Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 21, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 213-214: March 21, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 213 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast March 21, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included the State Championship victory of the CRLS Boys Basketball team, some upcoming civic events, design review of MIT-Kendall projects, and a curious zoning petition that appeared at the Mon, Mar 20 City Council meeting regarding short-term rentals. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 214 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast March 21, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included zoning and short-term rentals, changes to the Smoking Ordinance, and the proposed changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that was passed to a 2nd Reading at the Mon, Mar 20 City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

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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December 16, 2013

Update on the Copenhagen Wheel

In a post in this blog from 2011, I reported on a product under development at the MIT Senseable Cities Laboratory, the Copenhagen Wheel. It provides an electrical power assist to a bicyclist.

The motor and batteries are contained entirely in the rear wheel. The Wheel can be controlled through a Bluetooth connection from a smartphone on the handlebar, so there is no need for wiring. Various smartphone apps can report on speed, distance, state of battery charge, exposure to air pollution etc.

Copenhagen Wwheel promotional video shows bicyclists riding in the door zone

Clip from Copenhagen Wheel promotional video shows bicyclists riding in the door zone

I had a serious concern  in 2011, that the Wheel was designed to switch from motor mode to generator mode at 12 mph. In other words, if you tried to go faster, you couldn’t: it would feel as if you were pulling a huge trailer. 12 mph is slower than many bicyclists would usually ride and could be hazardous if there is a need to sprint across an intersection before the traffic signal changes, to outrun a chasing dog, etc.

Development of the Wheel has continued, and readers deserve an update. The Wheel is now going into a production, licensed to a company called Superpedestrian. Maximum power is now 250 watts, top speed 15 mph in Europe; power 350 watts, top speed 20 mph in the USA — reflecting legal limits. (15 mph, though, is still much lower than a desirable sprinting speed, and many bicyclists can easily sprint at more than 25 mph.) Pedal power is proportional to torque (whether cadence-sensing, I don’t know — torque sensing alone would favor slow cadence and hard pushing. There is a derailleur option which alters the relationship between pedaling torque and torque at the wheel, so this becomes a more serious issue.) Some technical specs are online on the manufacturer’ site.

Placing the entire power unit in the wheel makes retrofitting to an existing bicycle easy, but my friend Osman Isvan, who studies electrically assisted bicycle technology, questions the Wheel concept, or any electric motor in the wheel. He says that a mid-drive system with a small, high-speed motor powering through a reduction drive to the crankset is better, because then the motor can be lighter and more efficient. In case you would like to get technical, Osman has an article, “Power Optimization for the Propulsion of Lightweight Vehicles,” where he addresses this issue, among others. The Wheel’s motor may in fact use a gear reduction drive, unlike most in-wheel motors, though it almost certainly doesn’t benefit from the ability to maintain nearly constant motor speed with the motor (like the cyclist’s feet) ahead of derailleur gearing or an internal-gear rear hub.

One thing that really caught my eye was the disconnect from safe bicycling practice in the company’s promotional video.

The first photo (above) in this article is from the video and shows bicyclists riding in the door zone of parked cars, at speed. That occurs in the video at 0:45 and 1:45.

At at 0:21 and again at 1:39, the Wheel is demonstrated by a bicyclist riding the wrong way on a one-way street, and where a parked car could pull out, but the next parked vehicle hides the bicyclist from the driver, who is on the curb side.

Bicyclist riding wrong way in copenhagen Wheel promotional video

Bicyclist riding wrong way in Copenhagen Wheel promotional video

There’s this shot of unsecured baggage including a (virtual?) electric guitar which hangs way out past the end of the handlebar — a large virtual amplifier is on the rear rack.

Unsecured baggage..

Unsecured baggage..

And then there’s this shot of a man illegally carrying a (fortunately virtual) small child on his shoulders, and another child sitting facing backwards sitting crosslegged on some kind of platform. The law more or less everywhere in the USA says that children are to be carried only in seats designed for the purpose. Massachusetts law says that the children must wear helmets. Anyone familiar with Our Fair City will know that this clip, like many in the video, was shot on our own Paul Dudley White Bicycle Path.

Illegal if the kids weren't virtual...

Illegal if the kids weren’t virtual…

This carelessness in promotion sets me to musing about what we have ahead of us as the increased speed potential (even if only 20 mph) of electrically-assisted bicycles collides with the kind of underdesigned bicycle facilities — essentially sidewalks — which Cambridge is building — a trend now spreading to Somerville and Boston. We’re not talking superpedestrians here, we’re talking bionically enhanced — but not skills-enhanced — bicyclists on bikeways which could only be safe at pedestrian speeds.

