Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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.

February 25, 2018

Bridging the Divide – Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 7:49 pm

Bridging the Divide – Items of Interest on the Feb 26, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Here are some of the more interesting items on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the City of Cambridge retaining its noteworthy distinction of being one of approximately 33 municipalities in the United States with AAA ratings from each of the nation’s three major credit rating agencies.

This has become an annual tradition, and it’s still something we should celebrate.


Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for the City Council vote to approve the use of the new voting equipment and to discontinue the use of the existing voting equipment effective immediately.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Deputy City Clerk, Paula Crane, transmitting a report for a City Council public hearing held on Tues, Feb 20, 2018 for the purpose of the City Council and the public to view the new voting equipment purchased by the Election Commission.

We first used the current AccuVote machines for the Sept 1996 State Primary, and they were a huge improvement over the punchcard system we used prior to that. It was necessary then to have some custom programming done so that the same scanners could also be used for the municipal PR elections, and that will again have to take place with the new ImageCast machines. That’s just for creating the ballot data text files. The election tabulation will continue to be done the same we’ve been doing it. In addition to firming up our system for our own sake, it’s worth noting that with Ranked Choice Voting being advocated in Massachusetts and elsewhere (though not necessarily PR), what we do in Cambridge may be helpful down the road in other places.


Charter Right #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages as follows: 2A. Property located at 40 Cottage Street; and 2B. Property located at 44 Cottage Street.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, whether a building is landmark-worthy should depend only on the building and not on its owners or occupants.

Update: The City Council landmarked only one of the two properties (44 Cottage Street) and sent the other (40 Cottage Street) to Unfinished Business even though the landmarking only makes sense as the pair of buildings. Apparently, these councillors believe that landmarking is a function of whether they like the property owner or not (and whether they supported you politically).


Resolution #24. Congratulations and thanks to William B. "Bill" King on the occasion of his retirement.   Mayor McGovern

Suffice to say that I have great respect for all who voluntarily serve on City boards and commissions out of a sense of civic duty rather than single-issue advocacy. Bill King is one of those people who has consistently defined over many years what it means to be a great citizen.


Communications #7. Sundry e-mails received on support of the protected bike lanes, relative to Policy Order #4 of Feb 12, 2018 Council Meeting. Copies are on file for review in the City Clerk’s office.

I generally ignore all emails that are the product of a coordinated campaign with a list of "talking points", but I did happen to read one of these sundry emails that stated "You will see no slander in comments from the people who support the new infrastructure." I am reminded of the statement "Fortunately time takes care of old people for us" stated by one particular idiot who didn’t appreciate the criticism by older people of the Cambridge Street configuration.

PSFormer Mayor Alice Wolf submitted a late communication at the previous meeting with specific objections to the current configuration of Cambridge Street and the suggestion that a better configuration should be found. The Cambridge Bicycle Committee was created from her initiative, so let’s put to rest the claim that criticism of this configuration is a fringe phenomenon of "the anti-bike people".

Order #2. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to direct the new bicycle lane working group, once it has been convened, to hold a series of “listening sessions” at the senior buildings throughout Cambridge in order to ensure that our senior residents, who might otherwise be unable to attend the various hearings to weigh in on this issue, will have adequate opportunities to have their voices heard on an issue that could have an outsized impact upon them.   Councillor Simmons, Mayor McGovern

Wouldn’t it be great if "Vision Zero" didn’t always mean "Listen Zero" when it comes to public feedback and other points of view? I will try to be optimistic. Then again there’s this:

Manager’s Agenda #8. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-16, regarding a report on Inman Square construction.

Synopsis: The City is very interested in your ideas about the color of the sidewalk and what varieties of flowers should be planted in the vicinity of the planned reconfiguration of Inman Square that is not subject to any compromise, discussion, or alternative perspectives.


Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with relevant City departments to create additional Safety Zones for safer streets.   Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Devereux

I agree with this Order, but not just in the situation of "proximity to land-uses serving vulnerable populations". Some streets warrant lower speed limits simply because there is fast-moving traffic directly adjacent to a narrow sidewalk, e.g. westbound on Putnam Ave. When Prospect St. used to have an additional lane with neither a buffer nor parking it was very dangerous, especially close to Central Square. On-street parking can, in fact, be very effective in traffic calming – even moreso when speed limits are reduced.

