Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

December 9, 2018

Lotsa Ordainin’ To Do – Dec 10, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Lotsa Ordainin’ To Do – Dec 10, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Information Security Begins With You!The ordaining queue has been growing over the last few weeks – Surveillance Ordinance, Revised Street Performers Ordinance, Revised Fair Housing Ordinance, and the Mandatory Book-Burning Ordinance (OK, not really). Perhaps next year we’ll also see the Don’t Touch That Tree Ordinance, the Chicken Farming Ordinance and Handbook, and the Socialized Housing Ordinance. The business of municipal ordinances was always complicated – even in days of yore, i.e. Cambridge in 1899 (Revised Ordinances of 1892) which even contains a precursor to the zoning ordinance that would not be enacted for another quarter century. Here’s a sampler of some of the ordinances of the day:

CHAPTER 37. SECT. 1. Any minor, between the ages of seven and fifteen years, convicted of being an habitual truant, or wandering about in the streets or public places of Cambridge, having no lawful occupation or business, not attending school, and growing up in ignorance, and such children as persistently violate the reasonable rules and regulations of the public schools, shall be committed to the Middlesex Truant School for a term not exceeding two years. The Middlesex County Truant School is the place provided for the confinement, discipline, and instruction of such children.

CHAPTER 38. SECT. 1. There shall be established in the city of Cambridge a workhouse for the employment and support of the following description of persons, that is to say, poor and indigent persons that are maintained by or receive alms from, the city; persons who, being able of body to work, and not having estate or means otherwise to maintain themselves, refuse or neglect to work; persons who live a dissolute, vagrant life, and exercise no ordinary calling or lawful business; and persons who spend their time and property in public houses, to the neglect of their proper business, or who, by otherwise misspending what they earn, to the impoverishment of themselves and their families, are likely to become chargeable to the city.

CHAPTER 45. SECT. 2. No person shall climb a tree in any street, or fasten or tie a horse or other animal to, or post a bill upon, any such tree, or allow any horse or other animal owned by him, or under his control to stand so near any such tree, that such tree may be gnawed or otherwise injured by such horse or other animal so allowed to stand, and no person shall place a sign upon or around any tree on any street of the city.

Penny FarthingCHAPTER 45. SECT. 16. No person shall coast upon a sled on any street of this city without the written permission of the mayor; and without such written permission no person, in any public street or square of this city, shall ride a bicycle or tricycle at a rate of speed exceeding ten miles an hour, and only for the time, and upon such portions of the public ways, streets, or squares aforesaid as may be specified in said permit. Such reasonable conditions shall be attached to such permits as the mayor may deem proper, and in accord with the circumstances and for the occasion for which the permits may respectively be granted. Between the hours of eight o’clock in the morning and five o’clock in the afternoon, children under the age of fourteen years may use velocipedes on any sidewalk in any public way, street, or square of this city. In no part of any public grounds, commons, enclosures, and parks, now or that hereafter may be under the general charge of the park commissioners, shall children use a velocipede without the written permit of the park commissioners.

CHAPTER 45. SECT. 19. No person shall have in his possession a club or bludgeon, on any street, with intent to use the same in a sport, sham-fight or strife, or to intimidate any person or horse.

CHAPTER 45. SECT. 21. No person shall behave himself in a rude or disorderly manner, or use any indecent, profane or insulting language, in any street or public place.

CHAPTER 45. SECT. 35. No person, except by permission of the mayor, shall deliver a sermon, lecture, address, or discourse on any common or other public grounds.

CHAPTER 46. SECT. 1. No person in any public street of the city shall ring a bell or gong, between the hours of ten o’clock P.M., and six o’clock A.M., except as a warning of danger.

CHAPTER 48. SECT. 1. No child under sixteen years of age shall be, loiter or remain upon any street, highway, park or other public way or place in this city after the hour of half past nine o’clock in the afternoon of any day, unless accompanied by, or under the control or care of a parent, guardian or other adult person, or performing or returning from employment or from the performance of some duty, directed in writing by said parent, guardian or other adult person, and no such child, while performing such duty, or returning from the performance thereof, or from employment, shall loiter upon any such street, highway, park or other public way or place.