Allow me to predict that over the next decade, the products of bikeway visionaries and bicycle technology visionaries are going to come together in some rather interesting but also disturbing ways!

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April 9, 2013

MIT/Kendall Night at City Hall – Apr 8, 2013 City Council meeting (updated)

Filed under: City Council,Kendall Square,MIT — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:40 am

MIT/Kendall Night at City Hall – Apr 8, 2013 City Council meeting

Though there are a few other items on the agenda, this meeting is clearly centered on the potential ordination of the MIT/Kendall zoning petition that was introduced in December 2012, but which has actually been around, debated, and refined since its original introduction over two years ago. There have been many meetings of the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board on the substance of this petition plus volumes of input from the public.

The central agenda item is this:

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Mar 7, 2013 to continue discussions on the petition by MIT to create a new Section 13.80 Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District; specifically to discuss Uses, Incentive Zoning, Community Fund, Housing and Sustainability. A presentation will be made by the Executive Director of Historical Commission on historic building. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 1, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Jan 15, 2013. Petition expires Apr 15, 2013.

A related Order from Councillor Decker highlights one feature that is now part of the revised language of the petition:

Order #1. That the text of the MIT Zoning Petition be amended to increase the inclusionary housing from 15% to 18%.   Councillor Decker

The last Ordinance Committee report on this matter is this:

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 2, 2013 to continue discussion on the petition by MIT to create a new Section 13.80 Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District; said report contains text of zoning language with changes since the Planning Board referral and a draft letter of commitment.

Though there may be other efforts to amend the proposed zoning amendment on the floor, the latest version as submitted is here:

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David Maher transmitting additional information received from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, Real Estate MITIMCo., regarding the MIT revised draft zoning amendment, a revised commitment letter and a table providing an overview of the public benefits contained in the revised commitment letter and the revised draft zoning ordinance amendments. [HTML Version of Revised Petition & Letter of Commitment]

There is much that could be said at this point about the MIT/Kendall Petition. In spite of questionable claims of MIT faculty opposition to the proposal, most of the letters from the MIT faculty and administration have shown clear support. Many of the suggestions of the East Cambridge Planning Team have been incorporated into the proposal. There are legitimate arguments that can be made in favor of MIT providing additional housing for graduate students and post-docs, but there is no reason why that housing should be located in Kendall Square. There is also an ongoing analysis within MIT to determine the best ways to address these housing needs, and there is every reason to believe that MIT will act in good faith to ultimately do what’s in the best interest of its students. This may well mean that new housing will be constructed at the opposite end of the MIT campus.

The arguments of naysayers as this matter heads into its final stage have focused on two red herrings – graduate student housing and claims that the plan does not mandate sufficient "sustainability" requirements. When you consider the fact that none of the new buildings in this PUD-5 zone have actually yet been designed, it makes you wonder what blueprints these naysayers have been consulting. The misinformation has all the earmarks of political organizing during a municipal election year.

On balance, the MIT/Kendall Petition, as amended, is a good plan and it should be ordained. MIT has responded well to most of the requests of City staff and the elected officials. If two-thirds of the City Council see fit to pass the zoning amendment, they should be congratulated for keeping their eye on the many positive benefits of the plan and for navigating wisely through a sea of misinformation spread by reactionaries and political wannabes. There’s more to being a good elected official than just being able to say NO to everything. – Robert Winters


Apr 8 update on the MIT/Kendall Petition

The MIT/Kendall zoning petition was ordained as amended on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor vanBeuzekom voting NO (as expected) and Vice Mayor Simmons voting PRESENT. The revised Letter of Commitment from MIT was approved unanimously.

Prior to final ordination a series of amendments were proposed by several councillors. Councillor Kelley objected strenuously to the late arrival of the proposed amendments and, in doing so, he came across as the smartest guy in the room. There were so many opportunities to propose amendments during the months, weeks, and days leading to this vote, that there was no excuse for trying to rush these amendments through. Nothing good came of it.

The late parade of amendments began with Councillor Cheung proposing some modifications of the percentages in section 13.83.2(d). This squeaked by on a 5-4 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Reeves, Simmons, and vanBeuzekom voting in favor. Next came Councillor Cheung’s amendment to increase the maximum height of the proposed residential tower from 300 ft. to 350 ft. That failed on a 4-5 vote with Councillors Cheung, Reeves, Simmons, and vanBeuzekom voting in favor.

