Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 22, 2010

Comments on Cambridge’s Western Avenue project

This post contributed by John S. Allen

Note as of May 20, 2015: The document linked in the paragraph below is no longer on the City’s Web site. It has been retrieved from the Internet Archive.

Western Avenue is a major one-way arterial street, a truck and and bus route, the only direct route from the Central Square of Cambridge to Allston, Brighton and other points west. Western Avenue presently needs full-depth reconstruction, which also provides the opportunity to reconstruct sewers. The City of Cambridge has recently posted conceptual drawings showing three ways to reconstruct Western Avenue. These and additional information are posted on the City’s Web site.

View Google Map

Western Avenue is lined with typical Boston-area “three-decker” apartment buildings for most of its length. These date back to the early decades of the 20th Century. There are a few businesses as well. Between Pleasant Street and Memorial Drive, Western Avenue presently has two travel lanes, with parallel parking on both sides, except at bus stops and at the right turn lane before Memorial Drive. There is a bike lane for part of the way.

The construction of a Massachusetts Turnpike extension interchange just across the Charles River in Allston in the mid-1960s led to an increase in traffic on Western Avenue and on River Street, which carries traffic in the opposite direction. The much-despised Inner Belt limited-access highway – Cambridge’s equivalent of Boston’s Central Artery – was never built. Governor Francis Sargent vetoed its construction in 1971. It would have diverted traffic from Western Avenue, but it would have split Cambridge in half, just as the old Central Artery separated downtown Boston from the waterfront.

Western Avenue and River Street join at Central Square in Cambridge, but they diverge from each other toward the river. They do not form a convenient one-way pair for short trips.

Western Avenue presents a difficult problem of accommodating all interests, as an arterial lined with residences. Accommodating through traffic including trucks and buses conflicts with the interest of residents in safe walking conditions, in peace and quiet, and in on-street parking.

I am writing this to comment on three conceptual drawings which Robert Winters has sent me. These were posted on a Cambridgeport neighborhood e-mail list. I’ll make my own suggestions after discussing them.

Concept 1

Western Avenue, Concept 1

Western Avenue, Concept 1

Note as of May 20, 2015: The 2010 Cambridge Bike Trends report has been moved from its original location to a different location on the City’s Web site.

Concept 1 is the most conservative. It keeps the two travel lanes but has a bike lane and bulbouts on the right side. This design would presumably somewhat increase the appeal of the street to young and timid bicyclists. However, the bike lane, like most bike lanes in Cambridge, is in the door zone of parked cars. Cambridge’s recent report on bicycle trends showed that doorings amounted to 20% of all reported car-bicycle crashes, the highest percentage I have seen anywhere. Bicycle facilities that encourage riding in the “door zone” do nothing to resolve this problem and probably increase it. Educating cyclists to avoid riding in the “door zone” becomes more difficult when bicycle facilities direct cyclists to ride there.

Due to the total width’s being unchanged in the Concept 1 proposal, Western Avenue would remain suitable for longer-distance through bicycle travel at normal speeds for adults who make regular use of a bicycle. Shorter-distance neighborhood bicycling would not be encouraged because, as mentioned, Western Avenue is one-way and River Street does not make a convenient two-way pair with it for shorter trips.

The drawing shows a bus shelter. A bus shelter is nice in wet weather, but this one is shown on a long bulbout (at sidewalk level) in the no-parking zone currently occupied by the bus stop. With this arrangement, buses will have to stop in the right-hand travel lane and bike lane, blocking them.

The bulbout on the right side of the street shortens crossing distances for pedestrians – but the drawing shows no bulbout on the left side of the street, where there is parallel parking but no bus stop. Why not? At bus stops, there could be bulbouts on the left side only, resulting in the same crossing distance but still allowing buses to pull to the right and avoid blocking other traffic.

All in all: Concept 1 would only improve conditions for pedestrians and for people waiting for buses, and clear the way ahead of buses by blocking other traffic. Conditions would worsen for other motorists and for bicyclists.

Concept 3

Western Avenue, Concept 3

Western Avenue, Concept 3

Concept 3 shows a so-called “cycle track” – a bicycle path – at the right side of the street, located behind the bus shelter and parked cars. I use the quotes because the term “cycle track” has been used to describe various types of facilities. All they have in common is that they parallel roadways like sidewalks.