Back in the present (2018), here are a few items on the agenda that drew my attention this week:

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of an Advisory Committee on Climate Resilience Zoning.

Unfinished Business #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-85, regarding a report on the feasibility of appointing an advisory committee to work through resilience elements raised during the Envision process and through the Brown Petition.

The City Manager’s original 25 appointees included four city councillors and a representative from the Mayor’s Office. This led to concerns of possible Open Meeting Law violations unless the entire advisory committee was rethought as an ad-hoc City Council committee – but that would have diminished the role of all the other appointees. The new list of 20 appointees has zero councillors and nobody from the Mayor’s Office, and one MIT appointee was reclassified from "Institutional/Non-Profit Representative" to "Business Representatives/Property Owners".

Charter Right #1. Legal Opinion on Portland’s Relocation Assistance Ordinance.

Yes, it would require a Home Rule Petition. Needless to say, if the threshold for triggering this is a 10% rent increase (even if the rent was unchanged for years) I would expect a 9.5% rent increase every year to become commonplace.

Unfinished Business #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to proposed revisions to the draft Surveillance Ordinance. QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER DEC 10, 2018.

Unfinished Business #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the proposed amended Street Performers Ordinance. QUESTION COMES ON PASSAGE TO BE ORDAINED ON OR AFTER DEC 10, 2018.

Time for some ordainin’. Please be advised that street performers may not deliver a sermon, lecture, address, or discourse on any common or other public grounds except by permission of the mayor.

Order #1. Improving Pedestrian Safety.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

This Order is primarily a request for information on how various "traffic calming" treatments have been working. The current policy seems primarily to be to create as much congestion as physically possible so that traffic cannot move very quickly. This has the added goal of infuriating drivers to the point that they consider alternate modes of transportation.

Order #2. Tree on City Hall Lawn.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor ZondervanCity Hall

I would suggest having conversations with both Charlie Sullivan (Historical Commission) and former City Councillor Kathleen Born before moving on this. There used to be a perimeter hedge around City Hall as well as a couple of spruce trees straddling the main entry to City Hall. About 20 years ago the consensus was that it would be ideal to restore the appearance of City Hall to its late 19th Century magnificence. This led to the removal of the hedge and the trees – as well as the ivy that had crept over much of the building surface. An additional unanticipated benefit was that the front lawn of City Hall became a significant open space resource for Central Square and a popular place for sunbathers during the warm weather months. We all love trees but any choice to plant a significant tree in front of City Hall should be weighed against these other factors.

Order #4. City Budget and Council Goals.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

While it’s a good idea to have the budget presentation highlight how it reflects City Council goals and priorities (and let’s be clear that the City Manager already does this every year), I would not want to see every City department have to justify every expenditure against that short list of Council priorities. If DPW needs to buy another packer truck or if the Fire Department needs to purchase another fire engine or hire additional firefighters, I would hope they would not need to justify this by proving how it will "implement equity policies for the people of Cambridge". Most of the City budget goes to maintaining operations, and the goals expressed by individual departments in the annual Budget Book usually highlight how they can best deliver their services. – Robert Winters

November 20, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 355-356: Nov 20, 2018

Episode 355 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 20, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 20, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Thanksgiving memories; Nov 19 City Council meeting highlights – First Street Garage saga, Surveillance Ordinance, Street Performers Ordinance. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 356 – Cambridge InsideOut: Nov 20, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Nov 20, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Nov 19 City Council meeting highlights – Street Performers Ordinance, Climate-related committee appointments, bicycle safety (asp. the Craigie Bridge & Museum Way). Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

November 18, 2018

Hold that Turkey! There’s a Nov 19, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:14 pm

Hold that Turkey! There’s a Nov 19, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here’s what I find interesting and snarkworthy:City Hall

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-102, regarding the potential for utilizing an Icelandic crosswalk design in East Cambridge.

floating crosswalkFor those who don’t recall, there was an Order asking the City to look into a design that pretty clearly would cause some drivers to jam their brakes or swerve to avoid an imagined collision. The response states: "In one formal study, between 10-14% of drivers swerved upon seeing the markings, perhaps believing them to be real raised objects in the roadway. Swerving would not be a safe maneuver for either the driver or other users on the road." Yup.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-85, regarding a report on the feasibility of appointing an advisory committee to work through resilience elements raised during the Envision process and through the Brown Petition.

