Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 25, 2018

Bridging the Divide – Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 7:49 pm

Bridging the Divide – Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are some of the more interesting items on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

This has become an annual tradition, and it’s still something we should celebrate.


Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council vote to approve the use of the new voting equipment and to discontinue the use of the existing voting equipment effective immediately.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Deputy City Clerk, Paula Crane, transmitting a report for a City Council public hearing held on Tues, Feb 20, 2018 for the purpose of the City Council and the public to view the new voting equipment purchased by the Election Commission.

We first used the current AccuVote machines for the Sept 1996 State Primary, and they were a huge improvement over the punchcard system we used prior to that. It was necessary then to have some custom programming done so that the same scanners could also be used for the municipal PR elections, and that will again have to take place with the new ImageCast machines. That’s just for creating the ballot data text files. The election tabulation will continue to be done the same we’ve been doing it. In addition to firming up our system for our own sake, it’s worth noting that with Ranked Choice Voting being advocated in Massachusetts and elsewhere (though not necessarily PR), what we do in Cambridge may be helpful down the road in other places.


Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages as follows: 2A. Property located at 40 Cottage Street; and 2B. Property located at 44 Cottage Street.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, whether a building is landmark-worthy should depend only on the building and not on its owners or occupants.

Update: The City Council landmarked only one of the two properties (44 Cottage Street) and sent the other (40 Cottage Street) to Unfinished Business even though the landmarking only makes sense as the pair of buildings. Apparently, these councillors believe that landmarking is a function of whether they like the property owner or not (and whether they supported you politically).


Resolution #24. Congratulations and thanks to William B. "Bill" King on the occasion of his retirement.   Mayor McGovern

Suffice to say that I have great respect for all who voluntarily serve on City boards and commissions out of a sense of civic duty rather than single-issue advocacy. Bill King is one of those people who has consistently defined over many years what it means to be a great citizen.


Communications #7. Sundry e-mails received on support of the protected bike lanes, relative to Policy Order #4 of Feb 12, 2018 Council Meeting. Copies are on file for review in the City Clerk’s office.

I generally ignore all emails that are the product of a coordinated campaign with a list of "talking points", but I did happen to read one of these sundry emails that stated "You will see no slander in comments from the people who support the new infrastructure." I am reminded of the statement "Fortunately time takes care of old people for us" stated by one particular idiot who didn’t appreciate the criticism by older people of the Cambridge Street configuration.

PSFormer Mayor Alice Wolf submitted a late communication at the previous meeting with specific objections to the current configuration of Cambridge Street and the suggestion that a better configuration should be found. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee was created from her initiative, so let’s put to rest the claim that criticism of this configuration is a fringe phenomenon of "the anti-bike people".

Order #2. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to direct the new bicycle lane working group, once it has been convened, to hold a series of “listening sessions” at the senior buildings throughout Cambridge in order to ensure that our senior residents, who might otherwise be unable to attend the various hearings to weigh in on this issue, will have adequate opportunities to have their voices heard on an issue that could have an outsized impact upon them.   Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern

Wouldn’t it be great if "Vision Zero" didn’t always mean "Listen Zero" when it comes to public feedback and other points of view? I will try to be optimistic. Then again there’s this:

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-16, regarding a report on Inman Square construction.

Synopsis: The City is very interested in your ideas about the color of the sidewalk and what varieties of flowers should be planted in the vicinity of the planned reconfiguration of Inman Square that is not subject to any compromise, discussion, or alternative perspectives.


Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

I agree with this Order, but not just in the situation of "proximity to land-uses serving vulnerable populations". Some streets warrant lower speed limits simply because there is fast-moving traffic directly adjacent to a narrow sidewalk, e.g. westbound on Putnam Ave. When Prospect St. used to have an additional lane with neither a buffer nor parking it was very dangerous, especially close to Central Square. On-street parking can, in fact, be very effective in traffic calming – even moreso when speed limits are reduced.

Blue Heron BridgeOrder #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City staff on the feasibility of initiating a formal transit study and action plan of the Alewife area in response to unanimous concerns of the Envision Alewife Working Group regarding the need for a pedestrian/bicycle/shuttle bridge from the Quadrangle area along Concord Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive and a commuter rail stop which would be critical to create neighborhoods that are safe and healthy for residents and businesses.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone

It would be great if the City and our various government representatives could find a way to make this happen, but not in the absence of either a new commuter rail stop or shuttle service or both. It will be very difficult to sell this proposal simply as a pedestrian and bicycle amenity (as has often been done), so I’m glad to see this phrased as it is. Contained in this letter is also one point of view that there should be a grade crossing of the railroad tracks (or underpass or bridge) at the western end of Cambridgepark Drive. You’ll never see a new grade crossing approved there, and an underpass is unrealistic. As for a bridge option, it’s only realistic to imagine one new bridge over the tracks and (even though I may like it there) all the proposals I’ve seen in the last few decades don’t have it that far west. The letter also suggests a pedestrian bridge over the Little River. Except for the usual difficulties associated with building anything near a waterway, that bridge would be relatively easy to build and inexpensive. See picture (Blue Heron Bridge over the Charles River between Newton and Watertown – Wikipedia).

Update: City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement but gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

It’s curious that the authors of this Order chose not to specify what form of "Right of First Refusal bill" they want. There are good reasons why House Bill 3017 never made it out of committee. Do the authors simply want the City Solicitor to provide language that’s the same as H.3017 or do they want a Home Rule Petition that is fundamentally different? It would be nice if the focus was primarily on providing options for long-term tenants rather than on creating a framework for ensuring that private property in select neighborhoods is transferred to public/quasi-public ownership.

Update: Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right on this vacuous Order. This Order brought out more people during Public Comment than everything else on the agenda.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons

The current version of the Incentive Zoning provisions was ordained on Sept 28, 2015. That ordinance has the following provision: "The City shall initiate a reevaluation of the Housing Contribution Rate and any other aspect of these Incentive Zoning Provisions at an interval of no less than three (3) years from the time the rate was last amended by the City Council." That’s what a nexus study is, so I suppose this Order is right on schedule. – Robert Winters

5 Comments »

  1. It is not just for new housing units that a bridge is nessary, even equitable. From Jefferson houses, the City and Federal public housing on Rindge Avenue, and for many living in nearby North Cambridge, and rather than busing school children to Tobin School—the Parkway bridge route is too dangerous to walk— or to the playing fields of Danehy Park, a second bridge over the tracks is an investment in equity, health, better access, and the environment.

    Comment by Arthur Strang — February 26, 2018 @ 4:09 pm

  2. I will simply point out that there is an approximately zero percent chance that kids living in Rindge will travel far west of the Parkway in order to get to Danehy Park.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 26, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

  3. I met a dad-resident soccer coach whose team is generally on Rindge, but play at Danehy.

    Comment by Arthur Strang — February 26, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

  4. Apparently our soccer dad feels that his team will prefer the pink route over the much shorter yellow route.

    Comment by Robert Winters — February 27, 2018 @ 12:44 am

  5. It’s the second bridge, I write of, the one that should have been built long ago: from Jefferson Houses and nearby residents across Rindge, directly across the rail to the future bike path, Park, shopping center, and school. (to name some connections)

    Comment by Arthur Strang — March 3, 2018 @ 10:23 am

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