Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 5, 2015

Cambridge Police Department Announces Series of Bike Safety Month & Bike Week Initiatives

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling,transportation — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:23 pm

Cambridge Police Department Announces Series of Bike Safety Month & Bike Week Initiatives

With National Bike Safety Month and Bay State Bike Week taking place in May, the Cambridge Police have a number of events, initiatives and materials planned to increase the safety of all people who walk, cycle or drive.

Events
Officers and City employees will be stationed at highly trafficked areas in the city and will provide giveaways, fliers with bike safety tips and address any questions or concerns at the following areas.

Date Time Location
Monday, May 11 7-9am Central Square*
Tuesday, May 12 7-9am Alewife T Station*
Wednesday, May 13    7-9am    Harvard Square*
Thursday, May 14 7-9am Kendall Square*

*Free breakfast, as available, generously provided by Charles River TMA

On-Bike Training & Bike Rides
Bike MonthThere are a number of bike rides and training-related activities taking place in May that the Cambridge Police will be involved with, all of which residents are highly encouraged to participate in:

  • The MA Walk & Bike to School Day is taking place Wednesday, May 6 at 7:00am at the Vassal Lane Upper School.
  • There will be bike tune-ups and games on Wednesday, May 12 at the Cambridge Public Library, which is located at 449 Broadway, from 12-2pm.
  • CPD, Community Development Department (CDD) and the City of Cambridge will be taking part in Bike Tours of Cambridge on Saturday, May 16 at 10am. Ride details are available here.
  • A free on-bike training course, which is geared for new bike riders and covers the basics of riding a bike, will take place at Danehy Park on Saturday, May 16 from 2-6pm. The training is sponsored by CDD and jointly instructed by the Cambridge Police and Mass Bike. Interested participants must RSVP with jlawrence@cambridgema.gov.
  • A Healthy Aging Dinner & Focus Group on Wednesday, May 20 from 6-8pm that will focus on the conversation about barriers to bicycling for people ages 50+. Interested participants must RSVP with jlawrence@cambridgema.gov.
  • CPD, CDD and many in the City of Cambridge will be participating in the Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge Outreach Event on Friday, May 29 from 7:30-10am.

Be sure to view a complete list of events coordinated by the Community Development Department on their website.

Bicycle Patrol
With the warmer weather, the Cambridge Police Department once again has a full staff of bicycle patrol officers riding the city streets. These officers not only help provide residents with a greater sense of safety around the city, but they will also be promoting safe driving, riding and walking, as well as enforcing traffic laws in the Commonwealth. One area of emphasis will be keeping bicycle lanes clear from illegally parked vehicles. Cambridge Police will also aggressively seek and look to mitigate bicycle theft.

Increased Enforcement
Thanks to a Sustained Traffic Enforcement Program Grant funded by Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Cambridge Police are collaborating with a number of community and regional partners to reduce overall crashes and injuries in the City through enhanced enforcement efforts now through September 2015.

Electronic Sign Boards
The Cambridge Police are soliciting bicycle safety-related tips and messages on Twitter and Facebook for the City’s electronic sign boards, which will be stationed in Inman Square, Central Square and other areas throughout May. CPD encourages residents to submit their suggestions in the comment field on Facebook. Each board can feature up to 18 characters at a time (36 with two rotations).

Additional Education
In addition to the initiatives previously mentioned, the Cambridge Police will be leveraging their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram channels to educate bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians about the rules of the road, as well as offer theft prevention tips. The Department is also currently working on a series of Public Service Announcements in conjunction with the City’s Bicycle Committee (CBC) to provide a deeper understanding of riding, driving and walking in Cambridge from a bicyclist’s perspective.

content taken from Cambridge Police Dept. press release


Editorial comment
I can’t let Bike Month go by without mentioning a thing or two about some of the realities of the emerging bicycling infrastructure that is (unfortunately) favored by some individuals working for the City of Cambridge.

Perhaps the most common problem I see are bike lanes painted on streets in such a way that right-turning motor vehicles are encouraged to turn across the bike lane at intersections. This is common along Massachusetts Avenue westbound from MIT heading toward Central Square, and I see near-misses daily. In those locations it would be much safer without the bike lane or with the lane reconfigured so that right-turning vehicles would be directed to move as far right as possible prior to turning – as required by state law. Cyclists being "right hooked" by turning vehicles is probably the most common cause of crashes.

