Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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]

March 31, 2015

Web page includes two videos of Cambridge bicycle infrastructure

Please check out this Web page,with two of four videos illustrating exciting new developments in Cambridge bicycle infrastructure. Can you identify the locations?

Exciting new technology demonstrated at a Cambridge bicycle facility.

Exciting new technology demonstrated at a Cambridge bicycle facility.


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.

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!




November 14, 2012

Cycle track disease is contagious!

It crosses over from Cambridge to hit the slippery slope (literally) in Somerville.

Please see my extended comments here:

September 15, 2011

Concord Avenue, Under Construction

I just rode Concord Avenue last Sunday to see what was happening there.

I had thought that the construction project would have been completed by now, but it isn’t.

The image below is of the east end of the section under construction. I find a bit of irony here in that the “Bikes May Use Full Lane” sign is placed at the start of a project which intends to get bicycles off the road, and also it is nonstandard — diamond-shaped like a warning sign which is supposed to be yellow, but white like a regulatory sign, which is supposed to be rectangular (as with speed-limit and no parking signs). The message is a regulatory message: it is law.

Looking west at the east end of the Concord Avenue section under construction

Looking west at the east end of the Concord Avenue section under construction

Construction barrels divide the narrowed roadway into two lanes, rather than the three planned for when construction is complete. As the westbound bikeway is incomplete, I rode west on the roadway. Motorists still were able to overtake me without leaving their lane, as they were when the roadway was wider, with three travel lanes and a bike lane on either side. I was passed by a number of cars, no problem. I had one conflict with a driver who moved out of a side street into my path. Such conflicts will be much more common when bicyclists are riding in sidewalk space.

The road surface was very bumpy because the street has not yet been repaved. The effort is going into construction of the bicycle sidepaths at this time.

I shot video of my rides. It’s HD video and you will want to view it full screen to get all the details. This is the link to the video of my westbound ride. And here is my eastbound ride.

One other thing I hadn’t expected is that the south-side (eastbound) path was almost completely empty, except for me, though it was nearly finished, and unobstructed — on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon when there was heavy bicycle and pedestrian traffic in Fresh Pond Park and on the Minuteman path.

I can say that if much traffic does appear on the south-side path, the situation will be very confused. There is no buffer between the 5′ wide bikeway (closer to the curb) and the wider walkway away from the curb. There was supposed to be a 2-foot-wide buffer, as I recall. Also, the concrete pavement of the pedestrian section, farther from the curb, is smoother. The bumpier asphalt pavement adjacent to the curb is supposed to be for eastbound bicyclists, in defiance of AASHTO guidelines, which require a 5′ spacing or a barrier, and also in defiance of normal path and road rules, which require riding on the right side. The City’s scheme would have eastbound bicyclists riding on the left side of the combined bikeway and walkway. Meanwhile, there also will be westbound bicyclists using this path to avoid the much worse path on the other side of the street, and probably keeping to the right as is usual.

As the path is behind a high curb, bicyclists who want to cross Concord Avenue will have to wait at the crosswalks rather than to merge into the roadway. At the few crosswalks, there is no waiting area (for example, at 1:24 in the eastbound video). Because the bikeway is between the walkway and the street, bicyclists and pedestrians who are waiting to cross the street will block the bikeway, and other bicyclists will have to divert onto the walkway.

As the concrete pavers of the pedestrian section and the asphalt of the bicycle section age and settle, a step could develop between them, just as on the parts of the Charles River paths, widened with asphalt next to the old stone retaining wall along the riverfront. Many bicyclists have gone down as a result.

Many aspects of the Cambridge bicycle program can be described as ideologically driven, and defying national and state design standards. Placing a longitudinal seam along a bikeway, and directing traffic to keep left, are merely incompetent.

Other than what I have described in this post, the project looks as though it will turn out as I expected, with the foreseeable problems I’ve already described in my earlier post; the right hook and left cross conflicts, inability to cross to the south side at most locations without dismounting in the street to lift the bicycle over a curb; resulting wrong-way riding on the north side, etc.

The party line about the Concord Avenue project, which I have in writing from two City employees (here and here) and verbally from a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, is that “bicyclists will be riding in exactly the same place as they are now.” This statement turns a blind eye to the encouragement of wrong-way riding, and the keep right/keep left confusion. It ignores bicyclists’ crossing and turning maneuvers, and motorists’ being trapped by the curbs and forced to turn across the path of bicyclists; it denies that motorists block sidepaths so they can see approaching traffic in the street. Saying that “bicyclists will be riding in exactly the same place as they are now” is like saying that a bird in a cage, hanging in a tree, is in exactly in the same place as a bird sitting in that tree and free to fly off.

