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, 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 use of the Grand Junction corridor 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. A 2013 report by the Boston Green Routes Initiative, currently spearheaded by LivableStreets Alliance, has the Grand Junction Path as part of the vision for an interconnected network of paths in the Boston region.
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.
Interest in the Grand Junction Community Path project was reinvigorated in 2010 when 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. 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.
MassDOT’s 2014 Capital Investment Plan introduced the idea of using European-style Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains on the Grand Junction corridor. This would provide urban rail service from a proposed new “West Station” at Beacon Yards near the Allston-Brighton I-90 interchange along the Grand Junction corridor to North Station with a stop in Cambridge near Kendall Square. It is unclear whether both this rail service and a community path can both utilize the corridor.
As part of MIT’s Letter of Agreement with the City related to Kendall Square PUD-5 re-zoning in 2013, MIT committed to conduct a more detailed feasibility analysis of the segment of the proposed path through MIT property between Main Street and Memorial Drive. MIT has formed an advisory committee for the feasibility study, composed of a representative of the Community Development Department, a representative of the Charles River Transportation Management Association, the President of the Friends of the Grand Junction Community Path, a representative from MIT Facilities, two MIT faculty members, and the Executive Director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA). In April 2014, MIT awarded a consulting contract for a study of the feasibility of the multi-use path on the section of the Grand Junction owned by MIT. The study is to be completed by October 2014.
In addition, as part of MIT’s Letter of Agreement, MIT agreed to provide $500,000 in construction funds to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for construction of a segment of the path between Binney and Main Street. The CRA has committed over $60,000 to developing construction documents for this segment, and hopes to put the construction project out to bid later this year. The Community Development Department and Department of Public Works are closely coordinating with the CRA on the design.
Starting in 2013, the Community Development Department has allocated staff time to accelerate the planning process for the Grand Junction Community path project, with monthly internal planning meetings and regular coordination with stakeholders, including the newly-formed Friends of the Grand Junction Community Path organization. Connectivity to the Grand Junction Path and its role as a connector in the public space network will also be an important element of the upcoming Eastern Cambridge Kendall Square Open Space Planning Competition.