Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 22, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 53 and 54 with Cambridge Mayor David Maher

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:38 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 53 with Mayor David Maher (Part 1). This program was broadcast on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 54 with Mayor David Maher (Part 2). This program was broadcast on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [Watch on YouTube]

April 16, 2014

About Bicycling on Hampshire Street

Filed under: Cambridge — jsallen @ 7:27 pm

I have posted a video I shot on Hampshire Street in Cambridge during an organized group ride, in the middle of the day on a weekday.

It is embedded below, but if your Internet connection allows, you do better to click on the link underneath, then the little four-way arrow under the image to view the video in glorious full-screen high definition.

Is This Two-Lane Street Wide Enough? from John Allen on Vimeo.

The stretch of Hampshire Street in the video was the subject of a study conducted by the City of Cambridge about the effect of various lane stripings on cyclist behavior, a study which I have reviewed. The study concluded that bike lane striping led bicyclists to ride safely, farther from parked cars. My review showed that statement to be inaccurate, due to misrepresentation of bicyclists’ distance from the parked cars. The “safe” line of travel was still deeply in the door zone. Another reviewer, Wayne Pein, has reached the same conclusion.

My video shows cyclists riding too close to parked cars, consistent with the study once the numbers have been corrected — all the more distressingly because most of the cyclists in the video are middle-aged or older and have years of experience. For the most part, however, their experience has been in rural areas and outer suburbs rather than in the city.

I think that it is fair to ask:

  • whether the striping of the street with bike lanes benefits bicyclists — or motorists, by getting bicyclists out of the way — or not motorists, because of the resulting conflicts at intersections bring motor traffic to a complete stop rather than only down to bicycle speed;
  • whether the parallel parking on both sides of this important through street — at all hours, even during the day when it is only half-occupied — is an appropriate use of public space — though, as I say in the video, the people who live here vote here. Another potential solution would be to narrow each sidewalks by a couple of feet…but that would require more constructivist work
  • whether these cyclists understand how to ride as safely and cooperatively as possible on such a street (NOT!).

My video also bears on the proposed reconstruction of Beacon street, in Somerville. Beacon Street is the extension of Hampshire street, and has the same profile and character. There have been different suggestions for Beacon Street, including widening it to make better bike lanes; removing parking on one side; and construction of a “cycle track” — separate bikeway — on one side, between parked cars and the sidewalk, and on the other side, actually a bike lane behind a sloping curb which is supposed to be mountable by bicycles. A post on the BostonBiker blog offers my comments on Beacon street.

[Note: I also have shorter blog post about Hampshire Street on bostonbiker.org. Hampshire Street and the City's study are a Cambridge issue, not only a bicycle issue. I have posted in both forums because they serve different audiences.]

Cambridge InsideOut with Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:58 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 51 with Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone (Part 1). This episode broadcast on April 15, 2014 at 5:30pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 52 with Cambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone (Part 2). This episode broadcast on April 15, 2014 at 6:00pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

April 9, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 49 and 50 with Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 6:37 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 49 with Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan (Part 1). This episode broadcast on April 8, 2014 at 5:30pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 50 with Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan (Part 2). This episode broadcast on April 8, 2014 at 6:00pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

April 7, 2014

Master Plan Mythology and other Big Items on the Apr 7, 2014 City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,planning — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:58 am

Master Plan Mythology and other Big Items on the Apr 7, 2014 City Council Agenda

City HallThere has been a great deal of myth-making in Cambridge over the last couple of years that, arguably, began with the "Central Squared" report from the "Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square" in December 2011. One of the more emphasized recommendations in that report was for the development of a significant amount of new housing (primarily targeting middle-income residents) in the Central Square area. This led to the formation of a group called "Essex Street Neighbors" who, along with other Area Four activists, opposed this concept and promptly filed a zoning petition to obstruct any such future plans. Even as most planners embraced principles of transit oriented development and smart growth, these residents moved in exactly the opposite direction by advocating for the preservation of surface parking lots and a decrease in density in the vicinity of transit in Central Square.

