Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 13, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 233-234: June 13, 2017

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:13 pm

Episode 233 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 13, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 13, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: civic updates, electricity aggregation program, new municipal election candidates, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans and Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 234 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 13, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 13, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: City Council wrapup, short-term rentals, liquor licenses. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

June 6, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 231-232: June 6, 2017

Episode 231 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 6, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 6, 2017 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the June 5 City Council Roundtable meeting on Envision Cambridge – Alewife. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 232 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 6, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 6, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: a) Envision Cambridge Roundtable; b) Mass. Democratic party platform; c) short-term rental regulation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

June 29, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 67-68: More News Around Town (June 24, 2014)

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 8:47 am

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 67

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 67 featured some highlights of a recent City Council Roundtable meeting on Climate Change Mitigation and Preparedness Planning. This episode was broadcast on June 24, 2014 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Related:
Presentation at City Council June 23, 2014 Roundtable meeting on City’s Climate Mitigation and Preparedness Planning
City website on Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment
Interactive Hurricane Inundation Maps (Mass. Executive Office of Public Safety and Security)

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 68

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 68 touched on a variety of current hot topics in Cambridge and featured some highlights of a recent meeting regarding traffic and related issues in the Fresh Pond/Alewife area. This episode broadcast on June 24, 2014 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Susana Segat and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

October 15, 2013

Alewife Reservation Constructed Wetland Grand Opening Ceremony – Tuesday, October 15

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 8:42 am

Alewife Reservation Constructed Wetland Grand Opening Ceremony – Tuesday, October 15

Cambridge, MA – After a long and collaborative effort between the City of Cambridge’s Department of Public Works, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the three agencies are pleased to announce the grand opening of the Alewife Constructed Wetland just west of the Alewife T Station along the Alewife Greenway Extension multi-use path, Tuesday, Oct 15, from 2:00-5:00pm. (See more detailed directions below).

Alewife Restored Wetland (Aug 2012)
Alewife Reservation Constructed Wetland during restoration – August 2012

Alewife Constructed Wetland - Oct 2013
Alewife Reservation Constructed Wetland – October 2013

The 3.4-acre wetland is designed to store and treat stormwater runoff before it enters the Little River. The new wetland will slow down the flow of stormwater through contact with a series of marsh systems, allowing sediment to settle, and removing nutrients and pollutants from the water. Several types of habitats, ranging from emergent marsh to riparian woodland have been created to enrich and enhance the biodiversity that already exists in the Alewife Reservation. The wetland also provides recreational amenities, including a boardwalk and scenic overlooks, environmental education opportunities, an amphitheater designed with seating for a class of students, interpretive signage, and links to the Alewife Greenway Extension’s bike and pedestrian paths.

"This newly constructed wetland not only improves water quality in the Little River and Alewife Brook, but also provides a new and unique recreational and educational open space for the community to enjoy," said Richard C. Rossi, City Manager.

This project is funded by the City of Cambridge, MWRA and the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust through the Clean Water SRF program administered by MassDEP.

AlewifeWetland2013Oct15TalkingPoints

Please visit the City’s website to learn more about this innovative stormwater management project and new urban wild at www.cambridgema.gov/theworks/cityprojects.aspx (select Cambridge Park Drive Area Drainage Improvements and Stormwater Wetland Project).

Directions to Alewife Reservation Constructed Wetland:
Walking directions to the Basin Amphitheater via Alewife Greenway Extension:

From DCR Discovery Park Lot – 100 Acorn Park Drive, Cambridge


Exit DCR parking lot at driveway entrance.

• Turn LEFT out of parking lot going SOUTH to walking trail at the Corner of Acorn Park Dr., approx. 90 ft.

• Turn LEFT on walking trail going EAST to Alewife Station Access Rd., approx. 900 ft.

• Turn RIGHT on Alewife Station Access Rd. going SOUTH over the Little River to Alewife Greenway Extension, approx. 450 ft.

• Turn RIGHT on Alewife Greenway Extension going WEST to Basin Amphitheater, approx. 1300 ft.

From MBTA Alewife Station – Intersection of Alewife Brook Parkway and Cambridge Park Drive

• Exit Alewife Station to Alewife Station Access Rd.

• Turn RIGHT out of Alewife Station going NORTH under parking structure overpass, approx. 500 ft.

• Turn LEFT to cross Alewife Station Access Rd. going WEST to Alewife Greenway Extension, approx. 80 ft.

• Stay STRAIGHT on Alewife Greenway Extension going WEST to Basin Amphitheater, approx. 1300 ft.

October 6, 2013

Cambridge at cross purposes about traffic

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.

Also:

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.

June 15, 2013

Silver Maple Forest – letter from Kristen von Hoffmann

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:14 pm

On Friday, June 14th I attended the Silver Maple Forest Day of Action, a peaceful gathering organized by Green Cambridge, TROMP, and Friends of Alewife Reservation to protest cutting down the Silver Maple Forest in the Belmont Uplands adjoining the Alewife Reservation. Cutting down this forest would be required to build new condominiums that are part of the proposed development plan for this area.

