Biking Around Alewife


I’ve been browsing your web page with great interest and I’m thrilled  with the attention you’ve paid to biking improvements in our area.  I’ve been biking down the Brighton St. – Alewife – Davis Sq. trail  almost daily, and I’ve made a few observations I’d like to share. I’ll  list them below. (Hopefully some of them are already included in the  upcoming trail improvements.)

  • The width of the trail near Brighton St. might be a safety hazard  because it forces bikes within inches of the catchy chain link fence.
  • The trail should go straight across the north side of the circular  parking ramp at the T station, rather than following the tortuous path  around the southern perimeter. A wide, straight entrance could greatly  improve the safety, comfort and visibility of the trail. For example,  my mom (a novice biker) thinks the trail is somewhat secluded and  difficult as-is, and wouldn’t enjoy it as much alone.
  • Better signage could be very helpful for new trail users. When I was  in Munich, the layout of the bike trails was logical enough that I  could get around without a map, using only my sense of direction.  Here, I got lost on my first trip to Davis Sq., even after studying  the location on Google earth!

These kinds of improvements might bring new trail users, and also  bring support and momentum to possible trail expansions!

Pedestrian access in the area could be significantly improved by a  new set of stairs connecting the parking lot across from Staples with  the sidewalk next to Alewife Brook Parkway. (Click here to see what I’m talking about. The stairs could be  located in place of the improvised path.) I see several possible  advantages to having stairs like this. On one hand, it would give  pedestrians headed to Staples, TJ Maxx, or the cinema a shorter and  safer  route, allowing them avoid climbing down a steep slope, or  entering the parking lot in the same place as all the car traffic.  Pedestrians would also be able to minimize their exposure to noise and  fumes by shortening the part of their path which is parallel to the  busy road. Finally, it would give more room for those who do travel  the full length of the sidewalk. (Like bicyclists who do not feel  comfortable traveling on the roadway.) Maybe if we were to go all out,  a whole new pedestrian bridge over the train tracks, strategically
placed, would be even better!

I hope you find at least some of these ideas helpful or interesting.

Thank you for the work you’ve been doing on our behalf!

Best wishes,

Alex Mankowski


15 replies on “Biking Around Alewife”

  1. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for being in touch!

    The Brighton to Alewife trail designs are final at this stage and are out to bid, but I think they fully reflect your concerns.

    * We have acquired land to expand the width at the Brighton Street end to meet safety standards — I think it is 10 feet with 2 ft side buffers; don’t quote me on the exact number, but it is plenty wide.
    * As it reaches Alewife, the trail will run straight across a new bridge over that little CSO outlet channel and cross the Route 2 down ramp to meet Minuteman and continue to Somerville. I think that is what you are suggesting. There will be a cantilevered segment to the North of the main garage (going toward Somerville) to give adequate width.
    * There will definitely be improved signage, but this will be something we will need to continue to tune.

    Regarding the slope down to the parking lot, I know exactly the spot you are referring to and your suggestion makes sense. I’ve transmitted your thoughts to Erin McNeil. She is working with me on transportation issues and bike/ped issues in particular. She is reviewing a recent study of bike/ped access to Alewife and perhaps can let us know if your suggestion is addressed in it. We’ll be following up on the study and choosing priorities for access improvements.

    I appreciate hearing from you.

  2. Something also needs to be done about the groups of teens that hang out at certain points in the path. If they minded their own business, it would be one thing but they don’t. Half the time they are under-age drinking and the rest of the time they are harassing path users. It’s particularly bad at dusk.

    1. When the trail is widened, it will probably see more traffic and feel less secluded. I bet this will be enough to end the mischief.

      1. Possibly but there are certain points on the path, chosen for that reason I’m sure, that are around a bend or too far down to be visible from the street. I’ve noticed they are also near “quick get aways.” I’m sure the APD knows where these are. Maybe if they started showing up there regularly, it would dissuade that element sufficiently. It reminds me of Rte 2 on the fourth of July: Clear them out, they come right back. Clear them out a couple times, they give up. Of course, I could go into the need for more youth programming but that’s a separate thread, I’m sure.

        1. I think that Alex is right — on the Brighton to Alewife segment, more traffic will make it safer. But which hangout points are you talking about in particular — near Arlington High School or more towards Cambridge? Let me know and I can follow up with the police on it.

    2. This thread is a bit old but I just found it and have extensive personal experience with this trail. I’m referring to the trail from Brighton St to the Alewife T Station. I live in Hill Estates and used to take the trail on a daily basis to a job in Kendall Sq Camb. I still use it to get to Davis Sq. in Somerville. I have also participated in numerous cleanups of the area. Here are the issues I’ve noticed the most.

      – Homeless camping by the Alewife in the woods and by the NE corner. I have helped remove approx a ton of debris from various camping areas as part of cleanups. I have also removed over two dozen shopping carts from the area.

