Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 20, 2017

Sheet of ice draws praise from bicycle advocates

Snowmelt drains across "protected" bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

Snowmelt drains across “protected” bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

OK, spring is around the corner, so I’m a bit late with this post. But the issue I describe here will occur every year, at least until global warming puts an end to snows or converts central Cambridge into an extension of Boston Harbor.

The headline of the February 17 Boston Globe article with this picture is “Snowbank becomes accidental hero for area cyclists”.

The shiny area in the bikeway is meltwater from said snowbank. When the temperature drops below freezing, the meltwater becomes a sheet of black ice. This problem is unavoidable with a street-level barrier-separated bikeway. I discussed it at length years ago in connection with the 9th Avenue bikeway in Manhattan, a bikeway which, on the other hand, I have some nice things to say about.

Neither Steve Annear, author of the article, nor anyone quoted in it, makes any mention of the black-ice problem.

From the article: “’I like this snowbank-protected cycle track,’ Ari Ofsevit, a local cyclist, said on Twitter.” Ari usually ranges widely, imaginatively and thoughtfully in discussing transportation improvements his blog. I usually agree with him, but not in this case.

The article cites Joe Barr, of the City of Cambridge:

Barr acknowledged that the snow mound separating the bike lane and the road has offered a sense of protection to cyclists, but he said it could also be masking damage to the base of the flexible posts.

“We won’t know that until we get some more melting. But it certainly looks good on the street,” he said.

And Richard Fries, Executive Director of Massbike, commented: “It’s great. It won’t last that much longer, but it does help to hammer into people’s heads [road] patterns and driving habits,” he said. “Because it’s there, it makes the existing bike lane more visible to drivers and more prominent.”

Segregation promotes a sense of entitlement on the part of the majority group –in this case, motorists. How do I explain to horn-honking motorists that I have to ride in “their” travel lane, now narrowed to make room for the barrier, to avoid crashing on a sheet of black ice?

Or for that matter, to progress at my usual 15 miles per hour so I’m not stuck behind a cluster of bicyclists who are traveling at 8 miles per hour?

Or to avoid being right-hooked and crushed under the back wheels by a right-turning truck at Douglass Street?

Or that the rear-end collisions that this installation protects against are vanishingly rare on urban streets?

Or that parallel Harvard Street, Green Street and Franklin Street would serve admirably as low-stress through bicycle routes, if the city made the right kind of improvements?

March 28, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 215-216: March 28, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 215 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on March 28, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics chosen from the Mar 27 Cambridge City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 216 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on March 28, 2017 at 6:00pm. The main topic was a survey of the potential City Council and School Committee candidates in the 2017 Cambridge municipal election, and the Cambridge Candidate Pages. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

March 26, 2017

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:45 pm

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

First Sign of SpringHere’s my take on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn

This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that’s not all about the tourists – a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan’s at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don’t suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.

The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement – the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let’s hope there’s some state grant money available to help pay for the project.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.

Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.

"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).

Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.

According to the Manager’s report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we’re generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager’s figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.

Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride.   Mayor Simmons

It’s stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don’t doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won’t hold my breath.

Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.

Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they’ve been doing out of public view.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).

Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. – Robert Winters

March 1, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 209-210: February 28, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 209 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 28, 2017 at 5:30pm. Our guest was School Committee member Kathleen Kelly who spoke about the School Department budget, enrollment, and lots more. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 210 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 28, 2017 at 6:00pm. The main topic was the Feb 27 City Council meeting, including the unanimous ordination of the Central Square Restoration Petition. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

February 26, 2017

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:56 pm

Before the March – Items of Interest at the February 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council meeting

Time TravelIn between Resistance Rallies and Sanctuary Sessions, the Cambridge City Council occasionally meets to talk about Municipal Matters. Here are a few items that may be of interest to those not marching or carrying signs on Monday.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 35 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

It has become an annual tradition. Keep it up. People will complain anyway.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $48,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Finance (Personnel) Other Ordinary Maintenance account. This appropriation will be used to procure consultant services to assist in the hiring of a new Police Commissioner.

The public is invited to assist the City with the development of the leadership profile for the Police Commissioner search. Members of the public may participate in the process by attending one of the Citywide Public Forums or by providing written feedback. Two Citywide Public Forums, facilitated by PERF, are being held on:
  • Thursday, March 2, 2017, from 6-8pm, School Committee Room, CRLS, 459 Broadway
  • Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 10am–12pm, Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue.


Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 27, 2017. Planning Board hearing held Nov 29, 2016. Petition expires Mar 1, 2017.]

This is the last chance to ordain this before its expiration date. It appears to have unanimous support, but there could still be a tweak or two before it’s official. The real question is whether these very modest zoning changes will provide sufficient incentive for us to see actual positive changes in Central Square. In any case, this is a good start.