The Manager appointed a task force of 25 people including 4 city councillors, 4 residents, 5 institutional/non-profit representatives, 4 business representatives, 4 subject matter experts, and 3 City staff. One of the four resident appointees who was one of the original petitioners has already expressed his objections to the appointments and has stated that he’s not sure if he wants to be affiliated with this. Rocky start.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to proposed revisions to the draft Surveillance Ordinance.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the proposed amended Street Performers Ordinance.

I have no point of view on either of these. I’m simply noting that the City Council now has language to adopt or amend. Both proposed ordinances are currently waiting for action on Unfinished Business.

Charter Right #1. Further Study Needed on First Street Garage (Order #3 of Nov 5, 2018).

At this point the notion that some analysis of traffic and parking supply and demand is warranted seems hardly controversial, and most of the data to support that analysis is readily available. What happens after updated information is presented is when the serious controversy will arise.

Applications & Petitions #2. A Zoning Petition was received from Anthony F. Gargano on behalf of his Client Hercules Kalogeropoulos, Cambridge Mobile Sound and Security, seeking to amend the zoning map in the area of 234 Monsignor O’Brien Highway, from the existing ‘C-1’ to Business ‘A’.

More marijuana. I hope people are beginning to understand that this is just as much about getting in on the ground floor of a potentially lucrative market as it is about making marijuana available for medical or recreational use.

Resolution #8. Recognizing the work and legacy of Dr. Joseph J. Harrington.   Mayor McGovern

I’m glad to see this. Dr. Harrington was one of the many unsung heroes who generously volunteered his time to serve of an important City Board – in his case, the Water Board.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to instruct the Director of the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department to consult with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State Delegation representing Route 28, State Representative Mike Connolly and State Senator Sal DiDomenico, for an update on the bike lane installation, and measures and actions such as increased police enforcement of speed limits, to improve safety of Museum Way immediately with particular emphasis on the intersection of Museum Way and Route 28.   Councillor Toomey

This is one stretch a road where some separation of cyclists from motor vehicle traffic is warranted and long overdue. That said, the primary danger on this and other roads is intersections. The recent cyclist fatality at this location occurred when the cyclist was stopped alongside a truck and both vehicles simultaneously made a right turn. Side guards on trucks would greatly lessen the likelihood of a fatality, but cyclists should never situate themselves to the right of a potentially right-turning large vehicle.

Order #7. That the Economic Development & University Relations Committee is requested to hold a public hearing to discuss the formation of a city commission dedicated to providing a forum for exploring and addressing the concerns of undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and other post-high school students in Cambridge.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Toomey, Vice Mayor Devereux

I told my MIT students about this and some of them are interested in possibly serving on such a board. I am curious what issues would rise to the top of the priority list of such a group.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with CCTV to ensure funding for our municipal media services, and that the City Council go on record opposing a new FCC rule that would severely decrease funding for CCTV and 22CityView by allowing telecommunications companies to deduct in-kind services fees.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

Though much has changed since Cable TV was first licensed in Cambridge – primarily the shift from television to Internet, the support of community access from the licensees has only diminished over time. Continental Cablevision used to maintain a studio for community programming but that requirement went away with a previous federal change. Now the FCC wants to further choke the financial support required of a licensee (and there’s only Comcast in Cambridge).

