Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 16, 2013

Once Upon a Marathon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:09 am

Green Building at MITApril 16, 2013 – I led an 8-mile AMC Local Walk yesterday from the Forest Hills T station to Heartbreak Hill where we then watched the Marathon runners before heading back into Boston. After a walk from the Boston College area to the Reservoir stop on the Green Line, several of us were packed into a trolley heading toward Park Street. We never arrived. We were approximately under the Copley Square station when the bombs exploded above us. I didn’t hear them, but when we were evacuated at Arlington Street you could tell that something was extremely wrong. When we got out into the street there were emergency vehicles racing from everywhere. At first nobody knew what was happening. When word started to spread that there had been a bombing, it was accompanied by word that it had been a diversion and that other bombings might follow. There was a lot of worry in the faces of most people. Thankfully, no other bombs followed.

Though I was pretty tired after walking perhaps 9 miles already, I had to then hike over to the Charles/MGH station to get back to Cambridge. Near MGH you could see hospital staff running toward MGH as the ambulances were arriving. I was practically the only one not staring into a cell phone or texting messages to people. It was surreal. From Central Square, yet more walking to get home and even in Cambridge you could see and hear the emergency vehicles racing toward Boston and toward suspicious sites in Cambridge. Like everyone else, watching the TV was like watching a horror movie.

Today I’m reading messages from politicians trying to get in air time. Spare me. Like millions of people in this area, I don’t want to hear any more messages from politicians expressing concern. I don’t want to hear about peace vigils or about why we should not give in to fear. Any fear passed quickly for most people. I want only that justice be done. Any person or group of people who would do such a thing should be treated like a disease and removed from the civilized world. Any philosophy or ideology espoused by such people should be damned. – Robert Winters

November 7, 2011

Split in Two – The proposed Congressional Districts for Cambridge

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:15 pm

Proposed Cambridge Congressional Districts

The new maps for the U.S. Congressional Districts will split Cambridge into two different districts:

Precincts in new 5th Congressional District (Markey):   
part of 3-2
4-2, 4-3
Ward 6 (all precincts)
Ward 7 (all precincts)
Ward 8 (all precincts)
Ward 9 (all precincts)
10-1, 10-2
Precincts in new 7th Congressional District (Capuano):
Ward 1 (all precincts)
Ward 2 (all precincts)
3-1, 3-3, most of 3-2
Ward 5 (all precincts)
Ward 11 (all precincts)

May 20, 2011

Response to City officials’ comments about Concord/Follen

Robert Winters has posted a comment (#3 here) to my post about bicycling issues on the May 16 City Council agenda. Robert quotes Assistant City Manager for Community Development Brian Murphy and Traffic, Parking & Transportation Director Susan Clippinger about Follen Street and Little Concord Avenue. Their response, by way of the City Manager, is addressed to the City Council at next week’s meeting.

Their response (again, in comment #3 here) addresses some of the issues with the Follen Street/Concord Avenue installation, and reflects some progress.

Serious design issues, however, will still remain:

  • The configuration still has the same blind corners.
  • Because of the location of the curb cut into the brick plaza, bicyclists traveling away from the Common must still swerve to the right, toward approaching motor traffic, to reach the curb cut at the crosswalk on the far side of Follen Street. Bicyclists entering from the brick plaza are still close to a wall which also obscures motorists’ view of them.
  • Motorists approaching on Follen Street still won’t have a stop sign — see this Google Street View — despite the blind corners.
  • The contraflow bike lane adjacent to wrong-way parking remains.
  • There is another blind corner at the Garden Street end of the pedestrian plaza, particularly for cyclists who continue toward the Radcliffe Quadrangle on the sidewalk (and many do, though that is inadvisable).
  • The “bike box” on Concord Avenue leads to more confusion than anything else, as described here. Also, many cyclists ride east on the north sidewalk, so they can access the plaza directly, posing a risk of head-on collisions with westbound cyclists and pedestrians at the blind corner between the sidewalk and the plaza.

