Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 7, 2013

Cambridge Watershed Bike Tour – October 19

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,water — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 12:13 pm

Cambridge Watershed Bike Tour – October 19

Cambridge, MA — Explore where your water comes from! Join Cambridge Water Department (CWD) staff on a guided bike tour of the watershed Saturday, Oct 19, from 8am-4pm. The 34-mile loop will take cyclists from the Walter J. Sullivan Purification Facility at 250 Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge, to the watershed lands and reservoirs in Lincoln, Lexington, Weston and Waltham. Rain date is Sunday, Oct 20.

The tour will include stops at the CWD Field Office, Winter Street Dam and Gatehouse, Stony Brook Dam and Gatehouse, and Paul Revere Capture Site. Advanced registration is required; registration closes on Oct 15. Participants must be comfortable with the 34 mile distance and must provide their own bike (road or hybrid), helmet and lunch. Technical assistance will be provided by Urban AdvenTours.

To register, please contact Katie at or call 617-349-7712. For more information, visit

Cycle to the Source

October 6, 2013

OctoberFest – Oct 7, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:22 pm

OctoberFest – Oct 7, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda Notes

Here are a few items of interest.:

City Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a request from Leggat McCall Properties that the City of Cambridge consider the disposition by a long-term lease to Leggat McCall of four-hundred twenty (420) parking spaces and a portion of the ground floor retail space at the City-owned First Street Garage.

There are a number of good reasons to do this as outlined in the City Manager’s letter, but the devil is in the details and the City should not settle for just the promise of a grocery store and a better retail environment.

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the proposed zoning petition regarding Medical Marijuana Regulations. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Nine of Sept 30, 2013.]

It’s pretty clear that these dispensaries will have to go somewhere and the proposed districts in NorthPoint and in the area of the Fresh Pond Shopping Center may be the best available option.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to review the permitting process and any zoning and building code barriers to greater adoption of solar energy. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Fifteen of Sept 30, 2013.]

It’s hard to understand why Councillor Decker felt the need to delay this Order other than to continue her pointless sniping of her less favored colleagues. As I said last week, this Order is the kind of energy efficiency initiative that actually makes sense in that it addresses what all property owners could potentially choose to do to conserve energy and save money and makes so much more sense than mandating "net zero" buildings.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of the Information Technology Department and with any other relevant City staff and City partners to determine the feasibility of bringing free wireless internet access to Central Square, and to report back to the City Council on what must be done in order to make this a reality within the next year.   Vice Mayor Simmons

This is a good idea – even if it means having to suffer even more hipsters playing with their apps on their razor-thin Macbooks and other devices. My personal choice would be to create several designated areas for hot dog stands.

Order #4. That the City Council go on record strongly urging the Cambridge Housing Authority to reopen the public decision about the smoking ban that is scheduled to go into effect on Aug 1, 2014, in order to allow for a more robust discussion and greater collaboration with all of those will be directly impacted by this policy change.   Vice Mayor Simmons

You just gotta love the exceptionalism. We go through a huge battle to make bars and restaurants more healthy and pleasant by driving out the smokers, yet when the same standard is applied to public housing there’s outrage. I would never allow smoking inside my building, and I don’t think the City or the Cambridge Housing Authority should permit it either. What kind of "collaboration" does Councillor Simmons have in mind?

Order #6. That the Mayor is requested to form a new standing committee of the City Council — a Non-profit Relations Committee.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

I have two objections to this proposal. First, the University Relations Committee is a relatively recent invention and it has never had a particularly heavy burden. If anything, incorporate this new focus into a modified "University and Nonprofit Relations Committee". My second objection the reference in the Order to any future Community Benefits Process. This could so easily become the committee assignment of choice due to the potential patronage benefits associated this any such process.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council the Assessing Department’s findings regarding the feasibility of granting small commercial properties a modest exemption on their real estate property taxes.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