Another reality that I witness every day is the dysfunction of the Vassar Street "cycle track". This sidewalk-based bike facility was constructed in such a way that delivery vehicles, taxis, and other vehicles have no other option than to drive up onto the sidewalk (and the cycle track) in order to do what they need to do. I don’t fault the drivers in any way since there really is no other practical option. I’m entertained when I see official City photos of this facility showing nothing but right-way cyclists riding along an unobstructed path. The everyday reality is that cyclists routinely ride wrong-way on this track and pedestrians generally make no distinction between the track and the rest of the sidewalk. It’s like an obstacle course of pedestrians, parked vehicles, and turning vehicles and an accident waiting to happen. The better option is to ride in the roadway, but the right-of-way has been narrowed to the point where you generally have to "take the lane" to ensure your safety. Crossing Vassar is easily the riskiest part of my daily commute.

If I could have one wish granted it would be that City officials seriously reevaluate some of their decisions regarding bicycling infrastructure. – Robert Winters

Dysfunctional streets

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.

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February 21, 2015

Plowing, or sweeping under the rug?

The photo of the Western Avenue bikeway with this post has been making the rounds in bicycling advocacy circules, accompanied with praise for Cambridge’s plowing it.

You can praise the plowing all you like, but in terms of safety, it amounts to window dressing, distracting from problems which would not exist except for the segregated bikeway: with the snowbanks, bicyclists and motorists are both going to have to come nearly to a complete stop at every crossing to see each other in time to avoid collisions. Streets, on the other hand, even narrowed by snow, are wide enough that the cyclists can ride away from the edge, and motorists can poke out far enough to see approaching traffic without the risk of collisions.

The bikeway is also too narrow for one bicyclist safely to overtake another. The street is wide enough for anyone — bicyclist or motorist — to overtake a bicyclist, though maybe not always wide enough for one motorist to overtake another, what with the snow. It is narrower too because of the space that was taken out of it for the bikeway. The street also most likely is clear down to pavement within a day or two after a snowfall, and it is crowned so meltwater drains to the curbs. The bikeway is going to be a sheet of ice if there are thaw/freeze cycles, unless there is a very heavy application of road salt.

Bicycling is already difficult enough in winter without the added difficulties and hazards imposed by this bikeway.

western_avenue_winter

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November 24, 2014

In the Pipeline – Coming up at the Nov 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:48 am

In the Pipeline – Coming up at the Nov 24, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

6 inch water main - MWRA
6 inch water main – MWRA

The City Council was supposed to tour the Alewife area this morning to learn the things that all of them should already have known for some time. Perhaps the rain gave them a reprieve. Meanwhile, here are some things on tonight’s menu:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-132, regarding a report on monitoring aged pipelines to prevent unexpected breaks.

One of the realities of older cities is that some of the infrastructure has been in place for many decades and maybe even for a century or more. The Water Department used to have on display some of the water pipes that were excavated when replaced. They were so occluded that you couldn’t believe water could even pass through them. It’s not just the water pipes, of course. There are still plenty of "direct bury" electrical lines that are not in conduit, and blocks and neighborhoods that often operate at full capacity and beyond just begging for a failure. The gas line to my house recently had to be re-lined due to low pressure from the street. When they excavated, they found that the century-old gas line was so degraded and perforated that the packed earth was all that was keeping gas in the line. Renewing old cities is a neverending task.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Calendar Item Number 2, dated June 16, 2014, regarding the legality and feasibility of instituting a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage ordinance.

The City Solicitor’s analysis is an interesting read. The bottom line is this: "Although no Massachusetts court has analyzed the legality of a minimum wage ordinance, based on cases that have analyzed local legislation of the landlord-tenant "civil relationship," it appears that a minimum wage ordinance would lie outside of the City’s authority under the Massachusetts Constitution."

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Conversations final report, Strategic Recommendations for a Citywide Plan.