Then Councillor vanBeuzekom proposed a reduction in the maximum permissible nighttime noise levels from 65db to 55db. Councillor Kelley opined that this was a matter that should be viewed in a citywide context. The amendment failed 4-5 with Councillors Cheung, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting in favor. The next amendment by Councillor vanBeuzekom to require "net zero" energy standards enjoyed a temporary victory on a 5-3-1 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting YES; Councillors Kelley, Maher, and Toomey voting NO; and Councillor Reeves voting PRESENT. Later in the meeting, when informed that this burden could threaten MIT’s other commitments, Mayor Davis reluctantly asked to change her vote from YES to PRESENT which defeated the amendment 4-3-2. This was a vote change that Mayor Davis clearly did not relish, but she did it for the greater goal of passing the entire package.

The last amendment was from Councillor Decker and will likely be the one that brings some repercussions. She proposed that the $10 million that was to be dedicated to a Community Fund be transferred to a general mitigation fund not tied in any way to the K2C2 principles. It is my understanding that this has the effect of cutting out the role of people from the adjacent neighborhood organizations in the mitigation fund. The amendment passed on a 5-4 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Reeves, Simmons, and vanBeuzekom voting in favor.

It was also revealed that Councillor Decker’s Order #1 to increase the Inclusionary Zoning percentage from 15% to 18% was meant to be a citywide proposal. She withdrew her Order and will resubmit it as a citywide proposal at a later date. – RW

April 1, 2013

April 1 Cambridge News

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:01 am

Healy Changes Mind – To Remain as City Manager through 2020

Robert HealyRichard RossiRossi cries foul. Will challenge Healy to settle matter via baseball contest.

"Don’t get me wrong." said Rossi. "Bob has been a great city manager. I’m sure he has a few good seasons left in him, but I can hit with power and can also run the bases."

Assistant City Manager for Fiscal Affairs Louis Depasquale will serve as umpire. "I don’t take sides," said Depasquale, "except when it involves the New York Yankees." It has been reported that both sides are making offers to former Budget Director and long-ball hitter David Kale to return in time for the game.

City Councillor and State Representative Marjorie Decker is still undecided whether she will sign on with the Healy or the Rossi team. Said Decker, "I’ve been going to bat for both of these guys for years." Meanwhile, Councillor Kelley has announced that he will refuse to attend the contest. "I’ve been voting No for a decade. Why should I switch now?" said Kelley.


Casinos to Replace Pharma in Kendall

Gambling"We must have been on drugs," said industry representative Viagra Q. Zantax.

DiceMIT/Kendall Petition amended to add gambing as allowed use in PUD-5 district.
House Speaker DeLeo Vows to Fight Plan

"Why anyone would locate a casino outside of Saugus or Winthrop is beyond me," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo. " I could see Revere, maybe, but no way Cambridge." Cambridge’s Economic Development Division (CDD) is working with the Tourism Board to develop a slogan for this new addition to Cambridge’s diverse economy. "We wanted to use ‘whatever happens in Cambridge stays in Cambridge‘ as our slogan, but Nevada officials have informed us that the phrase is owned by a desert town in Nevada not far from Hoover Dam."


City Faces Lawsuit over Roundtables

RoundtableA Cambridge resident has filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court seeking an emergency injunction to end meetings that the Cambridge City Council has dubbed "roundtable" meetings. According to the Council, roundtable meetings allow a more relaxed give-and-take. While these meetings are public, neither public comment nor television broadcasts are possible. Tom Stohlman, a previous candidate for the Council who has tangled with them over interpretations of the Open Meeting law, said that he was seeking injunctive relief because the Council had gone too far. "The Council has the right to make its own rules, but it doesn’t have the right to make new meanings for old words," Stohlman said. "There’s nothing round about these roundtable meetings.

"The tables are set up in almost a square, and the tables themselves are rounded rectangles." Stohlman, an architect by training, said that the misrepresentation of meeting geometry was a betrayal of the public trust and a symptom of a deeper distrust between the Council and Cambridge residents. Mayor Henrietta Davis, who chairs the City Council, declined comment on Stohlman’s suit, but noted that, in our litigious society, these sort of suits were, in her words, "the shape of things to come."


Late Changes to MIT/Kendall Zoning Petition

Miniature Golf KendallIn response to overwhelming pressure from the MIT and East Cambridge communities, MIT officials today announced their intention to include miniature golf as an allowed use in the proposed PUD-5 District. "It’s an essential part of the innovation ecosystem for this area," said Steve Marsh, Managing Director of Real Estate, MIT Investment Management Corporation – MITIMCo. "We realize this is only a start. We are now working with MIT’s Mechanical Engineering faculty to develop what will likely be one of the greatest rollercoasters ever conceived. We had plans to build a Go-Kart track, but City officials informed us that this would violate the City’s Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance." When informed that the Go-Kart Rally might require the zoning petition to be again re-filed, MIT Executive Vice President Israel Ruiz said, "No way we want to do that. We feel that miniature golf will fulfill the shared goals of MIT, the Kendall Square Association, and the City’s Planning Board. It’s entirely consistent with the recommendations of the K2C2 Committee."

