Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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

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

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.

June 14, 2012

Comments on current Forest City zoning petition – by Bob Simha

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,planning — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:48 pm

Comments on current Forest City zoning petition

written by Bob Simha, June 11, 2012

The Cambridge Planning Board
City Hall Annex
344 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Members of the Planning Board,

I would like to submit objections to the rezoning proposal submitted by Forest City Enterprises et al for a portion of the block between Landsdowne Street, Green Street, Massachusetts Avenue and Blanche Street. I would also like to add an objection to the elimination of and use of the existing green space adjacent to the Fire House as a site for a 14 story apartment house.

The objections I share with you are based on my long association with the University Park project including a central role the in the development of the original design guidelines for the University Park project prior to Forest City’s selection, a continuing role its development after their selection and a continuing interest in ensuring that the project will in all its elements – physical, social and economic – enhance the quality of life in Cambridge and in particular the vital connection between the neighborhoods that make up Central Square, University Park and the MIT community.

From the outset, the design guidelines that MIT published for the University Park project and that were subsequently enshrined in the special district zoning were clear about holding an 80 to 85 foot height limit along Massachusetts Avenue. The current proposals violate this very important principal proposing a building almost twice that height. The impact of such a building would undermine not only the relationship with adjacent buildings but will certainly have a negative effect on the more respectful scale of the new Novartis Buildings across the street. The Planning Board should not permit this principal to be compromised.

From the outset, all of the planning for University Park anticipated a generous and green opening from Massachusetts Ave into the center of the University Park project welcoming the public as well as tenant populations into the interior of the project. The original plan called for a market building just beyond this entry portal which would have helped to anchor and revive retail offerings in Central Square. One has to wonder how much more congenial the area would have been if Forest City had pressed forward to develop the market building instead of filling the space with a visually unsettling apartment house that offers little in the way of the ground floor space for new retail activity.

To now exacerbate that mistake by filling in this portal area next to the Fire house with a 14 story tower apartment house made up of very small market rate rental units is to add insult to injury. The elimination of one of the painfully few usable open spaces in University Park should not be tolerated. The shadow studies produced by Forest City’s architects only demonstrates how during much of the year the plaza-apron area between the proposed tower and Mass. Ave. would be in shadow for most of the year.

And, more seriously, it would negatively impact the major investment in one of the few new parks in this part of the city. Casting its shadow over Jill Brown-Rhone Park it would be a constant reminder of the callous response Forest City has presented to the objections of its first proposal, namely to consider adding to the housing resources of the area. To both take away an existing dedicated open space and to diminish another would bring new meaning to corporate hubris.

As MIT’s Director of Planning during the period of the evolution of the planning and through much of the development period for University Park we had always planned that the block between Landsdowne and Blanche Street would ultimately be developed as a useful and attractive adjunct to the University Park. As one of the major land owners in this block we knew that it would be in MIT, Forest City and the abutting Cambridge neighborhoods’ interests to develop this part of Mass Ave. with activities that would add new retail services, additional housing and activities that would animate the area and make more safe this dead zone between MIT and Central Square. The expectation was that, notwithstanding the impediments of multiple ownerships it would be possible to come to terms with other owners, and redevelop the entire block as a multipurpose building. The argument that was put forward, at one of the recent presentations made by Forest City that it had not been able to accomplish this goal, only suggests that they did not work hard enough. MIT has planned for many years to relocate the Random House dormitory that occupies a major part of the block in question. The other 4 owners should, with sufficient creativity, be accommodated elsewhere. When the University Park project hung in the balance because MIT needed to resolve the traffic plan the City required, but was held up by the California Paint Company, creative efforts were made to relocate California Paint so that the overall project could go forward. One can only assume that what was done before, can be done again. The advantage to the city of a single redevelopment instead of two or three must be apparent. A more unified multipurpose development that responds to both economic and social goals would be possible. In addition, the increase in value that the current proposal would create would only tend to exacerbate the expectations of current landowners for even a greater return and, thereby, make the next developer ask for even more density and more height.

The development of this site for residential and retail purposes would be a major benefit to the community and based on the success of Forest City’s market rate housing it would generate a reliable and steady revenue stream for both the developer and the City. A quick look at the 203 units Forest City built at 100 Landsdowne Street demonstrates this point vividly. It carries an assessed value of $53,800,000 and is taxed at commercial rates. A comparable development on Mass. Ave. for 300 units plus retail services could add $75 million in value. Something to think about. Finally, this proposal appears to have ignored both the Red Commission’s recommendations for Central Square and appears to ignore the forthcoming results of the Central Square study. For these reasons, as well as those mentioned above, I would respectfully submit that the Planning Board reject this zoning petition.

