Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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.

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
  • 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
  • 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.



January 26, 2015

Early Marathon Monday – Coming up at the January 26, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling,transportation — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 2:58 am

Early Marathon Monday – Coming up at the January 29, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

NOTICE: Due to the expected snowstorm this meeting has been postponed
to Thurs, Jan 29, 5:30pm at the Attles Meeting Room (CRLS)

This should be a rollicking meeting (still up at the high school) with plenty of interesting and controversial items on the agenda. Honestly, there are enough significant items to fill the agendas of several meetings. To provide time for a fair discussion of all of them, this would be a good time to use the Charter Right option to spread some of them over the next several weeks. It may also be wise to refer some of them to the appropriate Council subcommittees for more detailed discussion. Here are some of the items that are especially noteworthy together with some brief comments.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an appropriation of $10,000 for the Healthy Aging through Healthy Community Design grant from the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging to the Community Development Grant Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will allow for the Community Development Department to collaborate with the Council on Aging and the Cambridge Public Health Department to ensure that the bicycle network planning process incorporates measures of and actions for mobility and accessibility for the 55+ population on bicycle infrastructure.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the status of the reconstruction plan of Pearl Street.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back on any progress made in acquiring state funding for design and construction of the portion of the Watertown branch B&M Line railroad property to construct the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway and on the feasibility of a low-cost, temporary paving solution for the Greenway in order to realize the community benefits while the path awaits permanent construction. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Two of Jan 5, 2015.]

Charter Right #4. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to abandon the "Complete Street" plan for Pearl Street. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Order Number Seven of Jan 5, 2015.]

BicycleThese are some of the bike-related items on the agenda. Manager’s Agenda #3 is a bit mysterious to this 55+ daily cyclist since I’ve always understood the "bicycle infrastructure" to be the street network. There are, unfortunately, some people in the City administration who are convinced that cyclists need to be segregated into separate facilities rather than share the roads with motor vehicles. This is also the central issue with Manager’s Agenda #5 and Charter Right #4 which is a proposed City Council Order to stop the City from removing all parking from one side of Pearl Street in order to segregate those pesky cyclists. My sense is that the Order in Charter Right #2 was only delayed as a response to the Pearl Street plan in order to force a discussion. There is, however, a big difference between making use of an abandoned rail line as a bike/pedestrian path and radically changing the way an existing residential street functions.

Expect some serious self-righteous commentary during Public Comment about how the unenlightened residents of Cambridgeport are standing in the way of progress by not bending over and accepting what is being shoved at them.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a communication from Director of Environmental Health Sam Lipson relative to proposed amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance along with new red-lined draft amendments addressing the most recent changes requested by the Council at its meeting of Dec 15, 2014 regarding e-cigarettes being banned in workplaces and hookahs being allowed in restaurants. Also attached is the Appendix A list of parks and plazas (Option B) that was previously sent to the Council.

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 30, 2014 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.28 entitled "Restrictions on Youth Access and Sale of Tobacco Products and Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Jan 5, 2015.

Not much to say on this other than to observe that the last several City Council meetings have brought out a significant number of people passionately opposed to the banning of smoking in public parks.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-116, regarding a report on Cambridge Youth Programs usage rates and space.

This report reminds me of similar reports back around 2000 that showed less than full utilization of some of our well-intentioned youth programs and facilities.

Manager’s Agenda #15. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Joseph Barr as the Director of the Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, effective Mar 2, 2015.

Welcome back, Joseph.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-103, regarding a report on making the Foundry Building available for a major installation of the 2015 Fab Lab Conference.

Manager’s Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Disposition Report for the Foundry Building.

The evolving story of "The Gift" continues.

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-144, regarding the drafting of a framework for a Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan. [Attachment]

Manager’s Agenda #23. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.

Both of these reports have been a long time coming, and the substance of either one of them could dominate an entire City Council meeting. Read the reports and form your own opinions.

Resolution #1. Congratulations to Yoni Appelbaum on being named The Atlantic’s politics editor.   Councillor Cheung

Yoni Appelbaum is an incredibly insightful fellow, and The Atlantic chose well in naming him as their politics editor. Perhaps he can exchange notes with Thomas Edsall, a son of Cambridge, who currently writes a weekly New York Times opinion column and who was political editor of the Huffington Post from 2007 to 2009 after working many years as a newspaper journalist.