Future plans include water skiing on the Charles River. "If this doesn’t connect the people of East Cambridge and our Kendall Square entrepreneurs to the river, I don’t know what will," said Marsh. Even former MIT Director of Campus Planning Bob Simha agrees with the concept. "It’s consistent with the 1965 plans for the eastern end of the MIT campus."

MIT Graduate Student Association President Brian Spatocco also expressed excitement: "Sure, we were looking for more graduate student housing, but this is gonna be AWESOME!" The petition is expected to come to a vote on April 8.


Central Square Urban Renewal District Created

Felafel TowersCambridge Redevelopment Authority to Oversee Clearing of Buildings
and Kickstarting of New Development

Plans include replacing Moody’s Falafel Palace with a 300 ft. tall slender residential tower. "With the new microhousing units", said City urban design specialist Roger Boothe, "we should be able to accommodate at least 4-5 units per floor. We estimate about 1200 units with this property alone." When asked about other possible development in the area, recently appointed CRA Executive Director Tom Evans said, "The sky’s the limit."

Residential Towers proposed
Two Towers have been proposed for Massachusetts Avenue at both the eastern and western ends of Central Square. The tentative name for the western tower is Minas Tirith which will feature 7 distinct levels consistent with the bulk control plane requirements of the zoning code. The eastern tower will be known as Minas Morgul and will feature 24-hour concierge service. Her name is Shelob and she promises that you’ll sleep well for all eternity in these new residences.


Cambridge Historical Commission recommends landmark status for Central Square MacDonalds

Historical Commission Executive Director Charles Sullivan presented the detailed report of the Commission last week. He noted the important cultural asset that this property represents. "The latter half of the 20th Century was, in large part, defined by the explosive growth of the fast food industry. Many of the historical remnants of this storied history are rapidly vanishing as new cafes and fancy-ass restaurants are displacing these community institutions." Sullivan continued, "I shudder at the thought that one day there will be no more golden arches to be found except along highways. It’s the cities that always suffer." The report recommends that in the event that the MacDonalds cannot be saved in the face of extraordinary development pressure, the golden arches could still be incorporated into the facade of any new building. "We must respect the past even as we welcome the future."


City Discovers Master Plan – It’s the Zoning Ordinance!

Members of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods and its alter-ego group, the Cambridge Residents Alliance, issued a statement upon the announcement of the discovery of the document. "Who knew?" said ACN cameraman Charles Teague. "We were looking far and wide, high and low for the City’s master plan, and there it was all the time!" Said Assistant City Manager Brian Murphy (CDD), "We thought we had done a pretty good job with the department’s website redesign, but I guess a few documents just fell through the cracks. It may be that we filed it under ‘zoning’ instead of ‘master plan’ where it should have been. We promise to immediately rectify this unfortunate confusion."


City to Propose Ban on Fossil Fuels

Pursuant to City Council Order #14 of April 1, 2013, Cambridge hopes to pass a local ordinance banning the use of fossil fuels "for all purposes not to include leaf blowers." The proposed ban came as a surprise to no one. "We have long been aware of the threat of climate change," said Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, chief sponsor of the ban. "If we don’t start this process here in Cambridge, the relentless march toward extreme weather and disappearing shorelines will continue unabated." Major oil companies have stated their intention to seek an injunction to the ordinance if it should be ordained, but they’re not the only parties lining up to protest the ban. Robert "Red" Fawcett of Fawcett Oil Co. was quoted saying, "What about local businesses like mine? If we can’t sell oil, what are we supposed to do? Fill our tanker trucks with Nantucket Nectars? We may have to go back to selling Hay & Grain."

Rat RaceA legitimate question is, of course, how people will heat their homes in the absence of fossil fuels. While some have proposed solar panels heavily subsidized by the City’s unlimited wealth, Councillor vanBeuzekom had a more novel plan. "Rat power," she said. We can harness the rodent power of Cambridge by installing batteries of ‘hamster wheels’ in each home and put these rodents to work!" Speculators have already taken out permits to open new industrial pet food supply outlets to keep up with the expected demand for rodent chow. "Shares in the Ralston-Purina company soared in anticipation of the proposed ban.