This law states: "With respect to each parcel of real property classified as class three, commercial, in each city or town certified by the commissioner to be assessing all property at its full and fair cash valuation, and at the option of the board of selectmen or mayor, with the approval of the city council, as the case may be, there shall be an exemption equal to not more than ten percent of the value of the parcel." This is an interesting idea in that it would potentially provide a small benefit to small businesses at the expense of larger businesses. I look forward to what the Assessor has to say about this idea.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a report on how the city planning team supports and encourages safe bicycle lane travel citywide   Councillor vanBeuzekom

My only concern about this Order is that it’s almost exclusively about the blocking of bike lanes and, though cyclists may resent seeing vehicles stopped in those lanes, this is not an especially great hazard. As a daily cyclist, I’m far more concerned about problematic road surfaces and the idiocy exhibited by both cyclists and motor vehicle operators at intersections. If we are to take action against illegal parking, start by going after any driver who fails to park within a foot of the curb.

Order #10. That the City Manager, the Police Commissioner and their designees shall not activate or cause to be activated any security cameras, surveillance cameras, or any other video or audio recording, watching or listening devices or implement any policy relating to such cameras unless in either case there shall be held a prior affirmative vote of the majority of the City Council specifically authorizing the contemplated activation or implementation.   Councillor Decker

I would like to see the authorization of a reasonable number of such cameras put to a vote of the City Council just so we can see which councillors are opposed to what most law enforcement officials see as a reasonable and very helpful tool for finding and prosecuting criminals. It would be especially nice if this could take place prior to November 5th so that I can further narrow the number of choices on my municipal ballot.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee and Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Chair of the Public Facilities, Arts and Celebrations Committee for a joint public meeting held on Aug 5, 2013 to discuss the future of the Foundry Building.

In spite of the previous report on this property and the recommendation to sell it, there is no way this will politically happen. What will be interesting is to see if there is any creative way to deliver some of the benefits people seem to want without having this be a huge, permanent financial burden on the taxpayers. – Robert Winters

Cambridge at cross purposes about traffic

Filed under: Cambridge — jsallen @ 10:29 pm

Readers of the newsletter of the Belmont Citizens Forum will find much news there about neighboring North Cambridge. Editor Meg Muckenhoupt’s lead story in the September-October 2013 issue is about major, new housing developments planned for the part of Cambridge west of Alewife Brook Parkway and north of Fresh Pond Park. The article expresses concerns with traffic which is already approaching gridlock and affecting access to the Alewife T station.

Quoting from the story:

The decision document issued by Cambridge’s Planning Board for the 398-unit 160 Cambridgepark Drive, which is predicted to cause 1,324 new trips, states, “The project is expected to have minimal impact on traffic and will not cause congestion, hazard, or substantial change to the established neighborhood character.” Ominously, the decision continues: “It is also noted that the traffic generated by the project is anticipated to be less than that associated with the office/research and development project on 150, 180 and 180R Cambridgepark Drive for which entitlements currently exist under a previously granted special permit.” In short, if the city of Cambridge accepted a potential increase in traffic for a special permit in the past, the city should accept that increase in traffic for all future permits—no matter how much the population has increased in the meantime.


Concord Avenue and the Alewife Brook Parkway rotary won’t escape traffic woes. Cambridge’s 2005 Concord Alewife Plan included a “critical movement analysis” of the area. Critical movements are conflicting traffic movements. They are the times when vehicles block each other from moving, such as when a car turns left and crosses a lane of oncoming traffic. The Concord Alewife Plan reports that for the area roughly bounded by the Route 2/Route 16 intersection, the Alewife Brook Parkway, and Concord Avenue, service starts to deteriorate when a roadway reaches the “critical sum” of 1,500 vehicles per hour, or 1,800 vehicles per hour for rotaries. Below those numbers, and most motorists can get through an intersection in two or fewer light cycles. Above those thresholds, you’ll wait at that light a long time. As of 2005, the Concord/Route 2 rotary was already operating at 1,880 critical interactions—80 above the threshold—with a total traffic volume of 4,300 trips per day, while Concord Avenue at Blanchard Road had already reached 1,400 “critical sums” per hour, with 2,460 trips per day.

