More Alewife Path construction

I am not changing the focus of this blog. It is still about Mass. Ave.

However, my previous post in the subject drew a lot of attention. And, I have more photos, as construction continues.

North along Alewife from the Henderson St. Bridge

The above photo shows the clearing that has been done on the stretch of the path along Route 16, immediately north of the Henderson St. Bridge. This will probably be the most-engineered portion of the entire project, because the path will be widened here, entailing some cantilevering over the bank and maybe the brook.

Existing cantilever detail

An earlier cantilever can be seen downstream in the above photo. Here’s an enlarged detail at right; click for a close-up.

Earlier this summer, crews cleared the path along its length, dug a path bed, and filled it partly with fill. I described what this looked like on the stretch near my house in this post (with photos).

North from Cottage Ave., July 14 2010

Work has continued since then. About a week later, crews staked and marked the path in detail, especially around what will be the entrance to the path from my street.

The markings at lower left are part of this entry way.

Two days later, crews returned and dug a huge trench between the path and my neighbor’s house. This was a good ten feet wide and probably forty or fifty feet long and at least three feet deep — much deeper than the dig-out for the path bed.

None of us could figure out the reason for this trench, but we have since learned that it (and the many like it that were also dug) will be a swale to facilitate drainage — at least when the area is not completely underwater.

More of these trenches were dug, and then partially filled, first with a layer of good-sized rocks and then with a layer of fine gravel, which was covered with a black fabric.

Entry to Cottage Ave., July 19

The trench also blocked what had been the main access from Cottage Ave., but at the same time crews, following the stakes and markings, dug out the new access (at about where that earth mover is in the trench photo above).

Meanwhile, work shifted to the other side of the brook. Crews dug and filled a path bed over there and dug swale trenches. Then they rolled a layer of asphalt over the fill.  (Sorry, no photos! I have to draw the line somewhere.)

I’m not sure what is planned everywhere, but for our stretch the Cambridge side of the brook will be paved, for wheeled commuters, while Arlington’s side will be finished with stone dust. According to Dan Driscoll, the project designer who works for the Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation, this material will pack down hard enough to ride a bicycle, but slower than pavement.

The general idea seems to be that most cyclists will choose the far side of the brook, leaving the left bank for strollers and others not so much in a hurry.

Consequently, I was not surprised when the crews returned two weeks ago to lay down a thick layer of stone dust. Here’s the view north from Cottage Ave. on August 17:

Stone dust, north from Cottage Ave., August 17

Stone dust up close

This is pretty fine stuff, with particles ranging from small to very small. (Click the photo for a close-up.) On August 17 it was also very soft, but according to Dan Driscoll of the DCR the crews would roll and wet it down, which would cause it to set.

(I certainly hope this is accurate, as the DCR never seems to have a maintenance budget. Driscoll did warn that the stone dust would soften “when it floods.”)

In Arlington, there are stone-dust paths at Spy Pond and in Menotomy Rocks park.

So to recap, here are various views north from Cottage Ave. over time.

June 30

July 8

July 14

August 17

I’ve been hoarding these images, so this is an awfully long post. But there is one more thing.

I don’t know what if anything was done to the path surface after the 17th because I went out of town. Was the dust wetted and set?

Heavy rain eroded the stone dust in August

I know there were some heavy rains while I was gone, bad enough to force the Res to close early for the season. On the morning of Friday August 27, I found that the rains had cut deep channels into the stone-dust path that had been laid as the access from Cottage Ave.

Fixed later same day

(The view is east from the end of Cottage Ave.; that’s Route-16 traffic in the background.)

By the time I returned home from work that day, the problem had been fixed — at least temporarily.

Update: Another installment here.


9 comments so far

  1. Maureen on

    Hi, Adam –

    thanks for posting these – I live on the other side of Mass. Ave., on Lafayette – and I’m wondering where the path goes after it runs parallel to Lafayette down into the wetlands – initially they had cleared a swath on the Arlington side of the Route 2 bridge and it looked as if the path would come up and join the Minuteman bikepath there – but now the cattails and grasses have all grown again and there doesn’t appear to be anything going on. If you know anything – I’d be most interested!

    • Adam Auster on

      Maureen, that part of the path will be over a boardwalk. Much of the Arlington side of the project entails boardwalks.

