State Resurfaces Part of Charles River Bike Path--Finally!

State Resurfaces Part of Charles River Bike Path--Finally!

By Karen Klinger

Bicyclists, joggers and walkers who use the pathway running along the Charles River in Cambridge came across a fairly astonishing sight this week: workers repaving a portion of it near the Eliot Bridge that has long been neglected by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

That this apparently routine work seemed almost the equivalent of seeing pigs fly is the result of years of complaints to the DCR that this stretch was only the most hazardous portion of an asphalt path torn up by tree roots, frost heaves, heavy use and general lack of upkeep.

As a result, the route along Memorial Drive—especially the section from J.F.K. Street to the bridge—has become the site of spills and thrills, as joggers learned to stick to a parallel dirt path and bicyclists unfamiliar with this obstacle course risked taking headers over their handle bars.

The repaved section is part of what is officially known as the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path, an approximately 17-mile loop along both sides of the Charles River from Science Park to Watertown Square.

It is owned and managed by the DCR, although “managed” might be putting things too kindly. Over the years, as the path has crumbled, users, advocacy groups, city officials and state representatives have repeatedly appealed to the agency to do something about it, to no apparent effect.

A few years ago, as former Governor Michael Dukakis gave a talk to members of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods in a hotel on Memorial Drive he pointed to the bike path, handily located just across the road, as a prime example of the state’s disintegrating infrastructure.

At the time, Mitt Romney was governor, a man known to enjoy outdoor activities, albeit mainly at his lakeside estate in New Hampshire, far from the madding crowd valiantly trying to navigate the deteriorating White path.

The decision by the sluggish DCR to fix at least a small portion of the bike path came as a surprise to regular users—there was nothing on the agency’s website to warn people who were forced use a temporary path on Memorial Drive that workers had set up with orange traffic cones.

Needless to say, drivers did not expect it either.

That things had come to this point would likely be a huge disappointment to the bike path’s namesake, Dr. Paul Dudley White, a pioneer in the field of preventive cardiology and a lifelong enthusiast of jogging and bicycling.

White, who died in 1973 at the age of 87, was a man who wore many hats in his long career, among them co-founder of the American Heart Association, physician to President Dwight Eisenhower and longtime associate of the Massachusetts General Hospital.

He was also among the first medical professionals to sound a clear and public warning about the connection between such lifestyle choices as a poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

No doubt he would find it heartening to see the scores of people out every day on the path named in his honor getting the exercise he so ardently advocated.

There also seems little doubt that he would do everything he could to get the bureaucrats at the DCR to do what they can to help—not hinder—those folks.