Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 25, 2017

Preview of Sept 25, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:28 am

Preview of Sept 25, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere are the items that drew my attention this week:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 17-55 and 17-64, regarding an update on Bicycle Lane Implementation and Outreach.

Manager’s Agenda #9. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 17 persons as a members of the Pedestrian Committee for a term of two years.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 18 persons as a members of the Bicycle Committee for a term of two years.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of 20 persons as a members of the Transit Committee.

While I’m glad to see all of these appointments and reappointments to these volunteer committees, there is an important point that needs to be stated. These are ADVISORY committees. They consist of a lot of really dedicated people who put a lot of time and thought into their committee work, and we are grateful for their service. However, recommendations from these or any other advisory committees should never be the final word. City staff and ultimately the elected officials bear that responsibility, especially when a committee consists primarily, if not exclusively, of advocates for a single point of view. Do members of the Bicycle Committee take into account the needs of all residents and others who need to travel through the city? Do they factor in all four seasons? Are the needs of delivery vehicles taken into account? What happens when what is ideal for transit users is in conflict with a proposal from the Bicycle Committee? What happens when the needs of residents and local businesses conflict with the demands of a subset of cycling advocates?

I served on the Recycling Advisory Committee for two decades. During that time I always tried to evaluate any proposals from the point of view of all residents – and not just the most zealous recycling advocates. I’m not at all convinced that this is done in some of these other advisory committees. In fact, I honestly believe that anyone with a contrary view would never even be appointed to the Bicycle Committee.

One day the Envision Cambridge consultants, its associated Advisory Committee (of which I am a member), and City staff will issue its recommendations and hopefully lay out a workable vision for city planning for the near future and the long term. Should the City Council adopt those recommendations without debate? Will modifications to the plan be forbidden? Of course not. When the Recycling Advisory Committee offered recommendations they were rarely accepted without question.

Nonetheless, as Mr. Barr’s report spells out, the Cambridge Bicycle Plan "lays out a vision for where the City intends to implement bicycle facilities in the future". Did the Cambridge City Council ever really analyze that plan? Was any of it open to revision or negotiation? Or was it just accepted as a non-negotiable plan for the sake of political expedience? Does it address actual safety or is it primarily about "comfort", convenience, and "turf"? Most importantly, was any effort ever expended to balance the needs of all road users?

Manager’s Agenda #13. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-30, regarding a report on partnering with DCR and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association to revitalize Magazine Beach.

I’m grateful to all of the people who are helping to transform this space into something great.

Manager’s Agenda #14. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to an amendment to the Foundry Demonstration Project Plan.

How many years has it been now?

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Community Preservation Act (CPA) recommendations for FY2018. [Attachments]

No surprises here – the legal maximum of 80% for subsidized/regulated housing, and the legal minimum of 10% each for open space acquisition and historic preservation.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Law Department, the Community Development Department, and any other appropriate City departments to update the City Council on what is being done to address the Council’s request for actions on vacant and abandoned buildings.   Councillor Devereux

There are plenty of good steps that can be taken, but the City Council needs to start by rethinking their earlier non-starter proposal that would have levied fines so steep that any court on the planet would recognize it as a regulatory taking. They can also try working with these property ownerts to bring about best outcomes.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Information Technology Department and other appropriate City personnel and report back to the City Council on the effectiveness of the SeeClickFix system.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

The system works well in some ways, but it really depends a lot on which department is responding. It has also degenerated in some ways into a vehicle for advocacy where some users flood the system just to push their point of view. – Robert Winters

April 20, 2017

Sheet of ice draws praise from bicycle advocates

Snowmelt drains across "protected" bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

Snowmelt drains across “protected” bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

OK, spring is around the corner, so I’m a bit late with this post. But the issue I describe here will occur every year, at least until global warming puts an end to snows or converts central Cambridge into an extension of Boston Harbor.

The headline of the February 17 Boston Globe article with this picture is “Snowbank becomes accidental hero for area cyclists”.