      – Trash on the trail, especially beer cans. It seems to be a hideout for teens to drink and throw the empties in the woods nearby.

      – Campfires on the trail. I’ve had to ride past them some nights. One summer there were brush fires that started near the trail that required the fire department to come and put out. I even saw a CAR abandoned on the trail and set on fire.

      – The area behind the The Dodge Co. Inc (165 Cambridge Park Drive) is used as an eating and drinking spot and is constantly littered. They have very poor security so their buildings are covered in graffiti.

      – There is no simple way to get from the path to the Minuteman. It requires using a narrow, muddy, unlit section behind the Alewife T buildings. I have almost run into people due to the blind corners on it.

      – In the summer the trail is sometimes used for racing dirt bikes. I reported this to the Belmont or Camb police as a safety hazard and a violation of DCR laws but I don’t know if the police did anything about it.

      Personally I think if more people used it and it was connected to the Minuteman some of these problems would go away. However, even then I would like to see some police presence on the trail in general, maybe the occasional bicycle police patrol even late at night. It is just too isolated otherwise. As I understand it the trail is state Highway Dept property under the management of the DCR so technically state police are responsible for it.

      1. Hi Mark,

        These are all good observations. Thank you for playing a part in keeping the path maintained.

        The good news is that construction will start this spring on a project (fully approved, bids in) to pave and enhance this path. It will be much better connected to the Minuteman and to the Alewife T when it is done — it includes a pedestrian bridge over that outfall channel.

        Agreed that it is isolated now and that makes room for mischief. Expecting that the better connection and greater flux of people will make a big difference.

        At this time of year, it probably doesn’t make sense to further inform the police about these issues and in the spring the dynamics are going to change as construction crews go to work. But feel free to post or to call at any time that you have thoughts about how to improve safety in the area.

        Sound like a plan?


        1. I think the path expansion will improve things. I agree that if there is work starting this spring that any other efforts should wait until then. It may still be isolated enough to warrant extra effort from the police but we’ll have to wait and see how path usage turns out after the work is completed.

          – Will the connection of the path expansion with the existing path be clearly marked to users of the Minuteman (signage, etc)? I’m asking since it would be new and unfamiliar to current users and would require crossing the road.

          – Approx when is construction slated to be finished by?

          Thanks for your quick, and thoughtful, replies!

          1. It will be 2 to 3 year project because it has to work around drainage work that the City of Cambridge will be doing at the same time. Not sure how the phasing is going to work — the final phasing plans will be up to the Contractor.

            When all is said and done, the connection will, I expect, be very clear and visible. It will be a regulation width bikepath.

  3. Will,

    How will the new trail be connected with 1. The Hill Estates, 2. Pfizer/Wyeth, 3. Cambridge Park Drive, 4. EMC Corporation? The project’s success may depend on the answer to this question, for two reasons.

    First, think about the users that will make the trail safe. They might be the people who use it most frequently. The way to draw many of these people is to give them easy access to one of these destinations.

    Second, without numerous openings, the trail will not only be less efficient but more isolated, like a long tunnel open only at the ends. If an evening walker encounters danger, he should be able to exit the trail and take refuge in the lobby of a neighboring office building, rather than be trapped behind a tall and menacing fence.

    The alewife area has a very general connectivity problem (the bird flies .1 miles from Wyeth to Mike’s Gym, while the pedestrian walks 1.4) which, hopefully, this project might at least partially mitigate.

    1. Here are some answers supplied by the Department of Transportation:

      How will the new trail be connected with the various abutting properties?

      Currently, most businesses with the back of their building abutting the former railroad corridor have installed fences most likely to keep people out of their property for reasons of safety and to be able to control access over their property. By the graffiti on some of the buildings, the fence is not really working. This seems to be the current situation even though DCR made a dirt path on top of the former RR bed which is used by quite a few people during the daytime commuting hours. But the night time activities are most likely limited to aspiring graffiti artists.

      The Hill Estates requested not be connected as they did not want people crossing through their property as they do now. They requested a nice (not menacing) textured block wall with a fence on top to be installed to keep the people using the path on the path. There are many access points to the Hills Estates from Brighton Street. On the other side of the path, the MBTA has requested a replacement fence to protect people from walking out onto the active RR tracks. DCR requested a type of fence that is not easily cut by vandals.

      There are no plans to my knowledge to make connections from private properties to the path. To do so would most likely require legal agreements (for liability and maintenance reasons) between the private owners, DCR, and most likely the City of Cambridge since the path will be on DCR’s property and located in the City of Cambridge. By creating access points, this may attract people to drive to and park in a business parking lot and then cut across their property. This may not be desirable to some owners.