Resolution #86. Congratulations to Jim Braude on being named the new host of Greater Boston.   Councillor Toomey

Another great choice of our friend and former Cambridge City Councillor Jim Braude.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to reach out to representatives and city officials in Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Everett and Somerville to gauge interest in forming an inter-city committee which would meet three times per year to discuss and develop strategies for common issues that would be best handled regionally with support from the state.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Cheung

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments and elected officials from Somerville to arrange a public meeting of the two cities to discuss regionalism and potential regular scheduling.   Councillor Mazen

I have spoken with several city councillors during this past year about this very idea and I think it’s an idea whose time has come, especially in regard to regional housing and transportation planning and economic issues of mutual interest. Somerville has big plans for Union Square and there’s a need to expand housing opportunities in the urban core of Greater Boston. Few would disagree about the need for a more coordinated discussion of regional transportation. Some of our elected officials and their counterparts in neighboring cities and towns would be well-suited for this kind of inter-city committee.

Order #6. That the attached amendment to the Municipal Code entitled "Prohibition on the Use of Polystyrene Based Disposable Food Containers," together with the input of the Recycling Advisory Committee, be referred to the Ordinance Committee for a hearing and report.   Councillor Cheung

On balance this is probably a good thing but, as we saw with the discussion of the proposed plastic bag ban, the alternatives are not always so obviously beneficial from an environmental perspective.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to contact the current owners of the Vail Court property and demand that graffiti be removed, exterminators assess the property, and any other maintenance that would improve the appearance and safety of this building be conducted immediately.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Simmons

The Vail Court saga continues. Perhaps the political contributions of the property owners to local City Council campaigns can be redirected toward rodent extermination and graffiti removal. That might be a good step toward clean elections.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to ask all City Departments to have documents and presentations made available to the public and the City Council at least three business days in advance of the scheduled meeting to allow ample time for review.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Why stop there? Each City Council committee should have its own web page where information on all matters before the committee is posted so that it’s easy to understand all issues that have been decided, are under consideration, or are planned to be taken up by that committee. Instead of City Council personal aides, there should instead be staff charged with gathering, organizing, and posting this information and facilitating the business of the committee. Each Roundtable meeting should also have a page containing all relevant reference material, but meetings should not be postponed simply because of late submissions of reference materials.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to create and fund the position of ombudsman, with degrees of both organizational independence to serve as an advocate and organizational ties to be effective, to serve as a liaison with and an internal advocate for community members.   Councillor Cheung

I’m sure there will be a number of people speaking during Public Comment in favor of this proposal. I respectfully disagree with that point of view. There are plenty of helpful City staff who are always available to assist the public, but advocacy should be left to residents and their various organizations.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to take the necessary measures to formally designate the 2nd Floor meeting room at the City Hall Annex, located at 344 Broadway, as the Bayard Rustin Meeting Room.   Councillor Simmons

Bayard Rustin was a great man, but it is perhaps advisable to reserve the naming of public meeting rooms for distinguished Cantabrigians.

Order #15. That the City Manager is requested to work with applicable boards and commissions to assist them in clarifying yearly goals and initiatives, to provide increased administrative oversight and accountability where necessary, and where possible, discuss ways to increase resident involvement.   Councillor Mazen

I’m not quite sure what the real intention of this Order is. Most if not all of the City’s boards and commissions already do set annual goals and objectives. Public input is generally very welcome, but it’s not always so easy to know the specifics of what is before a given board – even if they have a posted agenda. It is, however, a lot better than it used to be.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to report to the City Council any existing agreements that may have been signed between the City of Cambridge and Boston 2024, the US Olympic Committee, or any other organizations representing Olympic interests and that the City Manager is requested to bring any proposed agreement regarding the Olympics to the City Council for discussion and debate prior to signing.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Toomey, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley

Perhaps I’m misreading this, but it sure seems as though we’re setting Cambridge up to be voice of the Loyal Opposition in all matters relating to the 2024 Olympics bid. Boston employees will be under a gag order and all of the criticism will be routed through voices in Cambridge and Somerville.

Order #17. That the City Council go on record in support of the We the People Act.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

It’s a sure bet that some people will step up to the microphone in support of this Order. The referenced Act centers on a proposed U.S. Constitutional amendment in response to the Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested not to enter into any future contracts to obtain electricity from TransCanada and to investigate the possibility of entering into an agreement to obtain up to 100% renewable power for all municipal electricity needs.   Councillor Carlone

Buy the cheapest electricity regardless of the source. Focus your advocacy on making alternate energy sources more economically competitive rather than just making economically poor choices based on political criteria.