The shiny area in the bikeway is meltwater from said snowbank. When the temperature drops below freezing, the meltwater becomes a sheet of black ice. This problem is unavoidable with a street-level barrier-separated bikeway. I discussed it at length years ago in connection with the 9th Avenue bikeway in Manhattan, a bikeway which, on the other hand, I have some nice things to say about.

Neither Steve Annear, author of the article, nor anyone quoted in it, makes any mention of the black-ice problem.

From the article: “’I like this snowbank-protected cycle track,’ Ari Ofsevit, a local cyclist, said on Twitter.” Ari usually ranges widely, imaginatively and thoughtfully in discussing transportation improvements his blog. I usually agree with him, but not in this case.

The article cites Joe Barr, of the City of Cambridge:

Barr acknowledged that the snow mound separating the bike lane and the road has offered a sense of protection to cyclists, but he said it could also be masking damage to the base of the flexible posts.

“We won’t know that until we get some more melting. But it certainly looks good on the street,” he said.

And Richard Fries, Executive Director of Massbike, commented: “It’s great. It won’t last that much longer, but it does help to hammer into people’s heads [road] patterns and driving habits,” he said. “Because it’s there, it makes the existing bike lane more visible to drivers and more prominent.”

Segregation promotes a sense of entitlement on the part of the majority group –in this case, motorists. How do I explain to horn-honking motorists that I have to ride in “their” travel lane, now narrowed to make room for the barrier, to avoid crashing on a sheet of black ice?

Or for that matter, to progress at my usual 15 miles per hour so I’m not stuck behind a cluster of bicyclists who are traveling at 8 miles per hour?

Or to avoid being right-hooked and crushed under the back wheels by a right-turning truck at Douglass Street?

Or that the rear-end collisions that this installation protects against are vanishingly rare on urban streets?

Or that parallel Harvard Street, Green Street and Franklin Street would serve admirably as low-stress through bicycle routes, if the city made the right kind of improvements?

December 2, 2016

Where did the Amanda Phillips crash happen? And why?

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,Deaths — Tags: , , , , , — jsallen @ 10:47 am

In a previous post, I stated that Amanda Phillips’s fatal crash occurred outside Inman Square, not in the Square.

An examination of news photos and a Google Street View establishes the precise location — 1423 Cambridge Street, just west of the Square.

The Google Street View

Boston Globe article with photo: note the blue recycling bin peeking out from behind the trash barrel, the distinctive leaning tree, and the ambulance parked on Hampshire Street in the background.

The Cambridge Patch has an even better photo.

This evidence establishes that Phillips had exited Inman Square. It has been reported that she rode off the sidewalk. That would place her in the same precarious situation as with the bike lanes exiting the Square in a “Peanut Roundabout” proposal advanced by the Boston Cyclists Union.

I also commend readers to Paul Schimek’s examination of factors which led to the crash.

October 30, 2016

Trick or Treat – October 31, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling,transportation — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:53 pm

Trick or Treat – October 31, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Happy Halloween!The ghosts and goblins will descend on City Hall this Monday. Here are a few agenda items of possible interest:

Sundry communications advocating for the segregation of two-wheeled vehicles from other vehicles.

Order #10. That the City Council acknowledges that said residents and other users desire the City to immediately enact safety improvements to bicycle infrastructure, starting with separated bike lanes on all major city thoroughfares.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

I have been bicycling in Cambridge for over 35 years without incident, so I continue to be surprised by statements that Cambridge roads are some kind of death trap. It’s simply not true. Is cycling in Cambridge absolutely safe? Of course not – nor is driving or navigating the streets as a pedestrian.

Most of us can easily identify particular intersections that really are fundamentally unsafe and have been for a long time. Chief on my list would be the Porter Square intersection, Inman Square, River Street coming from the river toward Central Square, much of the McGrath/O’Brien Highway, and the rotary at the BU Bridge. If I gave it some more thought, I’m sure I could come up with more.