The “cycle track” would be fitted in by narrowing the travel lanes and eliminating the bike lane on the street. The drawing does not show whether the “cycle track” would be intended for one-way travel or for two-way travel. Two-way travel would occur in any case, because many bicyclists would perceive the “cycle track” as a safe facility, separate from motor-vehicle traffic.

Research on bicycle paths adjacent to streets in Germany, Sweden, Finland, the USA and Canada has shown alarming increases in crash rates above those for riding in the street, due to increased conflict with motor traffic at intersections and to conflicts with pedestrians and other bicyclists everywhere. These results have been confirmed in a recent study in Copenhagen. There are exceptions when the paths are very carefully engineered, with traffic signals to prevent conflicts and with adequate width, but this one does not meet those requirements. The “cycle track” as shown would be partially in the door zone on the right side of motor vehicles, and would be crossed frequently by motorists making turns into and out of side streets — with sight distance problems due to the parked cars; also by pedestrians getting in and out of cars, going to and from bus shelters and preparing to cross Western Avenue. People on inline skates and skateboards, and pedestrians overflowing the sidewalk, would also use the “cycle track.”

One effect of Concept 3 would be to discourage longer-distance through bicycle travel, and to encourage shorter-distance, low-speed bicycle travel by children and novice cyclists. This encouragement would be purchased at the expense of a higher construction cost, more crashes, increased congestion of motor traffic, and making future reconfiguration expensive. Also, it is very difficult to keep a “cycle track” at sidewalk level clear of snow and ice though winter; probably only a single sidewalk width would be plowed, as with the existing “cycle tracks” on Vassar Street; plowed snow would melt back onto the surface and refreeze. Transitions from street level to the “cycle track” typically also are difficult to keep clear of ice and plowed snow.

The bus stop in Concept 3 is just like that in Concept 1, but the travel lanes are narrower, making it even more difficult for other traffic to overtake stopped buses. Placing a cycle track behind a bus stop was shown in the recent Copenhagen study to lead to an increase of 17 times in bicycle-pedestrian crashes, and 19 times in injuries.

Concept 3 is at the very least ineligible for Commonwealth funding, and probably unlawful, because required signage would not comply with the Massachusetts Project Development and Design Guide. A procedure does exist through the Federal Highway Administration to legalize projects that are not within design standards, and to exempt non-standard treatments from liability. The procedure defines new treatments as experimental, and requires that research data be collected, so that non-standard designs may serve to direct the standards-setting process. That is very desirable outcome from the installation of non-standard treatments, of which Cambridge has not taken advantage despite its having installed a number of such treatments.

Concept 5

Western Avenue, Concept 5

Western Avenue, Concept 5

Concept 5 shows Western Avenue with a bike lane, only one so-called “car lane” and back-in angle parking on the left side. Vehicles would have to stop and back up to enter the parking spaces. The bike lane would not be in the “door zone”, because all the parking would be on the other side of the street, but buses would block the bike lane and the one general-purpose lane. Truckers making deliveries would block it for extended periods of time, as trucks would not fit into the back-in parking spaces. Other vehicles might just be able to squeeze by, it’s not clear, but even so, a reduction from two lanes to one would result in gridlock, absent a Cambridge Big Dig to divert traffic.

General comments

What happened to concepts 2 and 4? What did they show? Or does the City just like odd numbers?

I have put the term “car lane” in quotes. There is no such thing as a “car lane”, and it is odd for the City to use this term. Cars are not the only vehicles — there are also trucks, buses, motorcycles, motor scooters, bicycles, and yet others. All may use these lanes under Massachusetts law. However, narrowing the roadway and creating a separate bikeway, as in Concept 3, will recruit motorist animosity to chase bicyclists off the road.

The conceptual drawings are notable for what they do not show. They are far from a complete plan. Though there is some technical data on existing conditions in other documents which the City has provided, there is no analysis of traffic capacity and volumes or signal timing to go with the different concepts. Good decisions about street layout can not be made without this information.

It is clear, however, that all three options for Western Avenue would increase congestion, due to the placement of the bus stops. Option 3 would increase congestion further due to conflicts between cyclists and turning motorists. Option 5 would create congestion all day long.

Transportation reformers like to point out that building road capacity results in an increase in traffic. In practice, if demand exceeds road capacity, traffic does indeed increase — until congestion prevents it from increasing further. An increase in capacity may lead to development and make longer trips convenient. Cambridge is already a built-up area, and development has occurred elsewhere as the Turnpike has encouraged commuting to/from distant suburbs.