"I’m more than happy to volunteer as wrangler for this new four-legged workforce," said vanBeuzekom. "We should start by removing all the rat baits now distributed around the city. We need to maintain a healthy workforce." The alternative is to use people for power generation, but they’re far more expensive to keep.


The Consolidation Plan

The City will announce this week plans to consolidate its many boards and commissions. Some expected that the Peace Commission, Human Rights Commission, and a variety of other boards might be joined into a single "mega-board" to deal with complaints from disgruntled citizens. Instead, the Board of Zoning Appeals will merge with the Planning Board. Chair Hugh Russell said, "This will be a great step forward in streamlining government." He added, "We’ll be able to incorporate all the exceptions as part of the plan."

recycling symbolFuture plans include folding the Licensing Commission into the Planning/BZA commission as well. The Recycling Advisory Committee will merge with the Police Review Advisory Board (PRAB). While current PRAB Director Brian Corr worried that the additional focus on recycling might delay investigation of police misconduct, Recycling Advisory Committee members expressed excitement at the fact that they will now have subpoena power. "There will no longer be the need to beg citizens to comply with recycling regulations," said long-time member Robert Winters. "We’ll now be able to just haul their asses before the Board."


MIT to Refocus its Mission

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an institution in Boston and Cambridge since the days of the Civil War, announced today that it would retool as a training school for the hotel/motel industry. "We have for far too long focused on technological innovation," said MIT President Rafael Reif. "It’s time we focused on the people. Like no other institution, we have the capacity to engineer ways to deliver comfortable accommodations to travelers around the globe." In acknowledgement of the many financial contributions toward this exciting new initiative, it was announced that Killian Court will be renamed "Marriott Plaza." Protests are already planned. In addition, the large dome at 77 Massachusetts Avenue will be substantially altered to better reflect the hospitality industry. Several designs now being considered by a faculty advisory committee are shown below.

MIT Hiway House
Sign planned for 77 Massachusetts Avenue
 
MIT El Rancho


Neon 2
Signs



Neon 1
Signage planned for the new Kendall Square Hotel Innovation Cluster

Mathematics Department officials were excited. Said an unnamed department spokesperson, "The Differential Equations course (18.03) was getting kind of tired with its inhomogeneous nth order linear differential equations and Laplace transforms. Now we can do something really transformative. Opportunities like this grow neither on trees nor along rural highways."

Harvard University to Fold

In response to the announcement that MIT had already developed extensive plans to refocus its mission on the hospitality industry, Harvard announced yesterday that it would be closing at the end of the current academic year. "We’ve had a great 377 year run," said Harvard President Drew Faust. "But discretion truly is the better part of valor. We have no need to spill our crimson blood in a battle with MIT. With the sale of our extensive real estate holdings, we’ll make out like bandits." The Harvard Board of Overseers has yet to comment on the proposed closure, but rumors suggest that they may dedicate the remaining endowment funds toward the rapidly expanding gaming industry.


Williamson to Get Job

James Williamson, long-time public commenter, announced yesterday his intention to seek employment. "I’ve had a long and storied career in the commenting industry, but the lack of a paycheck has limited my ability to do many things." While thanking City, State, and Federal authorities for housing him all these years, Williamson said, "It’s time to give back to the community."


City Council Announces Retirement Plans

In a group statement, the nine incumbents announced, "We’ve had a good run, but there’s got to be more to life than just public service."

There is no word yet from incumbent School Committee members.

March 31, 2013

Early look at the April 1 Cambridge City Council agenda

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

Early look at the April 1 Cambridge City Council agenda

Here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming up at Monday’s City Council meeting:

City Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-29, regarding a report on the feasibility of not allowing residents of new buildings to obtain on-street resident parking stickers.

The City Solicitor reports that this question was already fully answered 11 years ago when the question arose whether resident parking stickers could be withheld from Harvard students residing in Harvard dormitories. The advice then as now was that a resident of Cambridge whose motor vehicle is registered in Massachusetts and principally garaged in Cambridge is entitled to receive a resident parking sticker. End of story.

Another zoning petition arrives:

Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Michael Phillips, et al., requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance to the Special District 2 (SD-2) zoning district in North Cambridge.

Heather Hoffman insists that the East Cambridge Planning Team has expressed no opinion on the MIT/Kendall Zoning Petition in:

Communications #2. A communication was received from Heather Hoffman regarding the MIT petition and East Cambridge Planning Team.

Councillor Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee responds with:

Order #7. That Committee Report #6 of Mar 18, 2013 be amended on page two in the second paragraph by striking out the sentence that reads: "The MIT proposal has received support from the East Cambridge Planning Team."   Councillor Maher

So what DOES the East Cambridge Planning Team really have to say about this? Inquiring minds want to know.