What really burns me up is that the City employees designing bicycle facilities appear to have no concept of how bicyclists actually are going to use them, or of the potential hazards. It’s all about “build it and they will come” and that means, build just anything they think will attract novice cyclists and children, and to hell with design standards and safety research. I see shoddy and incompetent mimicry of European designs, and astonishing hubris. So far, the Concord Avenue bikeway is half built with one side completely open, and very few bicyclists have come, except for me, and I was there on a discovery tour.



May 16, 2011

About bicycling issues on City Council agenda tonight, May 16, 2011

A cyclist and a motorist approach the blind corner at Concord Avenue and Follen Street

A motorist cuts off a cyclist at the blind corner of Concord Avenue and Follen Street

The city's own picture of this scene shows a cyclist happily steering straight toward a curb.

A picture of the same scene from the City's Web site shows a cyclist happily steering straight toward a curb, which is cropped out of the picture.

Looking from the opposite direction, this is the path a bicyclist must take, swerving toward traffic to reach the curb cut.

Looking from the opposite direction, this multiple-exposure photo shows the path a bicyclist must take, swerving toward Follen Street traffic to reach the curb cut at the crosswalk.

This post attempts to shed some light on agenda items on tonight’s City Council agenda.

The quoted sections are from another commenter. I’m not sure I know how to reach him, and time is pressing. I don’t know whether I have permission to use his name, so I won’t. The unindented paragraphs  are my own. We’ll start with the other person who commented.

Two of the three items on the city council agenda are interesting examples of problems related to bicycle infrastructure that has been implemented over the past several years.  The third is simply a request to fill potholes, but includes an ignorant comment about bicycles needing to ride near the curb (not true according to Massachusetts law or Cambridge ordinance).

That is agenda item O-7 on the page linked here

The first bicycle facility problem is a contra-flow lane through a blind corner where motorists have no expectation that there will be contra-flow traffic of any sort as they round the corner on a one-way street.

That is agenda item O-3 on the page linked here.

The street view is looking south on Follen Street as it intersects (Little) Concord Avenue.  The bike lane crosses in a contraflow manner from left to right, and then continues across the small brick plaza to the right to join with Garden Street and the continuation of Concord Avenue.  The intersection just beyond the plaza is the same one where Cambridge has installed a bike box critiqued by John Allen


The contraflow bike lane is adjacent to wrong-way parking, another odd feature of this installation — see this for a description and explanation of wrong-way parking:

Upon reaching the corner, bicyclists have to ride out past a stop bar and stop sign before they can see around the corner. A stop sign requires two actions, a stop and a yield. The yield is what actually prevents a collision — but it is only possible where you can see conflicting traffic.

Many if not most of the bicyclists approaching this intersection are Harvard students headed up to the Radcliffe quadrangle. Are we to assume that they aren’t bright enough to figure out that they must yield? The problem is that nobody ever instructed them, and many have little bicycling experience as they suddenly find themselves dependent on a bicycle for transportation. Also, the stop bar isn’t where there’s anything to yield to unless a pedestrian happens to be crossing — it encourages running the stop sign, sort of like traffic ju-jitsu: aha– fooled ya!.

See Google Street View looking toward the stop sign:

I have a discussion of this contraflow bike lane in the page linked below this paragraph. The third photo down the page shows the stop sign. I prepared the page linked below years ago, shortly after the installation. This was clearly going to be a problem location.

The curb ramp on the far side of the intersection is located at the end of the crosswalk rather than in line with the bike lane. Bicyclists must ride toward approaching traffic to reach the ramp.

Bicyclists coming in the opposite direction off the little pedestrian plaza are hidden by a wall and subject to similar risks. This entire treatment is a prime example of Cambridge’s principle of Design by Wishful Thinking.

The second problem is at a rather unremarkable intersection, so it is not clear to me why there would be issues.

See Council Order O-19 on the page linked here.

The street view is looking south on Ellery Street as it approaches Broadway.  Ellery is a narrow one-way street with a bike lane.  Traffic is typically slow, but can be heavy at rush hour.  Broadway is a two-way narrow connecting through street with parking and no bicycle infrastructure in this area.  Traffic typically runs about 25-30mph, slower and heavier at rush hour.  The intersection is also at the corner of a local public high school campus.  Neither street is difficult to cycle on if you have at least modest traffic experience.