Western Avenue can’t comfortably accommodate all current uses. Reducing its capacity, as in the proposed concepts, isn’t going to solve its problems. Only draconian measures – extreme taxation of motor vehicles and motor fuel; a major build-out of public transportation to serve suburban commuters; removal of on-street parking from one side of Western Avenue, and/or a Cambridge Big Dig to provide an alternative route – would relieve Western Avenue of the competing pressures that have resulted in its intractable problems.

Removing parking on one side of Western Avenue would allow a contraflow bikeway behind a median barrier, so the street would be two-way again for bicycle trips. University Avenue, in Madison, Wisconsin, offers an example of such a treatment. I don’t think it would be as successful on Western Avenue, though, because University Avenue is much wider, making room for an ample with-flow bike lane and discouraging wrong-way travel in the contraflow bikeway. Another possibility if parking were removed on one side would be a bus/bike lane — but this would have to be policed with license-plate cameras, or else Massachusetts motorists would ignore it.

What can be done until/unless political will builds to make the needed changes?

If Western Avenue is to remain one-way, then the bus turnouts should remain. Bicycle accommodation on the left side of one-way roadways is not a new idea; it is common in New York City and has been used recently on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. It might make sense here, and would avoid conflicts with buses. But then there is the issue of transition from/to the right side, and especially to get to the right of left-turning traffic before Memorial Drive and the Western Avenue Bridge. Traffic-signal timing and special (experimental) bicycle signals in the block before Putnam Avenue could ease the transition back to the right. A bike lane on the left side would still most likely be in the door zone, though there would be fewer door openings.

The simplest improvements, and those which can be done now, would be to leave Western Avenue with two travel lanes but to place shared-lane markings in the right lane and bulbouts only at the left side if there is a bus stop on the right. Strict speed-limit enforcement would be helpful, too. In the last block between Putnam Avenue and Memorial Drive, it would be helpful to remove parking entirely on the right side, so as to relieve congestion caused by the large volume of traffic turning from Putnam Avenue and the long red on the traffic signal at Memorial Drive. Perhaps the removed parking can be accommodated off-street, so as not to decrease the number of parking spaces, which are held sacred by business owners and residents. There appears to be space for parking around the city-owned generating plant in the last block before Memorial Drive. Synchronization of traffic signals also would be very helpful, as well as strict speed enforcement and a lower speed limit. These might be enforced by means of license-plate cameras if the objection to them as an intrusion on privacy can be overcome. Since when is speeding on a public way a private matter?

Comments on presentations

Now, some comments on presentations and meeting summaries from the task force studying Western Avenue:

Note, as of May 20, 2015: all three of the documents linked in this section are no longer online, or possibly have moved to different addresses. The versions now linked have been retrieved from the Internet Archive.

The April 15, 2010 presentation most addresses design goals: Notes on this presentation are also online.

“Pedestrian safety a main concern.” The cycle track option will decidedly worsen pedestrian safety.

“Design goals: safe, efficient pleasant” Choose any two as long as one of them isn’t “efficient”. All three of the proposed concepts would reduce efficiency.

Page 47 (page 8 of PDF): shows narrowed travel lanes and cycle tracks on a street that extends to the vanishing point in the background without any cross traffic or parking. The apparent goal of narrowing the travel lanes is to reduce travel speed and make the sidewalks more pleasant for pedestrians, though it’s unclear just where pedestrians would be going on this endless street without destinations. On a street with cross traffic and multiple, conflicting uses, narrowing the traveled way results in seriously decreased efficiency. Reduction in speed is best achieved by rigid enforcement, rather than by reducing efficiency.

Page 10 of PDF, lower left: shows a bus blocking the bike lane, because a bulbout has been placed at the bus stop, exactly what will happened with Concepts 1 and 3 for Western Avenue.

Page 11 of PDF: shows 3 different kinds of inconsistent and nonstandard markings for speed humps and speed tables.

Some notes on the public meeting summary from March 31, 2010:

goal #22, page 6 of PDF:

“Undertake reasonable measures to improve the functioning of the city’s street network, without increasing through capacity, to reduce congestion and noise and facilitate bus and other non-automobile circulation.”

Not achieved, all of the concepts increase congestion. Concept 3 produces gridlock.