Contraflow bicycle travel would be safer if parking were removed from one side of Follen Street — however, the public insists on using public street space for private car storage. As a bicycling advocate and former Cambridge resident who owned a (rarely used) car and had no other place to park it than the street, I can see both sides of this issue. It is not going to go away. The people who laid out Cambridge’s streets could not foresee the deluge of private motor vehicles that would descend on the city, and had no plan either to accommodate it or to forestall it.

I do think that a very significant safety improvement could be made without removing parking, by reversing the direction of one-way motor traffic on Follen Street and Little Concord Avenue. Then cyclists headed toward the blind corner would be going in the same direction as motorists. The motorists would be going very slowly here, and cyclists could easily merge toward the center of the roadway. A curb cut into the plaza in line with the center of the roadway would avoid cyclists’ having to swerve right. This curb cut would lead cyclists traveling toward the Common to the right side of the street.

A contraflow bike lane could then be installed on the south side of Little Concord Avenue, but it would still be adjacent to wrong-way parking. I’d rather see shared-lane markings far enough from parked cars to allow a motorist to start to exit a parking space without running head-on into a cyclist or forcing that cyclist into oncoming traffic. One-way, slow streets where bicyclists are allowed to travel contraflow are common in Germany, without bike lanes, and research has demonstrated their safety.

As to Murphy’s and Clippinger’s comments:

Motor vehicle volumes on the street are very low and most drivers are ones who live there and use the street regularly. The contraflow lane was installed to improve safety for cyclists by creating a dedicated facility for them to ride in and through the presence of pavement markings to remind motorists that bicyclists are traveling there.

The low motor-vehicle volume argument is an example of what I call “bean counter” safety analysis. I have heard the same argument before from Cara Seiderman, in connection with the wrong-way contraflow lane on Scott Street. This approach offers cyclists and motorists only statistical comfort, leaving them defenseless against actually preventing a crash through their own actions — as in “well, I can’t see over the SUV parked in front of my car, but probably no cyclist is coming so I’ll pull out.”

The bike lane does serve as a buffer to help prevent collisions between cars and other cars, but it doesn’t pass the test of preventing collisions between cars and cyclists. The comforting words “dedicated facility” don’t actually describe how it works in practice. Reminding motorists that bicyclists are traveling in the bike lane doesn’t count for much if the motorists can’t see the bicyclists.

Clippinger describes a safety analysis which looked at generalities about traffic volume. The claim that the dedicated facility was installed to improve safety may describe intention, but it does not describe either the design, or the outcome. This is a crash hotspot, remember. I have described design issues, and some solutions that look rather obvious to me. The city, as usual, installed a boilerplate bike lane design without much insight into whether it actually would be functional and safe.

March 15, 2011

Cambridge Public Schools – Decision Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 5:30 pm

Sat, Mar 12

9:00-11:30am   School Committee Public Comment on Innovation Agenda  (Sullivan Chamber)

Mon, Mar 14

5:30-8:00pm   School Committee Public Comment on Innovation Agenda  (Sullivan Chamber)

Tues, Mar 15

6:00pm   School Committee meeting  (Sullivan Chamber)

VOTE on Superintendent’s Recommendations for "Innovation Agenda"

Mar 8, 2011 – ‘Upper school’ proposal goes on with minor changes (Marc Levy)

Here are the main changes:

1) The revised Agenda now proposes an upper school campus in the Cambridgeport/Riverside neighborhood rather than two campuses in East Cambridge.

2) The revised Innovation Agenda district configuration provides JK-­8 immersion opportunities for students in the Amigos two-­way immersion school and for students in the Ola program.

3) The King School JK-5 will remain at the Putnam Avenue building.

4) The Amigos School JK-8 will relocate to the Upton Street building.

5) King upper school students will attend the Putnam Avenue campus (rather than the Rindge Avenue campus).

6) Morse upper school students will attend the Putnam Avenue campus (rather than the Spring Street campus).