Order #11. That the Housing Committee Co-Chairs, in collaboration with the City Manager’s Office and the Office of the Mayor, be and hereby are requested to reach out to their counterparts in Boston and Somerville to convene a region-wide discussion about the affordable housing crisis.   Councillor Simmons

I recommended such a regional conversation 2½ years ago as a member of the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee. It never happened. – Robert Winters

November 5, 2018

On Deck for the Nov 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:03 am

On Deck for the Nov 5, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here’s my first pass at the interesting stuff:City Hall

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $92,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Police Extraordinary Expenditures account for the fit out of a new Police Reporting Station at 628 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square.

The new substation will be a welcome addition to this part of Central Square.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $200,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Community Development Extraordinary Expense Account to fund a Bicycle Plan Update with Feasibility Analysis and Implementation Plan.

As the Manager’s communication says, "The 2015 Cambridge Bicycle Plan created a bicycle network vision, an aspirational plan for creating a high-quality bicycle infrastructure network on streets and paths in the city. The Plan did not include technical studies to evaluate space and operational constraints for each street segment to determine the feasibility of creating separated facilities in the short term." It’s important to highlight the fact that the Plan was never carved in stone and immutable. It was an aspiration, i.e. a Big Wish intended to address the general issue of bicycle safety and "comfort". Where much of this went wrong was in the decision to rush through a number of half-baked "quick build" projects. This latest expenditure could yield balanced, sensible (and probably more expensive) plans or just more of the same – depending, at least in part, on whether City staff proceed with open minds or pre-baked conclusions.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $150,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Finance Extraordinary Expenditures account to support a 12-month digital equity research initiative.

While the expressed purpose of this initiative is "to study and analyze gaps affecting the City’s low-income or otherwise disadvantaged population in use of the broadband internet", it also formally ends the Broadband Task Force. What the communication does not emphasize is that some proposals for a full municipal broadband system that could have had a very significant price tag and financial exposure for the City grew out of that Task Force – something that was not well-received by the City Manager. On the flip side, there may be ways in which such a system could pay for itself. That conversation will likely continue outside the confines of City boards.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from the Community Benefits Stabilization Fund to the Grant Fund Human Services Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used: (1) for grant agreements with nonprofit organizations to address the City’s most pressing service needs, and (2) to enter into a contract with a Project Evaluator to work with the grant recipients as well as the Community Benefits Advisory Committee (CBAC), which is overseeing this effort.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, requesting the City Council authorize the City Manager to enter into a contract with a consultant service agency to provide evaluation services for 5 years from the date of the execution of the contract pursuant to G.L. c. 30B, §12b for the purpose of obtaining independent evaluation services to assess the use of community benefits funding by City-based nonprofit organizations in accordance with the Community Benefits Ordinance and the Guiding Principles of Community Benefits Funding.

While I claim no great understanding of this ordinance and its funding mechanisms, there are a few points worth making here. First, this was spawned by concerns about prior community benefits agreements associated with zoning proposals – generally upzoning – in which a property owner offered some benefit (such as the donation of the Foundry building or contributions to scholarship funds, community centers, etc.) to secure the necessary votes for the proposed zoning change. I believe the intention was to regularize this process so that it was not conducted as part of some relatively private understanding that yielded benefits to organizations favored by individual councillors. There is also the notion that agreements like this are a bit like purchasing zoning relief by sweetening the pot with cash. Zoning should be primarily driven by good planning rather than the extraction of financial benefits. Another concern that I have is that the universe of recipients of these "community benefits" now seems to be limited to subsidized housing and various social service agencies. One of the more significant things that grew out of the K2C2 deliberations several years ago was the understanding that "community beneifit" should also include things like placemaking and an improved retail environment. It would be a shame if those priorities were forgotten.

Order #2. That the City Manager work with the Fire Department to evaluate the existing capacity of fire stations in the Kendall Square area and whether a new fire station is needed, and if so, determining the feasibility of locating a plot of land for this use.   Councillor Mallon, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

It’s worth noting that there used to be a fire station in Kendall Square at the intersection of Dock Street and Main Street. That station was sold by the City around 1999-2000 to be repurposed as a Bed & Breakfast/restaurant (now "The Kendall").