Their petition was eventually allowed to expire and the group re-branded itself as the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA) as it added activist partners including key players with the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods (ACN). As the "K2C2 process" got underway with the goal of making recommendations for Kendall Square (K2) and Central Square (C2) and the areas in between, the newly branded Cambridge Residents Alliance continued to oppose any zoning petitions or recommendations that might result in added density (including new housing). One part of their rhetorical arsenal was a call for a "citywide master plan" in the wake of what their group has characterized as a "tsunami of development". The clear implication in all of their rhetoric was that new development – primarily housing development – was being done with little or no guidance from the Planning Board or the Community Development Department and with minimal attention paid to transportation concerns.

That rhetoric continued unabated during the 2013 municipal election season as the Cambridge Residents Alliance and its Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods partners were ever-present at campaign events and actively tried to lure candidates over to their way of thinking – with some success. They ultimately endorsed just one candidate – Dennis Carlone – who was elected and who subsequently took on Mike Connolly as his "council aide". Mr. Connolly continues to be listed as the Secretary of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods and is a primary communications person for the Cambridge Residents Alliance even though he is now being subsidized by the City of Cambridge. While these personal council aide positions have been filled with political supporters of the respective councillors from the beginning, never has the position become as overtly political as it has now become with the hiring of Mr. Connolly.

The CRA/ACN activists have continued their political organizing this year by targeting residents in areas where new housing has been built or where it is proposed to be built. In every instance the rhetoric is of the "tsunami of development" or "unbridled development".

It is interesting that the agenda of the April 7 City Council meeting includes not only an Order (from Councillors Carlone, Mazen, and Simmons) that is the capstone of the master plan mythology crafted over the last two years, but also an alternative Order (from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern) that offers a much more factual point of view and, most significantly, an acknowledgment that the Planning Board and the Community Development Department have actually been doing their job and carrying out established City Council policies in recent years – including the development of new housing in accordance with smart growth principals and overall policies promoted by regional entities such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

I find the discussion of the need for a “master plan” for Cambridge to be, on the one hand, naive and, on the other hand, disingenuous. Though I have not examined the zoning codes from other cities in great detail, I seriously doubt whether there are too many with as much detail as Cambridge’s Zoning Ordinance. It’s VERY prescriptive with its wide variety of overlay districts and planned unit developments. Cambridge’s Zoning Ordinance coupled with its Growth Policy Document (initiated 20 years ago and updated several years ago) really does give a very comprehensive picture of Cambridge’s "master plan". Cambridge officials are also ever-present at all regional planning meetings – especially those involving transportation planning.

Perhaps the real reason for all the talk now and during the recent City Council election about a “master plan” comes down to a single overriding policy and not actually about a master plan or any failings in the zoning code. That single policy is that housing is encouraged (with associated incentives in the zoning ordinance) on sites that were formally commercial or industrial. If you look at most of the significant housing developments now or recently under construction you’ll find that most of these replaced non-housing uses. This policy is also very consistent with all of the regional plans developed and promoted by the MAPC and other regional planning entities.

I believe most planners, including Dennis Carlone, will tell you that housing is not a major contributor to motor vehicle traffic – at least not compared to commercial uses. If traffic is what’s getting the activists’ panties in a twist, they should not be looking at new housing as the cause for their discomfort. My sense has been that you can look to pass-through traffic in the Alewife area as the primary cause of any trouble there and not to anything recently or currently being built in Cambridge. The simple fact is that the highway part of Route 2 ends abruptly at Alewife and all that traffic has to connect to their destinations somehow, and it does lead to a ripple effect that clogs things up elsewhere.

There is also a fair amount of regional traffic that simply passes through parts of Cambridge at the eastern end in order to connect to arterials such as the Mass Pike. The River Street/Prospect Street corridor is problematic because it’s a major connection from the Mass Pike. Unless a “Master Plan” intends to build new arterials to relieve the traffic, and we all know that will not and should not happen, then the call for a "master plan" is little more than a populist myth designed to win votes or, perhaps more correctly, a disguised effort to stop the development of new housing.