Contrary to the fanciful claims of the Wizard of Essex Street that the MIT faculty doesn’t like the MIT/Kendall Petition, there are these:

Communications #6. A communication was received from Marc Kastner, Dean, School of Science, Donner Professor of Science, MIT School of Science transmitting strong support for the Institute’s proposed rezoning of Kendall Square.

Communications #7. A communication was received from Adele Naude Santos, Dean, Professor of Architecture and Planning, School of Architecture + Planning transmitting enthusiasm and support for the Institute’s Kendall Square proposal.

Communications #9. A communication was received from David Schmittlein, John C Head III Dean, MIT Sloan School of Management, Professor of Marketing transmitting support for the Institute’s proposed rezoning of Kendall Square.

Could it be that the "MIT Faculty Newsletter" is not actually the newsletter of the MIT faculty? It sure seems like it.

We should all be entertained by Councillors Decker and Cheung when this comes up:

Order #1. That all public meetings and hearings be conducted within the city limits and have a Cambridge address, and in the event that a public meeting or hearing is held outside of the city limits, that a vote be required of the City Council to approve said meeting or hearing being held outside the city limits.   Councillor Decker

Vice Mayor raises a valid question with:

Order #3. That the Government Operation and Rules Committee is requested to provide an update to the City Council on any progress that has been made in drafting a Community Benefits & Mitigation Plan, and that an expected timeframe in which a formal recommendation on policy might be made to the City Council is also provided.   Vice Mayor Simmons

Councillor vanBeuzekom declares war in:

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to urge the Cambridge Retirement Board of Trustees to cease investments in fossil fuel companies, review Cambridge’s investment portfolio, contact fund managers for any fossil fuel company investments, prepare a report which explains options for investing in the pension fund in a way that maximizes positive impact of the fund, establish investment policies which support local projects and jobs, create a timeline for implementation of findings and release annual updates.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

Will Cambridge ban gasoline after they ban plastic bags, styrofoam, and soda pop? Will they declare Cambridge a pepperoni-free zone? – Robert Winters

February 11, 2013

Marijuana and More – Feb 11, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge Redevelopment Authority,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 12:41 am

Marijuana and More – Feb 11, 2013 Cambridge City Council Agenda highlights

Here are a few items that drew my wayward attention:

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the Medical Marijuana Interim Zoning Petition.

It would appear that Cambridge is approaching this with the same caution as many other Massachusetts cities and towns. It’s an interesting dilemma that marijuana sales may be legal at such dispensaries, but transporting it to the dispensaries may not be. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a zoning petition received from the Planning Board regarding bicycle parking modifications. [Report]

Accommodation of secure bicycle parking for residents and patrons should be required of all property owners. This zoning petition will essentially apply only to new buildings containing more than three units, but all property owners and managers should really be providing this. It’s a little bizarre that the report requires 38 pages to convey this simple idea. The proposal would be better if it also applied to existing residential and commercial buildings. I say this as a person who accommodates bicycles for tenants of my building, yet my two commercial/residential neighbors provided barely any such accommodation during recent renovations and, in fact, made their structures less inviting for bicycles.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appointment of D. Margaret Drury to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for a 5-year term, effective Apr 12, 2013.

This is a great reappointment and certainly leads you to wonder what role the CRA will play in future Cambridge development.

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to work together with the appropriate city officials including the City Solicitor and report back to the City Council regarding modification of the ordinance (10.12.030) that links the awarding of a one yearlong Visitor Parking Permit per household to the purchase of a $25 Cambridge Resident Parking Permit. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Decker on Order Number Eight of Jan 28, 2013.]

This is a pretty simple idea and a fair one. The Resident Parking Permit fee was recently raised significantly with the acknowledgement that the $25 fee was still very reasonable for the right to park anywhere in Cambridge. At the time when the fee was raised, nobody talked about the fact that this would also apply to Visitor Parking Permits which are used infrequently and which only apply in the immediate neighborhood. It seems very reasonable that a lower fee (or perhaps no fee) should apply for getting only the Visitor Permit. It was a little strange to hear Councillor Decker at the previous meeting characterizing this proposal in terms of potential loss of revenue. Relatively speaking, this is pocket change.