Order #3. Further Study Needed on First Street Garage.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Carlone

This is sure to be a Big Deal in the months ahead with a lot of activism brewing in East Cambridge. It is worth again emphasizing that even if you have a 50-year brooding resentment about the Sullivan Courthouse being built in the first place, the First Street Garage was built, at least in part, to support the traffic associated with that building. The legal machinations over the development rights at the Courthouse site appear to all be over, but the preliminary plans were based on the ability to lease space in the First Street Garage or, if that was blocked politically, in the Galleria garage. What complicates this now is the possibility that the Cambridgeside Galleria complex may undergo significant re-envisioning which might involve a reduction in parking capacity. There are lots of moving parts in all of this.

Order #4. Rethink Approach to Envision Cambridge.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

This is sure to be a point of contention at the meeting. The Order seems to focus primarily on the public relations error of leading with just three recommendations which have not all been received with love and kisses. One could also argue that there were some underlying flaws in the Envision process itself – primarily its focus on a long list of ideas growing out of working committees rather than a unified vision for the future.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Quinton Zondervan, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 16, 2018 to discuss CMA 2018 #196 and any other matter related to Jerry’s Pond.

One pet peeve that I harbor is the notion that hazardous sites should just be fenced off or otherwise sealed off for eternity rather than cured. This applies to the asbestos-laden Sullivan Courthouse building as well as Jerry’s Pond. I expressed much the same point of view years ago in suggesting that water from the Stony Brook system should be directed to the Muddy River in order to increase the flow. The response was that this might disturb toxins in the river bottom. A little disturbance may not be such a bad thing if one day those materials are removed. Sealing off a problem is not the ideal way to address a problem. – Robert Winters

October 17, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 345-346: Oct 16, 2018

Episode 345 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, Oct 15 Council meeting, Inman Square, Subsidized Housing Overlay controversy, Envision Cambridge. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 346 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Zero Waste Report, urban design & retail (creating active storefronts), Central Square, upcoming events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

September 16, 2018

Pre-Fall – Select menu items from the Sept 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:50 pm

Pre-Fall – Select menu items from the Sept 17, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe boys and girls return to the playground this week. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) for FY2019.

80% housing, 10% open space, 10% historic preservation – same as every year. Not negotiable.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a recommended appointment of the following person as a member of the Cambridge Housing Authority for a term of 5 years: Elaine DeRosa

I cannot think of a better choice for this important appointment.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Wed, June 20, 2019 to discuss the potential for a City-based Cannabis Social Equity Program, focusing on ways to reduce barriers to entry in the commercial Cannabis industry.

Manager’s Agenda #6. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt the Cannabis Zoning Petition with suggested revisions and additional considerations.

I’m a little curious about this: "Board members suggested further study of whether mobile facilities could be allowed, given that a mobile facility operating on a temporary basis might provide lower barriers to entry for small businesses that cannot afford typical retail rents." Are they talking about pot trucks to go along with the food trucks? When I was a kid there was a Good Humor Man who got caught selling dope out of his ice cream truck. Nowadays they’d just call that economic empowerment.

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the reappointment of the following persons as a members of the Library Board of Trustees: Karen Kosko, Patricia Payne and Nancy Woods.

Excellent appointments all around.

Applications & Petitions #3. An application was received from the Office of the Mayor McGovern requesting permission for a temporary banner across Massachusetts Avenue in front of City Hall promoting the Indigenous Peoples’ Day from Oct 3, 2018 thru Oct 15, 2018.

Most people just celebrate this as Day Off. No banner necessary.

Resolution #3. Resolution on the death of Frances (DeGuglielmo) Tingle.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Toomey

Resolution #6. Retirement of Attorney David Sullivan from the Massachusetts State Senate.   Mayor McGovern

Resolution #29. Retirement of William"Bill" Dwyer from the Department of Public Works.   Mayor McGovern

One thing not everyone knows is that the Department of Public Works is a community with many people who work for decades, sometimes their entire working life, within DPW. Retirements of people like Bill Dwyer are a very big deal indeed.