There is a flashing yellow and red overhead signal indicating a stop sign for Ellery Street entering from the north.  I tried to find data related to the several accidents cited, but did not see anything apparent on the Cambridge city web site.  I can speculate that most of the car/bike accidents are probably due to scofflaw behavior — either bicyclists in the Ellery bike lane not heeding the stop sign as they continue across Broadway, or wrong-way riders in the Ellery Street bike lane illegally approaching Broadway from the south.  Also likely would be standard right hook, left cross, and failure to yield collisions caused by motorists, but I don’t see why those would be any worse at this intersection.

I see a double-whammy right-hook provocation for bicyclists headed south on Ellery Street, in that the bike lane on the far side of the intersection is to the left of parking (and in the door zone, as is usual in Cambridge), while the bike lane on the near side is at the curb and carried all the way up to the intersection. So, bicyclists are encouraged to overtake motorists on the right, then merge left inside the intersection where motorists turn right.  I think that the high traffic volume and prevalence of high-school students probably also account for the number of crashes. There probably are scofflaw crashes too. Yes, it would be very interesting to see details so as to get a handle on what is actually happening here.

I’m not looking for any answers, but I thought people on this list might be interested in what Cambridge lawmakers are thinking.

September 27, 2010

Sept 27, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:01 pm

Sept 27, 2010 City Council Agenda Highlights

Perhaps the hottest item on tonight’s agenda is one that has received far more attention than it deserves. Earlier this year, staff at the Community Development Department suggested that changes might be in order for the current practice of seeking variances to the part of the Zoning Code relating to signage on buildings. This led to a City Council Petition that would regularize this process and shift things from seeking a zoning variance from the BZA to seeking a special permit from the Planning Board. Part of the logic was that the Planning Board and related staff were more attuned to design issues and that the mechanism might in this way be made more fair and consistent with citywide planning goals and standards. Then the excrement hit the blades.

This proposed zoning amendment should never have been a big deal, but this changed when inflammatory material showing the Charles River’s Cambridge shoreline lit up like Las Vegas with major corporate logos was circulated by opponents to the amendment. There were deficiencies in the original draft that could have led to unintended consequences around the city, and these were best illustrated by a spoken “virtual trip” through Cambridge by Kevin Crane (legal counsel for a major opponent of the proposed change) before the Planning Board during one of two summer meetings on this topic. However, the inflammatory rhetoric and graphics were never a realistic depiction of even the worst-case scenario of what could have happened as a result of the proposed changes. A series of amendments were proposed, the matter had its hearings before the Ordinance Committee, and it’s now ready for a City Council vote.

Whenever zoning controversies loom over the Cambridge City Council, they will often simply punt. That is, they will either re-file the petition under the hope that a settlement can be reached or that the controversy will die down. Either that or they will seek some kind of Solomonic compromise that averages the interests of both sides not necessarily to find the best solution but to get past the controversy. In the case of zoning petitions strategically filed so to come to a vote immediately before a municipal election, populism will often prevail. In the case of the sign ordinance changes, there is no municipal election in sight and it would seem that recent modifications to the original proposal should help grease its way to ordination. However, anything could happen. The relevant agenda items follow:

Unfinished Business #5. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel and Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a meeting held on Sept 7, 2010 to consider a petition filed by the City Council to modify the Zoning Ordinance regulation of signs. the question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Sept 27, 2010. Planning Board hearing held July 6, 2010. Petition expires Oct 5, 2010.

City Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Zoning Petition to Revise the Sign Ordinance – Article 7.000. [The Planning Board recommends that the original Petition be approved with amendments. The changes recommended by the Board to the original Petition language of the Building ID Signs section are summarized below.]

  • Establishment of a special permit process before the Planning Board.
  • A narrowing of the zoning districts where such signs may be permitted, to areas of concentrated office development at the eastern and western ends of the city.
  • Restriction of the signs to non-residential buildings only that are at least 100,000 square feet in size.
  • Limiting the signs to identifying the whole building or an office tenant occupying a significant portion of the building. The Planning Board recommends that at least 25% of the leasable area of the building be presumed to be significant.
  • Prohibition of such signs in local conservation and historic districts.
  • Enumeration of the criteria for approval of the Building ID Signs, including: how the sign would be viewed from nearby residential districts, open space, historic districts, and the Charles River; light pollution.
  • An articulation of the purpose of the provision.
  • A relaxation of one standard in the current Sign Ordinance to allow the placement of an ID sign on the screening wall of mechanical equipment located above the building’s roof where that placement would better integrate the sign into the architecture of the building.

