Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

February 5, 2018

Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 3:49 pm

Coming up at the Feb 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallHere’s my first pass (and Gronkowski didn’t pull this one down either) at the interesting agenda items with the usual brilliant/annoying observations.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to inquire whether the Community Development Department will apply for the Targeted Brownfields Assessment Grant regarding Jerry’s Pond.   Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Kelley

Many people may have forgotten this by now but there were once plans to enhance that whole area – not only by making Jerry’s Pond an available resource but also doing, dare I say, some development in the vicinity of the MBTA headhouse east of the parkway and within the fenced-in area associated with the W.R. Grace site on the north side of the path. First it was the threat of naphthalene in the soil, and then asbestos. I will never believe that permanently fencing in a contaminated site near a T station is preferable to cleaning it up and turning it into a resource rather than a liability.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and any other relevant City Department to gain a sense of who is purchasing buildings in Cambridge.   Councillor Simmons

I think this will be very interesting information, and not only because I’d like to see just how much property Gerald Chan now owns in Cambridge. At least he lives nearby. The greater problem is that in an uncertain world there’s a lot more financial security in Cambridge real estate than in either pork bellies or Chinese financial markets. This reality is not always compatible with the quaint old notion of buying property either because you want a place to live or you need a place to operate your business. Cambridge property has in many ways become primarily a place to store wealth. Barring some new form of gold rush elsewhere I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Order #6. That the City Manager explore the possibility of an "ALL WALK" pedestrian signal at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Prospect Street, and River Street.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

As appealing as this may seem, the traffic volumes on these streets may dictate otherwise. The greatest problem is the conflict between pedestrians crossing Mass. Ave. and right-turning vehicles from River Street onto Mass. Ave. There used to be a "slip lane" there, but that was even more hazardous for pedestrians. The real problem, in my opinion, is that many drivers and pedestrians don’t have a clue about how to balance assertiveness and courtesy. I’m reminded of a small book from about 35 years ago called "The Boston Driver’s Handbook: Wild in the Streets" that really said it all, especially the Cambridge tradition of acting aloof when crossing in Harvard Square.

I often think about writing a story on "How to Be a Pedestrian in Cambridge" complete with a guide to hand gestures and best ways to stop vehicles with just a look. These lessons will, of course, be lost on habitual cell phone users.

Order #7. City Council support of Representative Provost and the Cambridge Legislative Delegation’s efforts to pass a Right of First Refusal Bill, with an amendment for cities to provide final implementation modifications as needed.   Councillor Carlone, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Please explain how this will apply to a multi-family homeowner who wishes to do a formal sale to family members or close friends for a price well below what is dictated by the market. – Robert Winters

January 3, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 279-280: Jan 2, 2018

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:35 am

Episode 279 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 2, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast Jan 2, 2018 at 5:30pm. Main topics were the 2018 Inaugurations of the Cambridge City Council and School Committee and the Election of Mayor Marc McGovern. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

Episode 280 – Cambridge InsideOut: Jan 2, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast Jan 2, 2018 at 6:00pm. The main topic was a discussion of some of the more challenging priorities for the new 2018-2019 City Council. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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]

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.


Please visit the City’s website to learn more about this innovative stormwater management project and new urban wild at (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.


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

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