Porter Square Redesign Project

Porter Square pedestrian plaza by artist Toshi Katayama

The Porter Square project was completed in 2007.

About the Project

From 1997 to 1998 a Citizen Advisory Committee, appointed by the City Manager, met to analyze many options for reconfiguring Porter Square to improve the safety and function of the square for all users, with an emphasis on pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users. The Committee agreed upon the following goals for the project:

  • Reduce vehicular domination of Porter Square
  • Improve conditions for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, particularly for pedestrians crossing Somerville Avenue at the T stop
  • Reduce cut-through and shopping center related vehicular traffic on neighboring residential streets;
  • Improve the streetscape and create a sense of place in Porter Square;
  • Improve traffic safety; and
  • Maintain traffic level-of-service (LOS) at or near existing conditions or LOS D, whichever is lower.

In the spring of 1998 the Committee came to consensus on a plan for the reconfiguration of Porter Square that was a basis for the final roadway design.

The Porter Square Citizen Advisory Committee was reconvened in the fall of 2002 to assist the City of Cambridge in the final design phase of the reconstruction of Porter Square. The final plaza plan addresses these goals:

  • To create a unique visual identity for Porter Square;
  • To integrate both sides of Massachusetts Avenue;
  • To create a pleasing space for pedestrians;
  • To visually unify the plaza area; and
  • To reduce the visual clutter of the busy intersection through simplification and clarity of design.

Project Plan

The project limits reached from Upland Road to Beech Street. The project included the reconfiguration of the main intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Somerville Avenue, reconstruction of the sidewalks, upgrading of lighting and the addition of new pedestrian crossings and bicycle facilities. As a result of the reconfiguration, a new pedestrian plaza and left-hand turn were constructed from of the Porter Square Shopping Center to Massachusetts Avenue southbound.

Click here to view the final design along with existing conditions.

Click here to view a presentation given about the plan at one of the public meetings.

Click here to view a post construction evaluation of the Porter Square project.

Elements of Streetscape Design

  • Seven additional crosswalks and improved crosswalk markings to give pedestrians more direct access and more options for crossing;
  • Reduced delay at signalized crosswalks and additional crossing time;
  • A left-turn out of the shopping center onto southbound Massachusetts Avenue;
  • An exclusive right turn lane from northbound Massachusetts Avenue to Somerville Avenue;
  • An enlarged plaza to create an enhanced Porter Square and give it a new sense of place; and
  • Bicycle lanes added through the project area and partial removal of median.

New Plaza and Art

With the goal of creating a unique visual identity and improving conditions for pedestrians, the City created a new plaza in Porter Square. Under the city's 1% for Art program, an artist, Toshihiro Katayama, worked with landscape architect Cynthia Smith to make the entire plaza a work of art. Members of the Porter Square Citizen Advisory Committee and city staff worked with the designers to create this bold artistic concept.

Elements of the Plaza Design

  • Concrete pavers in two contrasting colors, light and dark gray;
  • Stone wall and boulders to create a sense of warmth through the use of natural materials;
  • Additional trees planted and four existing tress preserved;
  • Individual seats to allow people to rest on their way through the square; and
  • Additional bicycle parking to be provided.

For More Information

For more information about the Porter Square Design Project call Bill Deignan, wdeignan@cambridgema.gov, at 617/349-4632.