Here are a few more specific comments on the meeting agenda items:

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointments of the following persons as members of the Central Square Advisory Committee as set out in Section 20.300 of the Zoning Ordinance.

Though I was personally very pleased to be reappointed to the CSAC, it was especially refreshing to see among the appointees a number of new names. This is a hopeful sign. The CSAC is purely advisory and has no actual regulatory authority, but it has the potential to be very helpful in facilitating community discussion on matters relating to Central Square. I look forward to the expanded role that has been proposed for the body.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-09, regarding a report on the status of the new Lechmere Station development and plans for the current Lechmere site.

I’ll simply quote from the last paragraph: "Redevelopment on the current Lechmere Station site is permitted as part of an approved PUD master plan for the North Point area (Planning Board Special Permit #179). Part of the current station site will accommodate a northerly extension of First Street to Monsignor O’Brien Highway. The remaining land is permitted for residential development with a maximum height of 65 feet, with retail uses and plaza space at the ground level. Redevelopment would be contingent upon completion of the new station and transfer of the land to the private developer." This has the potential to really transform this site into something far better than is there today.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow an additional $11,000,000 to provide funds for construction and other associated costs of the King School project.

The additional cost will likely surprise no one. Bear in mind that this is just the first in a series of what will certainly be several more very expensive school replacement projects associated with the plans embodied in the School Departments "Innovation Agenda".

Order #7. That the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee is requested to review and evaluate the overall effectiveness of the Council Aide positions.   Mayor Maher

I am intrigued by the introduction of this Order at this time. While I have consistently questioned the idea of personal aides for city councillors, I have never questioned the need for adequate staffing. I have to wonder if the overt politicization of the council aide positions this year has anything to do with the timing of this Order. My other concern is that our well-paid councillors may actually want to turn these into full-time positions – an absurd proposition without justification, but not an impossibility.

Order #8. That the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge be amended to limit the number of non-locally owned financial institutions not to exceed the number of existing established financial institutions; said limit be in the overlay districts of Central, Harvard and Kendall Squares.   Councillor Cheung

I can’t imagine any way that this could be done consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth or the United States Constitution.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to support the intent of the Master Plan initiative which seeks to provide the City Council, its committees, City Staff, members of the public, and all interested stakeholders with an opportunity to further explore traffic congestion, transportation financing, pedestrian safety, resident parking, and a desire for enhanced multi-modal transit infrastructure throughout the city.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons and Councillor Mazen

Order #15. That the Cambridge Community Development Department shall hold a series of public meetings to discuss the range of planning and zoning issues that have recently been in active discussion across the city, including, but not limited to, all varieties of housing (such as affordable, middle income, or other types of housing units), the amount, type and location of new and existing development, pre-fabricated units, transportation, congestion, open space, streetscape design, building design, sustainability, infrastructure and economic development with recommendations for moving forward on short range and long range planning work that is recommended as an outgrowth of these discussions.   Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

See comments above. I only hope that the greater wisdom prevails and that the Order from Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern picks up a clear majority of votes. Professional courtesy and collegiality notwithstanding, I hope that if any part the "Master Plan" order is approved then it should be radically amended to remove the various references to noble goals that would, in fact, be thwarted by its underlying goal of slowing or stopping the construction of new housing in Cambridge.