Order #19. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff to explore the potential for installing composting facilities inside City Hall and other key municipal buildings.   Councillor Carlone

Perhaps the intention of this Order is to facilitate organics collection at City Hall and other municipal buildings. That’s NOT the same thing as installing composting facilities in these buildings which will likely be problematic and ill-advised.

Order #23. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to determine if they can be of further assistance in understanding how the portion of the [Grand Junction Multiuse] path from Binney to the Somerville border can be completed and to report back to the City Council.   Councillor Toomey

Order #24. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.   Councillor Toomey

Anything that helps to facilitate the improvement of this corridor to support a multi-use path is worth it – as long as future rail passenger service can still be accommodated. This corridor has great potential for linking Cambridge and MIT with new and existing housing in Somerville and Allston and beyond.

Order #25. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of executing the recommendations of the STEAM Working Group with the appropriate City departments.   Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone and Councillor McGovern

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee conducted a STEAM Summit on Dec 10, 2014 to present research by the STEAM Working Group and to present the Working Group’s recommendations.

I can’t speak to the specifics and I’m still skeptical of the focus on creating new agencies and new staff positions to support this, but I do agree with the underlying goals. I would much prefer realigning existing staff in the schools and elsewhere to achieve the goal of matching local residents, especially those who have been traditionally disadvantaged, with job opportunities in fields requiring science, mathematics, and engineering skills.

Order #26. That the City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of creating a survey in collaboration with the Community Development Department and other appropriate departments to gather data on the positive impact of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance on the lives of Cambridge residents and families and to determine the feasibility of hosting a town hall meeting where tenants and families who benefit from the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance can come together to share their experiences and provide valuable feedback on how to perfect the program.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Cheung

Together with the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study and possible revisions to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, we may see a lot of activity this year on the various tools for producing housing and other benefits from the money generated by new development.

Order #27. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of renaming Area 4 "The Port."   Vice Mayor Benzan

There’s really no need for a feasibility study for a change like this. Just do it and have future documents reflect the change. It will be a little confusing having one neighborhood called Cambridgeport and another called The Port. Perhaps we should again refer to them as The Upper Port and The Lower Port. There’s also the annoying little detail that there hasn’t actually been a port in either neighborhood for ages. Perhaps we should also change the name of a part of North Cambridge to The Brickyards in honor of another discontinued use. – Robert Winters

December 8, 2014

The Central Square Olympics – Dec 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 2:30 pm

The Central Square Olympics – Dec 8, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Central Square Olympics!After a year or two of thumb twiddling, moratorium threats, and Master Plan myth-making, things are starting to perk up again in Central Square. At the previous meeting, the Twining/Normany zoning petition arrived to reignite the conversation. In response to City Council inaction, that petition now seeks to amend the zoning in a very small (though still important) portion of Central Square to allow greater heights in exchange for the provision of new housing, additional retail and more. Some aspects of the petition reflect goals expressed in the prior C2 recommendations. Many of us now wonder how we came to this point where initiatives by residents, the City Council, and the City administration were left to gather dust, and a zoning petition from a private developer was necessary to get things moving again. At tonight’s meeting we now also have a Council Order calling for a hearing and finally some movement on the moth-balled C2 plan and recommendations. It’s just a hearing, mind you, without any actual zoning proposal.

Order #6. That the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing to discuss the C2 plan and recommendations and that the Community Development Department be prepared to present any changes or recommendations to this plan and that members of the C2 Committee be invited to attend.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

There is, of course, a decent chance that nothing will come of any of this. The municipal election year is quickly approaching and our wonderfully progressive councillors dare not tread any path that might irritate their potential supporters. Besides, don’t you know that we have to produce a Master Plan before doing anything whatsoever? Well, that’s what at least some moratorium-lovin’ reactivists would have you believe. In contrast, it’s great watching the City of Somerville charge forward with Union Square plans and other projects. Perhaps we should create a sister city relationship with our northern neighbor.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on how all the Citywide Planning efforts will impact staff workload, and any capacity considerations the City Council should take into account when contemplating these or other initiatives.   Councillor Cheung

Yes, but perhaps we should add a clause to the order specifically addressing the City Council workload which apparently must be very, very burdensome. [Please pardon the sarcasm.] See above paragraph. That said, it will be most unfortunate if the upcoming Citywide Planning effort ends up being largely an exercise in staff-intensive hand-holding leading nowhere.