7) Kennedy-Longfellow upper school students will attend the Putnam Avenue campus (rather than the Spring Street campus).

8) The Ola Program JK-8 will remain at the Cambridge Street building.

Revised Upper School Campuses & Feeder Schools

Upper School Campus Location Elementary School Communities Assigned (Revised) Initial Proposal
Cambridge Street

Fletcher Maynard Academy
King Open

Cambrideport School
Fletcher-Maynard Academy
King Open
Putnam Avenue
(previously at Spring Street)
Amigos School
Morse School
Rindge Avenue Baldwin
Baldwin School
King School
Peabody School
Vassal Lane Graham and Parks
Graham & Parks

March 8 revisions (PDF)

January 19, 2010

And now… a few words about the U.S. Senate Special Election, i.e. Coakley vs. Brown vs. Kennedy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Robert Winters @ 7:51 pm

What a perfect election storm where controversial national political decisions coincide with the death of Ted Kennedy, a consequential Senate vote, and essentially a referendum on a sitting U.S. president – all in the bluest of blue states where most elections are noncompetitive formalities. For those of us who actually believe in democracy (small “d”), it simply doesn’t get any better than this.

As I type these words, it’s less than an hour until the polls close in Massachusetts. I’ve been robo-called, repetitively and intrusively polled, and subjected to an endless stream of ridiculous and propagandistic TV ads. To believe any of this garbage, you’d have to buy the line that Martha Coakley is a mindless party-line drone who would do little more than bark when Obama gives the signal, and Scott Brown is just a good-lookin’ Karl Rove. Neither picture is even close to accurate.

I like Martha – her understated style, her intelligence, and even her name. The fact that she’s married to a now-retired Cambridge cop also makes her one of us. I also like Scott Brown – his strategic political thinking, his remarkable family, and the promise of competitive Massachusetts elections that he represents. It’s also fun that he posed in the buff for Cosmopolitan Magazine years ago as their “sexiest man in America.” His wife, WCVB reporter Gail Huff, was once featured in the video for the Digney Fignus song “The Girl with the Curious Hand,” and one of his two daughters went all the way to the Sweet Sixteen of that forgettable TV show “American Idol.” This is great stuff!

I really don’t know how the election will turn out. The latest polls suggest a Scott Brown victory, but the Democratic Party regulars have been in panic mode for the last week trying to turn out every last loyalist, so Martha My Dear may yet squeak out a victory. Regardless of the outcome in this Special Election, for those of us who have great misgivings about the government expansion now underway and the unprecedented proposal to mandate U.S. citizens to pay money to private (health insurance) companies, the message has already been sent – and congressmen and congresswomen across the county understand that if this can happen in the bluest of blue states, then they will soon have their own election problems to worry about.

The fact that a Republican candidate might even have a chance in Massachusetts should not really be all that surprising. Massachusetts residents have more than a healthy dose of suspicion about one-party rule even though every one of our Congressmen and an overwhelming majority in both houses of the State Legislature are Democrats. That’s why we elected Republican governors for 16 years until the last go-round. That’s also why most Massachusetts voters choose to remain unenrolled in any party. The truth is that the best thing that could ever happen to Massachusetts Democrats would be a significant Republican victory. The evidence suggests that the Massachusetts Democratic Party doesn’t really believe in elections. They believe that all seats in the state legislature should be filled after private consultation behind closed doors and settled in low-turnout primaries followed by general elections with no significant competition (or no competition at all). I am reminded of the election a few years ago when Marjorie Decker campaigned in the Democratic Primary against party-favored Paul Demakis. Marjorie was criticized broadly for challenging “one of ours”. That offended me so much that I wrote her a check. A few years later when Jarrett Barrios backed out of a District Attorney election against Gerry Leone and chose to seek reelection to his State Senate seat after Anthony Galluccio had announced his candidacy for that seat, the head of the state Democratic Party traveled to Cambridge to broker a negotiated settlement in order to avoid an actual election between two strong candidates. The message was clear – good elections are bad for the party.