The more interesting process will be the comprehensive planning process that will soon commence. Hopefully that will be as productive as the one that took place in 1992 leading up to the Growth Policy Document: "Toward a Sustainable Future" that still stands at the core of the current "master plan" for the city. My greatest concern is that this could degenerate into an arena where competing factions spend more time lobbying for their predetermined positions that they do cooperatively sketching out balanced plans for te good of the city. The fact that this will get underway at the same time that municipal election campaigns are being organized will likely further pollute the waters.

One of the things I found interesting about the "Cambridge Conversations" process is how fundamentally different many of the public comments were from much of what now occupies the activist sphere. There is generally a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the way the city has evolved in recent years and the fact that so many people want to live here is proof of this. This is not so surprising in that most established neighborhoods have largely been unaffected by recent growth – except for the escalating cost of housing. Most of the growth has taken place in areas that were formerly industrial – consistent with established plans.

Quite a few people, including me, identified the lack of coordinated regional planning as a concern – especially transportation planning. My guess is that the stickiest point next year will revolve around housing. Everybody will say how important affordable housing is, but the battle lines will be drawn between those who support additional housing development in Cambridge and the region vs. those who want to severely restrict new housing with the possible exception of subsidized low- and moderate-income housing.

The best outcome next year will be if the focus can be on "place making" in interesting and creative ways instead of just fighting over how much density or how high the buildings should be. People all over the country are moving back into cities, and figuring out how best to accommodate that trend and create great urban environments should be high on the priority list.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Normandy Real Estate Partners and Twining Properties to amend Article 20.000 of the Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map of the City of Cambridge by adding a new Section 20.800 entitled Mass and Main Residential Mixed Income Subdistrict within the Central Square Overlay District.

This is guaranteed to get a lot of attention in the coming months. Rather than prematurely argue the merits of the petition, I’ll simply say that this is a symptom of a serious problem with the current Cambridge City Council. An extensive planning process (K2C2) was completed about two years ago that culminated in recommendations for Kendall and Central Squares. The City Council has been in a state of paralysis since then. They are under no obligation to support all of the recommendations, but they certainly should be discussing them and proposing changes that can garner majority support. Instead, they have done nothing. So a property owner has to come forward with a zoning petition to jump-start the process.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with all relevant City Staff and Departments to examine the feasibility of posting advisory signage to broadly encourage a motor vehicle speed limit of 20 to 25 miles per hour on City streets.   Councillor Carlone

I really don’t think that traffic signage should be about "encouragement" other than the occasional "SLOW" sign. The City lacks the authority to arbitrarily establish speed limits, but there are some specific street types for which that authority should be sought. For example, a one-way street with parking on both sides and a relatively narrow travel lane should have no greater than a 25mph speed limit. Streets with bike lanes should be regulated in such a way that motor vehicle speeds in lanes adjacent to a bike lane should not be more than 15-20mph above typical bike speeds. There should also be much stricter enforcement of all traffic laws (and, yes, that includes cyclists).

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to assess the possibility of adding dedicated cycling infrastructure to Pearl Street as a part of the reconstruction process.   Councillor Cheung

Councillor Cheung’s order conveniently uses the phrase "dedicated cycling infrastructure" rather than "cycle track." Contradicting many of Councillor Cheung’s assertions is the Vassar Street example where traffic is now routinely choked, there is almost no safe space remaining in the roadway except to "take the lane," emergency vehicles now avoid the street for safety’s sake, and trucks routinely park on the sidewalk due to the extreme inflexibility of the road design. For a great example of cycle tracks in practice on Concord Ave., see cambridgecivic.com/?p=2285 and especially the video at vimeo.com/55394832.

It’s also an established fact that when parking is removed travel speeds increase. I’m sure the City would then decide to turn Pearl Street into an obstacle course of speed tables and raised intersections. What is the incentive for complicating the road in this way? Have there been many bike accidents along this road? In the map at youarehere.cc/p/bicycle-accidents/cambridge, all I see is darkness on Pearl Street – few, if any, reported accidents. In other words, this is a "solution" in search of a problem. The preferred alternative would be to do a complete repaving of the street with appropriate street markings. Kids can continue to ride legally on the sidewalks if they wish.