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to establish a Senior Living Overlay District at the current site of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility to encourage and incentivize redevelopment specifically for continuum of care services.   Councillor Mallon

I think we’re starting to get a bit too prescriptive with Cambridge zoning, especially with the introduction of "overlay districts" for every imaginable use. Many of us would like to see opportunities for senior living or a place where artists can flourish. We would also like places to buy affordable groceries. Is the creation of an overlay district to dictate one use while preventing other potential good uses the right way to go? It’s one thing to classify land use as residential, commercial, industrial, etc., but how far down should this categorization go?

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments and relevant housing partners to aggressively attempt to obtain, or help others obtain, the Santa Maria property for purposes of affordable housing.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey, Mayor McGovern

Whatever happened to the idea of a relocated Public Works Yard? I’m not necessarily recommending this, but putting DPW on Concord Ave. and building mixed-income housing on the current DPW site isn’t a crazy idea.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Commissioner to increase enforcement of the Bike Lane Bill to keep our bicycle infrastructure free and unobstructed.   Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Zondervan

Does this apply to Really Bad Bicycle Infrastructure (RBBI)?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the tax status, zoning history, and sale of The Constellation Center’s Parcel C in Kendall Square.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Toomey

Anyone who has followed this knew this Order would eventually come. That will be an interesting and likely fruitless journey down the road of Retroactive Zoning & Tax Classification. Looking forward would make a lot more sense, but I’m sure I’ll find the history interesting.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Economic Development Division to regularly update the vacant property database as well as review the strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report and report back on the feasibility of implementing these recommendations.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I testified recently at a follow-up meeting of this committee about the potential unintended consequences of encouraging "pop up" businesses to occupy vacant spaces at (presumably) much lower rents than nearby businesses. I can easily see a seasonable "pop up" store showing up and stealing all the holiday business away from an existing business. The temporary filling of a vacant store could then lead to another vacancy.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to provide a legal opinion on a Motion to Rescind.   Councillor Zondervan

Order #14. That the City Council rescind its vote of July 30, 2018 failing to send the climate safety (Brown, et al) petition to a second reading, thereby taking no action on the petition.   Councillor Zondervan

Our petulant Councillor Zondervan continues to stomp his feet in protest over the failure of the Nakagawa-Brown petition to be passed to a 2nd Reading. First he tried to file reconsideration, and now he wants to go for the legislative equivalent of annulment. I am not a lawyer (IANAL) and I have no prior knowledge of anyone ever looking to do pull a "Motion to Rescind" on a prior vote, but consider the ramifications of such a thing. A local legislature votes on a zoning matter (one way or another) and the matter is finalized. A property owner then happily goes to the bank to secure financing now that the road has been cleared. Then a month or so later the local legislature comes back and cries "Do Over" like that annoying kid who didn’t like the fact that the other kids prevailed in the ball game.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 13, 2018 to discuss revisions to the proposed Municipal Code amendment to create a new chapter 12.22 entitled “Surveillance Technology Ordinance;” said revisions were submitted to the City Council on June 25, 2018.

The interesting aspect of this (at least to me) is the legal separation of authority under the City Charter. The City Council may be the body that sets general policies, but can you imagine the ensuing chaos of having the Cambridge City Council micromanaging how the Cambridge Police Department conducts its day-to-day operations or how it responds to an emergency situation? It’s one thing to set parameters and maintain a dialogue, but police investigations should not be arbitrarily constrained by people trained more in politics than in police work.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 23, 2018 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 10.17 entitled “Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance” in section 10.17.070 entitled “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers.”

