Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 6, 2013

Bikes and More on the May 6 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:22 am

Bikes and More on the May 6 Cambridge City Council Agenda

There will be a 5:00pm Special Presentation prior to the regular City Council meeting to thank all first responders and all public safety officials who were involved in the events that began with the Marathon Day bombings. After that, a few items seem interesting:

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to revised text of the Bicycle Parking Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 3, 2013 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Section 6.100 Bicycle Parking, and to create a new definition for Bicycle Parking in Article 2.000, modify the yard standards in Article 5.000 as they relate to bicycle parking and modifying various sections of Article 6.000 to remove references to bicycle parking. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 6, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Mar 19, 2013. Petition expires June 17, 2013.

I’m not sure whether the City Council will be voting yet on this proposal, but I have to say that the response from CDD relative to the revised test is somewhat nonresponsive. Among other things, the issue was raised at an Ordinance Committee hearing whether requirements for bicycle parking should also apply to buildings such as triple-deckers that undergo complete renovation as part of a condominium conversion. The CDD response correctly states that unless the building associated with the project is enlarged it would not be defensible to require bicycle parking. However, the main issue raised at the Ordinance Committee hearing pertained to conversions where basement and other space not previously inhabited becomes an occupied part of one or more of the condos. This is, in fact, pretty standard practice for such projects and the new space is often taken from what previously had been storage space – including space where bicycles would have been stored. This seems totally contradictory. On the one hand the City correctly states that there’s a dire need for bicycle parking in residential buildings, yet we are supposed to look the other way when existing space for bicycle storage is removed in order to increase the market price of new condominiums.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-49, regarding a report on recommendations for the next steps on updating the City’s nexus study.

I found these few sentences from Brian Murphy’s letter especially interesting: "The incentive zoning contribution rate was initially set (in 1988) at $3.00 per square foot, and, after periodic adjustments by the Affordable Housing Trust based upon changes in the consumer price index, is currently $4.44 per square foot. Proceeds from the housing contributions are used by the Trust to preserve and expand the supply of affordable housing. The City last reexamined the incentive housing contribution rate in 2002 when a second nexus study was completed. The 2002 study found that the housing contribution rate would have had to be increased to $7.83 per square foot to adequately address the impact of new development on market rents. However, after some discussion, no action was taken in response to this study."

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to clarify whether private driveways and apartment garages may be rented to car owners that are unrelated to the property and by what process can these spaces be legally rented.

Though the motivation for this Order was to recognize the possibility of sharing parking facilities, it may be interesting to hear the City’s response regarding how this may relate to the City’s Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance.

Resolution #28. Congratulations to the Cambridge Health Alliance on their affiliation with the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.   Mayor Davis

This reminded me of something John O’Brien, former CEO of the Cambridge Health Alliance, once told me: "In this business, you either marry or you die."

Order #5. That the City Council meet in the Government Operations and Rules Committee with the purpose of discussing open space, transportation, and workforce readiness initiatives.   Councillor Toomey and Mayor Davis

This Order apparently is an attempt to respond to the last-minute amendment to the recent MIT/Kendall Square zoning petition that was perceived as punishing neighbors who worked cooperatively and constructively in the rezoning process. Some councillors have some obligation to explain why they voted for that amendment, and maybe this Order will provide a mechanism for these councillors to be taken to task and for possible corrective action to be taken.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments as to the feasibility of implementing a program that makes cycling a more affordable, accessible and practical commuting option for low-income residents in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Give me a break. Buy yourself a solid old bike for cheap, get a good lock, and you’re good to go. Is this really something that requires yet another City program? The idea is a good one, but this really is something best handled outside of government.

Order #8. That the matter of Cambridge City Council Rule 16 pertaining to "Reconsideration of a Vote" be referred to the Government Operations and Rules Committee for review and revision.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Sounds like a councillor didn’t like a recent vote. Time to change the rules.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 9, 2013 to assess how other cities support neighborhood groups and examine how Cambridge could make use of these practices.

This was an interesting meeting. The report only barely captures the tone of the meeting which included at least some testimony about whether established neighborhood groups legitimately represent neighborhoods. Also unanswered (but worth answering) is the question of how the neighborhood school programs can better be utilized as a vehicle for City support for neighborhood initiatives. – Robert Winters


  1. 1)Finally something I partially disagree with you on (of course it would relate to bicycles). First, while I will assent that basement space converted to living with Cambridge’s water table is not exactly what I would consider to be a good idea. However requiring that 3-Fams converted should be required to include bike parking is nonsense. Are you suggesting that living space is equal in value to space to park my huffy or schwinn? Most three fams, at least in east cambridge, are parked on a postage stamp, so if we created a provision in the ordinance to require space where no land was present and the basement was a musty dirt bottomed rat hole I’d be looking for a special permit? Madness I tells ya.

    2) The bike thing is killing me. Thou canst subsidized that which is subsidized entirely.

    3) Minka would be better advised to focus on the upcoming, rather than who did what to whom at 385 Mass.