Order #5. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Election Commission and the appropriate City departments to determine a feasibility study and subsequent action plan, instituting suffrage for immigrants in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

This notion comes up every decade or so and thankfully has gone nowhere each time even when a home rule petition was able to squeak by before getting buried by the state legislature. We already have a suffrage mechanism for immigrants. It’s called citizenship. Many people, including me, feel that citizenship and the right to choose elected officials are indistinguishable. I would not want non-citizens electing my representatives – even in municipal elections.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to examine ways to streamline both the City’s process and the City’s technology for replying to Massachusetts Public Records Law requests and to examine how major cities’ open data and FOIA requests are handled, including options for a full time data management team including representatives of the City Clerk’s office, the City Solicitor’s office, and IT.   Councillor Mazen

The only question in this regard should be which information should be publicly available – not the cost or difficulty in obtaining it. It’s understandable that accessing some documents may require significant time and that there should be a cost associated with that, but this should not apply to the wide range of data that can be made publicly available with relative ease. – Robert Winters

October 20, 2014

Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:34 pm

Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here are a few items on this week’s Agenda that seem interesting and worthy of comment.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-36, regarding a report on the feasibility of offering residents an online option to complete the City’s annual census.

This is a welcome option that will hopefully streamline the census and save on postage. Ideally, the City could avoid mailing out the form to those residents who have already completed it online.

Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Alvin Helfeld, et al., 417 Concord Avenue, requesting the Fern Street remodeling plan be reevaluated so that parking is allowed on the left side of the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City project and traffic planners to see if a compromise can be reached which will allow parking on one side of Fern Street while accomplishing City efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.   Mayor Maher and Councillor McGovern

Fern Street Plan

In addition to complaints about the loss of parking in the planned design for Fern St., City officials also plan to force bicycles off the street and onto the sidewalk. This is apparently a nondebatable issue. It’s one thing to safely accommodate children by allowing sufficient space on sidewalks away from business zones, but narrowing road lanes to force other cyclists off the road is both wrong-headed and hostile. At least in this case there appears to be about 15 ft. of road width that might safely accommodate both a motor vehicle and a bicycle sharing the lane. Otherwise a cyclist has no choice but to be forced onto the sidewalk. We would all like to see an interesting and artistic plan for this street, but the current plan still needs work.

Fern Street cross section

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Finance to discuss the feasibility of introducing a Home Rule Petition requesting an increase to the residential exemption.   Councillor Toomey

Somerville has already done this. The standard used to be that the City Council could exempt up to 20% of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home from the local property tax. In 2003 the state legislature amended this to permit up to a 30% exemption, and the City of Cambridge has chosen to do this since then. Since the tax levy is independent of this, the net effect (for owner-occupied homes) is to shift the tax burden onto higher-valued homes. In FY15, the break-even assessed value in Cambridge is approximately $1,282,800. Somerville’s home rule petition was approved and increased the allowable exemption to 35%. It seems certain that a similar petition from Cambridge would also be approved if the City Council chose to pursue this option.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor with the intent of producing language for an affordable housing overlay district to be considered by the City Council.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #20. The City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of collaborating with partners like the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), and/or companies in the private and public sector to achieve the desired development objectives in a manner most cost-effective to the City and that ensures the City will retain a high degree of control over the ultimate outcome of the City-owned Lots 5 and 6.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Order #5 doesn’t specify whether this "affordable housing overlay district" would be in one or more specific areas or if it would be city-wide (in which case it would be silly to call it an overlay district since it would a city-wide change to the Zoning Ordinance). Coupled with Order #20, one gets the impression that the intention here may be to simply designate some parts of the city as areas where only families whose combined income is below a certain threshold are welcome. This is the antithesis of the more thoughtful inclusionary zoning that creates an incentive for more economically integrated "affordable" housing units, especially in new higher density housing proximate to transit. The required percentage of inclusionary units can and should be debated and possibly increased, but inclusion beats the alternative of economic segregation. It should also be emphasized that Central Square and environs, in particular, should not be the sole location for such a proposed overlay district.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back on possible next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi Use Path on City and CRA-controlled property identified as Phase 1 in the Grand Junction Feasibility Study.   Councillor Toomey

The timing of this Order follows the recent release of MIT’s study on its share of this corridor.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to take all steps to ensure that the owner of the property on the Belmont-owned portion of the Silver Maple Forest is informed of the opposition to the use of Cambridge land is used for this project.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Yeah, I’m sure the property owner is completely oblivious to the nearly decade-long series of challenges to the proposed project and the fact that building on the Cambridge portion of this parcel is unwelcome. Did the sponsors of this Order read the following statement from the City Manager in his report last month?: "The project is located within the Little River watershed, which is 8.16 square miles and the larger Mystic River watershed, which is 76 square miles. The project area represents approximately 0.3% of the total Little River watershed and 0.03% of the Mystic River watershed. The project will provide a conservation easement on a total of 7.95 acres, including all of the 2.6 acres in Cambridge."

