Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 24, 2017

Not left, Felton

OK, I couldn’t resist the palindrome, but this is a serious post anyway.

Site of near-collision at Cambridge and Felton Streets.

I nearly left-crossed another cyclist today, on my bicycle, as I turned left from Cambridge Street onto Felton Street. It could have been a very serious collision. He came storming out of the shadows past the black parked SUV in the photo, on the new separated bikeway. I wasn’t looking in his direction at the right time to see him in time to yield. (I had to look in different directions to yield to street traffic, sidewalk traffic in both directions, crosswalk traffic — and now, this parking-screened conflict. “He came out of nowhere,” someone else might say but the Transporters in Star Trek are fiction: he came from where not visible in time reliably to allow yielding.) The short stretch where parking is prohibited before the intersection is supposed to make it possible for left-turning drivers to yield. The bikeway is really only designed for bicyclists riding slowly. It doesn’t work to yield to a cyclist going 20-25 mph.

Startled, I yelled WHOAH! as I crossed just in front of him. He yelled back “I have the right of way.”

His sense of entitlement doesn’t exactly reflect prudence, but if I’d collided with him, I would have been held at fault.

In 45 years bicycling in Boston-area urban traffic, I’ve never collided with a motor vehicle, but I’ve had a couple of near-collisions with other cyclists: both in Cambridge, both at night: a near head-on on the path along Memorial Drive in front of the MIT dorms — the other cyclist had no headlight; the other, I was riding westbound on Harvard Street and a cyclist traveling the wrong way on Dana Street or Ellery street crossed at speed a couple of feet in front of me — also, no headlight.

The new installation on Cambridge Street gives bicyclists the sense of entitlement to enter intersections from screened conflicts, at speed. Bicyclists and motorists turning left here need to be extra-cautious. I don’t see how it would be even possible for the driver of a long vehicle turning left to see a bicyclist in the bikeway in time to yield.

Bicyclists riding fast are much safer riding with the motor traffic, but now the travel lanes are too narrow for motorists to pass bicyclists, and only the very strongest bicyclists (or those with electrical assist) are able to ride fast enough that motorists won’t want to pass.

I was on my way to the Bow Tie Ride when this incident occurred. The Bow Tie Ride was a tame affair indeed, average speed around 5 miles per hour due to the large number of participants of varying abilities. Traffic management by the Cambridge Police and volunteers was very good, but I didn’t have time to finish the ride at that speed and left partway through.

March 13, 2017

City of Cambridge Declares Snow Emergency Parking Ban – to be lifted at 7:00am, Wed, Mar 15

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 6:24 pm

City of Cambridge Lifts Snow Emergency Parking Ban Ban lifted as of 7:00am on Wednesday;
Trash/recycling collection 1 day behind schedule

The Snow Emergency Parking Ban in effect will be lifted in the City of Cambridge as of 7:00am on Wed, Mar 15, 2017. Tow operations will continue until the ban is lifted.

Residents parked in one of the City’s Snow Emergency Off-Street Parking locations should exit within 2 hours after it has been lifted to avoid being charged. Residents parked at the 52 Oxford Garage must exit within 2 hours of the ban being lifted.City Seal

Due to icy conditions caused by the storm, people are urged to stay off the roads tonight. If travel is required, please use extra caution and leave additional distance between other vehicles and snow crews.

City of Cambridge offices, programs, and library branches will be open on Wednesday. Because curbside trash and recycling pickup was canceled on Tuesday, pickup routes will be delayed 1 day for the remainder of the week.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) will continue to clear streets throughout the night, starting with major arteries. Crews will also be working to remove downed trees. Your patience and participation in clearing sidewalks helps the City return streets and sidewalks to safe, passable conditions as quickly as possible. After major street clearing operations have been completed, crews will begin working on high traffic bus routes to clear snow from bus stops, ramps, and crosswalks.