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-107, regarding a report on next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi-use Path.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and members of the public to determine what, if any, changes should be made to the Harvard Square "Super Crosswalk" complex, to include the bike crossing at Church Street   Councillor Kelley

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to evaluate, through the up-coming winter, any opportunities to expand the use of off-street snow removal equipment, with particular attention to the concerns of wheelchair access, essential pedestrian routes, and off-grade cycle tracks.   Councillor Cheung

I’m grouping these three items together because they all have some relationship to bicycle use in Cambridge. The proposed Grand Junction Path is a great initiative in that it provides an amenity over and above the existing road network. There are a lot of people who enjoy such amenities for recreation and, in this case, the new route may actually provide a useful transportation connection between MIT, East Cambridge, and Cambridgeport and (hopefully) housing opportunities in Allston, Somerville, and beyond.

On the other hand, as evidenced by last week’s Bicycle Network Plan open house, some City staff remain hopelessly naive about actual cycling in Cambridge (and elsewhere). They see the segregation of cyclists off the road as the preferred alternative. The images they show of streets like Vassar Street show nothing but sunny days and no conflicts with vehicles or pedestrians. The reality that those of us see daily is quite different – a less-safe roadway narrowed to the point where there remains very little room for cyclists to safely share, ice and snow and blocked entries in the winter, significant conflicts with pedestrians (and wrong-way cyclists), and trucks and taxis with no other option than to park on the sidewalk. The north side of Concord Avenue near Fresh Pond is even worse. The segregationists would like to replicate this design on Magazine Street. Even worse, the plan for Massachusetts Avenue from MIT to Harvard appears to favor wedging cyclists into a narrow corridor between parked cars and the curb with countless obstructions and conflicts. This will likely also involve the narrowing of road lanes to the point where road cyclists will be endangered and the inevitable double-parked car will bring traffic to a standstill.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Saul Tannenbaum, 16 Cottage Street transmitting five reasons why hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea.

Order #11. That the Council go on record in opposition to any bid to host the Olympics that does not begin with broad community discussion and deliberation, including stakeholders from surrounding communities that would be impacted were the Olympics to be held in Boston.   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Kelley

There are differing opinions on the value of hosting the Olympics. One concern I have is that the people of the Greater Boston area tend to be a bit on the parochial side and they’re likely to resent all these outsiders. There’s also some legitimate concern about the illegitimacy of the process of procuring the Olympics. There’s a chance that some improvements in transportation infrastructure could come of it all, but there are no guarantees. I’m personally skeptical about the substitution of planning for a multi-week event for actual long-term planning for decades to come.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a draft framework for a Community Benefits and Mitigation Plan no later than Jan 26, 2015.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor McGovern

This is a can that has been kicked down the road for several years now. Every new project, especially those that require zoning changes, seems to come with its own roll-your-own ideas about community benefits and mitigation. We can do better. – Robert Winters

August 29, 2014

A Vehicular Revamping

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,MIT,schools,transportation — Sharanya Srinivasan @ 5:22 pm

Anyone who has traversed up the bulbous convexity of a steep hill has made the sweaty decision that bicycles should come equipped with an alternative power source that does not involve leg muscles. Luckily the recent development of the e-bike, an electric bicycle that comes with a rechargeable battery-powered motor, has addressed this serious transportation concern. According to a 2014 report in The New York Times, e-bike sales are “surging” in Europe, with “250,000 e-bikes on the road in Switzerland and bike sales rising by over 9 percent in Netherlands”. Numerous start-ups in the Cambridge and Boston areas are looking to emulate the success of e-bike sales abroad, by engineering products that significantly reduce the physical exertion of riders while enabling an easy crossover from standard bikes to electric.

Superpedestrian, a Cambridge-based enterprise, creates a novel design for the e-bike called the Copenhagen Wheel. This technology involves no necessary hardware to install other than the wheel itself, and therefore fits on most standard bicycles. The wheel’s motor is operated by a lithium battery which manipulates the torque on the bike’s back wheel to propel the vehicle 20 mph via power assist. And the best part? The speed settings for the Copenhagen Wheel can be controlled by a smartphone app. Superpedestrian, born from a collaboration between MIT’s SENSEable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, plans to release its first consumer models by the end of the year.

Evelo, another Cambridge-based company, was established a few years ago and advertises the “electrifying power” of its bicycles. Evelo bikes are equipped with Intelligent Pedal Assistance, which provides 3 options of riding with a mid-drive motor system. Further e-bike expansion is around the corner – Craigslist posts shared by the Boston Cyclists Union have hinted that another electric bike venue will be coming soon to Boston.