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Affordable Housing Trust to investigate the status of the Tokyo restaurant site on Fresh Pond Parkway and if available, consider acquiring this site and report back to the Council regarding findings.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Mayor Maher

When I read Orders like this one, I am reminded of the efforts over 20 years ago by some city councillors to create a "Land Bank" consisting of every undeveloped City-owned parcel, no matter how small, that might possibly be available for "affordable housing" development. The plan was hatched with absolutely no regard to the sentiments of existing residents. In fact, included in that plan was the possibility of repurposing a building and part of the playground in Corporal Burns Park on Banks St. as affordable housing. Thankfully that plan went down in flames. Building new housing in the Greater Boston area, including "affordable housing," is essential, but we should also be wary of efforts to identify every single available parcel for this single purpose. Large housing developments are perfect for the including of affordable housing units and a good case can be made for increasing the required percentage of inclusionary housing units in those projects. The Tokyo restaurant site may or may not be a good site for the Affordable Housing Trust to acquire (though it’s likely unavailable), but all such proposals have to be considered in the context of their surroundings. It would not be wise to create an atmosphere where residents see the City as an invasion force. In the long term that would likely be counterproductive.

Order #14. That the following amendment to the Zoning Ordinance be referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for hearing and report: That the areas bounded by Garden, Walden and Sherman Streets and the park currently zoned Business A be rezoned to Residence C-1 to be consistent with the surrounding area.   Councillor Cheung

This is interesting in that the site where Masse’s Hardware and its warehouse existed for many years remains zoned in recognition of its previous commercial use even though the abutting neighborhood, including the site of Paddy’s Lunch across the street, is zoned as Residence C-1. This proposed amendment would uniformize the zoning. The result would be that fewer housing units could be built there by removing the anomalous zoning that now exists which allows for higher densities. This is not a site that’s close to transit, so the case for "smart growth" and higher density housing really is not applicable here. That said, it’s unfortunate that zoning proposals are so often reactive than proactive.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of hosting a Cambridge Challenge Competition for Transportation that offers a prize to the resident or group of residents that come up with the best viable solution to solve our greatest traffic issues.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

This could be an interesting exercise. I especially like seeing some of the "out of the box" thinking that can result from these kinds of exercises. Don’t be too shocked if some of the proposals include monorails, personal flying machines, or quantum tunnelling. This is Cambridge, after all. Among the entries, I’m sure, will be some creative and viable concepts. Hopefully not all of them will be shot down by residents fearful of change. My own fear is that City insiders will use the exercise to justify forcing more cyclists off the roads and onto the sidewalks.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating an adult playground in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

I though Cambridge was an adult playground. (It is for me.)

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Personnel Director and City Solicitor to determine if a point system similar to the system that awards preferences to Cambridge residents for Affordable Housing units can be used in the hiring process thereby providing a local preference for Cambridge residents when applying for positions within the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The potential flaw in proposals like this is that it presumes that anyone wishing to work for the City of Cambridge can afford to live in the City of Cambridge. Thankfully there’s no residency requirement being proposed. We all would like to see more Cambridge residents getting Cambridge jobs, but if every city and town chose to make this too rigid a rule this would create more problems than solutions. A little incentive may good, but not too much.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 30, 2014 with the Community Development Department to provide updates on inclusionary zoning, linkage, the Nexus Study, the three expiring use buildings (Briston Arms, the Close Building and Fresh Pond Apartments) that the City is working to preserve and preferences for affordable housing waitlists.