O. R. Simha
Six Blanchard Road
Cambridge, MA 02138

Note: The zoning petition was amended by the City Council at its June 11 meeting to exclude all parts relating to the residential tower that had been proposed to be built adjacent to the firehouse. The petition, as amended, will be before the Planning Board on June 19.

See also:
Some observations for consideration regarding the Forest City proposal (May 14, 2012)

May 18, 2012

Reports on December, 2011 fatal truck/bicycle collision

(Note: this post has been updated since first placed online, because readers have asked for images to clarify the location and details of the incident. Also see comments following this post. Review of the reports, images and comments has led to some changes in the post, as well.)

The MIT student newspaper, The Tech, has obtained and posted copies of some of the police reports on the truck-bicycle crash on Dec. 27, 2011 which resulted in the death of an MIT graduate, Phyo Kyaw, ’10. I comment here on the Tech story about the crash, and the police reports it links to.

I study bicycle crashes — it’s part of what I do in my profession, but I offer the following comments for free as, I hope, some small service to the MIT community and to the public at large. [Disclaimer, if needed: I am an MIT alumnus. That is, to some extent, why I take the trouble to write this.]

To sum up what I’m about to say, there’s enough blame to go around. Also, the crash investigation failed to look into a number of significant issues or to frame the legal issues accurately. It shows considerable bias toward the truck driver. The Tech‘s reporting missed on a few points. Specifics follow.

The Google satellite view below shows the intersection. The truck was turning the same corner as the tourist “trolley” bus with the green roof shown in the satellite view. This view is from the west, and so north is at the left in the image.

Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Note that north is to the left in this image.

(Cambridge Civic Forum’s blog software won’t let me embed the actual Google view, in which you could scroll around, look from other angles, zoom in and out etc. but you can link to the Google view here.

Now we add Kyaw on his bicycle. He may have been traveling toward Massachusetts Avenue on Vassar Street and stuck the truck head-on, as shown by the arrow coming down diagonally from the upper left in the image below — or traveling toward MIT on the sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue, as indicated by the arrow at the lower left — or crossing the street from MIT, but not in the crosswalk, as indicated by the arrow pointing straight down from the top. The semitrailer truck crossed the centerline of Vassar Street as it turned. The crash occurred at night, in the rain.

Update: surveillance video excludes Kyaw’s approaching on the sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue. Damage to the bicycle confirms that it was struck on its left side. Kyaw most probably then was traveling westbound in the eastbound bike lane on Vassar Street and cut across the street in front of the truck.

Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, indicating possible direction of travel of bicycle

Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, indicating possible direction of travel of bicycle

Here is the intersection seen in a Google Street View from the direction of the approaching truck. The three arrows, again, show directions from which Kyaw on his bicycle may have been approaching the intersection. (Update: but not the leftmost arrow in the photo.)

Intersection seen from direction of truck, with arrows indicaing possible approaches of Kyaw on bicycle.

Intersection seen from direction of truck, with arrows indicaing possible approaches of Kyaw on bicycle.

You may also view this Street View in Google Maps.

Here is the Massachusetts State Police diagram showing the final location of the truck, and of Kyaw (to the left of the trailer, on Vassar Street).

Massachusetts State Police diagram

Massachusetts State Police diagram

As also described in the Massachusetts State Police accident reconstruction report, the bicycle contacted the truck’s front bumper and came to rest under the dual tandem left rear wheels of the cab. It evidently was dragged quite a distance farther than Kyaw. The report indicates that Kyaw was not riding in the bicycle lane on Vassar Street (also assuming that he was traveling head-on toward the truck) — but does not indicate that the truck had crossed the centerline of that street. There is similar bias later in the report. As described in The Tech:

“The possible cause of this collision was the encroachment of the bicycle into the path of the turning tractor trailer unit,” the [Massachusetts State Police vehicle accident examination] report [page 6] said.

Encroachment of the bicyclist into the path of the truck when the bicyclist was described as on the right side of the street and the truck partially on the left side? Encroachment means that a vehicle is where it isn’t supposed to be. The bicyclist was encroaching, then?

Different considerations apply if Kyaw was not approaching the truck head-on; I’ll discuss them later.

The reconstruction report goes on to say that

…roadway design and engineering did not precipitate or contribute to this collision.