Kristen von HoffmannWhile we need to focus on planning for density in and near Cambridge, we must do so with the intent to create sustainable systems, and to build a city that can thrive well into the future. By sustainable, I mean a city that preserves critical aspects of Cambridge that are unique and special, while also accounting for elements that must change.

Sustainability means building and planning with the natural environment in mind, and with respect to neighborhoods, businesses, and universities. When I look at an issue like the development of our precious, few remaining acres of wetlands, I am appalled.

How can we be so short-sighted? We are living in a world, a city, and a context that demands leadership that will fight to preserve our precious remaining open spaces. We are living in a world that demands innovative leadership, not the status quo. Instead of destroying this forest, we need to think creatively about how to design for the future, and how to build housing in places that can accommodate new development with the least hazardous impact. Razing a beautiful and rare space such as the Silver Maple Forest and uprooting a rich wildlife corridor that runs through Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington is simply unacceptable.

The forest and wetlands are extremely important in the age of climate change, as they absorb water runoff after storms and flooding. As we are seeing greater increases in rainfall and more destructive storms, it is crucial to preserve this important open space that acts as a natural sponge and mitigates the effects of these storms.

The citizen-based Belmont Coalition and the Friends of Alewife Reservation are both plaintiffs in an active lawsuit to stop this development, and their continuous appeals have kept the forest intact so far. But time is running out. I urge you to contact your city councilors, town selectman and state legislators directly, and to ask them to stop this development from happening.

This is not the time for complacency. Please make your voices heard.

Thank you,
Kristen von Hoffmann
Candidate for Cambridge City Council

December 3, 2012

Enjoying? the Concord Avenue “raised bike lanes”

The Cambridge City Council meeting on December 3, 2012 is to address issues of debris on the Concord Avenue “raised bike lanes”. These replaced conventional bike lanes at street level. I put the term “raised bike lanes” in quotes because a bikeway behind a curb is not a bike lane. By definition, a lane is at street level, so it is possible to merge to and from other lanes. Rather, this is a nonstandard bicycle path.

This post supplements comments which I posted on my own blog before Concord Avenue was reconstructed. The photos here are stills from video shot during a ride westbound at mid-day on November 20, 2012, with moderate motor traffic and very light bicycle traffic.

First photo: Crosswalk just west of the Alewife Brook Parkway rotary is backing up motor traffic. This already generates traffic jams with light bicycle traffic. The City expects the bikeways to attract more cyclists and to lead to a major increase in bicycle traffic.

Crosswalk backs up traffic on Concord Avenue

Crosswalk backs up traffic on Concord Avenue

Next photo: The westbound bikeway crosses 8 streets and 24 driveways in 3000 feet. The most persistent hazard on the westbound bikeway is of “right hook” and “left cross” collisions. The van in the photo not only is turning across the bikeway; it also might be hiding another vehicle preparing a left turn from ahead. The bikeway places bicyclists where they are defenseless against these threats. I say more about them, and how to avoid them, in my earlier blog post.

Right hook and left cross threat on Concord Avenue bikeway

Right hook and left cross threat on Concord Avenue bikeway

Next — bus stop. When the bike lanes were at street level, bicyclists could pass a stopped bus on the left, or wait behind it. Motorists also usually could pass a stopped bus. Passing would have been even easier with bus turnouts on the westbound side, where there is only one travel lane. Now that the roadway has instead been narrowed, converting the conventional bike lanes into “raised bike lanes”, buses must completely block the travel lane, and passengers getting off a bus step down directly into the path of bicyclists. A 2007 research study in Copenhagen showed an increase in bicyclist-pedestrian collisions of 17 times, and of injuries of 19 times, when bus stops were placed outside bikeways like this. More about that study.

Bus stop on Concord Avenue, with green paint

Bus stop on Concord Avenue, with green paint

That study was published well before construction on the Concord Avenue bikeway began. Not only that, the City’s bicycle coordinator repeatedly points to Copenhagen as a model of what Cambridge should do.

To resolve conflicts between bicyclists and passengers descending from buses, the City first painted bicycle markings. Those markings, however, suggest that bicyclists have priority, and these markings also may not be directly in front of a bus’s door when it opens, to warn the passengers. At some later time, green carpet painting was added. This is normally used to indicate where motorists yield to bicyclists (see Federal Highway Administration interim approval), but here it is intended to indicate where bicyclists must yield to pedestrians, a confused and contradictory message. This bus stop is at a driveway. Traffic has worn away some of the green paint and you can see the bicycle marking which was painted over.