As many wise people have pointed out, it’s far more cost effective to preserve existing affordable housing than it is to build new affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust and the Community Development Department have made the preservation of these expiring-use buildings a high priority. The Nexus Study and possible revisions to the linkage fees from new commercial development are long overdue. The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance may also need revision, but everyone needs to understand that requiring additional inclusionary units also likely means permitting additional density. That’s most likely a good trade-off. One idea that I hope is explored is the idea of a stepped increase in the percentage of inclusionary units required for larger housing developments. – Robert Winters

June 24, 2014

Starts and Stops, mostly stops

I’m commenting on the “Starts and Stops” article which appeared in the Boston Globe on Sunday, June 22, 2014.

That’s behind a paywall. You may need to log in as a Globe subscriber to see it. (I’m one, but if I recall correctly, there’s a limited number of views till the paywall descends). You can also log in from home in the Boston area using a library card number.

The Globe article describes a bicycle-specific traffic signal on Western Avenue and makes the claim:

The Western Avenue signal is timed so that cyclists get a green light a few moments before their vehicular counterparts headed toward Memorial Drive; that way, cyclists have several seconds of a head start to get out ahead of the cars and become more visible to motorists, especially motorists turning right who may not think to look for cyclists approaching on their right side.

That only works if bicyclists happen to be waiting when the light changes. Otherwise, according to the description in the article, there is a right-hook conflict, with motor vehicles turning right across the path of bicyclists approaching in their right rear blindspot. I haven’t checked out the installation yet; I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more detail.

The article goes on to say:

Additionally, signals like this one address one of the biggest gripes motorists have with bike riders: that they’re constantly running red lights. For cyclists, there can be no confusion whether they’re expected to stop at a red light when that light shows a little bicycle. Many engineers believe that when cyclists are assured that a traffic light is targeted at them and designed to protect their safety, they’re much more likely to wait for their rightful turn to proceed through the intersection.

Here’s the photo which the Globe posted with the article.

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

Wishful thinking. Normal traffic lights also apply to bicyclists. Do we need our own very special, and eexpensive, signal just so we will feel pampered? The traffic light shown in the photo, by the way, isn’t at Memorial Drive. It is at Putnam Avenue, a block earlier. Because the photo doesn’t show the installation which the article describes, I’m not entirely clear about the details.

It was previously possible for bicyclists to approach Memorial Drive in the through lane and enter on the normal green light — or sensibly, though in violation of the specifics of traffic law, at the left side of a right-turn lane lane, and also enter on the normal green. Now, bicyclists and right-turning motorists are, at least as described in the article, forced into a right-hook conflict.

Please, who are the unattributed “many engineers”? Opportunistic bicyclists and pedestrians, motorists too — commit traffic-signal violations because they get annoyed with waiting. Compliance improves if a traffic-light system is designed to minimize waiting time. This one doesn’t, and right-hook conflicts don’t protect anyone’s safety.

I am about to attend the summer meeting of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), where I sit on its Bicycle Technical Committee. Two proposals currently before the Committee, in experimental status, are special bicycle traffic signals, and right-turn lanes with a bicycle lane inside their left side. I would have hoped that Cambridge had submitted a formal Request to Experiment from Cambridge for either of these proposals — which would add to the knowledge base, and confer immunity from legal liability — but I’ve seen none. I should have. The Federal Highway Administration calls on the NCUTCD to review them.

Oh, and also — in the Globe’s photo, it looks as though a car is sitting in the bikeway.

More to come.

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May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo – Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:21 am

Cinco de Mayo – Key Items on the May 5, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are a few things that caught my attention:

Manager’s Agenda #8. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-34, regarding a report on the City’s legal options on preventing the use of electronic billboards in the City.

billboardApparently, Clear Channel would like to replace many of its existing billboards with electronic versions. There’s a hearing this week (May 8) in Boston regarding a plan to change the billboard where Broadway crosses the Grand Junction RR tracks (picture is from 2009 – an especially entertaining ad). The current mechanical sign has the capacity to rotate between, I believe, three different advertisements. Installing new advertisements takes time and money, but an electronic billboard would allow for an unlimited variety of advertisements at essentially no additional cost beyond routine maintenance of the display. It’s pretty clear why Clear Channel and other billboard owners would like to make the change.

This is potentially a delicate legal matter. Once upon a time Cambridge sought to have all such billboards removed and, if I remember correctly, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. New billboards are now prohibited, but existing bilboards are grandfathered.