      There’s going to be a boardwalk ramp in my neck of the woods, where the path must climb a little to the Henderson St. bridge. Also lots of boardwalk in the Sunnyside area north of Broadway.

      I do not know the construction schedule, but guess they’ll be building those parts pretty soon.

  2. Stephanie on

    Hi, Adam,

    You were all apologetic on the Alist for posting about the Greenway, but I wanted to express my support and appreciation for your work in documenting this project, as well as Mass Ave. After all, the Greenway intersects Mass Ave and the two projects should be aware of their impact on each other.



    • Adam Auster on

      Thank you, Stephanie, I’m glad you like it!

      I did not mean to sound apologetic, but I guess I do have a fear of boring or confusing people by losing focus.

      The Alewife path is not too far afield, though, as you point out.

  3. Robin on

    Thanks for posting all of the pictures. I actually walked the whole path from Mass Ave to the Minuteman trail. The part “through the cattails” is walkable if you don’t mind walking through the vegetation.

    The reason they use stone dust is that it does not count at impervious area, which would make the environmental permitting for the project more difficult. However, the stone dust paths are prone to erosion during storm events or flooding. And I’m not sure they’re that much more pervious than asphalt.

    You are right to have concerns about maintenance. I would have preferred pervious asphalt or concrete, but those are more expensive.

  4. Mark Kaepplein on

    If stone dust is preferable (softer) to pavement for runners and walkers, that would be a good thing, getting them out of the way of bicyclists. Then, the path is much more useful and popular for cyclists.

    If only…some of the construction planned in the 1960’s had been completed before all the environmental regulation paperwork and cost. Reading up on history and the canceled I-695 project, the widened Rt 2 would have fed a safer, widened Rt. 16, and much waterway rehab. Apparently, much of the local waterway engineering is a legacy from canal transportation prior to locomotive use in the later 1800’s. Our environmental alteration is nothing compared to China’s. Some small towns were swallowed up by the Quabbin reservoir in the 1930’s – China recently moved >300,000 people to expand reservoirs!

    • Adam Auster on

      I-695 was the infamous “Inner Belt,” the disastrous superhighway project that was fortunately killed by Frank Sargent in 1970. I was not aware that anyone today had any nostalgia for this astonishingly dreadful idea.

      It is odd that you would bring this idea up in this context, Mark, since had the project actually been built there would almost certainly have not been any path along the Alewife Brook.

      In my neighborhood, the whole area would have been under, or immediately parallel to, the freeway. My house and my neighborhood would have been razed to make way for the road and the off-ramps to Mass. Ave.

      Thank goodness this did not come to pass.

  5. Mark Kaepplein on

    My point about I-695 was that its much harder to do anything today than in the 1960’s. Lots of houses got razed, and roads terminated for Rt. 2 widening. Hey, how about bike lanes there with all that excess capacity and popular commuter destinations? It never got to tie into I-696, and I don’t know of any plans to address the severe congestion on Fresh Pond and Alwife Brook Parkways, so make some bike lanes.

    The Big Dig cost much more and did not address what the beltway would have. We already have elevated highways as many cities. They are unattractive, but far cheaper and simpler than buried ones – much as telephone poles are a blight vs. buried wires.

    My other point was that history explains our current local infrastructure. BTW, about when I-695 was stopped, Chinese streets were filled with bicycles and America had manufacturing jobs. Now, China has those jobs and roads clogged with vehicles, while we get bicycles, more low wage service jobs, and are the ones less able to afford cars! Similarly, prospering British and Irish also ditched their bikes for cars. For thousands of years people have associated reducing human-power with progress, but then they never experienced new-math and new-Coke. The new-progress for Arlington is the selectman’s proposal for more bike capacity and less vehicle capacity.

  6. sauer kraut on

    Heard about the new pathway and am thankful for your blog posts about it. Lived on the Somerville side of the bridge and went over the bridge nearly every day on my daily runs. The path will serve a very useful purpose.

    But a word about stone dust.

    When it floods, and Alewife does that very well, the stone dust does not simply “get wet.” As your one photo shows, it moves. Really moves. Probably not the appropriate material to use in an area prone to flooding during the more-and-more frequent high rain events. As I know from a bike path near me, stone dust is a high maintenance and high cost material when used in flood zones. Get used to seeing washed out portions to the trail.

    As well as roped off areas as the agency takes its time filling in the ruts.

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