Resolution #33. Resolution on the death of Andrew Jackson Spears.   Councillor Reeves, Vice Mayor Simmons, Mayor Davis

Andrew Spears was the husband of former Election Commissioner Artis Spears. Together they operated the A.J. Spears Funeral Home, a community institution in the Riverside neighborhood of Cambridge. He was a friend to many Cambridge families.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to meet with NSTAR company officials to establish a firm timeline for maintenance and replacement plans for the transformers and electrical systems that serve the city to ensure that local businesses and residential communities are fully serviced   Councillor Cheung and Councillor Reeves

It’s unusual to see City Council orders that speak so directly to potential limitations of the essential infrastructure of the city and the need to maintain and enhance this infrastructure in anticipation of future growth. I expect there are some people who would actively oppose this as a means of limiting growth – the same people who would likely advocate cobblestone roads to limit traffic. I recall not so long ago hearing someone speak against renovations of Cambridge’s water treatment facility because he thought this would only lead to more development and more people living in Cambridge.

Order #6. That the City Council call upon members of the Cambridge Congressional Delegation to reject any proposal that seeks to balance the federal budget at the expense of state and local governments.   Councillor Cheung and Mayor Davis

This Order refers to a truly frightening proposal to remove the tax exemption on municipal bonds. I can’t believe there are people in the U.S. Congress who would advocate such a city-killing idea.

Order #10. That the City Manager is hereby requested to appoint a special task force of real estate and engineering professionals to assess and evaluate the current condition of the Foundry property and projected capital needs as well as anticipated expenses of maintaining the building.   Councillor Toomey and Councillor Maher

The battle lines over the future of this building are being drawn with some very different points of view among city councillors. This is just the next round in a continuing tussle.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate city staff to provide a report to the City Council detailing how the City of Cambridge working in conjunction with the DCR will insure that oversize vehicles not be allowed travel along Memorial Drive so that accidents similar to the sad crushing of the tour bus of prospective Harvard Students do not occur again.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

They can start by making sure those heavy rubber hanging mats are all in place as a warning system for oversized vehicles on these DCR roads. Needless to say, it doesn’t help when the bus driver is paying more attention to his GPS than to the road in front of him. This, of course, is a problem everywhere. We have become a nation of robots.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public meeting held on Nov 20, 2012 to continue discussions on security cameras in the City.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public meeting held on Jan 23, 2013 to continue discussions on security cameras in the City.

I don’t expect to see anything sensible happening as a result of these hearings. It seems obvious to many of us that judicious use of cameras on major roads and potential problem areas is just common sense use of available technology.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Jan 24, 2013 to discuss a zoning petition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map by creating a new Section 13.80 – Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District, which includes several parcels totaling approximately 26 acres in the area north of Memorial Drive, east of Ames Street and south of Main Street and Broadway, and would also include a parcel at One Broadway. The new Section 13.80 PUD-5 is intended to allow mixed use developments with increased development densities and heights.

I was recently on an MIT panel that addressed the substance of this petition. Some thoughts on Housing and the MIT/Kendall Petition can be found at http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=2436.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Jan 17, 2013 to discuss the zoning petition filed by Zevart M. Hollisian, Trustee of Garabed B. Hollisian Trust and L-Z Realty Trust and Seth D. Alexander, President, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street; said petition includes a map and a commitment letter.

Committee Report #6. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, Office of the City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Jan 30, 2013 to continue discussions on a zoning petition filed by Zevart M. Hollisian, Trustee of Garabed B. Hollisian Trust and L-Z Realty Trust and Seth D. Alexander, President, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the zoning Ordinance and Map by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street; said petition includes a map and a commitment letter.

The Planning Board delivered its report at the last Council meeting and now the City Council has the report from the Ordinance Committee. The City Council may now be in a position to pass the petition to a 2nd Reading and get this petition in the queue for ordination in a few weeks. All the ducks appear to be in a row, but election year politics could still be a problem. Those of us who have followed all of the Central Square conversations over the last couple of years know that the really interesting zoning deliberations are yet to come. This petition was never more than a minor revision to the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District (CRDD) with the potential to improve a long-neglected block of Mass. Ave. It will be good to get a few other benefits out of the process, but this is really just a warm-up to something much more interesting. – RW

Post-meeting update: The City Council passed the Forest City petition to a 2nd Reading at this meeting on a 7-2 vote with Councillors vanBeuzekom and Kelley voting NO while saying this would be "premature". It was Councillor Reeves who then correctly noted that this is the 2nd time the petition has been submitted and that it’s been batted around now for nearly a year. There’s no way to logically conclude that advancing this petition is "premature". The petition could come to a final vote as soon as Mon, Feb 25.

July 27, 2012

City Council to discuss last December’s fatal bicycle crash

On Monday, July 30, 2012, the Cambridge City Council is to discuss a City Manager’s report on the December, 2011 fatal truck/bicycle crash at Vassar Street and Massachusetts Avenue. (I commented on that crash in an earlier post in this Forum).