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-07, regarding a report on the what steps would be necessary to change the method by which surplus votes are transferred in municipal elections and whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method and whether this requires a Charter change. [Read the report]

The report lays out various options the City could pursue if there was the will to make a change. It could be as simple as a majority vote of the Election Commission if there was even one place in the country in that was using Fractional Transfer (or something very close to it) at the time of passage of M.G.L. Chapter 54A in 1938. Since this is extremely unlikely (believe me, I looked into this a dozen years ago), the next simplest route would be to seek a Special Act of the Legislature via a Home Rule petition. The report wisely suggests that if the City Council and the Election Commission really want to pursue this, a consultant specializing in proportional representation and municipal elections should be hired to develop a "comprehensive plan regarding the possible effects, costs, implementation, laws/regulations, proposed schedules and completion dates, pros/cons, skills and knowledge required, etc., with regard to such replacement" before any proposal to move toward replacing the Cincinnati Method of surplus ballot transfer with the Fractional Transfer Method proceeds. This would be a wise course of action, especially since other changes would have to be made regarding recount rights and procedures. Specifically, existing law permits a defeated candidate to seek a "manual recount", so what exactly would that mean under a proposed system with fractional ballot transfers conducted by computer?

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee recommended goals and objectives.

It’s worth the read, but perhaps the most relevant two phrases in the report are: "Cambridge’s contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gases is miniscule on a global level" and "The city must also begin to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change even as we work to minimize the degree of those impacts." From a long-term investment point of view, many actions taken in the name of adaptation to climate change can also be good long-term infrastructure investments. Regardless how one feels about climate change, such investments are likely to be in the best interest of the city and its residents even if not all of the worst-case scenarios pan out.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the submission of two legal opinions as part of the City Manager’s Supplemental Agenda on Mon, May 5, 2014, regarding Awaiting Report Item Number 14-22 concerning the Sullivan Courthouse and Council Order Number 13 of Mar 17, 2014 concerning the First Street Garage.

This remains one of the most significant challenges of this City Council term, and there’s a chance that this will ultimately be decided in court. The City Manager promises to have responses at this meeting on (a) the legal opinion from the City Solicitor on whether the Sullivan Courthouse qualifies as a pre-existing non-conforming structure; and (b) the relevant zoning requirements for the First Street Garage. Meanwhile, the chosen developer for the property (Leggat McCall) has now introduced a plan to lease parking in the Galleria garage. This could greatly complicate the City’s options because any arrangements involving the City-owned First Street Garage would afford the City some leverage in the project.

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-12, regarding a report on developing a City parking ticket for parking in bike lanes violations.

Charter Right #3. That the City Council hereby endorses the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide. [Order #12 of Apr 28, 2014]

Order #3. That the City Manager confer with the School Department; the Public Health Department; the Community Development Department; the Police Department; the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department; and any other relevant departments on the establishment of a Safe Routes to School Program for Cambridge which includes safety improvements to the street infrastructure as well as promotion and education components.   Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

One thing common to these three agenda items is the reference to cycling infrastructure, and there are divergent points of view regarding what facilities are appropriate in different contexts. One case in point is Vassar Street where "cycle tracks" were installed a number of years ago to mixed reviews. Travel lanes in the road were narrowed to the point where a cyclist who wants to use the roadway has little choice but to "take the lane". Pedestrians routinely use the sidewalk bicycle lanes, and delivery vehicles now park in the middle of the sidewalk because there’s no longer any place to pull over in the roadway. Nearby on Ames Street, the City installed another "cycle track" to the right of parked vehicles, so now when a delivery truck stops to make deliveries they do so across the path of cyclists.

Few people disagree on the value of separate facilities for bicycles alongside arterial roadways and along recreational trails such as rail-to trail conversions, but there is plenty of room for disagreement on how best to accommodate cyclists on ordinary roads. Personally, I prefer to share the road with other vehicles and follow the same rules as motor vehicles.