I attended this meeting. My impression is that we have several elected officials who have never seen a fee increase or a tax increase that they didn’t embrace and celebrate. The simplest way to understand fees is to make clear the distinction with taxes. A fee pays for a service, and the money raised has to support that service. It’s not just another revenue source like a tax that can be used for whatever pet project a councillor wants to support. Personally, I find the notion of renewing a parking sticker every year a bit ridiculous. We accept it only because we’re familiar with the routine (and the long lines for some). A much better system would be to pay a one-time fee for a sticker that’s good for as long as you own the vehicle and still live in Cambridge. It would be easy to encode the sticker for easy verification against City databases. The only people waiting on lines would then be for new residents or new vehicles.

Committee Report #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Aug 8, 2018 to discuss City Council petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Article 5.000 as it relates to rainwater and flat roofs.

As an owner of a triple-decker with a flat roof, I completely understand the concerns about clogged drains and why someone might seek an alternative design. The ideas in this zoning petition have merit. The only issue should be how to ensure that one person’s cure is not another person’s cause of trouble, i.e. rainwater being diverted to an unwelcome place. – Robert Winters

August 14, 2018

Tight spot on Huron Avenue

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling — Tags: , , , , , , — jsallen @ 1:01 pm

I am expanding here on comments which I made on a post in the Cambridge Bikes Facebook group.

The overhead view from the post shows a stretch of Huron Avenue near Sparks Street.

Huron Avenue and Sparks Street, Cambiridge, Massachusetts

Huron Avenue and Sparks Street

I see here a retrofit to a car-centric street design in an attempt to accommodate bicyclists of all ages and abilities, a popular goal of bicycling advocacy.

This stretch is downhill right to left in the overhead view. A common explanation for the buffer (diagonally-striped area) to the left of the bike lane is that it is to protect cyclists from overtaking motorists — but it places the bike lane in the door zone. A bike lane in the door zone is unsafe for any bicyclists, but it is worse here. Motorists don’t have x-ray vision. A look in the driver’s side mirror won’t show a bicyclist until rather late on a right-hand curve: bicyclists are hidden by the parked cars behind. Bicyclists can travel as fast or nearly as fast as cars here, also worsening the dooring hazard. and do best to merge out and ride in the stream of motor traffic. This also improves sight distance for motorists who might (horrors!) have to slow a little to follow a bicyclist.

On the other side of the street, the bike lane leads bicyclists into the right-hook zone at Sparks Street in the expectation that all right-turning motorists will yield. The green-painted crossing is an attempt to accommodate bicyclists who do not check for traffic behind them, whether due to lack of skill, a stiff neck, inattention or misplaced trust. But, not all motorists yield. A bicyclist needs to be extra careful here, casting a look over the shoulder, and preferably merging left to block a right-turning motorist or let that motorist pass on the right.

Is it actually possible to design safely for all ages and abilities here? A speed hump could help by slowing motor traffic. Removing parking spaces would make a big improvement, but parking spaces are sacred to residents and business owners, and illegal parking (as in the bike lane on the south side) is tolerated as a minor sin. Moving the legal parking to the uphill, soutth side, would reduce the dooring risk. On the south side, bicyclist are traveling more slowly and sight lines are better.

But above all, a major change in motorists’ behavior is needed — a cultural change: reduction in speed, and respect for bicyclists who safely far enough from the parked vehicles to avoid dooring. Attempting to bring about bicycling accessible to people of all ages and abilities using paint first, without the public will to step up enforcement, gets things backwards. In the mean time, children might ride slowly on the sidewalk, but grownups do best to use defensive driving techniques, as I have described.  The major motorist behavior change can be expected (with autonomous vehicles) — in a decade or three.  If  shared use becomes dominant with motor vehicles, there also will be less need for parking spaces and that would be good too.

March 14, 2018

The Marcia Deihl bicycling fatality

Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley has obtained a copy of the crash reconstruction report in Marcia Deihl’s fatal collision with a truck on March 1, 2015, and posted the report online. I thank Mr. Kelley for performing this public service.

My understanding is that a Freedom of Information Act request was necessary to obtain a copy. That is not as it should be. The public needs to know the how and why of crashes, to avoid them and guide policy.