I very much appreciate all input from all sources who have good concepts for how a difficult intersection like Porter Square could be made better. Some of those ideas may even be counter-intuitive, e.g. removing all the signals and other devices and forcing everyone to pass through with extreme caution. Even if you think that’s crazy, it’s still worthy of consideration – though it would definitely not be my chosen remedy. [Reference: woonerf, shared street]

What I really resent in some of the proposals introduced at the Cambridge City Council is their primary focus on "protected bike lanes" without any discussion of the many potential down sides of that proposal. They certainly don’t address the actual problem – dangerous intersections. Side paths make a lot of sense in places where there is a significant differential in speeds between motor vehicles and cyclists, e.g. along Memorial Drive. They also make a lot of sense along a twisting road where a faster moving vehicle might come up on a cyclist on a curve, especially if there is little or no shoulder. I don’t think they make a lot of sense on straight roads with moderate speeds.

Here are a few examples of what will likely happen if cyclists are channelled into a corridor between parked cars and the curb:

(a) Cyclists of varying speeds will have difficulty sorting themselves out since passing will be more difficult.

(b) Motor vehicles entering a road at an unsignalized intersection will have to block this "protected lane" just to be able to see the traffic before entering the intersection. Most pedestrians are already familiar with this and often have to decide between crossing in front of the car or behind the car. This will be much more problematic for bicycles moving at speeds greatly in excess of a pedestrian.

(c) Picking up and dropping off kids at the local school will become an adventure with significantly narrowed travel lanes and bicycles moving past on the passenger side. We have two Montessori schools on my block, a Cambridge public school across the street, and soon a day care center. Add the coffee shop to that and you have a disaster waiting to happen. Bicycle altercations along my street are few, if any. As I mentioned above, the primary danger is at difficult intersections with turning traffic.

(d) With significantly narrowed travel lanes, traffic congestion will soar in spite of any prophecies to the contrary. Locations where there is now room to maneuver around a turning vehicle will come to a standstill. I understand that this is what many of the "Complete Streets" advocates want to happen, but I really do hope there is at least some effort made to hear what others have to say.

(e) Pedestrians crossing a street will now be essentially crossing three streets and will have to take great caution – much more than they must now do.

(f) Faster moving cyclists will continue to use the regular travel lanes. Their speeds are not all that different than motor vehicles on many Cambridge streets, especially if there’s even moderate compliance with the lower speed limits that are proposed citywide. For these cyclists, there will be far less wiggle room for passing and they will often have little choice but to "take the lane".

(g) Based on all the conflicts that are introduced it is more than likely that advocates will conclude that the only way to make things work is to remove the parking altogether. I see this as almost inevitable. Some will rejoice at this, but many others will not. As has been pointed out very eloquently on this list, people do get older and their mobility may be reduced for this and other reasons. You cannot simply wish away the need for some (many) people to have access to a motor vehicle and to be able to park it at least somewhere near where they live. In my neighborhood many of the streets are almost fully parked much of the time.

(h) Snow events will bring everything to a standstill. In particular, the ideal practice of plowing streets most of the way to the curb will be far more difficult when streets are divided into multiple sections. As we all know, sometimes the only practical option is to not plow all the way to the curb since there’s need for that additional storage. What happens then? My guess is that winter cyclists will simply ride in the regular travel lanes which will now be far narrower than they are now.

If the City is absolutely set on trying out this idea, they should start with one road as a pilot and see what problems do or do not develop and evaluate the results honestly. I think it’s very important that any such evaluation be done by an objective party.

There were two important matters embedded in the torrent of City Council orders introduced two weeks ago – (1) addressing problematic intersections (like Porter Square); and (2) addressing the fundamental incompatibility between vulnerable users (including pedestrians and cyclists) and very large trucks with limited visibility.

I also feel that much more attention needs to be spent on identifying quieter alternatives for cyclists. In Medford, one of the most significant recommendations in their Bicycle Infrastructure Master Plan is the conversion of some streets to "bicycle boulevards" where cyclists are given very explicit priority without being segregated. That would be a good thing to do for a number of Cambridge streets.