So, tonight I’m feeling optimistic – not about the specific outcome of this Special Election, but about the possibility that the moribund Massachusetts Republican Party might get the outrageous idea that they can and should run candidates for every elected office and that Democratic candidates will have to step up and perform better instead of treating their elected jobs as lifetime entitlements. That would be my idea of a victory. — Robert Winters

December 22, 2009

Campaign Finance Activity – City Council 2009 (Jan 1 to Dec 31)

Filed under: 2009 Election,campaign finance,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:55 am

Campaign Finance Activity - 2009 City Council (as of Dec 31)

$/#1 vote
$ from
Adkins, Lawrence$34.93$495.00$92.40$437.5312/31/2009103$0.90100%
Cheung, Leland$0.00$7706.85$6445.46$1261.3912/31/2009756$8.5374%$5000 repaid loan
Davis, Henrietta$11185.16$51854.20$62517.68$521.6812/31/20091858$33.6590%
Decker, Marjorie$1867.27$73067.87$72705.44$2229.7012/31/20091285$56.5824%
Flanagan, Mark$0.00$140.35$140.35$0.0012/31/2009112$1.25100%
Glick, Silvia$0.00$10466.22$10184.13$282.0912/31/2009256$39.7895%$2000 repaid loan
Kelley, Craig$6465.86$11635.72$9006.41$9095.1712/31/20091250$7.2188%
Leavitt, Neal$0.00$2906.17$2570.26$335.9112/31/2009136$18.9079%
Maher, David$12827.62$38271.50$37381.60$13717.5212/31/20091286$29.0754%
Marquardt, Charles$0.00$34409.40$31449.90$2959.5012/31/2009385$81.6992%
Moree, Gregg J.$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/200947$0.00
Podgers, Kathy$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/200978$0.00
Reeves, Ken$6401.11$54826.34$58743.04$2484.4112/31/20091166$50.3828%
Seidel, Sam$775.16$24990.25$22988.73$2776.6812/31/2009900$25.5456%
Simmons, Denise$8689.90$34475.78$42062.94$1102.7412/31/20091785$23.5651%
Stohlman, Tom$0.00$5525.00$2646.76$2878.2412/31/2009378$7.00100%
Sullivan, Edward J.$3950.24$25100.00$28313.15$737.0912/31/2009885$31.9937%
Toomey, Tim$34043.27$37974.15$52680.13$9337.2912/31/20091748$33.0045%$5000 repaid loan
vanBeuzekom, Minka$0.00$18576.81$15561.56$3015.2512/31/2009682$22.8276%
Ward, Larry$132.86$16933.34$16595.78$470.4212/31/2009736$22.5578%
Williamson, James$0.00$0.00$0.00$0.0012/31/200990$0.00

Click on a column title to sort by that field. Click again to toggle between ascending and descending order.

A detailed current summary is available at

All information derived from the campaign finance reports at the OCPF website.

Information on all City Council and School Committee candidates may be found at the Cambridge Candidate Pages.

October 19, 2009

Putting the Paper to Bed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Robert Winters @ 12:40 am

Oct 18 – Putting the Paper to Bed

There seems to be a movement afoot at the state and local level that could have a significant effect on any local newspaper that may still exist in Cambridge. The basics are that a) newspaper circulation is significantly down, b) more people are using Internet resources to get their news, and c) local and state finances are challenged. So, why not change the requirement that legal notices be published in a “paper of general circulation” to a standard more appropriate to the realities of today?

At the state level, the Beacon Hill Roll Call reports:

“ALLOW BIDDING NOTICES TO BE POSTED ON WEBSITES – The State Administration Committee held a hearing on legislation that would allow notices soliciting bids from companies seeking contracts to work on local city, town and county projects to be posted only on the local community’s website or the state website. Current law requires that the notices be published in local newspapers.”

“The Patrick administration says that the change would save the state time and money and ensure that projects move forward faster. Critics say that the change would hurt many newspapers that are already struggling. They argued that this new policy is unfair and decreases openness and transparency because not every business and individual has Internet access.”