Blue Heron BridgeOrder #7. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City staff on the feasibility of initiating a formal transit study and action plan of the Alewife area in response to unanimous concerns of the Envision Alewife Working Group regarding the need for a pedestrian/bicycle/shuttle bridge from the Quadrangle area along Concord Avenue across the railroad tracks to the Triangle area on Cambridgepark Drive and a commuter rail stop which would be critical to create neighborhoods that are safe and healthy for residents and businesses.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Kelley, Councillor Carlone

It would be great if the City and our various government representatives could find a way to make this happen, but not in the absence of either a new commuter rail stop or shuttle service or both. It will be very difficult to sell this proposal simply as a pedestrian and bicycle amenity (as has often been done), so I’m glad to see this phrased as it is. Contained in this letter is also one point of view that there should be a grade crossing of the railroad tracks (or underpass or bridge) at the western end of Cambridgepark Drive. You’ll never see a new grade crossing approved there, and an underpass is unrealistic. As for a bridge option, it’s only realistic to imagine one new bridge over the tracks and (even though I may like it there) all the proposals I’ve seen in the last few decades don’t have it that far west. The letter also suggests a pedestrian bridge over the Little River. Except for the usual difficulties associated with building anything near a waterway, that bridge would be relatively easy to build and inexpensive. See picture (Blue Heron Bridge over the Charles River between Newton and Watertown – Wikipedia).

Update: City Manager Louis DePasquale hinted at the possibility of some movement but gave no specifics. Everybody is intrigued about what he was driving at.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to direct the City Solicitor to draft language for a home rule petition for a Cambridge Right of First Refusal Legislation.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Simmons, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

It’s curious that the authors of this Order chose not to specify what form of "Right of First Refusal bill" they want. There are good reasons why House Bill 3017 never made it out of committee. Do the authors simply want the City Solicitor to provide language that’s the same as H.3017 or do they want a Home Rule Petition that is fundamentally different? It would be nice if the focus was primarily on providing options for long-term tenants rather than on creating a framework for ensuring that private property in select neighborhoods is transferred to public/quasi-public ownership.

Update: Councillor Simmons exercised her Charter Right on this vacuous Order. This Order brought out more people during Public Comment than everything else on the agenda.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to develop a timeline for the next Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons

The current version of the Incentive Zoning provisions was ordained on Sept 28, 2015. That ordinance has the following provision: "The City shall initiate a reevaluation of the Housing Contribution Rate and any other aspect of these Incentive Zoning Provisions at an interval of no less than three (3) years from the time the rate was last amended by the City Council." That’s what a nexus study is, so I suppose this Order is right on schedule. – Robert Winters

February 16, 2018

A look at the Brattle Street bikeway

In 2017, Cambridge installed a two-way separated bikeway on Brattle Street between Mason Street and Brattle Square. In the video here, I take a look at part of that bikeway, from Church Street to Brattle Square.

This is a high-definition video. For best viewing, start the video playing, click on “Youtube”, and then click on the Full Screen Icon — the square at the lower right.

February 13, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 291-292: Feb 13, 2018

Episode 291 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 13, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 13, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Feb 12 City Council highlights – bike lanes, Inman Square redesign, Vision Zero, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 292 – Cambridge InsideOut: Feb 13, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Feb 13, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Cambridge Historical Commission landmark designation reports, fate of the “Tenant Right of First Refusal” bill, and more. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

February 11, 2018

Rhetorical Conflict – Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:46 pm

Rhetorical Conflict – Safe Streets and Vision Zero: February 12, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

BicycleThe battle for turf in the Rhetorical War continues this week with troops massing at the borders over the meaning of Vision Zero and Safe Streets. Continents could be sinking and frogs raining from the sky, but we’ll once again get to witness the turf war over allocation of space on Cambridge roads (and sidewalks). Word has it that the Boston Cyclists Union has already rung the alarm and asked all troops to report for duty in the Sullivan Chamber on Monday to argue against "safe streets for all" if that might translate into giving up an inch of sand on the beachhead of segregated bike lanes. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the City hosting a Big Press Conference this past week announcing its Vision Zero Plan – basically reducing the speed limit to 20mph in the major Squares (a good thing) and creating a rhetorical framework to hush up anyone who questions future road reconfigurations. After all, you know, Vision Zero. If you don’t like flexi-posts or traffic congestion or if you raise issues about road conditions in winter and safety considerations at intersections, surely you must be against traffic calming and in support of danger. Public Comment on Monday promises to be great (that is to say – bad) theater with about a 30 year age difference in opposing sides in the battle over the definition of safety.