If this were the only item on the agenda, we might be treated to a hefty dose of public comment by those who choose to remain only partially informed, followed by a quick vote and the dismissal of otherwise routine matters. But, alas, there are a couple of other juicy items on tonight’s menu – specifically on the Reconsideration portion of the agenda.

Reconsideration #1. Reconsideration filed by Councillor Toomey on the affirmative vote taken on September 13, 2010 to refer to the Ordinance Committee and to pass to a second reading a proposed amendment to the Municipal code that would increase the residential parking sticker fee. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Item Number Thirty-Six of August 2, 2010. On September 13, 2010 motion of Vice Mayor Davis to refer to Ordinance Committee and Passage to a second reading on roll call 7-1-1.]

After a summer committee meeting on this topic, I was inclined to believe that this would actually pass with only token opposition. After all, the current fee of $8 has been in place for nearly 20 years and it was stuck at $5 for long before that. There is an obvious logic to some kind of fee increase. However, besides the argument that these fees were never meant to be anything more than nominal fees, the matter is complicated by the fact that these fees are now embedded into an ordinance (the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance) which restricts the uses for this revenue. Perhaps more significantly, the collection of fees for resident permit parking was established in a 1965 Special Act of the Legislature that specifies that this revenue may only be used for traffic & parking related matters.

Normally this would be fine, but it has been publicly stated now by the City Manager and others that one use of this proposed fee increase would be to “get the message out” about climate change in conjunction with the agenda of the recent “Climate Congress” of activists that took place in a series of City Hall meetings this past year. It is clear that some members of the public and some city councillors take issue with this earmarking of revenues for the benefit of one interest group. Some have argued that, despite the virtue of the proposed purpose, use of this revenue should be subject to the same budget processes as all other matters while remaining consistent with the uses specified under state law. Of course, the real bottom line is that there are political advantages to saying that you stood in opposition to a fee increase, and that inclination could prevail if the rhetoric starts to thicken. This could come to a vote as late as October 18 and still be viable for the 2011 calendar year.

Reconsideration #2. Reconsideration filed by Vice Mayor Davis on the vote taken failing to refer to the Ordinance Committee a response relative to Awaiting Report Item #10-116, regarding a report on the impact of decriminalization of marijuana possession. [Motion of Councillor Cheung to refer to Public Safety Committee failed 4-4-1. Motion of Vice Mayor Davis to refer to Ordinance Committee failed 4-4-1.]

Regrettably, I was gone by the time this vote was taken on Sept 13 (as was Councillor Decker – hence the tie vote). I believe the sole purpose of the Ordinance suggested by Police Commissioner Robert Haas in this report was to give Cambridge Police more tools for controlling public consumption of pot, including the ability of police to confiscate the dope. I would be curious to know who stood on either side of this issue as well as their reasons, but for that I may have to watch the video.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the planning process for the  Concord Avenue redesign, the outreach efforts to inform the public of the project and how the planned changes in bike facilities in the project area were advertised in the outreach efforts.   Councillor Kelley

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Transportation, Traffic and Parking Committee, for a meeting held on Aug 10, 2010 to discuss bike facilities including bike lanes, bike tracks and bike parking.

I was not a bystander in this matter. There does seem to be a growing trend within some City departments to treat cyclists as children and to move them onto the sidewalk along Concord Avenue and in some other locations. While it’s good to create this sidepath option for children along some roads with higher speeds and for most cyclists along highway-like throughfares such as Memorial Drive, it is a dreadful precedent to require most cyclists not to use the road along with all other vehicles. Besides the multiple inconveniences of these sidepaths, they often provide only a perception of enhanced safety when, in truth, they may actually be less safe. [Related article]

At issue in Councillor Kelley’s Order #2 is the especially annoying and very un-Cambridge recent practice of whisking some of these projects through with little opportunity for the public to respond until after the project is either under construction or out to bid.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to investigate the feasibility of adding historical sub-signs to street signs and replacing those sub-signs that were installed for the Bicentennial and commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in 2012 with street sub-signs or some other method.   Vice Mayor Davis

Though an excellent idea, one has to wonder how it can be that we are still permitted to have celebrations of any war in this ultra-politically-correct enclave. I’m sure there are those in Cambridge who would rename Hamilton Street as Karl Marx Avenue, Erie Street as Lenin Street, Perry Street as Fidel Castro Boulevard, Lawrence Street as Sisterhood Avenue, and Decatur Street as Obama Way. – Robert Winters

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