Goal 23, page 6 of PDF:

“Encourage all reasonable forms of nonautomotive travel including, for example, making improvements to the city’s infrastructure to support bicycling and walking.”

The concepts generally improve walking conditions, though concept 3 drastically increases conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians and will predictably increase the crash rate.

Preliminary project goals, page 7 of PDF:

“Ensure corridor is safe for all users • Maintain adequate traffic flow • Reinforce residential character • Appropriate traffic speed • Improve conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit riders.”

None of the concepts furthers all of these goals. Achieving goals of reinforcing the residential character and improving bicycling conditions is particularly difficult.

Conclusion

Improving conditions on Western Avenue isn’t going to be easy. The City’s concept drawings show three plans which, at best, improve conditions for pedestrians, but which worsen them for motorists and which either effect little change or worsen them for bicyclists. Some alternatives are more promising, but any that are to effect major improvements are unlikely to be politically palatable until and unless the price of motoring gets much higher.

June 20, 2010

June 21, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 8:53 pm

June 21, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

This will be the last City Council meeting before the summer recess. Monday Night Live will return on Aug 2 (and then again on Sept 13) unless some dire emergency occurs. The agenda is brief but does have one contentious Order from Council Kelley (who seems to like stirring controversy of late) challenging the preference given to current residents applying for subsidized housing.

The zoning amendment relating to the Broad Institute’s proposed expansion in Kendall Square will also have to be passed to a 2nd Reading in order to be voted at the Aug 2 (Midsummer) meeting, five days prior to its expiration. In fact, this will make three zoning petitions to be voted (or allowed to expire) at the Aug 2 meeting (including two passed to a 2nd Reading on June 14). Here are some of the more noteworthy items on the June 21 agenda:

City Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Number 10-46, requesting a report detailing issues of greatest importance that are before the Police Review and Advisory Board (PRAB).

There’s nothing particularly revealing in this report, but in the context of a former PRAB director’s effort to milk the City in court plus the Great Gatescapade last summer, anything even remotely related is potentially a hot topic. Expect one or more councillors to use this opportunity to branch out to several barely related matters before they head off for their summer vacation.

City Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Number 10-76, regarding current tree related ordinances, state statutes and informal policies.

This is referenced not because it’s such an earth-shattering topic, but rather to point out that trees and dogs are topics guaranteed to bring out the passions in Cantabrigians. Parking is #3 on the list. I suppose one could conclude from this prioritization that Cambridge is a rather sleepy little village these days. Elsewhere they worry about unemployment, violence, and substance abuse. In Cambridge we lose our minds over dog parks, leaf blowers, tree removal, and finding a parking space. Count your blessings, I suppose.

Resolution #7. Congratulations to Susan Glazer on being appointed Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development.   Mayor Maher

This past Wednesday was Beth Rubenstein’s last day on the job as head of CDD. It will be interesting to see how the focus of the department evolves over the next few years – regardless who gets the job permanently. The City rarely makes wholesale changes in any department, and the Community Development Department is well-staffed in such areas as housing (10 people), community planning (13 people), economic development (5 people), environmental and transportation planning (9 people), plus several others – 44 full-time positions in the FY1022 Budget. Regardless what kinds of policy Orders are passed by this or any previous City Council, there is great inertia/momentum associated with such a significant professional staff – many of whom have been there for some time – and changes rarely happen overnight.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant departments to change Cambridge’s housing lottery system to eliminate the residence preference.   Councillor Kelley

This Order will die on an 8-1 vote. It’s not even clear that Craig Kelley will ultimately vote for his own Order. This does, however, bring attention to some of the paradoxes inherent in several City initiatives. For example, if you locate a wet shelter for active alcoholics in Central Square, this will likely lead to an INCREASE in the number of active alcoholics in the area (unless, of course, every town were to build a wet shelter – which will not happen). If you build it, they will come. Similarly, when Cambridge takes the initiative to build “affordable housing,” the number of people seeking this housing in Cambridge will inevitably go up, not down. One can speculate that the residential preference might cause an increase in demand for this City-sponsored housing among existing residents in excess of the rate at which new housing units can be added to the supply.