To this you can add the following City Council Order for Monday, October 19 from Councillor Toomey:

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on whether or not listing public notices on the City website could fulfill the obligation of the City to publish legal notices.   Councillor Toomey

O-10     Oct 19, 2009
WHEREAS: The requirement to list legal notices in local newspapers cost the city an estimated $125,000 per year; and
WHEREAS: Newspaper circulation and the industry in general has faltered as a result of increased use of the internet for news and information; and
WHEREAS: Public access to the internet is significantly improving; and
WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge website could be used as an alternative for listing notices in the newspaper; now therefore be it
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the City Solicitor to report back to the City Council with a legal opinion on whether or not listing public notices on the City website could fulfill the obligation of the City to publish legal notices.

It’s been reported many times over that Legal Notices are a sizable and dependable source of revenue for “newspapers of general circulation.” The Cambridge Chronicle, for example, appears to average about one and a half pages per issue of Legal Notices – much of it from the City of Cambridge. The City’s Purchasing Department already posts all of its requests for bids on the City website. There are also some City job listings posted. You can also find Proposed Zoning Amendments Currently Under Review with minimal effort. It seems pretty clear that the City could post all of its Legal Notices and other Public Notices in a clear and inviting way at little or no cost to taxpayers. There are also other civic websites (such as this one) that would gladly link to all of the City’s Legal Notices or post them at no cost, especially if City officials made it as effortless as possible.  —  Robert Winters

September 14, 2009

Sept 14, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:23 am

Sept 14, 2009 City Council Agenda Highlights

The big item on tonight’s agenda is the very first item on the City Manager’s Agenda – the vote on the Community Preservation Act allocations. When this item came around last year, there was actual discussion among councillors about the appropriateness of the 80%-10%-10% distribution respectively to subsidized housing, open space acquisition, and historic preservation. Regardless how one may feel about what the percentages should be, there is an important issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. When the CPA surcharge was approved by voters in 2001, the councillors at that time asked for and received assurance from the City Manager that his appointments to the CPA Committee would give the maximum allocation to subsidized housing, and this has been the case every year since, including this year’s recommendations. However, there is a general principle in government that an elected body cannot “bind” its successor, and there have been four municipal elections and four new councillors elected (Simmons, Kelley, Seidel, Ward) since that understanding between Manager and Councillors took place. To what degree is that initial understanding still binding? In principle – not at all.

The belief among many who have attended the CPA hearings over the last several years is that they are entirely pro forma and that all decisions have been made prior to the hearings. Typically, the nonprofit housing agencies Just A Start (JAS) and Homeowner’s Rehab (HRI) get the word out to people to pack the meetings in favor of giving 80% for housing, but in each of the last few years there has also been a solid presence from people from East Cambridge and the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood who have advocated for more open space acquisition in that part of the city. The stock answer from the CPA Committee and Rich Rossi, Chair of the committee, has been that the City allocates plenty of money from other sources for open space acquisition and related purposes and that it is not necessary that this money come from CPA funds.

A good argument can be made (and I’ve made this argument myself in public testimony) that as long as the City commits to appropriate allocations for these various competing interests, the decision of how the CPA portion of these funds should be allocated should be based primarily on how much additional money can be leveraged from the matching state funds that come with the CPA. In past years, the money allocated toward subsidized housing did leverage more additional funds than did the other allocations, so the total financial benefit for City-supported projects was optimized by the 80%-10%-10% split. I hope that at least one city councillor will ask the appropriate questions tonight to determine whether the recommended allocations will again be in the best interests of the City or whether the main priority is simply the continued public subsidy of JAS and HRI who, arguably, view CPA funding as an entitlement. The question of how much City-controlled funds should be dedicated toward subsidized housing is another matter, and its answer appears to be slowly evolving. Tonight’s discussion may prove enlightening.