PS – I have neither the time nor the inclination to write petitions or gather signatures on this topic. It’s easy to get signatures when you tell people that your way is the only way to achieve "safe streets". I believe that a lot more discussion needs to take place on this topic – and not in a hypercharged political atmosphere.

Order #2. That the Public Safety Committee hold a public hearing to hear about the various uses of drones in Cambridge and any concerns residents may have about them, with the goal of recommending guidelines for a municipal ordinance that would protect the public safety and the privacy of residents.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Order #12. That the City Manager is request to confer with the City of Boston to include Cambridge in the autonomous vehicle initiative as a partner.   Councillor Mazen

It’s entertaining to see the juxtaposition of orders expressing concern for public safety from unmanned drones while eagerly embracing unmanned motor vehicles.

Order #5. That the City Council go on record in support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Harvard Square kiosk.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

The entire area is already landmarked, and nobody is even considering doing anything to the Kiosk other than restoring it to a state much closer to what it was when first built. That said, if double-landmarking gives you thrills, knock yourself out.

Order #8. The City Manager coordinate with the Finance Department, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and community stakeholders to outline a proposed system of governance, management, and stakeholder engagement, to be discussed in a public forum with the Council and community.   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

Translation – Throw the baby out with the bathwater. The City Council voted on a process with their eyes wide open, but apparently some city councillors would prefer to maintain a heavy hand on all aspects of the management of this City asset.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 28, 2016 to discuss the ongoing drought and the impact on the Cambridge water supply, what restrictions on water use may be appropriate to consider and what public outreach is needed on water conservation measures.

Anything that helps educate residents about basic City infrastructure, especially something like drinking water and fire protection, is welcome. It continues to amaze me how many people, including civic activists and even city councillors, don’t understand some of the most basic things that we all take for granted every day.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 29, 2016 to discuss different models for campaign finance reform and publicly-funded municipal elections in Cambridge, and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 25, 2016 to discuss improving voter turnout for the municipal elections in Cambridge through voter reward options and will focus on receiving feedback from the community.

I gave testimony at both of these hearings. The "voter reward" idea is an absolute nonstarter. Campaign finance is a topic worthy of a lot of discussion, but most of what was presented at the hearing on that topic was at best underwhelming and misdirected.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, informing the City Council they may go into Executive Session on Monday to discuss on-going contract negotiations with the prospective City Manager.

I hope this gets settled at this meeting and that a contract is signed either this Monday or next.

October 16, 2016

Coming up at the October 17, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:05 pm

Coming up at the October 17, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting

The dominant items this week are a flurry of environment-related communications from Acting City Manager Lisa Peterson and a torrent of bicycle-related City Council orders. There is also the anticipated filing of the "Central Square Restoration Petition." Here are some of the more interesting items:

Cambridge water
Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $3,600,000 from the Water Fund Retained Earnings account to the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to fund the purchase of water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for approximately three months.

One again we see the wisdom of the Cambridge Water Board in establishing years ago this backup plan for emergencies and prolonged droughts. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back on Cambridge water (from Lexington, Lincoln, Weston, and Waltham) before too long.


Early Voting
Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $93,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Election Other Ordinary Maintenance account to pay for costs associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the transfer of $33,500 from the General Fund Employee Benefits (salary adjustment) Salary and Wages account to the General Fund Election Salary and Wages account to pay for wages associated with early voting for the State/Presidential election.

As you can see, Early Voting isn’t cheap. It will be interesting to see what the actual utilization is by location, day, and time of day so that Early Voting can be done most efficiently in future state and federal elections.


Environment/Energy/Climate
Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $120,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance account to execute a Zero Waste Plan for the City.

Perhaps the most interesting sentence in the report is this: "The first phase of this plan is to ready the City for the expansion Citywide of the curb-side organics collection program. It is presently expected that such will occur in the fall of 2017."

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $190,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a Low Carbon Energy Supply Study.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $47,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account to complete a community-wide Greenhouse gas inventory.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $38,300 from Free Cash to the General Fund Community Development Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will be used to procure consultant services to augment Cambridge’s core environmental goals.