If Councillor Kelley is bothered by the preference given to current residents in subsidized housing, perhaps he should also file an Order regarding the numerous well-educated and able-bodied activists who somehow manage to get subsidized housing in Cambridge. Why get a job when it might jeopardize your cheap housing?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to organize a forum forecasting future housing needs for older Cantabrigians that incorporates a panel of housing experts.   Vice Mayor Davis, Mayor Maher and Councillor Simmons

This is a worthwhile goal, but would this be additional subsidized housing on top of existing programs, or should there be a shift in existing resources toward elderly people who might really need the housing in resource-rich Cambridge?

Order #2. Cancellation of the June 28, 2010 City Council meeting.   Vice Mayor Davis

Rarely does a City Council Order get unanimous sponsorship prior to the meeting. This one did! Early summer vacation! Please note that of the 17 City Council committees, 8 of them have yet to meet and only 1 of these 8 has any meetings scheduled.

Order #11. That the City Manager be and is hereby requested to identify areas in need of additional bike racks and the feasibility of installing long term “bike sheds” or “bike lockers” for storage of commuter bikes near metro stations.   Councillor Cheung

The City can start by clearing out the many bicycles that have been locked and not touched for months in Central Square. That would free up quite a few locations for locking up a bike. Let’s hope the City doesn’t start cracking down on the harmless practice of locking bikes to parking meters. Rarely does this cause any obstruction or inconvenience and it greatly increases the available lockups in business districts. — Robert Winters

June 15, 2010

$300 resident parking sticker – Councillor Kelley

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:04 am

In His Own Words: Craig Kelley, June 13, 2010
“I’m working on scheduling a Committee meeting to explore changing our parking fee structure, but anecdotally I have learned that for a lot of people, even a massive increase of a few hundred bucks per sticker wouldn’t change whether they own a car or not. To some extent, that makes sense – a 300 dollar a year parking permit fee (to pick a number) is relatively small bucks when compared to 1500 bucks a month or more rent, mortgage payments, the cost of owning and maintaining a car a so forth. And for many people, if not most, a car is as almost as necessary to their lifestyle (whether it be commuting to work in Reading, taking the kids to soccer in Newton or visiting friends in Quincy) as housing and food. They won’t be happy to pay that 300 bucks, but they won’t see they have much choice. For folks who truly have ‘extra’ cars, this fee may be enough to convince them to get rid of the extras, but I can’t imagine that number is big enough to have much of an impact on our parking issues.”

June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:58 pm

June 14, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Tonight’s agenda is dominated by the disposition of several zoning-related matters. There’s also a potential time-sink in Councillor Cheung’s Order regarding the legislation recently passed by the Massachusetts House regarding illegal immigration. The Order does not just “disapprove” of the legislation, it “condemns” it. Here’s what we have, starting with the proposed amendment regarding conversion of buildings from Institutional to Residential use (which was initiated by the advertised sale of buildings by the Jesuits and the questionable suggestion by Councillor Toomey that these should be purchased in order to densely pack subsidized housing units onto the sites – Mar 22 Order #1, Apr 5 Mgr #11):

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the City Council Rezoning Petition to Modify Section 5.28.2 Related to Buildings Occupied by Institutional Uses. [The Planning Board does not recommend adoption of the Petition as filed.]

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on May 6, 2010 to consider a proposed amendment to Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to expand the applicability of Section 5.28 to structures that may have been built for residential use but have been in Institutional (religious, educational, governmental) use for at least ten years.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on June 9, 2010 to continue discussion of a proposed amendment to Section 5.28.2 of the Zoning Ordinance to expand the applicability of section 5.28 Conversation of Non Residential Structures to Residential Use to include structures that may have been built for residential use but have been in Institutional Use for at least ten years.

There were significant issues raised at the committee hearings about this proposal and the Planning Board gave the idea a “thumbs down.” This proposal was primarily a reaction to the apparent sale of these buildings to Harvard University. The spirit of the proposal was similar to the rhetoric that accompanied the allocation of CPA funds toward historic preservation at Shady Hill Square, i.e. the insincere statement that subsidized housing should be built in the tonier parts of town as an act of class warfare against a perceived elite. There are also elements of resentment growing from the frequent siting of such projects in places like North and East Cambridge. In any case, zoning amendments should ideally not be proposed just because you’re pissed off.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a hearing held on June 9, 2010 to continue discussion of a petition by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in accord with the recommendations of the Green Building Task Force to encourage energy efficient buildings.