Nonsense. Though they are not mentioned in any of the reports, a bulbout and street furniture on the corner made the turn difficult for the truck, forcing it across the centerline of Vassar street. The truck driver may have been looking in his right rear side-view mirror to make sure that the rear of the trailer cleared the obstacles.

The Tech goes on to say:

Kyaw’s bicycle’s final position was not in a bicycle lane, the report said. Local laws do not require bicycles to travel in the bicycle lane, and it is common for left-turning bicycles to travel in Vassar’s left lane.

The observation about the law is correct other than that it’s state law, but the last part of the quote is incorrect and misleading. Assuming that Kyaw was traveling along Vassar Street toward the truck, he was in the left-turn lane. Bicyclists must merge out of the bike lane to go straight or turn left without conflict with through and right-turning traffic, or with traffic stopped at the curb. I happen to have a Web page with photos of this very intersection illustrating that point.

Again, however, Kyaw may not have been traveling head-on toward the truck. Then the bike lane is irrelevant, because he then would have been crossing the street, and it is impossible to cross the street while remaining in a bike lane.

The Tech also stated that

The reconstruction report cited contributing factors of “moderate to heavy rainfall,” Kyaw’s nonreflective clothing, Kyaw’s presumed high speed, and the lack of a front light on the bicycle.

A headlight is required by law. The lack of a headlight makes sense as a contributing factor, assuming that the truck driver was looking in Kyaw’s direction, placing some of the responsibility for the crash on Kyaw. Reflective clothing is not required by law. A reflector or reflective material only works if headlights are aimed at it. Rain also may have affected Kyaw’s ability to see. Eyeglasses were found at the scene, and when beaded with rain, they spread glare. Kyaw, like the truck driver, may not have been looking ahead. To merge toward the center of the street, Kyaw should have looked back over his shoulder for overtaking traffic.

The Tech continues:

Kyaw was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, Cambridge Police report #5 said. The bicycle was “not equipped with a front-facing light,” and its front white reflector was partially obstructed by brake and shifter cables, the report said. Massachusetts law requires bicycles to have a front light at night.

Cables obstructing a reflector don’t seem a likely explanation. They’re too narrow unless the reflector is very small. How the position of the cables could be determined from a bicycle that had gone under a truck also isn’t at all clear. The reflector may, however, have been obstructed by Kyaw’s hand, or its reflective properties compromised by dirt or beads of rainwater. The truck’s headlights were in any case not aimed at Kyaw to light up the reflector as the truck rounded the corner. A large truck’s cab is so high above the headlights that a bicycle’s reflectors barely work if the bicycle is close, see explanation here. A vehicle ahead of Kyaw, or car headlight glare behind him, made worse by a wet or fogged windshield on the truck, may have concealed him.

And, again, if Kyaw was not headed toward the truck head-on, the front reflector is irrelevant.

Kyaw’s 21-speed bicycle appeared to be set at the gear combination that was as hard to pedal in as possible, indicating travel “at a fairly fast pace,” police report #5 said. On the other hand, if Kyaw was intending to turn left and was approaching a red light, it is also possible he was slowing down, or had even come to a stop.

The fifth Cambridge police report includes this statement but also indicates that the shifter for the rear derailleur was in the second-highest position, not the highest.

The discussion of Kyaw’s speed would have benefited from interviews with people who knew his riding style, if they could be found. There are many bicyclists who ride in high gear at a low cadence. On the other hand, he might have been strong and fast, yet still foolish enough to ride at night without a headlight. In this case, he would have been heading into an intersection with a major street against a red light at high speed. I consider that unlikely.

Still, all this brings up the issue of educating bicyclists. I’ve advocated for decades that institutions of higher education provide bicycling instruction to incoming students. Avoiding death or brain injury to even one student every couple of years would more than pay for this. Think of the wasted educational investment, and the loss of future alumni contributions. But I digress.

According to Cambridge Police Report #1, the truck driver “stated that he was traveling westbound on Mass. Ave. when he attempted to take a right turn onto Vassar St. [The driver] said that the light was green and his right directional light was on. Moments later, [he] said he felt the impact of something hitting his truck. He stopped and got out of his truck to investigate and observed that he had been in a collision with a bicycle.

This doesn’t indicate which way the driver was looking — not a very informative statement from him. Did the police ask?

According to the reconstruction report, MIT provided video that showed the truck did activate its right directional signal.

(As indicated in a comment with the article, the video did not show Vassar Street, so it didn’t show Kyaw’s approach).