      However, there is a plan by the City of Cambridge (when they construct their piece of the path and their Alewife Reservation Project) to create an access point to the path over the City’s existing Right of Way to this area. This may be only a temporary detour during the completion of the portion of the path that the City of Cambridge intends to build. The public must be aware that there are existing easements and rights of way belonging to MBTA, MWRA, DCR, and private owners. Creating legal agreements to guarantee access may be a difficult process. From what we have seen on other paths, the public will create their own access points to the path over time.

      There is also a concern from some other people that too much traffic may change the tranquil atmosphere of the Alewife Reservation and may cause a degradation of the Reservation. These are the people that want to watch birds, take pictures of wildlife, and gaze at the moon or a lunar eclipse during the night. There concerns are valid also.

      First, think about the users that will make the trail safe.

      Safety is always a concern on an isolated path. There is definitely safety (from assault, etc.) with a greater number of users on a path such as this. Until the numbers of users are too large and the safety starts to decline due to accidents, there is an incentive to create more access to the path.

      The main goal of this bikeway project in this area was to provide an east-west connection from the Belmont end to the Alewife Area without disrupting the Alewife Reservation’s habitat. By improving the existing corridor, building a new bridge, and widening the existing sidewalk behind the Alewife MBTA station, we tried to create a continuous path that will be utilized by many. Based upon the interest during the design of this path, I am sure the number of users will increase significantly the day after the official opening. This in itself will create a safer path.

      Second, without numerous openings, the trail will not only be less efficient but more isolated.

      Creating more access point does not necessarily make a path safer. Some path users may even look at a fence as safety or security by almost guaranteeing that a person is not going to jump out from that side of the path. A person attempting to harm another definitely wants many escape routes and places to hide rather than being limited to exiting at the end points only. Fewer access points would even make the path easier to patrol by police on a bicycle. Numerous access and exit points may even allow a certain portion of a path to be come isolated if a shortcut is created and most of the path users take it. So, there are advantages and disadvantages. The future is never predictable, but we know there will always be changes in the future. Common sense should be used prior to going out for a midnight bike ride or jog with the Ipod earphones.

      The alewife area has a very general connectivity problem (the bird flies .1 miles from the Wyeth to Mike’s Gym, while the pedestrian walks 1.4)

      I agree to the first part. The second I will try my best after I look up where Mike’s Gym is.

      This is one of the problems of being human, I guess. Man, not having the ability to fly like a bird, did cause the Wright Brothers great consternation during their lives.

      The real problem is that Mike’s Gym is located next to a wide and very active RR corridor. Therefore, they are in a location that has no access across the RR tracks to this path. Many gyms that are located in former industrial buildings next to active RR tracks are always in this situation. The good news is that a 1.4 mile run is a great warm-up prior to any serious exercise. If it is too far to run, the Wright Brother’s used to make something called a bicycle prior to building airplanes.

  4. Are there any plans to connect North Cambridge with Harvard Square with a real bike path? It’s not that far and quite flat, but those of us who live here are loath to bike to Harvard Square using the bike land on Mass Ave because it is very unsafe. Sherman Street is not much better (too narrow, too much traffic and parking)


      1. We checked in with the City and they apparently have nothing in the works. If you are interested in working on trying to get something started on this issue, feel free to give me a call and we can brainstorm about how to do that.

  5. Besides better signage in Munich, there is less problem with teens drinking in the woods, and dying from exposure. Instead they can drink safely in populated and supervised public areas because the drinking age is lower than the driving age. They don’t have to hide from police or worry about getting their parents arrested for supervising a party at home. Its only logical as driving is more deadly. The weakly enforced drinking age for beer/wine is 15, and spirits is 16. Germans bike a lot, particularly when going out drinking.

    Bike paths need “Share the Road” and “Slower Traffic Keep Right” signs so pedestrians or cyclists don’t travel 3-4 abreast, blocking faster riders and skaters. This education is needed since omitting it on highways is deliberate. Clogging highways reduces speeds and thus fatality of an accident. It causes aggressive driving and road rage also, but DOT just blames “bad drivers” for that, never themselves.

    I’ve driven for long stretches of the Autobahn at 100-120 mph with no problems at all. Interstates here are no different and modeled after Autobahns. Drivers in Germany are educated to keep right if slower or not passing, and do so. Here, with artificially low speed limits, drivers loaf in the left lane to talk on cell phones with less distraction from driving.

    In Germany there are fewer distracted drivers because driving quickly to your destination takes more concentration than being stuck behind slow drivers in all lanes. How many motorcyclists or bicyclists do you see texting? Not many when the activity requires more concentration, engagement, and has more sensory stimulus. Likewise, distracted driving and aggressive driving are mutual exclusive. The DOT falsely thinks it can keep drivers between the two. They deliberately congest highways and intersections. Then they blame drivers for being frustrated and not using public transit or a bicycle. Fine public service!

Comments are closed.