Another item that caught my attention was this:

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant (Year 2) in the amount of $39,000 to the Grant Fund Library Other Ordinary Maintenance account and will support the purchase of approximately 15 computers which will expand public access to technology throughout the library system.

This translates into $2600 per computer. Has the City visited MicroCenter lately? I’m sitting right now in front of a dandy little PC that cost me $400. With an additional monitor and other goodies, I might have spent as much as $800. Perhaps some thrifty councillor can press the Manager on why it costs three times as much per computer when the money comes from the foundation of the PC Man Himself (Bill Gates). Is this to pay someone’s salary? The message from the City Manager only refers to the purchase of the machines.

There also these items that may see a vote tonight:

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from …. the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 30, 2009 for the purpose of considering a proposal to amend the Zoning Ordinance to allow wind turbines to be placed in the City of Cambridge. …. Petition expires Sept 28, 2009.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from …. the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 30, 2009 for the purpose of considering a proposal to amend Chapter 8.24 of the Cambridge Municipal Code “Refuse and Litter” and to add a new proposed ordinance Chapter 8.25 “Dumpster Licenses.” …. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 10, 2009.

Committee Report #6. Committee Report from …. the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on July 2, 2009 for the purpose of considering a petition filed by Jean Connor et al. to amend the Zoning Map of Cambridge …. The petition was passed to a Second Reading on July 27, 2009. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Aug 10, 2009. Planning Board hearing held July 7, 2009. Petition expires Sept 30, 2009.

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Connor, et al Petition to rezone an area on the Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge in the vicinity of Garden, Walden, Sherman and Winslow Streets from the current Residence C-1 designation to a Residence B designation.

There are 33 letters protesting the Connor Petition (none supporting it) in the Council materials. The primary point made by the Planning Board in its negative recommendation is that it would render far too many other properties nonconforming.

There are some noteworthy City Council Orders:

Order #2. That the Connor et al. zoning petition to amend the Zoning Map from its current designation as a Residence C-1 to a Residence B District encompassing all or portions of lots on Assessors Plats #205, #206 and #228 including but not limited to those abutting Garden, Winslow, Fenno, Stearns, Esten, Sherman Streets and Upland Road, be re-filed with the City Council upon the expiration of the current petition on Sept 30, 2009, that said re-filed petition be referred to the Planning Board and City Council Ordinance Committee; and that upon adoption of this order, the Ordinance Committee public hearing be advertised and scheduled promptly, with a report back to the City Council as soon as possible.   Councillor Maher and Vice Mayor Seidel

One has to speculate whether the same petition is being re-filed (for what purpose?) or whether an alternative zoning petition is being contemplated for this area. Then again, the filing of Zoning Petitions is standard fare in every municipal election year.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the possibility of initiating curbside pickup of food waste.   Councillor Davis

This is a good idea, but whether or not it’s viable depends on things like cost and the ability to obtain permits for sites for composting of food waste near enough to Cambridge that transportation costs don’t break the bank or have a net detrimental environmental effect. In any case, backyard composting remains a simple and effective option for many residents.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s plans to help fund the Housing Authorities redevelopment projects, to include any land swaps, loan backing or direct financial assistance.   Councillor Kelley

This item is noteworthy simply for the gargantuan scale of what is proposed.

O-19     Sept 14, 2009
WHEREAS: The Cambridge Housing Authority is embarking on a 10-year, $250 million dollar renovation project that will involve the demolition and rebuilding of various CHA developments; and
WHEREAS: The first of these demolition/renovation projects has tentatively been scheduled to start in late 2009; and
WHEREAS: It is not clear how the Cambridge Housing Authority is involving the public in any planning process for its renovation projects; and
WHEREAS: The City may be financially involved in these various renovation projects; now be it therefore
ORDERED: That the City Council’s Housing Committee is requested to hold a public hearing in the near future to review CHA’s plans and the City’s plans to help finance them; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on the City’s plans to help fund the Housing Authorities redevelopment projects, to include any land swaps, loan backing or direct financial assistance.

Robert Winters

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