I’m not sure why all of these appropriations appear on this agenda this week. It seems to not be a coincidence.


Zoning Petitions
Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adopt the Urban Agriculture Zoning Petition to allow for the completion of the work of the Urban Agriculture Task Force.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc, Zoning Petition (expansion of Medical Marijuana Overlay District 1 in Alewife).

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 22, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Jane W. Heatley, President of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, Inc. to amend Section 20.700, Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts by extending the district.

In regard to this and other marijuana-related zoning petitions, they may all be eventually eclipsed by (a) a citywide change in the use tables in most business zones and (b) the outcome of Question 4 on Election Day that may legalize/regulate recreational marijuana. In spite of a variety of statements saying that there is no relation between medicinal marijuana legalization/regulation and recreational marijuana legalization/regulation, this seems nearly certain to be only a temporary state of affairs.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 5, 2016 to discuss the refiled petition to amend the Zoning Map in the Riverside Neighborhood from the existing Residence C-1 to Residence C within the area bounded by Franklin Street, River Street and Putnam Avenue.

It was interesting to read articles in the Boston Globe and elsewhere taking a very dim view of this zoning petition as thwarting the creation of affordable housing in the name of "neighborhood preservation". I suspect the truth is a little more nuanced, e.g. the desire to slow or stop infill/backyard development. It’s not at all clear that any of that kind of development is leading to much or any "affordable" housing.

Applications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been received entitled "Central Square Restoration Petition," to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance in Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 20.300 ("Central Square Overlay District") signed by area residents.

Though some may try to characterize this petition (whose lead signers are members of the Sater family who own and operate The Middle East) as some kind of upzoning of Central Square, I’d have to say that the name "Central Square Restoration Petition" characterizes it much better. Central Square used to be a major shopping destination and civic center for the greater Cambridgeport area (before the somewhat arbitrary re-designation of neighborhood names). It’s in recovery, but it could be so much better than it is now. This petition cobbles together some of the better (and less controversial) ideas from the C2 Committee a few years back plus some other forward-looking features. The review before the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee should provide great opportunities for people of good will to "envision" Central Square in a manner that actually leads somewhere other than a dusty shelf along with decades of planning studies.


City Manager Search Process
Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting Communication from Lisa C. Peterson, Acting City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $25,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund City Council Other Ordinary Maintenance account ($21,500) and to the City Council Travel & Training account ($3,500) to fund expenditures related to the City Manager search process.

It’s much better to be now looking back at this process – the first ever during the Plan E era (since 1941). The official transition to City Manager Louis A. DePasquale is expected be completed within another week or so when all contract details are finalized.


BicycleBicycling-related
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Police Commissioner, and to report back to the City Council on what specific recommendations and measures the City should consider in order to prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make our streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.   Mayor Simmons, Councillor Kelley

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City Departments to design a pilot system of flex-post separated bike lanes and intersections, along Massachusetts Avenue, Hampshire Street, and Cambridge Street to determine how installation of flex-posts might be used as either interim or permanent bike safety solutions while other infrastructure improvements can be designed and analyzed for safety and implemented as appropriate.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Kelley

Order #4. That the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations committee be and hereby is requested to hold a committee hearing to discuss the possibility of adding a bike-bus lane to Pearl Street and any measures that can be taken to accommodate on-street parking preferences of residents.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to include separated bicycle facilities or adjacent off-street paths in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue, along the entire length of the reconstructed segment and to give first priority to the safety and convenience of the most vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users – with second priority to the safety and convenience of motor vehicles in any plans for reconstructing all or part of Massachusetts Avenue.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen

Order #6. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, Department of Public Works, Community Development Department, Fire Department, Police Department, Budget Department, and other relevant City departments to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue between Cedar Street and Harvard Square starting on Nov 1, 2016, to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Cambridge Street between Inman Square and Quincy Street and to install pilot program protected bike lanes on Broadway between Prospect Street and Quincy Street, all for the period of at least one month.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to include protected bike lanes on both sides of Huron Avenue for the full length of its reconstruction, per the Cambridge Bicycle Plan.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Mazen