Applications & Petitions #3. A Zoning Petition has been received from the owner of the property at Third Street and Cambridge Street to amend the existing zoning at that location to authorize the construction of a 45 unit residential building with small scale retail on the ground floor and parking below grade.

Another day, another zoning petition. Actually, there are two additional City Council zoning petitions being introduced at this meeting – Order #17 and Order #20.

Resolution #2. Thanks to Luis Vasquez for his service to fathers in Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

Luis Vasquez is one of the most decent people I have met in my nearly 40 years in Cambridge.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Mayor to make the Sullivan Chamber and the prior goal setting facilitator, or any professional facilitator, available on a weekly basis for half day or full day City Council goal setting sessions   Councillor Mazen, Councillor Devereux

This Order seems to suggest that City Council goal-setting is an extended exercise that goes on for days and days. In truth, it’s just a snapshot of general priorities at a given time – and it has never taken all that much time to develop nor should it. Like a party platform, it just lays out some general goals and principles. It’s a bit bewildering that they haven’t completed this by now, but it’s not like building Rome.

Order #7. City Council support of the 10-citizen petition recently presented to the Cambridge Historical Commission, asking for a tiered designation system and other amendments to the Harvard Square Conservation District guidelines and possibly to its boundaries.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen

Though this petition appears to be a response to the current specific redevelopment plans for the Abbot Building in Harvard Square, the idea contained in this petition is interesting and potentially worth pursuing. I suspect it would simply make official what likely already happens, i.e. the Cambridge Historical Commission evaluating buildings as possessing varying degrees of historical significance.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City’s commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City’s diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward.   Mayor Simmons

This is a laudable goal but the Order as written is a clear violation of state law. The City Manager is the appointing authority and this Order calls for making appointments to all boards and commissions contingent on approval of a City Council subcommittee. Another problem with this order is that the word "diversity" means a lot of things – and not just what people look like. Should there be mandatory diversity of viewpoint on all advisory committees? We could use a lot more diversity of viewpoint, but some of these boards do, in fact, act as advocates for a particular point of view. Perhaps this Order should be amended by replacing the word "requirement" with the word "goal" and by removing the proposal to give the Civic Unity Committee veto power over City Manager appointments.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to provide an update to the City Council on what progress has been made in meeting the goal of creating 1,000 new affordable units by the end of this decade.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

As a rule, goals like this are far too constraining in the absence of other considerations. If this was to be accomplished via Inclusionary Zoning, this implies that the City should have a goal of producing over 8,600 new housing units per decade under current standards or 5,000 new housing units under the proposed new 20% standard. I don’t wish to refer all such considerations to the Envision Cambridge process, but it is a valid long-term planning concern. In addition, housing growth (both "affordable" and in general) has to be accomplished in the whole region and not just in a few cities and towns within the region.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to work with relevant City Departments and industry leaders to generate a report on the potential growth of next-generation wireless technology in the City, to include: the expected footprint of citywide coverage from just one company and what market competition might produce; the integration of public and private infrastructure to support the network; what local standards the City might hope to maintain relative to aesthetics and safety; and how this new technology fits into our Broadband access plans.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux, Councillor Cheung

Though these are all valid concerns, including the proliferation of seemingly random (and sometimes noisy and ugly) structures perched atop utility poles and buildings, my guess is that when all is said and done the selection of broadcast channels will continue to suck and the cost of access to "premium" services like Red Sox games will continue to soar without limit.

Order #17. Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance by creating a new Section 11.900 – Registration of Vacant/Abandoned Buildings; Maintenance and Security Requirements.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

I’m eternally curious about the motivation of actions such as this one. Could this be related to the long-term vacancy of a place like the Harvard Square Cinema building? Or is this just a way to address long-term horror shows like the Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive without having to file a half dozen City Council orders and inviting lawsuits after an eminent domain taking? I do find it curious that this proposed zoning amendment would assess a monthly fee at a rate of 4.17 percent of the assessed value of the property on any property that is vacant more than 6 months. That’s 50% of the assessed value per year. With rates like that this really starts to look like a regulatory taking of the property and it’s doubtful that courts will look kindly on such a fee structure.

Order #18. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to ask the Volpe Working Group to consider how the GSA building will be integrated in with the rest of the site and to ask the independent design consultant to be more involved in the urban design process going forward.   Councillor Cheung

At the MIT meeting on this matter it was revealed that the Volpe replacement building would have to be located at the northwest corner of the Volpe site and that much of the open space associated with the future federal property could be integrated with the rest of the open space planned on the site. Details at http://www.volpemit.com and, in particular in this PDF slide presentation of the Feb 16, 2017 meeting.