Bicycle marking under green paint at bus stop on Concord Avenue

Bicycle marking under green paint at bus stop on Concord Avenue

One problem to be discussed at the City Council meeting is that snow clearance is not practical on the westbound bikeway, because of its repeated ups and downs. Ice also puddles there. Here’s a photo from another blogger, dr2chase, showing winter conditions on the westbound bikeway. dr2chase’s blog has many more photos.

dr2chase's photo of winter conditions on the Concord Avenue bikeway westbound

dr2chase’s photo of winter conditions on the Concord Avenue bikeway westbound

dr2chase also has made the point that snow clearance is much more practical on the eastbound bikeway, which has only one driveway entrance in its entire length. Here is his photo illustrating that:

drchase's photo of the eastbound bikeway in winter

drchase’s photo of the eastbound bikeway in winter

The bikeway on each side is designated as one-way. People are likely to use both of them for two-way travel, and not only in snow season, because a cyclist must stand in the street to lift the bicycle over the curb of the eastbound bikeway at most locations. Also note the seam between asphalt and concrete running down the middle of the photo above. It is intended to separate bicyclists from pedestrians. It won’t, especially with two-way bicycling, and over the years, it will deteriorate so it traps bicycle wheels. dr2chase and I have both made the point that a properly-designed, designated two-way bikeway on the south side of Concord Avenue, adjacent to Fresh Pond Park, would have made good sense, connecting with the existing bikeways in the park and crossing only one driveway in its entire length — at a signalized intersection. I also would have liked to keep the street at its previous width, with street-level bike lanes, to allow efficient through travel and make it possible to reach the eastbound bikeway without lifting a bicycle over a curb.

The next photo illustrates the crossing-the-street issue. Note the driveway at the right rear, and that there is no break in the curb on the far side of Concord Avenue. To cross without stopping in the street, and to avoid having to double back, cyclists will most likely ride eastbound in the westbound bikeway. That is illegal and hazardous: motorists pulling out of side streets and driveways look in the opposite direction for traffic.

The mailbox adjacent to the 5-foot-wide bikeway adds a nice touch as well. Nick it with your handlebar, and you go down hard. Even without such obstructions, 5 feet is minimal for one-way travel. This mailbox is one of a large number of fixed-object hazards adjacent to the bikeway.

Mailbox, and curb on far side of Concord Avenue

Mailbox, and curb on far side of Concord Avenue

Not all hazards are fixed-object hazards. There are these trash barrels.

Trash barrels on westbound bikeway on Concord Avenue

Trash barrels on westbound bikeway on Concord Avenue

Behind the trash barrels, you may have noticed a car discharging passengers. A cyclist who regularly rides Concord Avenue reports that delivery vehicles also now stop in the bikeway.

Car stops in bikeway to discharge passengers, on Concord Avenue

Car stops in bikeway to discharge passengers, on Concord Avenue

My next photos show what I call the X-merge, or double-cross merge.

Normal traffic law requires a driver to maintain a constant lane position when another driver is overtaking. Here’s an excerpt from the Massachusetts law:

Except as herein otherwise provided, the driver of a vehicle passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction shall drive a safe distance to the left of such other vehicle and shall not return to the right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle; and, if the way is of sufficient width for the two vehicles to pass, the driver of the leading one shall not unnecessarily obstruct the other.

Bicyclists may overtake on the right, according to another section of the law:

…the bicycle operator may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way…

When a bicyclist is directed to merge from right to left at an arbitrary location, and a motorist to merge from left to right at the same location, they are both violating the law. Green paint here is used to direct cyclists and motorists to operate illegally.

X-merge on Concord Avenue

X-merge on Concord Avenue

I avoided right-hook threats by merging in behind the stopped car so the next vehicle turning right could safely pass me on the right.

Avoiding the X-merge on Concord Avenue

Avoiding the X-merge on Concord Avenue

Before Blanchard Road, a traffic island narrows the roadway. The bike lane, between the through travel lane and right turn lane, is too narrow to allow safe clearance on both sides. Note in the photo below that the narrow median on the far side of Blanchard Road allows much more room to the left of the bike lane. The traffic island predates the reconstruction: the bike lane has been shoehorned in by narrowing the other lanes. Concord Avenue is wide enough to accommodate turning traffic without the island’s being so wide.

Wide traffic island at Blanchard Road narrows bike lane on Concord Avenue

Wide traffic island at Blanchard Road narrows bike lane on Concord Avenue

Well, enough. You get the idea. I’ll finish with a couple of quotes. Here’s one from MarkS, commenting on dr2chase’s blog post:

I don’t know why they wasted the time and money to put these tracks in in the first place. I find a bike lane much more convenient, and in some ways safer — clearly safer than that abomination on the north side of Concord Ave — the “outgoing” side. And, if ever we decide to re-design the situation, the expense of doing so will be significantly — and that’s an understatement — more than it would be to just re-paint the lines where the bike lane would have been.

Here’s another quote, from dr2chase:

…the west-bound side is about the most ineffective botch I have ever seen. But the eastbound side is quite nice (with the exception of the scary-high curbs). One extremely-low-traffic intersection, no driveways, hence none of those risks, and so wide that (with current bike/ped traffic levels) there is little harm in riding the wrong way on the good side. Technically illegal, but vastly safer, and I cannot fault someone for making the safer choice.

I agree! And have a look at the video online!

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