The police reports say little about the condition of the truck other than that its brakes worked. Was its windshield clean? Were all the mirrors in good working order? Were the headlights aligned? Was the driver’s view ahead obstructed? Etc.

The Massachusetts State Police accident reconstruction report says almost nothing about the bicycle, but page 2 of the fifth Cambridge report describes the locations of scrapes and other damage to the bicycle. These are consistent with the truck’s striking the left side of the bicycle and dragging it on its right side. The front fork was bent to the right, suggesting that the bicycle was struck from the left — except that the front fork and wheel were crushed under the wheels at the rear of the truck’s cab. as shown in the still below from a television news report. I have labeled the locations of the bicycle — the saddle is facing the camera; of a shoe; and of where Kyaw lay following the crash. He had been removed by the time the video was shot.

Locations of bicycle, shoe and Kyaw following crash

Locations of bicycle, shoe and Kyaw following crash

The reports are incomplete in describing the bicycle. Of most importance, what was the condition of the bicycle’s brakes? Even when a bicycle has been damaged by going under a truck, it is possible to examine brake shoe and rim wear, and to determine whether a brake cable had frayed and parted. It is often possible to operate the brakes and determine whether they were in good adjustment.

The bicycle was an under $200 model sold through big-box stores, which are notorious for poor assembly of bicycles — here is the best description of it I could find online. It does have aluminum rims, which brake much better than steel rims in the wet, but how well was the bicycle maintained, and were the brakes working properly at the time of the crash? The police reports say nothing about this.

Though the Massachusetts State Police accident reconstruction report and vehicle inspection report really ought to be definitive on the topics they are supposed to cover, police reports which have not yet been released may possibly fill in some of the missing information.

I hope that my comments have been informative and helpful. — John S. Allen

(Update: please click on the link below to read Paul Schimek’s comments and my replies to them. Paul has suggested that Kyaw was approaching on the Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk. Based on further review of damage to the bicycle, I think that Kyaw may have been cutting the corner from right to left across the path of the truck.)

February 16, 2012

Susan Hockfield to Step Down as MIT President

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 9:17 am

Feb 16 – Susan Hockfield to Step Down as MIT President

To the Members of the MIT Community:

I write to share with you my decision to step down from the presidency of MIT. Over the past seven years, working together we have accomplished far more than I set out to do. The Institute is now moving forward on a new set of ambitious goals, and I have concluded that the powerful momentum we have built makes this an opportune moment for a leadership transition.

I came to MIT in December 2004 with a profound sense of the privilege and the responsibility of the president’s role. But nothing could have prepared me for this remarkable community of creative minds. Together, we have made tremendous progress in dozens of ways, strengthening MIT’s foundations and setting our sights for the future. We are designing the policy, technology and education required to address the global need for sustainable energy. We have accelerated MIT’s ability to synthesize the strengths of science and engineering to fight disease and to invent new powers of computation. We have expanded the Institute’s global connections. We are charting a course to a new future for American manufacturing. We have also built a framework for the future of our campus and neighborhood, fortified the Institute’s financial structures, strengthened MIT’s culture of inclusion and increased the number of undergraduates we can educate. With the recent introduction of MITx, we are changing the conversation around affordability, access and excellence in higher education. Through last year’s celebration of MIT’s Sesquicentennial, our community emerged reenergized and refocused on our mission of service to the nation and the world. And we achieved all this and more while steering the Institute through the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The momentum of all that we have accomplished has tempted me to stay on to see our many efforts bear their full fruit. But to support our ambitious goals for the future, MIT has begun the crucial work of planning for a significant new fundraising campaign. A campaign on this scale will require the full focus and sustained attention of the Institute’s president over many years. I have concluded that it would be best for the Institute to begin this next chapter with new leadership.

Presidential searches generally take time; I will serve until my successor is selected by the MIT Corporation and is ready to assume the role. I look forward to continuing to be a member of the MIT faculty.

The coming months will offer many opportunities to reflect on our work together, but for now, let me simply thank the faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends of MIT who have given of themselves to advance the mission of MIT. While I expect new intellectual adventures ahead, nothing will compare to the exhilaration of the world-changing accomplishments that we produced together.

Most sincerely,

Susan Hockfield

May 4, 2010

“Urban Revolutions” event at MIT

What follows here is a very long post, but Robert Winters has given me a free rein. I haven’t seen any other news coverage of the “Urban Revolutions” event, so here goes. Despite its length, this is not a transcript — though I quote the speakers liberally, I have summarized much of the session. If you see a “more” prompt just below, click on it so see the rest of my account. Thanks Robert!

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