Order #20. Proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinances regarding rooftop spaces in Central Square.   Councillor Cheung, Councillor Carlone

This seems like a sensible outgrowth of the discussion that grew out of the Central Square Restoration Petition which will hopefully be ordained by the time this Order comes up in the agenda. See you at the March. – Robert Winters

February 21, 2017

Black ice blindness

Snowmelt drains across "protected" bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

Snowmelt drains across “protected” bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

The photo is of a stretch of barrier-separated bikeway recently installed on the north side of Massachusetts Avenue between Sidney Street and Douglass Street in Cambridge. The headline of the February 17, 2017 Boston Globe article with this picture is “Snowbank becomes accidental hero for area cyclists”.

But — the shiny area in the bikeway is meltwater from said snowbank. When the temperature drops, the water freezes into a sheet of black ice. The usual drainage techniques don’t work here because, if you will excuse me for belaboring the obvious, the “hero barrier’ is uphill and water runs downhill. I discussed bikeway drainage issues in more detail recently in a post on another blog and years ago in connection with the 9th Avenue bikeway in Manhattan. Just to make it clear, I do have  nice things to say about other features of the 9th Avenue bikeway.

Neither Steve Annear, author of the Globe article, nor anyone quoted in it, makes any mention of the black-ice problem. They are all enthusiastic about the snow-barrier.

From the article: “I like this snowbank-protected cycle track,” Ari Ofsevit, a local cyclist, said on Twitter.

Ari is more than just a “local cyclist”. He widely, imaginatively and thoughtfully discusses transportation improvements his blog. I usually agree with him, except when he turns a blind eye to problems with barrier-separated on-street bikeways.

The article cites Joe Barr. Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation for the City of Cambridge:

Barr acknowledged that the snow mound separating the bike lane and the road has offered a sense of protection to cyclists, but he said it could also be masking damage to the base of the flexible posts.

“We won’t know that until we get some more melting. But it certainly looks good on the street,” he said.

And Richard Fries, Executive Director of the massachusretts Bicycle Coalition, commented:

It’s great. It won’t last that much longer, but it does help to hammer into people’s heads [road] patterns and driving habits,” he said. “Because it’s there, it makes the existing bike lane more visible to drivers and more prominent.

Segregation promotes a sense of entitlement on the part of the majority group –in this case, motorists. How do I explain to horn-honking motorists that I have to ride my bicycle in “their” travel lane, now narrowed to make room for the barrier, to avoid crashing on a sheet of black ice?

Or for that matter, to travel at my usual 15 miles per hour so I’m not stuck behind a cluster of bicyclists who are traveling at 8 miles per hour?

Or to avoid being right-hooked and crushed under the back wheels by a right-turning truck where the bikeway ends at Douglass Street?

Just asking.

February 13, 2017

Monday the 13th – Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:15 am

Monday the 13th – Featured Items on the Feb 13, 2017 Cambridge City Council Meeting Agenda

This is a very short agenda this week. Here are a few things of possible interest:

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the revised and annotated version of the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Feb 2, 2017 to discuss the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition.

It is expected that the Central Square Restoration Zoning petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading at this meeting. This will put it in the queue for ordination at the Feb 27 meeting – hopefully by a unanimous vote.

Resolution #5. Wishing Ken Reeves a Happy Birthday.   Councillor Toomey

When Ken was on the Council it was a tradition to not only wish him a happy birthday on his Feb 8 birthday, but to also commemorate him for the entire month of February. It’s nice to see Councillor Toomey continuing the tradition – at least for the day. Happy Birthday, Ken!

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works, the City Arborist, and any other appropriate City department to establish a Tree Task Force to better protect the urban canopy.   Councillor DevereuxAll Hail Marx and Lennon

This is the only City Council Order on the agenda this week. Perhaps such a task force could be established within the Public Planting Committee rather than duplicating effort. More generally, this is a good time to take a look at all of the City’s various Boards, Commissions, Advisory Committees, and Task Forces to make sure that the right issues are being addressed, there is no duplication of effort, and that volunteer energy is being best utilized.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 12, 2017 to review City Ordinance 12.08.010 regarding sandwich board and A-frame signs.

The littlest issue had its day in committee. Most seemed to agree that some basic guidelines should be established and that the permitting of such signs should be done in the future by City staff without the need for City Council approval of every such sign. An ordinance change will be required to make it so. – Robert Winters

January 10, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 197-198: January 10, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 197 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 10, 2017 at 5:30pm. Main topics: Outdoor lighting, Central Square, Harvard Square, and emerging candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 198 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:00pm. Main topics: Outdoor lighting, Central Square, Harvard Square, Inclusionary Zoning, and emerging candidates for the 2017 municipal election. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

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