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to form a Vision Zero Working Group comprised of staff from the relevant City departments and residents to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible.   Councillor Devereux, Vice Mayor McGovern

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to consult with staff on what authority the City has to further restrict the routes of travel and delivery hours of oversized trucks on City street.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor McGovern

These are a mix of good ideas and ill-considered opportunism in the wake of a tragic death in Porter Square. On the good side are Orders #2, #8, and #11. Order #2 asks City staff, including CDD and the Police Department, to report back on specific recommendations that might prevent future bicycle accidents and fatalities from occurring, and to make city streets safer for bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. This is both timely and appropriate. We all know of locations, primarily complicated intersections, that need to be made safer for all users. Porter Square is one such location. We can likely assume that the Police Department will base their recommendations on actual causes rather than on a wish list generated by an advocacy group.

Order #8 is also a sensible request to establish a "Vision Zero Working Group" comprised of staff from relevant City departments and residents "to collaboratively develop and review traffic safety plans, street designs, public education initiatives, traffic enforcement and related policies with the shared goal of eliminating crashes that result in serious injuries and deaths as quickly as possible." We should hope that this group will take a broad look at the whole picture of safety and operation in the design of roadways, intersections, and signaling systems (as opposed to the narrow view of single issue advocacy).

Order #11 addresses the problem of the operation of oversized trucks on City streets. There may be limitations on what the City can do based on federal and state laws regulating interstate commerce, but there may be some opportunities. There certainly should be. Anyone who has ever seen an 18-wheeler blocking a swath of sidewalk and street lanes just to make a small delivery to a 24-hour store understands the current absurdity of the status quo. Every cyclist also needs to understand that whenever there is a large truck in the vicinity it is essential to get away from it pronto. Even if you believe you’re riding lawfully, you still may not even be seen by the truck driver – and the risk is simply never worth it.

In contrast, Orders #3-7 are opportunistic moves that attempt to cure problems that don’t necessarily exist and to do so with maximal disruption. The recent death in Porter Square was on a stretch of road where parking was prohibited and where there is already a "protected turn lane" for bikes heading inbound wanting to make a left turn toward Somerville Avenue, though it’s not clear that many cyclists actually use it. This is what makes it so strange to hear advocates arguing for elimination of on-street parking and the segregation of cyclists from the roadway in response to this fatality. It will be helpful to eventually get a full report from the Cambridge Police and the District Attorney’s Office on the exact cause of this fatality (and other fatalities in the last few years). It is often the case that the actual cause of such a tragedy does not coincide with the early conclusions of advocates who are understandably upset in the aftermath of tragedy.

I really hope that our elected city councillors pause and take a deep breath before demanding changes that will have little or no effect (and maybe even have negative effects) on actual safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Address problematic intersections and designate some streets as bicycle-priority streets (like Harvard Street, Garden Street, Magazine Street and others) before radically altering currently well-functioning streets by destroying sight lines and dramatically increasing traffic congestion for little or no benefit. Eliminate parking at bends in streets where conflicts between cyclists and motorists are most likely. There’s plenty to do right now in simply addressing intersection safety – and that’s where most of the safety problems are. Let reason prevail. There is a whole city full of people – pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, residents with and without private parking, and businesses with and without customer or employee parking that need to be heard. Doing anything less would be undemocratic.


Alewife area
Order #9. City Council opposition to any pathway or other intrusion which might be developed through the woods, marshes, or Bordering Land Subject to Flooding (BLSF) or other natural resource habitat to create a pedestrian trail to the Alewife T stop from areas west and north of Little River and to any other development which could in any way impact the 100-year flood plain which is predicted to experience such flooding every 30 years, and wetlands, BLSF, or bordering vegetated wetlands (BVW), associated with the Alewife Reservation.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

I can’t speak to the broader goal here, but there is at least one location where a pedestrian bridge over the Little River in the vicinity of the recreated wetland area and its boardwalks would be a very welcome addition by creating a very nice walking loop.