Undoubtedly, these e-bike businesses are looking to capitalize on the relatively strong biker culture that already exists in Cambridge, a demographic that spans college students maniacally racing to class, leisurely weekend cyclists, and daily commuters pedaling to offices. Thus far, e-bikes have garnered attention in the US as a transportation option for the elderly and people with limited mobility. However, The New York Times states that e-bikes still represent a “niche” in the US. For e-bikes to experience commercial success in Cambridge and elsewhere in the US, these start-ups need to reach a broad target market and encourage standard bike users to transition to the electric version.

The state of Massachusetts also has specific restrictions on motorized bicycles, that limit the speed of e-bikes to 25 mph and prohibit their usage on major highways or roadways where standard bicycles are not allowed. Another “speedbump” to e-bike sales might be price; the Copenhagen Wheel is priced at 799 dollars, and various Evelo models land at 2000 dollars. Certainly, there is fairness behind the upmarket price tag on e-bikes (remember the smartphone app?), but it is up to electric bike companies to market this rationale appealingly to consumers.

Regardless, for those cyclists who find pedaling to be tiresome and an exercise in redundancy…you now have your solution!

July 2, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 69-70: Transportation Safety with Rozann Kraus

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 69

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 69 featured highlights from the June 30 City Council meeting, updates from the state legislature, and transportation safety in Cambridge. This episode was broadcast on July 1, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 70

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 70 focused on transportation safety in Cambridge. This episode broadcast on July 1, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

June 24, 2014

Starts and Stops, mostly stops

I’m commenting on the “Starts and Stops” article which appeared in the Boston Globe on Sunday, June 22, 2014.

That’s behind a paywall. You may need to log in as a Globe subscriber to see it. (I’m one, but if I recall correctly, there’s a limited number of views till the paywall descends). You can also log in from home in the Boston area using a library card number.

The Globe article describes a bicycle-specific traffic signal on Western Avenue and makes the claim:

The Western Avenue signal is timed so that cyclists get a green light a few moments before their vehicular counterparts headed toward Memorial Drive; that way, cyclists have several seconds of a head start to get out ahead of the cars and become more visible to motorists, especially motorists turning right who may not think to look for cyclists approaching on their right side.

That only works if bicyclists happen to be waiting when the light changes. Otherwise, according to the description in the article, there is a right-hook conflict, with motor vehicles turning right across the path of bicyclists approaching in their right rear blindspot. I haven’t checked out the installation yet; I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more detail.

The article goes on to say:

Additionally, signals like this one address one of the biggest gripes motorists have with bike riders: that they’re constantly running red lights. For cyclists, there can be no confusion whether they’re expected to stop at a red light when that light shows a little bicycle. Many engineers believe that when cyclists are assured that a traffic light is targeted at them and designed to protect their safety, they’re much more likely to wait for their rightful turn to proceed through the intersection.

Here’s the photo which the Globe posted with the article.

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

Wishful thinking. Normal traffic lights also apply to bicyclists. Do we need our own very special, and eexpensive, signal just so we will feel pampered? The traffic light shown in the photo, by the way, isn’t at Memorial Drive. It is at Putnam Avenue, a block earlier. Because the photo doesn’t show the installation which the article describes, I’m not entirely clear about the details.

It was previously possible for bicyclists to approach Memorial Drive in the through lane and enter on the normal green light — or sensibly, though in violation of the specifics of traffic law, at the left side of a right-turn lane lane, and also enter on the normal green. Now, bicyclists and right-turning motorists are, at least as described in the article, forced into a right-hook conflict.

Please, who are the unattributed “many engineers”? Opportunistic bicyclists and pedestrians, motorists too — commit traffic-signal violations because they get annoyed with waiting. Compliance improves if a traffic-light system is designed to minimize waiting time. This one doesn’t, and right-hook conflicts don’t protect anyone’s safety.

I am about to attend the summer meeting of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), where I sit on its Bicycle Technical Committee. Two proposals currently before the Committee, in experimental status, are special bicycle traffic signals, and right-turn lanes with a bicycle lane inside their left side. I would have hoped that Cambridge had submitted a formal Request to Experiment from Cambridge for either of these proposals — which would add to the knowledge base, and confer immunity from legal liability — but I’ve seen none. I should have. The Federal Highway Administration calls on the NCUTCD to review them.

Oh, and also — in the Globe’s photo, it looks as though a car is sitting in the bikeway.

More to come.



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