With a positive Planning Report and now an Ordinance Committee Report, this will presumably be passed to a 2nd Reading and ordained later this month. The zoning change would only affect new construction and large scale renovations.

Charter Right #2. Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Six of June 7, 2010 requesting the City Manager to confer with the Community Development Department and Boston Properties to report back to the Ordinance Committee of the City Council on June 9th, 2010, on whether the ground floor retail proposed by Boston Properties would be of the size and nature suitable for a grocery store, convenience store, or small foodstuffs boutique.

This matter was hotly debated at the previous meeting. There are numerous issues at play such as whether the proposal would effectively kill the possibility of new housing in the Kendall Square MXD district. Councillor Cheung’s Order #6 from last week was actually far more comprehensive than I had originally noticed and included a provision for what was arguably commercial rent control for “upstart local entrepreneurs”. Another significant issue was whether there was any guarantee of the long-term tenancy of the Broad Institute at this site, a new local institution with “favored nation” status. As is often the case, allegations of quid-pro-quo political contributions by the developer/owner have been made but not substantiated.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads and report back to the University Relations Committee the feasibility of the City creating a “Welcoming Packet” for new students, distributed by the universities with information on public services, Cambridge history and culture, and a calendar of civic events.   Councillor Cheung

This brings back recollections of a similar Order in 2000 from former Councillor Jim Braude calling for a “welcome wagon” for new residents. (Order #6, April 24, 2000). Here’s an summary of the ensuing conversation a decade ago.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate department heads on the feasibility of instituting a five cent per disposable bag fee, collected by the City that would in turn be put aside into a fund which purpose is to buy canvas bags wholesale and distribute them to Cambridge residents.   Councillor Cheung

Nanny government. Reusable canvas (or any other material) shopping bags are what everyone should use, but they’re plentiful and cheap and already distributed at all sorts of events. Cambridge residents don’t need to be taxed or subsidized for such trivialities, especially when they are already so freely available.

Order #3. Opposition to the amendment that was passed to the budget bill regarding immigrants.   Councillor Cheung

It’s interesting that the primary point made in opposition to this state legislation is that it is unnecessary because it adds little more than what is already required of those seeking to take advantage of taxpayer-funded services. Is so, why the strong condemnation? It’s worth noting that Councillor Cheung’s Order focuses on all the contributions of immigrants to this country, but the proposed legislation is not about immigrants. It’s about illegal immigrants, i.e. those who are residing in Massachusetts but have not adhered to existing laws. Councillor Cheung’s Order also correctly challenges the practice of creating policy through budget amendments, but the federal government does this routinely. The Order correctly points out that there may be substantial costs associated with enforcing the proposed legislation. In any case, be it Arizona or Cambridge, it’s ridiculous that the inability of the U.S. Congress to address these matters causes individual states to take such actions. Regardless of party affiliation, spines appear not to be part of anatomy of U.S. Congressmen and Senators. – Robert Winters

June 7, 2010

June 7, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:20 pm

June 7, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

It’s primarily routine stuff this week, though I suppose we could be treated to another “International Night” as part of Councillor Decker’s El Salvador Order #8. Meanwhile, back in Cambridge, we have the following, starting with two Planning Board reports on pending zoning amendments:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the green building zoning petition. [The Planning Board recommends adoption of the petition as proposed.]

This matter will presumably be passed to a 2nd Reading with expected ordination later this month. Not quite ready for ordination (and still in committee) is the zoning petition affecting a portion of Kendall Square. An interesting aspect of this is the never-ending effort to reinvent Kendall Square in the wake of unenlightened urban planning/renewal that depopulated the area. The petition primarily sets out to permit the Broad Institute to build another life science building instead of the housing previously permitted by the Planning Board. The height limit of the district is 230 feet – the highest in Cambridge.

The Committee Report indicates the City Council’s desire to repopulate the area, i.e. build housing in addition to tax-generating commercial buildings, yet no direction is provided. A proposed Order in the report asks the Community Development Department to identify housing sites in the MXD district, yet it seems likely that housing may never be built in this district. If it were to be built, Councillor Kelley wants to ban future residents from owning cars. Why stop there? Why not go for broke and dictate their diets as well? Sometimes it seems as though Cambridge elected officials will never be satisfied until they can control everything right down to the jokes you’re permitted to laugh at.

City Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Boston Properties Petition to amend the MXD District. [The Planning Board “enthusiastically” supports this zoning change which would facilitate the Broad Institute’s interest in expanding near its headquarters in Cambridge.]