Ordinances, Prohibitions, Bans
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 15, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 6 entitled “Animals” by adding a new Chapter 6.20 entitled “Restrictions on the Sale of Animals in Pet Shops.”

I certainly hope we don’t ban excessively here. Unless such a ban were do be done statewide, the only effect will be to move the business to neighboring cities and towns or causing such sales to take place outside of established businesses.


Harvard Square Kiosk
Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 28, 2016 for the purpose of discussing the redesign of the Out of Town News Kiosk.

This was an interesting meeting – especially in learning that it may be possible to bring utilities to the Kiosk that don’t currently exist. While it’s clear that some would like this structure to primarily serve visitors to Harvard Square, I still would love for it to have an active use where residents to gather. It doesn’t have to be a hot dog stand or lunch counter, but it sure would be great to again have something like that right in the middle of Harvard Square. My dream is still to be able to watch Red Sox games there projected onto a wall of the Kiosk while eating a hot dog in the open air.

June 29, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 151-152: June 28, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 151 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 152 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Much of the discussion in both episodes was motivated by the recent death of cyclist Amanda Phillips in Inman Square and the concurrent proposals by the City of Cambridge to modify the traffic patterns in Inman Square.

May 5, 2015

Cambridge Police Department Announces Series of Bike Safety Month & Bike Week Initiatives

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,transportation — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:23 pm

Cambridge Police Department Announces Series of Bike Safety Month & Bike Week Initiatives

With National Bike Safety Month and Bay State Bike Week taking place in May, the Cambridge Police have a number of events, initiatives and materials planned to increase the safety of all people who walk, cycle or drive.

Events
Officers and City employees will be stationed at highly trafficked areas in the city and will provide giveaways, fliers with bike safety tips and address any questions or concerns at the following areas.

Date Time Location
Monday, May 11 7-9am Central Square*
Tuesday, May 12 7-9am Alewife T Station*
Wednesday, May 13    7-9am    Harvard Square*
Thursday, May 14 7-9am Kendall Square*

*Free breakfast, as available, generously provided by Charles River TMA

On-Bike Training & Bike Rides
Bike MonthThere are a number of bike rides and training-related activities taking place in May that the Cambridge Police will be involved with, all of which residents are highly encouraged to participate in:

  • The MA Walk & Bike to School Day is taking place Wednesday, May 6 at 7:00am at the Vassal Lane Upper School.
  • There will be bike tune-ups and games on Wednesday, May 12 at the Cambridge Public Library, which is located at 449 Broadway, from 12-2pm.
  • CPD, Community Development Department (CDD) and the City of Cambridge will be taking part in Bike Tours of Cambridge on Saturday, May 16 at 10am. Ride details are available here.
  • A free on-bike training course, which is geared for new bike riders and covers the basics of riding a bike, will take place at Danehy Park on Saturday, May 16 from 2-6pm. The training is sponsored by CDD and jointly instructed by the Cambridge Police and Mass Bike. Interested participants must RSVP with jlawrence@cambridgema.gov.
  • A Healthy Aging Dinner & Focus Group on Wednesday, May 20 from 6-8pm that will focus on the conversation about barriers to bicycling for people ages 50+. Interested participants must RSVP with jlawrence@cambridgema.gov.
  • CPD, CDD and many in the City of Cambridge will be participating in the Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge Outreach Event on Friday, May 29 from 7:30-10am.

Be sure to view a complete list of events coordinated by the Community Development Department on their website.

Bicycle Patrol
With the warmer weather, the Cambridge Police Department once again has a full staff of bicycle patrol officers riding the city streets. These officers not only help provide residents with a greater sense of safety around the city, but they will also be promoting safe driving, riding and walking, as well as enforcing traffic laws in the Commonwealth. One area of emphasis will be keeping bicycle lanes clear from illegally parked vehicles. Cambridge Police will also aggressively seek and look to mitigate bicycle theft.

