City of Cambridge Pedestrian Plan
The pedestrian plan has four major goals:
- To provide policies and guidelines for facilities that will make walking safer, easier, and more attractive.
- To provide design standards for physical improvements related to the pedestrian realm.
- To outline steps to encourage walking as an alternative to automobile travel, as beneficial exercise, and as a benefit to the community.
- To provide an action plan to create an economical and efficient non-automobile transportation network within Cambridge and connecting to other communities and destinations.
Given the city’s age and the variety in its physical space, the plan will best achieve its intended goals if it is applied with sensitivity to the history and idiosyncrasies of each place.
View the City of Cambridge Pedestrian Plan
Driveway Curb Cuts
Driveway curb cuts allow motor vehicles to cross sidewalks - the pedestrian pathway - and should be kept to a minimum in number and width. They create the potential for conflict with pedestrians or children playing. They also present potential tripping hazards for pedestrians, especially children and elderly people.
Cambridge has two major multiuse paths—the Paul Dudley White Bike Path along the Charles River and the Linear Park— as well as several smaller paths. The most significant addition to the existing network would be a path along the Grand Junction rail line that extends from the Charles near the BU Bridge through Cambridgeport and East Cambridge and finally into Somerville. The path, if built, could connect with the multiuse Community Path that is being built through Somerville, linking with the Linear Park and the Minuteman Bikeway. Analysis and preliminary plans have been completed.
Benches and Bus Shelters
Benches provide pedestrians with an opportunity to sit and rest, wait for a bus where there isn’t adequate bus shelter space, meet a friend, or read the paper.
Cambridge’s many trees offer pedestrians shade and beauty, while softening the urban streetscape. They are important for cooling the streets and sidewalks in summer. Trees, however, can be a challenge for pedestrians, especially along residential streets where mature trees have encroached on narrow sidewalks, upheaving the pavement. This is especially challenging when sidewalks are reconstructed and must meet ADA/AAB’s sidewalk width standards. The City is experimenting with options such as routing the sidewalk around a tree.
Click here for more information.
What residents and businesses can do:
- When trees are proposed or planted on your street, volunteer to keep them watered. This is especially important in the first year or two after they are planted.
- If there is no room for a tree in front of your property and you have room in your yard, request a back-of-sidewalk tree.
Good lighting for pedestrians helps prevent falls, especially on uneven sidewalks, and makes many people feel safer at night. Lighting that is too intense, however, can produce glare, making it harder to see.
DPW has a program to reconstruct streets and sidewalks that are in poor condition in high priority areas, which include areas within 150 feet of parks, major squares, libraries, schools, youth centers, senior housing, and senior centers; areas within 40 feet of bus routes; major thoroughfares; and areas that the Commission for Persons with Disabilities consider priorities.
See the DPW Street and Sidewalk Maintenance page for more information.
What residents and businesses can do:
- Use DPW's reporting system in place for sidewalks in need of repair.
Snow and Ice and Botanical Obstructions
Dealing with icy or snow-covered sidewalks remains a challenge, but there has been noticeable progress in recent years. Problem areas continue to be sidewalks behind businesses, vacant properties, and sidewalk abutting parking lots, among others. Sometimes property owners only clear a narrow passage, too narrow or wheelchairs or strollers, and snow melt further compromises the passage. For information about how to report snow obstructions, visit the Snow Center.
Botanical obstructions can be a problem for pedestrians. While trees, bushes, and other plantings are highly desirable, low-hanging branches, tree roots, or bushes that intrude on sidewalk space can be hazardous, especially for people with impaired vision. Cambridge is full of old trees that compromise sidewalk space but add greatly to the quality of life. Recognition of the need for clear passage for pedestrians and the need to accommodate these trees and other important vegetation should be the guiding principles. Some situations may require ingenuity to resolve.
For details and to report a botanical obstruction see the DPW web site page.
What residents and businesses can do:
- Check the sidewalks around your property to make sure plants aren’t protruding and tree branches that are over the sidewalk are at least seven feet above the ground.
- Report botanical obstructions.
Pedestrian safety must be considered equally with vehicular safety at all construction sites. A safe, well marked pedestrian walkway is required through all construction areas on City projects. DPW oversees utilities’ compliance with pedestrian safety requirements.
The Business Use of Sidewalks
Sidewalk cafes and sidewalk sales bring welcome life to the pedestrian realm, as long as they do not obstruct the right of way. They require permits from DPW, and the process includes submitting a plan showing where sidewalk furniture will be placed.
Fences and High Walls
Some property owners construct opaque fences along the sidewalk. These are unwelcoming and detract greatly from the pedestrian realm. Instead of “eyes on the street”, the sense of safety that windows on the street provide, they offer a blank wall. Many municipalities have ordinances regulating fences along sidewalks; typically they limit the height to four feet.
Bike lanes and cycle tracks help pedestrians because they provide an extra buffer against moving motor vehicles and because they greatly reduce bicycle riding on sidewalks. Bicycle parking is another important pedestrian amenity. When there are not enough bike racks, cyclists tend to lock their bikes to signposts, and they can become an obstacle for pedestrians, especially if they fall over. In general, the more people choose to ride bikes rather than drive cars, the cleaner the air, the safer the streets, and the more livable the city’s neighborhoods.
Cambridge can be a confusing place to navigate. Being able to find your way easily is important for pedestrians. While the City produces a map and both the City and the T have created maps in the squares, it can be hard to figure out how to get from one place to another. The City experimented with wayfinding signs in the Porter Square area, partly to indicate how close some destinations are, but Cambridge has so many signs that wayfinding signs get lost in the clutter. Signs painted on the sidewalk are a possibility, but they wear out. Phone apps are, increasingly, an option for pedestrians.
Pedestrians, cars, and bikes
Constructing intersections to minimize crossing distances and vehicle speeds, while maximizing visibility are priorities whenever road reconstruction is done. It is important to ensure that pedestrians do not have to go far out of their way to cross a busy street.
Encouraging People to Walk
Cambridge has held a variety of promotional activities designed to get people walking, including hunts for golden shoes, themed walks, and walking clubs, as well as GreenStreets’ monthly walk/ride days.
CitySmart has been a major grant-funded effort in which a different neighborhood was selected each year for three years (Cambridgeport in 2010, North Cambridge in 2011, and East Cambridge in 2012) for an intensive promotional campaign. Neighborhood residents were given kits with information about walking, biking, transit, and carpooling, and visibility-raising events were held to encourage people to try new ways to get around.
For More Information
For more information on the City's Pedestrian Plan, please contact the Environmental and Transportation Planning Division at 617/349-4600.