Quick summary: Deihl rode out of the driveway on Putnam Avenue from Whole Foods, collided with the front bumper of the truck, which was headed east in the lane closest to the driveway, and went under its front wheels. Here. You can see the ghost bike in the image. (It is before the driveway but the crash occurred at or after the driveway.)

Half-trigger warning: this post isn’t relaxing reading and neither is the report, but they don’t include any gruesome images, or except for the last few pages or the report, descriptions more graphic than what you have just read.

So, what about the report?

Unfortunately, the investigation leaves questions unanswered, which it might have answered. Only in the synopsis at the start of the report does the State Police investigator repeat part of the report of Cambridge Officer Sullivan who interviewed the truck driver at the scene. Sullivan’s report says that the driver “checked to his right but didn’t see anything but snow so he started to pull over. He stated as he was pulling over he started to put on his hazard lights. He felt a bump and thought he ran over a snow bank.” He also said that he was pulling over to park and then walk to a construction site to see if it was ready for the dumpster he was carrying.

The report doesn’t raise, or answer, the question whether the driver was looking ahead prior to pulling over, as he was approaching the driveway. There was also no discussion of the role that snowbanks might have played in blocking sight lines. You will probably recall that the winter of 2015 was the snowiest one ever recorded in the Boston area. 94.4 inches had fallen from Jan. 24 through Feb. 22, 2015.

Deihl pulled out of the driveway either just as the truck was passing, or she passed it. The initial point of impact was the front of the truck and — as identified by a GPS recorder in the truck — it was going only 5 mph at that point (slowing to a stop).

One thing that calls out to me in the report is the intensive examination of the truck but cursory examination of the bicycle (p. 12 of the PDF, p. 7 of the report). What if, for example, Deihl’s brakes had failed? Were the steel rims of Deihl’s old English three-speed bicycle wet? Steel rims are as slippery as ice when wet, and rim brakes barely work then. The temperature reached 30 F on the day of the crash, which occurred at 3 PM, but snowmelt might have wetted the rims. Or did the bicycle have a coaster brake, in which case wet rims wouldn’t have been an issue? Did Deihl skid on packed snow or ice? Also the autopsy report is rather perfunctory. Medical condition leading to loss of control? — last page of the PDF. “Bicyclist rideout” crashes like this one are rare after childhood, suggesting to me that something unusual went wrong.

The key to this crash would seem to be why Deihl came out of the driveway and collided with the truck, rather than stopping to let it pass. But the trucker also pulled over to the right — Deihl may have turned right assuming that the truck would clear her. — page 9 of the PDF.

Deihl was required under the law to yield to traffic in the street before entering it from a driveway. If she pulled out of the driveway ahead of the truck, the trucker could have prevented the crash as long as it was not too late for him to avoid the collision by braking or swerving. He was at fault if he failed to look. If Deihl was passing him on the right, she would have been close to the side of the truck and probably in its right-side blind spot. And sight lines may have been blocked by a snowbank.

It’s incredibly frustrating that:

  1. The investigator didn’t know what he is doing in a bicycle investigation (scenario repeated with the Anita Kurmann fatality in Boston later the same year);
  2. It took a FOIA request to see the report;
  3. Advocates use these tragedies to justify whatever pet projects they have. (Sideguards, says Alex Epstein. They would be irrelevant in this collision with the front of a truck: more about them here. Separate bike traffic from car traffic, says Pete Stidman. Just how would a sidepath have worked on a day when the street was lined with snowbanks is another valid question. Most likely, it would not have been usable. Comments by Epstein and Stidman are here. Neither of them had seen the report when they made their observations.)
  4. Advocates are avoiding adequately informing bicyclists about the hazards of trucks and how to avoid them.

Well, the advocates at the American Bicycling Education Association are an important exception. I am proud to be an instructor in its program. An animated graphic on safety around trucks is here and if you click on the title at the top of the page, you can find out how to sign up for a course (online or in person) which will cover that topic and much more.

I thank Paul Schimek for many of the observations in this post, and for drawing my attention to the availability of the crash report.

And again, I thank Craig Kelley for making the report available.

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