Increased Enforcement
Thanks to a Sustained Traffic Enforcement Program Grant funded by Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Cambridge Police are collaborating with a number of community and regional partners to reduce overall crashes and injuries in the City through enhanced enforcement efforts now through September 2015.

Electronic Sign Boards
The Cambridge Police are soliciting bicycle safety-related tips and messages on Twitter and Facebook for the City’s electronic sign boards, which will be stationed in Inman Square, Central Square and other areas throughout May. CPD encourages residents to submit their suggestions in the comment field on Facebook. Each board can feature up to 18 characters at a time (36 with two rotations).

Additional Education
In addition to the initiatives previously mentioned, the Cambridge Police will be leveraging their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram channels to educate bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians about the rules of the road, as well as offer theft prevention tips. The Department is also currently working on a series of Public Service Announcements in conjunction with the City’s Bicycle Committee (CBC) to provide a deeper understanding of riding, driving and walking in Cambridge from a bicyclist’s perspective.

content taken from Cambridge Police Dept. press release


Editorial comment
I can’t let Bike Month go by without mentioning a thing or two about some of the realities of the emerging bicycling infrastructure that is (unfortunately) favored by some individuals working for the City of Cambridge.

Perhaps the most common problem I see are bike lanes painted on streets in such a way that right-turning motor vehicles are encouraged to turn across the bike lane at intersections. This is common along Massachusetts Avenue westbound from MIT heading toward Central Square, and I see near-misses daily. In those locations it would be much safer without the bike lane or with the lane reconfigured so that right-turning vehicles would be directed to move as far right as possible prior to turning – as required by state law. Cyclists being "right hooked" by turning vehicles is probably the most common cause of crashes.

Another reality that I witness every day is the dysfunction of the Vassar Street "cycle track". This sidewalk-based bike facility was constructed in such a way that delivery vehicles, taxis, and other vehicles have no other option than to drive up onto the sidewalk (and the cycle track) in order to do what they need to do. I don’t fault the drivers in any way since there really is no other practical option. I’m entertained when I see official City photos of this facility showing nothing but right-way cyclists riding along an unobstructed path. The everyday reality is that cyclists routinely ride wrong-way on this track and pedestrians generally make no distinction between the track and the rest of the sidewalk. It’s like an obstacle course of pedestrians, parked vehicles, and turning vehicles and an accident waiting to happen. The better option is to ride in the roadway, but the right-of-way has been narrowed to the point where you generally have to "take the lane" to ensure your safety. Crossing Vassar is easily the riskiest part of my daily commute.

If I could have one wish granted it would be that City officials seriously reevaluate some of their decisions regarding bicycling infrastructure. – Robert Winters

Dysfunctional streets

February 21, 2015

Plowing, or sweeping under the rug?

The photo of the Western Avenue bikeway with this post has been making the rounds in bicycling advocacy circules, accompanied with praise for Cambridge’s plowing it.

You can praise the plowing all you like, but in terms of safety, it amounts to window dressing, distracting from problems which would not exist except for the segregated bikeway: with the snowbanks, bicyclists and motorists are both going to have to come nearly to a complete stop at every crossing to see each other in time to avoid collisions. Streets, on the other hand, even narrowed by snow, are wide enough that the cyclists can ride away from the edge, and motorists can poke out far enough to see approaching traffic without the risk of collisions.

The bikeway is also too narrow for one bicyclist safely to overtake another. The street is wide enough for anyone — bicyclist or motorist — to overtake a bicyclist, though maybe not always wide enough for one motorist to overtake another, what with the snow. It is narrower too because of the space that was taken out of it for the bikeway. The street also most likely is clear down to pavement within a day or two after a snowfall, and it is crowned so meltwater drains to the curbs. The bikeway is going to be a sheet of ice if there are thaw/freeze cycles, unless there is a very heavy application of road salt.

Bicycling is already difficult enough in winter without the added difficulties and hazards imposed by this bikeway.

western_avenue_winter

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