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on May 11, 2010 to consider proposed amendments to the Zoning Map and Zoning Ordinance in Article 14 Mixed Use Development Cambridge Center to create a “Smart Growth Underutilized Area” in the vicinity of Broadway, Main and Ames Streets and the site of the West parking garage on Ames Street.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and Boston Properties to report back to the Ordinance Committee of the City Council on June 9th, 2010, on whether the ground floor retail proposed by Boston Properties would be of the size and nature suitable for a grocery store, convenience store, or small foodstuffs boutique.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung’s Order is well-intentioned, but it seems like the most that will come out of it would be a convenience store for the IPad crowd. Let’s not forget that there used to be an actual neighborhood in Kendall Square, including a school (and I don’t mean MIT).

Kendall Square 1903

City Manager’s Agenda #16. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the acceptance and approval of the layout of portions of certain street in the North Point area of Cambridge.

It will be interesting to see how North Point actually develops after the recession passes and the Green Line is relocated and extended. In spite of the seemingly nice landscaping, most plans I’ve seen suggest a sterile, isolated environment. The best thing, in my opinion, would be to create direct roadway connections through North Point to East Somerville, the Inner Basin area, and Charlestown, but the isolationist planners would never permit such a thing. It might cause people to actually cut through this new North Point neighborhood en route to other places – like almost all other non-gated neighborhoods.

Resolution #14. Best wishes to the Cambridge Consumers’ Council on their upcoming event to recognize Shredding Day and declare July 31, 2010 as “Shredding Day in the City of Cambridge.”   Mayor Maher

The full text of City Council Orders is provided, but not so for resolutions. It makes you wonder what exactly Shredding Day is. Then again, we just celebrated Laser Day on May 16 as a result of a recent resolution from Councillor Cheung.

Resolution #24. Congratulations to Beth Rubenstein on her new position as Director of Campus Planning and Development at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and thank her for her thirteen years to the City of Cambridge.   Mayor Maher, Councillor Decker

This came as a bit of a surprise. Best wishes to Beth as she heads off to her next challenge. This is reminiscent of when Kathy Spiegelman made a similar move from the Community Development Department to Harvard University. Between these two heads of CDD, there was Michael Rosenberg (with whom I biked the route of the old Middlesex Canal last fall) and Susan Schlesinger (who still serves on the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Board and the Community Preservation Act Committee). It will be interesting to see who succeeds Beth Rubenstein as head of the Community Development Department – a position of considerable influence in determining the City’s prioritization of commercial development, housing, open space, transportation, and more.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to investigate establishing a Cambridge Carbon Offset Fund to receive contributions that may be used for the purpose of reducing Cambridge greenhouse gas emissions, including the possibility of using these funds for building retrofits, planting trees, or other relevant activities.   Vice Mayor Davis

I’m only barely beginning to understand things like “cap and trade” and a possible “carbon tax” on businesses/industries, but if it’s appropriate to view such things as a kind of currency, then maybe it’s not such a good idea to create local currency. Things could get complicated enough if and when the U.S. Congress gets around to enacting something. As a side note, I recently attended a meeting organized by GreenPort of a panel of experts discussing various aspects of some proposed regulations growing out of concerns about climate change. It was interesting to see what are essentially capitalist solutions being presented to an audience that included some Marxist-leaning Cambridge activists who might well prefer to just nationalize every industry or regulate them into oblivion.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update on the City’s tree inventory and establishment of a “volunteer corps” of citizens interested in helping maintain and update the City’s tree inventory.   Councillor Seidel

It’s a great idea to try to marshal volunteer labor to help the City in a number of areas. However, it is easy to imagine a situation where activists of one sort or another would use the opportunity to create conflict rather than cooperation. If that potential problem can be ironed out, there would be great benefit in having an unpaid army of residents acting cooperatively with City workers for the benefit of all.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update as to the status of the tents currently set up in Flagstaff Park, including the number of such structures allowed on the site, who is residing in them, and the length of time these structures are allowed to remain on the site.   Councillor Seidel

The phrasing of this Order is curious. It asks about the number of structures allowed on the site and related matters, but one would surmise that the answer to that question is zero. The real issue is whether the City will ever take action to clear out the site – not the identity of its squatters or their residential tenure at that location. — Robert Winters

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