Order #1. That the City Manager direct the Community Development Department to develop and create a solar PV incentive program for residential property owners in Cambridge, and to request any necessary budget allocations to fund such work, including potential staffing and direct funding of solar installation incentives, and using student canvassers to reach homes and businesses that have been pre-screened as suitable for solar PV installation.   Councillor McGovern and Vice Mayor Benzan

This is the kind of initiative I hope would come about as the City talks about "net zero" and other matters involving energy management. The bottom line is that if homeowners and other property owners can access such programs at a reasonable cost, many would do so in a heartbeat. In this regard, the carrot is far preferable to the stick.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with all relevant City Staff and Departments to prepare draft language that would enable the City Council to implement the 2002 nexus study recommendations, as an interim measure pending completion of the new nexus study.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

An adjustment to the current formula is overdue. The current Housing Contribution rate is $4.58 per square foot of applicable gross floor area (of new commercial development) and the recommendation 12 years ago was to increase this to $7.83 (which would now be about $10 per sq. ft. in current dollars). It’s worth emphasizing that these contributions are only associated with new commercial development.

Order #8. That the City Council does hereby go on record naming D. Margaret Drury as Clerk Emeritus of the City of Cambridge in recognition of her outstanding service to the City of Cambridge and its residents.   Mayor Maher

If the Vatican can have a Pope Emeritus, we can certainly have a Clerk Emeritus. We also had Mayor Emeritus Al Vellucci. Perhaps we should recognize Bob Healy as City Manager Emeritus.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Information Technology Department and members of the volunteer community to arrange an informal question and answer session with members of the City Council regarding the new Open Data Ordinance which is to come before the City Council.   Councillor Mazen

This was the subject of Committee Report #1 at the Oct 21, 2013 City Council meeting.

Order #10. That the City Council go on record urging elected officials of U.S. House and Senate to promote and support legislation that classifies broadband providers like Comcast as a telecommunications service under the common carriers provision of Title II of the Communications Act.   Councillor Mazen

Though I don’t understand the genesis of this Order or if there is any kind of coordinated effort toward its goal, any actions to retain "net neutrality" are welcome. – Robert Winters

April 16, 2014

About Bicycling on Hampshire Street

I have posted a video I shot on Hampshire Street in Cambridge during an organized group ride, in the middle of the day on a weekday.

This blog doesn’t llet me embed the video in the page, soclick on the link underneath, then the little four-way arrow under the image to view the video in glorious full-screen high definition.

Is This Two-Lane Street Wide Enough? from John Allen on Vimeo.

The stretch of Hampshire Street in the video was the subject of a study conducted by the City of Cambridge about the effect of various lane stripings on cyclist behavior, a study which I have reviewed. The study concluded that bike lane striping led bicyclists to ride safely, farther from parked cars. My review showed that statement to be inaccurate, due to misrepresentation of bicyclists’ distance from the parked cars. The “safe” line of travel was still deeply in the door zone. Another reviewer, Wayne Pein, has reached the same conclusion.

My video shows cyclists riding too close to parked cars, consistent with the study once the numbers have been corrected — all the more distressingly because most of the cyclists in the video are middle-aged or older and have years of experience. For the most part, however, their experience has been in rural areas and outer suburbs rather than in the city.

I think that it is fair to ask:

  • whether the striping of the street with bike lanes benefits bicyclists — or motorists, by getting bicyclists out of the way — or not motorists, because of the resulting conflicts at intersections bring motor traffic to a complete stop rather than only down to bicycle speed;
  • whether the parallel parking on both sides of this important through street — at all hours, even during the day when it is only half-occupied — is an appropriate use of public space — though, as I say in the video, the people who live here vote here. Another potential solution would be to narrow each sidewalk by a couple of feet…but that would require more construction work.
  • whether these cyclists understand how to ride as safely and cooperatively as possible on such a street (NOT!).

My video also bears on the proposed reconstruction of Beacon street, in Somerville. Beacon Street is the extension of Hampshire street, and has the same profile and character. There have been different suggestions for Beacon Street, including widening it to make better bike lanes; removing parking on one side; and construction of a “cycle track” — separate bikeway — on one side, between parked cars and the sidewalk, and on the other side, actually a bike lane behind a sloping curb which is supposed to be mountable by bicycles. A post on the BostonBiker blog offers my comments on Beacon street.

[Note: I have a shorter blog post about Hampshire Street on bostonbiker.org. Hampshire Street and the City’s study are a Cambridge issue, not only a bicycle issue. I have posted in both forums because they serve different audiences.]

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