    4) As a member of the People’s Popular Front I too look forward to a time when the United People’s Front, The Popular People’s Front, and the CRA can all sit at the same large round table.

    Comment by Patrick Barret — May 6, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

  2. Patrick – I’m not in any way suggesting that parking space is of comparable value to living space. I’m simply suggesting that if Cambridge wants to change the zoning code to mandate secure parking for bicycles, then it should at least be consistent. Most cyclists would not object to parking their bicycles in a musty basement. However, if the conversion of that musty basement eliminates the secure parking, then I would say that this expansion of the living space should be subject to the same rules as any new construction. If there are no plans to convert basement space to living space, then I would agree that it would be unfair to mandate that existing living space be dedicated to bicycle parking or anything else.

    Above all, I think that all property owners, myself included, have a moral obligation to find a way for their tenants to secure their bicycles on the premises.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 6, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

  3. Storing your bike in your apartment is out of the question? I try to offer storage for all my tenants, however Main St. is a difficult property, which is why I asked the city to install those bike racks in front. I could put something in the parking lot, but then I’d need to install cameras and maybe some spot lights to help against theft. I’d like to find a carrot as opposed to a stick when trying to weave something like a mandatory bike storage provision into our dearly beloved ordinance.

    Can you explain Agenda Item #6, or at least point to where I can look at the study?

    Comment by Patrick Barret — May 7, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  4. Storing your bike in your apartment is most certainly NOT out of the question. However, someone with a 3rd floor apartment in a triple-decker or similar building may have a hard time doing that, and doing so would probably take a toll on the stairwell over time. A basement option would be better for both landlord and tenant. Regarding bike racks in front, I would never trust my bike there except for short visits – and mine’s not even a fancy bike.

    I would also like a little more detail on Manager’s Agenda #6. The law requires a nexus study to justify linkage payments for new commercial development due to its potential impacts on housing. I don’t recall if new residential development requires any such linkage payments – it would seem contradictory to have it that way.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 7, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  5. According to fed law I doubt the city could show one that would satisfy scalias opinion in Nolan. However I think most municipalities operate on a system of good faith. When rezoning munis have the presumption of validity however linkage is a different animal and something I think is routinely abused.

    I actually hate it when tenants store their bikes in apartments as they are like wrecking balls to my stairways. I was just playing devils advocate. That being said I’m wary of any ordinance provision.

    Comment by patrick barrett — May 7, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  6. I think the City of Cambridge uses the Zoning Ordinance to excess in its never-ending campaign to prescribe each and every aspect of what each and every person may do in each and every square foot of the city. It’s good that there are some constraints or they’d pass a zoning ordinance requiring what kind of coffee maker you’re permitted to use. [Some residential zones would get preferential treatment, of course.]

    The logic behind linkage fees (based on a proper nexus study) is essentially sound. If new commercial construction brings a lot of jobs (a good thing), it will also affect demand for housing and lead to higher prices (and rents). If these fees can be used to preserve some housing affordability, that’s great. I think the right way to address the added demand is to create zoning incentives for new residential development. Makes sense, yes?

    Unfortunately, in Cambridge we have people and organizations claiming to be housing advocates who resolutely oppose the permitting and construction of new housing. If that sounds contradictory, it is. It’s intellectually dishonest. One of the good things about zoning laws is that they enable a city to create zones of lower density and higher density so that there’s appropriate accommodation for most people’s housing demands. Just because a few hundred or a thousand new housing units might appear around Central Square in no way implies that anything is being taken away from those who choose to live in lower density parts of the city.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 7, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  7. Makes senses and I agree. However my point was that the federal guidelines for this nexus are so narrow that there is virtually no way for a municipality to comply and fulfill the mandate of the ordinance.

    Comment by patrick barrett — May 7, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

  8. “Regarding bike racks in front, I would never trust my bike there except for short visits – and mine’s not even a fancy bike.”

    Bike theft in our city is a major industry. Back when the CPD ran an annual auction every May of recovered items in the basement of the old police HQ, bikes always seemed to be the most common item. I have never owned a bike here, but over three decades the frequent reports by friends and neighbors of bike thefts have remained sadly steady.

    Even assuming every home is safe and secure for bikes, it is somewhat pointless if the destination is not safe. Being a bike owner in a high theft city is simply too risky.

    Comment by JChase — May 7, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  9. Let me first say that I believe there should be public flogging of bicycle thieves, and their families should be required to pay triple damages for any harm done to a bicycle or triple the cost paid to the owner whose bike was stolen and not recovered. Either that or just hang them.

    Until then, don’t ride a fancy bike. Make your fenders out of plywood. Use duct tape liberally. Let the rich kids have their bikes stolen while they leave your beater alone.

    I would love it if the Cambridge Chronicle did a well-researched story on what actually happens to bicycle thieves, graffiti vandals, and similar criminals when they’re caught. My guess is that they never get more than a slap on the wrist and they just do it again. And again. And again.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 8, 2013 @ 12:22 am

  10. Your view on public flogging intrigues, as long as we get wallop those buying said bike too I approve.

    Comment by patrick barrett — May 8, 2013 @ 9:37 am

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