Frankly, I’d rather talk about public transportation, but that would have far less drama. I was also unable to witness the presentation last week on the Battle of Inman Square that pitted tree huggers vs. bicycle segregationists (which actually pitted some people against themselves) in the elusive redesign of this crossroads.

Here’s the menu of my personal favorite dishes being served up at this gathering:

Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Lechmere National Bank building at 225/227 Cambridge Street.

Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the Final Landmark Designation Report for the Hovey & Markham Cottages located at 40 and 44 Cottage Street.

Communications #3-10,12-17. Fourteen letters opposing historical landmark designation of 40 Cottage Street.

We are blessed with our most excellent Historical Commission who generate landmark designation reports (and other publications) that are incredibly good. These two reports are no exception. In a city with so many significant historic buildings it’s not surprising that the Historical Commission is recommending landmark status in both of these reports. What makes this noteworthy are the communications – many of which were generated from the same template. Some of them even make reference to the "weaponization of the Historical Commission landmark study and designation process". Personally, I hope the homeowners of 40 Cottage Street will be allowed to renovate their home to the highest energy efficiency standards while maintaining as much historical integrity as possible. That said, either your building is landmark-worthy or it’s not, and I’d say the report strongly suggests that this one is. It’s true that various legal processes are routinely used in Cambridge to stall or block projects, but I guess it apparently does matter whose ox is gored. If you know the right people then it’s called "weaponization", and otherwise it’s called "neighborhood preservation". In any case, it will be good to hear more about how the Historical Commission balances preservation vs. modernization in a time when energy conservation and sustainability are prioritized.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a Sustainable Materials Recovery grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the amount of $38,800 to the Grant Fund Department of Public Works Other Ordinary Maintenance Account which will be used toward the purchase of food waste collection bins for the citywide curbside organics program.

The starting date is now less than two months away. Speaking as the man formerly known as "Compost Man", I’m eager to see how this plays out and what problems arise as this service is rolled out citywide. I’m also mindful of the fact that this is just as much a rediscovery of former best practices as it is of innovative new practices.

Manager’s Agenda #5. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 17-111, regarding the feasibility of implementing neighborways.

In short, the report doesn’t endorse using art to calm traffic. We had a good way of handling this when I was a kid growing up in Queens, New York. We painted bases and baselines on the street and played stickball. The message to drivers was abundantly clear and there was never an altercation. We would also chant "Car Car C-A-R" when a car was coming. Other streets had hockey goals in the street that had to be moved to allow cars to pass, but nobody ever complained. We never called these "neighborways." We just called them streets.

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-01, regarding a report on possibility of a supermarket opening at 20 Sidney Street.

Perhaps nothing will come of this, but at least there’s this: "Community Development Department (CDD) staff have reached out to real estate representatives at several grocery chains, including Market Basket, Aldi, Trader Joes, and bFresh to inform them about the opportunity and connect them to Forest City. Several grocery store representatives mentioned that they do not have plans to expand at this time, or that the space is too small for their traditional size requirements. Regardless, CDD staff has relayed the grocery store chains contact information to Forest City staff. Staff will continue to explore options and communicate with Forest City about possible tenants.” In my view Aldi is the one that might work best at this site, but only if the rental agreement makes it economically feasible.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and the Cambridge Public Health Department regarding the current status of zoning language and public health regulations for the keeping of hens and food cultivation and proposed next steps to advance the Urban Agriculture initiative.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern

Perhaps we can just dispense with the supermarkets and just buy our milk and eggs from Farmer Jones down the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Department of Public Works to report back to the Council on the success of the Polystyrene Ordinance, including implementation, enforcement, and remaining concerns among the business community.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

When I was on the Recycling Advisory Committee (22 years, I believe) I often learned how some initiatives that were very appealing were actually counterproductive or, at best, a break-even proposition. For example, a "paper" drink cup is still lined with plastic, and when you take away the paper there is still a significant amount of plastic – perhaps more than in a "Styrofoam" cup. This Order asserts that expanded polystyrene (EPS), a.k.a. "Styrofoam", has been shown to leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages, but most reliable sources dispute that or note that any potential hazard is negligible. The real problem is that it’s difficult to recycle economically and it doesn’t really biodegrade.

Regarding the ban of plastic bags, except for the fact that the plastic gets caught in the machinery at the materials recovery facility (MRF), the environmental benefits of paper bags over plastic bags is not a slam dunk. Reusable bags, on the other hand, win the argument easily. That’s why the Cambridge ordinance is best referred to as the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Ordinance rather than as a plastic bag ban (which it isn’t).