The city has posted the agenda of the meeting. The City Manager’s report on the crash is on that agenda.

I’ve posted that report here — indented, with my comments unindented:

July 30, 2012

To the [City Council]:

In response to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-63 relative to a report on safety issues at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Vasser [sic] Street, Director of Traffic, Parking and Transportation Susan E. Clippinger reports the following:

In response to the fatal bicycle crash on December 27, 2011, the Traffic, Parking + Transportation Department conducted a review of the intersection that included the operation of the traffic signal, signs and pavement markings of the intersection, and a review of the crash history of the location.

Using both the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Cambridge Police Department crash information, TP+T reviewed 19 incidents involving bicycles which occurred in the 5 years between 2007 and 2011 (excluding the fatality which was under investigation). The purpose of the review was to determine if a common type of crash was frequently occurring and if engineering measures could be implemented to prevent future crashes.

A Policy Order Resolution from the May 14 City Council meeting (third page here) describes Vassar Street and Massachusetts Avenue as the second-worst intersection for crashes in the city, and reports 55 crashes, with 24 involving “cars” (which I take to mean all motor vehicles). Clippinger reported on 19 bicycle-motor vehicle crashes over a 5-year period — however, single-bicycle, bicycle-bicycle and bicycle-pedestrian crashes are just as real. Perhaps Clippinger did not report on 5 of the bicycle-motor vehicle crashes because evidence was too sparse, but on the other hand, what about the remaining 31? All 55 crashes were serious enough that police reports were filed. Also, bicycle crashes of all kinds, especially those not involving motor vehicles, are greatly under-reported to police.

A couple years ago in a national Webinar, the City’s bicycle coordinator, Cara Seiderman, said that there had been no crashes on the Vassar Street sidepaths. Evidently, she excluded intersections, and even so, her statement was incorrect. There had been at least two bicycle-pedestrian crashes on the sidepaths in which someone was taken away in an ambulance. Following each of these crashes, one of the parties e-mailed me, having read my online comments about the sidepaths. There have almost certainly been additional crashes.

Clippinger’s report continues:

We found that in 17 of the 19 crashes, the bicycle was proceeding through the intersection and was not turning left or right. In eight of the 19 crashes, the vehicle was turning right. A common cause of this type of crash is that either the driver fails to yield upon turning or the bicycle is traveling too fast to stop in time for a vehicle that is in the process of turning.

Clippinger places the responsibility on the motorist to look to the right rear to yield to bicyclists who are foolishly overtaking on the right. Bike lanes to the right of right-turning traffic at intersections, as here, encourage bicyclists to make this mistake.

It also appears that most of these crashes were minor; only two crashes resulted in the cyclist’s being transported to the hospital.

17 of the 19 cyclists described in the report evidently were lucky. Such “coffin corner” crashes are often fatal when the right-turning vehicle is a large truck or bus. However, Clippinger doesn’t report how serious any of the injuries were, whether or not the cyclists were transported to the hospital. To be fair, she may not have had access to this information. It’s hard to get.

Based on the limited information we have on the location and direction of the cyclist involved in the December 27 crash, TP+T determined that this crash is not consistent with the crashes experienced previously at this location. Further, we determined that the traffic signal operation, signs, pavement markings, and layout of the intersection did not contribute to this crash.

I agree that this was a different type of crash. However, features of the intersection almost certainly contributed to the crash. As I noted in my review of the Tech article — and as reported by eyewitnesses — the right turn was difficult for the trucker because of a bulbout and street furniture on the corner. It is likely that the driver was looking into his right side-view mirror to make sure that the truck cleared the street furniture, and so failed to see the bcyclist. To clear the street furniture, the truck crossed the centerline on Vassar Street, placing it in head-on conflict with traffic in the oncoming left-turn lane, one of the possible locations of the cyclist. The layout of the intersection had nothing to do with this?

However, I think that the cyclist most likely was crossing in front of the truck from right to left. In that case, he had been riding wrong-way on the Vassar Street sidepath, and then turned to his right across the street. The sidepath and connecting bike lane enable this conduct. He could have been looking to the right for traffic, and failed to notice the truck on his left. Also, his brakes may have functioned poorly in the wet.

Clippinger concludes:

TP+T remains fully committed to improving the safety of our roads for all users, particularly for pedestrians and bicycles. We continue to research causes of crashes citywide, and each year we use that information to make engineering improvements we feel will reduce the number and severity of crashes.

“We feel”. I’d prefer a stronger report, examining all types of crashes, and a bicycle program guided by careful research rather than feelings.

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