Cambridge Common/Flagstaff Park Project

Common path to Mason St

The Cambridge Common and Flagstaff Park project aims to rehabilitate all aspects of the Common as well as improve conditions for all users of these parks and those travelling along this section of Massachusetts Avenue, from Garden Street to Cambridge Street. It also seeks to unify the historic landscape of the Common by simplifying the vocabulary of the design. The planning of the project has been underway for many years, along with securing funding for the $5.1m project. The project will replace all pathway surfaces on the Common to meet access codes with bituminous paving with a brick edge, replace and upgrade all benches and trash cans, plant over 100 trees and remove older under-story plantings, improve drainage and turf surfaces, and replace the lighting system utilizing efficient, LED fixtures and add lighting to pathways where it is missing.

Across the street, along the Massachusetts Avenue side of Flagstaff Park, the curbs will be moved out and a two-way multi-use path constructed with crossings at each end to create better bicycle and pedestrians connections between Harvard Square and Massachusetts Avenue northbound. 

Construction

Construction plans were finalized in 2013 and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) advertised the project for bid in the fall of 2013. Construction began in June 2014. The project is anticipated to take approximately 18-24 months to complete. Access to the playground as well through the Cambridge Common is expected to be maintained during the period of work, with some pedestrian detours as paths are reconstructed. Most events and sporting activities will need to be relocated during construction.

For ongoing project updates please see the Department of Public Works project page.

Public Meeting On Upcoming Construction

MassDOT, the City of Cambridge and Representative Marjorie Decker are sponsoring a public meeting on Thursday May 22, 2014 at 6:00 P. M. at Harvard University’s Larsen Hall, 1st floor, 14 Appian Way. Plans will be available for viewing beginning at 5:30 P. M.

Tree Walk - December 14

The purpose of this meeting was to view and discuss the tree removal plan for the Common in the context of the tree planting plan and overall landscape treatment for the Common as part of a planned rehabilitation project which could start as early as the fall of 2013. 

Process Background

After several meetings with interest groups, the public process for the project concluded ti a 25% conceptual design for the rehabilitation of Cambridge Common and the addition of a multi-use path in Flagstaff Park held on June 9th, 2011 at 7:00 P. M. at 13 Appian Way, Longfellow Building at Harvard Education School. See the documents tab for additional graphics and handouts.

Comments on from the hearing were reviewed and design changes made.  Currently, final design plans are being developed for bidding. 

Local, state and federal funds have been allocated to this project for construction. State and federal funds were programmed on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for federal Fiscal Year 2013. The project planning was completed and construction plans put out to bid by MassDOT in the Fall of 2013. Construction began in June of 2014 and is anticipated to take approximately 18-24 months.

Cambridge Common is a National Historic Landmark. Its long and colorful history, connecting it with seventeenth century New England settlement, the Revolutionary War, and regional nineteenth and twentieth century events and trends, make it an important place and tourist attraction.

The Common is also one of the city's major parks. It contains a popular tot lot (which was re-built with a $500,000 renovation), youth soccer and other passive activities on its 16 acres. It is a haven for neighborhood people who want a place to relax in the sun or on a bench under a tree. The Common is also significant in that over 10,000 pedestrians and cyclists pass through it on a daily basis.

The Cambridge Common underwent its last significant reconstruction in 1974. At the present time, many elements of the Common need significant work, including broken pathway paving, missing and broken lighting, poor drainage, excess paving, older benches and trash cans, gaps in the tree canopy and older plantings.

A history of changes to the Common was compiled by the city’s Historical Commission and can be seen by going to the documents tab. 

Pedestrian and bicycle travel through this area can be difficult because of the amount of vehicle traffic and past reconfigurations of the roadway to accommodate an underpass constructed under the Harvard campus at Peabody and Cambridge streets and the MBTA bus tunnel at Flagstaff Park. Peabody Street and Garden Street are too narrow for bicycle lanes, and the volume and nature of how traffic flows around the Common makes it difficult for cyclists. At present, the primary travel routes for pedestrians and cyclists wanting to travel from Harvard Square to Mass. Avenue northbound are through the north yard of the Harvard campus or through the Common but these routes may not best serve people depending on their exact starting and ending points.

Because of the complex travel patterns in the area, the Common's function as a travel corridor is being improved through small changes. Minor pathway realignments and other pathway changes are being made to reflect actual pedestrian and bicycle travel patterns and to minimize conflict between the two travel modes. In general, pathway widths are staying the same, except where minor widening is being done to make paths a consistent width.

Concerns about pedestrian/bicycle conflict on shared-use paths in and around the Common have been discussed in depth through several public forums over the years. Representatives of the Pedestrian Committee, the Bicycle Committee, Committee on Public Planting, Historical Commission, Harvard University, Cambridge Office of Tourism, and representatives of the various City departments (including Community Development; Traffic, Parking, and Transportation; Public Works; Police; and the City Manager's Office) reached an agreement several years ago that pedestrians and cyclists should both be accommodated on the Common with this renovation proposal.

As part of the Harvard Square Design Study completed in 2004, the lack of a good bicycle and pedestrian connection through Flagstaff Park was noted as a major impediment to travel between Harvard Square and North Mass. Avenue. The study recommended a multi-use path connection through Flagstaff Park be designed to create a direct and safe connection along the north-eastern edge of Mass. Avenue opposite the Common.

For more information about the Cambridge Common/Flagstaff Park Project, contact Bill Deignan by email at wdeignan@cambridgema.gov or by telephone at 617/349-4632.