Order #16. That the City Council urgently requests that MassDOT start the permitting process for underpasses for Anderson Memorial Bridge, Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge immediately, given that MassDOT has changed its construction and design plans for all three of the above bridges where it is now possible for the timely addition of underpasses to such plans   Mayor Maher and Councillor Carlone

Though I may find the notion of bike/pedestrian pathway without street crossings along the Charles River quite appealing, I’m also quite respectful of the cost and engineering difficulties associated with such a plan. I could imagine ways to do this at the BU Bridge or the Anderson Memorial Bridge, but it’s much more difficult to see a way to make this so at either the Western Avenue Bridge and River Street Bridge (or, for that matter, at the Mass. Ave. bridge). – Robert Winters

April 1, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut with guest Saul Tannenbaum: municipal broadband and civic technology

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 47 with guest Saul Tannenbaum (Part 1). This episode broadcast Tues, Apr 1, 2014 at 5:30pm. The primary topic was municipal broadband. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 48 with guest Saul Tannenbaum (Part 2). This episode broadcast Tues, Apr 1, 2014 at 6:00pm. The primary topic was civic technology. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. [Watch on YouTube]

You may also want to read this:
The Case for Municipal Broadband in Cambridge
https://www.cctvcambridge.org/CambridgeMunicipalBroadband
by Saul Tannenbaum.

March 24, 2014

Noteworthy Items from the March 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 3:15 pm

Noteworthy Items from the March 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few interesting items. Additional comments may follow.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests. ["In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-10, regarding the feasibility of establishing an online list or map that indicates all outstanding pothole repair requests, I am happy to report that this option is now available on the City's website at: http://www.cambridgema.gov/iReport/mapofopenservicerequestsforpotholes."]

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-16, regarding a report on the status of the First Street Garage RFP process. [The last statement says it all: "I will take no further action as to this proposed disposition until I receive further guidance from the City Council."]

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board that the Council not adopt the Linear Park Zoning Petition. [Planning Board report]

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $1,720,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to cover winter 2013-2014 snowstorm expenses associated with snow plowing contracts, salt and other material and repair costs.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council to move to Executive Session to discuss pending litigation in the case of Soto vs City of Cambridge. [Read the complaint here: http://www.universalhub.com/files/soto-complaint.pdf]

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with City staff and report back to the Council on the possibility of instituting a parking sticker system that allows limited non-residential ability to purchase stickers to park on residential streets during normal weekday working hours.    Councillor Kelley

Order #2. That the Mayor is requested to confer with relevant members of the School Department and the School Committee and report back to the City Council on the status of any CPS efforts to ascertain why students choose Charter Schools over CPS options and any subsequent efforts by CPS to bring those students back into the District.    Councillor Kelley and Councillor Carlone

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to search for and examine any companies that could potentially offer to deploy fiber optic internet in the city.    Councillor Cheung

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to draft proposed language that will allow for the inclusionary zoning formula to be based on the gross square footage of a project rather than like units.    Mayor Maher

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Human Services to report to the City Council on the implementation of a city-wide job fair exclusively for Cambridge residents.    Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a task force composed of experts, residents, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and representatives from the local universities charged with developing a municipal broadband proposal for Cambridge, potentially also including extension of city fiber into public housing properties.    Councillor Mazen, Councillor Cheung and Councillor Carlone

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to seek a legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing nonconforming structure and to report back to the City Council and Planning Board with this legal opinion.    Councillor Toomey

March 20, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 45 and 46 with Tim Toomey

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:49 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 45 with Tim Toomey (Part 1). This episode broadcast on March 18, 2014 at 5:30pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. Topics discussed were: (1) Tim’s role as senior member of the Cambridge City Council, (2) reflections on the years of the CCA and the dominant rent control issue, (3) middle-income housing and Inclusionary Zoning, (4) the status of the Sullivan Courthouse building, (5) changes in Kendall Square, (6) effect of projects never built – NASA, the Inner Belt, and the Kennedy Library, (7) Grand Junction possibilities, and (8) the importance of constituent services.

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 46 with Tim Toomey (Part 2). This episode broadcast on March 18, 2014 at 6:00pm. Susana Segat and Robert Winters are the hosts. Topics discussed were: (1) “Rule 10 Day” at the state legislature, (2) the status of the election reform bill, (3) upcoming initiative petitions, (4) medical marijuana dispensaries, (5) the Foundry and possible role of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, (6) possible changes to the PR Count, (7) MIT graduate student housing, and (8) Women’s History Month.

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