The jury is still out regarding the polystyrene ban. Some places now provide "compostable" plasticware, but recyclers aren’t keen on it because it doesn’t really biodegrade along with other organics except under very specialized conditions. Also, biodegradable plastic is often hard to distinguish from other plastic and this compromises the recyclability of all plastics. I suppose none of these details matter to city councillors as long as it makes them appear "environmental". I am, of course, interested to hear what DPW has to say about how the polystyrene ban has fared.

Order #4. That the City Manager and the Mayor’s Office are requested to establish a new working group consisting of a diverse set of stakeholders, including cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, small business owners, EMS/first responders, and City Officials to discuss the results of the protected bike lane pilot using clear evaluation criteria, and how best to construct a cohesive network in the future.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Kelley, Mayor McGovern

This is simply the fulfillment of the Jan 25, 2017 memo from Iram Farooq (CDD), Owen O’Riordan (DPW), and Joseph E. Barr (Traffic). That memo states in regard to the Cambridge St. reconfiguration:

Evaluation Process
A critical part of the process will be evaluation of this corridor, both to make adjustments for future installations and to help stakeholders understand how this demonstration project is working. To provide adequate time for users to adjust to the changes, we expect the demonstration to last at least six months, after which we will make decisions about whether to retain the demonstration as a permanent improvement and whether any changes or tweaks are required based on the performance during the demonstration period.

While the exact details of the evaluation are still being determined and will be discussed as part of the community process, we expect to look at the following data both before and after implementation:

  • Parking use: occupancy and availability along both the main corridor and the adjacent side streets
  • Traffic volumes: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Transit performance: stop dwell time, travel time, and ridership
  • Traffic compliance with parking and lane use: motor vehicles and bicycles
  • Speed
  • Crashes (acknowledging that it can be difficult to draw conclusions based on a limited period of time)
  • Ability to maintain bike path, in winter and for street cleaning.
  • Retail access: customer mode share survey
  • Retail success: sales tax receipts (if available) or other data

In other words, there was always supposed to be a evaluation of this Separated Bicycle Lane Demonstration. It’s interesting that at least one city councillor seems unable to grasp this in saying, "The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not." There is little question that enhanced bicycle (and pedestrian and motor vehicle) safety is the rule of the day (because, you know, Vision Zero), but the question remains how best to achieve this. Furthermore, saying that an evaluation will be "data driven" is insufficient. For example, banning all motor vehicles would surely produce data showing a reduction in motor vehicle crashes, but that would not imply that the ban was good policy or that a better solution was not possible.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to create additional opportunities for the community to evaluate and understand the plan to redesign Inman Square and to provide input, including: walk-in clinics between now and the next community meeting and making more details available online including alternative designs considered but deemed unworkable, traffic simulations, and other relevant data or information.   Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Siddiqui

Perhaps nobody wants to hear this but there really are currently two feasible options available for Inman Square. One is the "current plan" to wipe out the trees in Vellucci Park, relocate some of that space to the north side, and move all bicyclists onto the sidewalks. The other is to keep Inman Square more or less as it is with its newly painted green stripes for bicycles and maybe with some tweaking of the signals, lane markings, and pedestrian phases. Do we have any safety data on how the intersection is working since the "temporary" changes were made last year?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to report on progress and efforts made to date to provide greater access to internet services citywide for low income residents.   Councillor Zondervan, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Simmons

Translation: Some advocates want municipal broadband whether or not there is the demonstrated need or demand, and the fact that Cambridge has a significant "free cash" position will be perpetually used to justify any required expenditures. I also wonder sometimes what fraction of people nowadays use only their phone to access anything online (and to, of course, post silly pictures).

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Carlone and Councillor Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for an additional public hearing held on Jan 24, 2018 to discuss the Zoning Petition filed by Peter Kroon, et al, to amend Section 20.50 of the Zoning Ordinance in the " Harvard Square Overlay District" dated Sept 28, 2017.

This might win the all-time award for longest committee meeting leading nowhere. At least we now know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

December 13, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 275-276: Dec 12, 2017

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:14 am

Episode 275 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 12, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 12, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics: City Council recap, looking back at 2017. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 276 – Cambridge InsideOut: Dec 12, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 12, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: Looking back at 2017 and ahead to the next Council term. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

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