The Grand Junction was one of the first north-south rail links in the Boston metropolitan area. Opened in 1855 by the Grand Junction & Depot Company, the line followed a serpentine alignment weaving through the newly industrialized areas of Cambridgeport, East Cambridge, Charlestown, Everett, and Chelsea, and ending at the piers of East Boston. The closing of industrial and manufacturing uses along the corridor in the twentieth century reduced the importance of the line for freight. Presently, two to four trains a day run on the Grand Junction through Cambridge, as this corridor remains the only north-south rail connection east of Framingham and Worcester.
The Metropolitan District Commission (now the Department of Conservation and Recreation) 1997 Charles River Basin Master Plan recommended that the Grand Junction Railroad Bridge, a double-barreled crossing with active tracks on one side and an abandoned roadbed on the other, be used to connect bicycle/pedestrian paths on both sides of the river.
The use of the Grand Junction corridor itself as a multi-use path was first formally envisioned by the 2000 Cambridge Green Ribbon Open Space Committee in its study of possible new parks and open space in the city, and was identified as a top priority. The 2001 Eastern Cambridge Planning Study (ECAPS) also recommended the creation of the path along the Grand Junction corridor as an infrastructure project to enhance non-auto mobility. In August 2001, the Cambridge Bicycle Committee completed a concept proposal for the path. In October 2006, the city completed a feasibility study of the corridor. As part of MIT’s Commitment Letter to the City related to Kendall Square PUD-5 re-zoning in 2013, MIT committed to conduct a more detailed feasibility analysis of the proposed path through MIT property between Main Street and Memorial Drive. In 2015, the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) awarded a Forward Fund grant to study connections across the proposed path alignment as well as the future regional connections.
In 2010, MassDOT proposed introducing commuter rail service from Worcester to North Station with about 20 trains per day along the corridor, a project that was cancelled after further analysis. Additionally, the 2013 MassDOT Healthy Transportation Policy Order clarified the state’s willingness to accommodate shared-use paths along railroad rights-of-way.
MassDOT’s 2014 Capital Investment Plan introduced the idea of using European-style Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains on the Grand Junction corridor, providing urban rail service from a proposed new “West Station” at Beacon Yards near the Allston-Brighton I-90 interchange to North Station with a stop in Cambridge near Kendall Square. The concept of DMUs was not advanced from this point.
In 2016, as part of the Kendall Square Mobility Task Force, a technical analysis and workshop was carried out to discuss an updated vision for future transit on the corridor.
Path Commitments and Construction
As part of MIT’s Commitment Letter to the City related to Kendall Square PUD-5 re-zoning in 2013, MIT also agreed to provide $500,000 in construction funds to the CRA for the construction of the Grand Junction Park, which included the first segment of the Grand Junction multi-use path between Binney Street and Main Street. The CRA committed a similar amount of funding, and the park and first path segment were completed in 2016.
Connectivity to the Grand Junction Path and its role as a connector in the public space network was also an important element of the Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Competition in 2015. This competition guided the design of Binney Street Park, which is expected to be constructed in 2018 and will include the second segment of the multi-use path. This park is being built with money obtained from mitigation for Boston Property’s Google Connector on land contributed by the CRA.
In 2016, the City committed $10 million for the design and construction of the multi-use path north of Binney Park to the city line with Somerville. As part of MIT’s Commitment Letter to the City related to the Volpe re-zoning in 2017, MIT committed $8.5 million and the land for the multi-use path on the MIT-owned portion of the right-of-way. With these commitments, there is only one MassDOT owned segment surrounded by MIT property that is not funded for construction.
The City has been engaged in carrying out a survey and expects to get a design contract underway for the entire Grand Junction multi-use path in Cambridge in 2018, but the successful design and construction of the path is still contingent on MassDOT’s agreement to a rail-with-trail concept.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, over time, people who live near bicycle and walking paths become more active than those who do not.