The report also predicted vehicle trips per day for 2024 for the area after Cambridge’s rezoning (which Cambridge enacted in June 2006.) The permitted 70 Fawcett Street development, which will be located between these two intersections, by itself promises to add enough vehicle trips to reach the predicted 2024 buildout trip level by 2014—and there’s plenty more space for apartments and garages alongside between the Concord Avenue rotary and Blanchard Road.


Of course, some of these buildings’ residents will take the T to work—if they can fit on the T…The Red Line is already “congested” and running at capacity, according to a June 2012 study by the Urban Land Institute titled Hub and Spoke: Core Transit Congestion and the Future of Transit and Development in Greater Boston.

So, Cambridge publishes a plan for the Alewife area which reports that traffic congestion is already a problem, but then it permits several large housing developments which will worsen it. The Belmont Citizens Forum article does report that design study has been funded for a new bridge over the commuter rail tracks west of Alewife Station, connecting it with Concord Avenue. That will relieve some congestion near the Alewife Brook Parkway/Concord Avenue rotary but will have little effect elsewhere. And this is still only a design study.

As a bicycling advocate and repeated critic of Cambridge’s treatment on Concord Avenue — see summary of my comments here — I have found another major inconsistency with the 2005 Concord-Alewife Plan: the recent reconstruction of Concord Avenue so as to maximize the number of conflicts between bicyclists and motorists. The new traffic signal just west of the Concord Avenue/Alewife Brook Parkway rotary backs up traffic into the rotary whenever a bicyclist or pedestrian actuates the signal to cross. The westbound sidewalk bikeway installed on the north side of Concord Avenue crosses a driveway or street on average once every 100 feet, requiring motorists to stop in the only westbound travel lane, blocking traffic, to yield to bicyclists overtaking on their right. Buses traveling both ways on Concord Avenue must stop in the travel lane, where their doors open directly into the bikeway. The conflicting turn movements between motorists and bicyclists, and bus passengers discharged onto the the bikeway, pose serious safety concerns too.

In previous posts on this blog and elsewhere, I recommended a two-way bikeway on the south side of Concord Avenue next to Fresh Pond Park, where there is only one signalized intersection, and maintenance of the previous roadway width and bike lanes.

The 2005 Concord-Alewife Plan contains no mention of the Concord Avenue bikeway — see recommendations for Concord Avenue on page 80 of the report. The plan therefore does not account for the congestion caused by the bikeway, on which construction began only 4 years later.

The overall impression I get is that Cambridge’s planning is disorganized, but also, Cambridge’s bicycle planning occurs in a fantasyland where the well-known conflict situations which cause crashes are greeted with a claim that the goal is to make bicycling more attractive, then, poof, when there are more bicyclists, by magic, bicycling will become safer. I call this the “Pied Piper” approach to bicycle planning. Well, actually, Cambridge is reporting a steady level of bicycle crashes in spite of an increasing volume of bicycle traffic. Some decrease in risk with increasing volume occurs with any mode of transportation as its users gain longer experience. The issue I have is with using this as an excuse for wishful thinking and crap design, and writing off the victims of preventable crashes as expendable. Cambridge has had some gruesome preventable crashes, and has intersections with the highest volumes of bicycle crashes anywhere in Massachusetts.

Another overall impression which I can’t shake is that Cambridge is very selective about reducing traffic congestion. The Concord Avenue project; the residential developments planned for the Alewife area; the Western Avenue roadway narrowing and sidewalk bikeway; and the proposed bikeways along Binney Street increase congestion at the portals to the city. It all strikes me as rather desperate and underhanded way to decrease congestion in the core of the city, but there you have it, as it appears to me.

[Added paragraphs, October 7, 7:40 AM] Residential development close to the urban core is certainly preferable to sprawling suburbs to minimize environmental impacts and traffic congestion, but resolving the traffic problems in the Alewife area would require major investments to increase Red Line and bus service, and disincentives (read: high cost) for single-occupant motor vehicle travel. The public resists all of these. If there is a logic to the City’s approach to these challenges, it is to break down resistance by making the problems so pressing that the pain becomes intolerable.

