Feltner said. “Things we as a community were afraid to do because we were afraid of the impact.”
Piccirilli said he supported the pilot study, noting that it could always be stopped.
“The worst thing that could happen, we close it and after three weeks of total mayhem surrounding Arsenal Yards and we call it off,” Piccirilli said. “We are closing it with cones and barricades, not a physical structure.”
Councilor Ken Woodland, the third subcommittee member, had to leave the meeting for another engagement before the vote was taken. The subcommittee voted 2-0 to support the recommendation.