Bicycling and walking can make some contribution, but the plans for the new housing developments describe it as small. Quoting again:

To be fair, the developers of these various projects are attempting to make car-free commuting more attractive to their residents. Several of these buildings have extensive bicycle-parking facilities, including the Faces site and 160 Cambridgepark Drive. But the city of Cambridge doesn’t anticipate that those bicycles will get much use. For 398-unit 160 Cambridgepark Drive, for example, the city estimates the residents will make 1,324 daily car trips, and 202 pedestrian trips, but just 98 journeys by bike.

Most of the traffic in the area in any case is to or from more distant locations, or is passing through. Bicycling and walking may serve as feeder modes for these longer trips but don’t compete well with motorized modes to cover the distance.

October 5, 2013

Episode 10 of Cambridge InsideOut – Visits from Cambridge School Committee candidates Patty Nolan and Joyce Gerber

Episode 10 of Cambridge InsideOut – Visits from Cambridge School Committee candidates (Part 2). This episode featured Patty Nolan and Joyce Gerber was broadcast live on Oct 5, 2013 at 2:00pm. It was also air on Oct 8, 2013 at 6:00pm.

Episode 9 of Cambridge InsideOut – Visits from School Committee candidates Elechi Kadete and Patty Nolan

Episode 9 of Cambridge InsideOut – Visits from Cambridge School Committee candidates (Part 1). This episode featured Elechi Kadete and Patty Nolan and was broadcast live on Oct 5, 2013 at 1:30pm. It was also air on Oct 8, 2013 at 5:30pm.

October 2, 2013

Gripes for a Wednesday Afternoon

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 3:08 pm

Gripes for a Wednesday Afternoon

Oct 2 – Sometimes during the day-to-day business of alerting people to what’s coming up at City Hall or trying to inform voters about the candidates in the upcoming election, there are some things that deserve comment that don’t necessarily fit comfortably in any specific category. I guess these would have to simply be called Gripes. So… at the risk of offending a few people, here are a few Gripes for a Wednesday Afternoon:

1) I’m getting kind of sick of reading letters submitted to the Cambridge Chronicle (and elsewhere) that are OBVIOUSLY generated by people associated with current political campaigns. If the campaign staff and workers of a particular candidate want to place a political advertisement in a local paper, shouldn’t they pay the going rate and include the phrase "Paid Political Advertisement"?

2) Has anyone taken notice of the fact that the parking skills of Cambridge car drivers have plummeted lately? The law requires that cars not be parked more than a foot from the curb, yet I routinely see cars parked several feet from the curb. When was the last time a parking control officer tagged a vehicle for parking like an idiot? Dishonorable mention goes to those drivers who don’t understand the meaning of the word "parallel" in the phrase "parallel parking".

3) A special award should be issued to all of the novice cyclists on Hubway bikes now occupying the street like molecules in a hot gas. Not a day goes by without encountering at least one of these characters either drifting across a busy street without looking or careening wrong-way down a bike lane.

4) Tonight I’ll be attending yet another "Net Zero" event. It amazes me how quickly some local activists who never paid any attention to environmental concerns suddenly "got religion" on global warming when they realized it could potentially be used to block new commercial and residential development in Cambridge.

Perhaps I should make this a regular Wednesday "Hump Day" tradition. Anyone else have some gripes? – Robert Winters

Episode 8 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 2)

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:07 am

Episode 8 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 2). This episode was broadcast live on Oct 1, 2013 at 6:00pm. This episode features Janneke House and Nadeem Mazen.

October 1, 2013

Episode 7 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 1)

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge,City Council,elections — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:55 pm

Episode 7 of Cambridge InsideOut – Phone interviews with Cambridge City Council candidates (Part 1). This episode was broadcast live on Oct 1, 2013 at 5:30pm and featured candidates Elie Yarden, Leland Cheung, and Gary Mello. [The program begins about 50 seconds into the video.]

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