City Ordinance requires property owners to remove snow from sidewalks next to their property or business within 12 hours of daytime snowfall and before 1:00pm when it has fallen overnight. Property owners must also remove or melt all ice within 6 hours of the time it forms. There is a $50 fine for each day of non-compliance. Property owners are asked that when shoveling their sidewalks to please maintain a minimum of 36 inches clear width, so that people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices (also parents using strollers, etc.) can navigate the sidewalk. The Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) requests that a 48 inch clear width be created when possible – this gives an extra measure of safety. Additionally, CCPD urges residents and businesses to pay particular attention to the corners, where one sidewalk meets another – shovel the full length and width of curb ramps, so that pedestrians with disabilities can get to the crosswalks. Business owners are requested, if there is a disability parking space on the street near your storefront, to please take the extra time to shovel a clear path to that space, so that your customers with disabilities can visit your establishment. In particular, shovel a space wide enough so that vans with lifts can deploy the lift onto the sidewalk.

The City recognizes the effort that goes into shoveling out any vehicle parked on a city street during a snow event. However, residents may not use objects such as trash/recycling barrels, furniture items or any other item to save parking spots on public streets. These items will be treated as trash and disposed of by DPW.

The public can follow updates on Twitter at @CambMA and on Facebook at CambridgeMA.Gov. The City uses the hash tag #CambMASnow on Twitter to help the public follow the conversation. In addition to following updates on the City’s website and social networks, members of the public are encouraged to sign-up to receive notification of snow emergency parking bans at: CambridgeMA.GOV/Snow.


City of Cambridge Declares Snow Emergency Parking Ban
Ban goes into effect at 7:00am on March 14; Trash and Recycling Pickup Cancelled

Mar 13, 2017 – A Snow Emergency Parking Ban will go into effect in the City of Cambridge beginning at 7:00am on Tues, Mar 14, 2017. Vehicles parked on streets that are signed “No Parking during a Snow Emergency” will be ticketed and towed until the ban is lifted.Snow on Broadway

There will be no curbside trash or recycling collection on Tues, Mar 14 because of weather conditions. All curbside trash and recycling daily pickup routes will be one day behind schedule for the remainder of this week.

The Cambridge Public Schools will be closed on Tues, Mar 14, 2017.

Updated information will be available at CambridgeMA.GOV/Snow throughout the storm. In addition, the public is encouraged to follow updates on Twitter at @CambMA and on Facebook at CambridgeMA.Gov. The City will be utilizing the hash tag #CambMASnow on Twitter to help the public follow the conversation.

Below is important information from the City:

  • A Snow Emergency Parking Ban is effective as of 7:00am on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 and vehicles parked on streets that are signed “No Parking during a Snow Emergency” will be ticketed and towed at that time until the ban is lifted.
  • To assist residents in parking their vehicles, free parking is provided at a number of facilities beginning at 6:00pm on Mon, Mar 13, 2017. The 52 Oxford St. Garage will allow parking at 8:00pm. A listing of facilities that provide free parking during snow emergencies, is available at: CambridgeMA.GOV/Snow.
  • Always park at least 20 feet from the street corner. Parking this far away from the corner improves visibility and safety year-round and ensures compliance with Cambridge Traffic Regulations. In the winter, it also allows plows to push snow away from crosswalks.
  • Ice needs to be removed within 6 hours from the time it forms, per City Ordinance. Snow needs to be removed within 12 hours after snow stops falling during the day and before 1:00pm if it snowed during the night, per City Ordinance.

Please report any power outages directly to Eversource at 800-592-2000.

In addition to following updates on the City’s website and social networks, members of the public are encouraged to sign-up to receive notification of snow emergency parking bans at: CambridgeMA.GOV/Snow. As always, if you need immediate assistance, please contact the Police Department’s Non-Emergency Line at 617-349-3300.

December 10, 2016

After the Fire – the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 10:32 pm

After the Fire – the Dec 12, 2016 Cambridge City Council meeting (postponed from Dec 5)

Dec 3 fireLast week’s meeting was postponed due to the relief efforts associated with the Berkshire Street fire. Any business then before the City Council paled in comparison to the devastation caused by the 10-alarm fire on Sat, Dec 3 in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood. In the midst of it all it was great to see Cantabrigians pulling together to help residents directly impacted by the conflagration. This is a neighborhood where people identify buildings by the names of the families who inhabit them – some for generations.

On the expanded meeting agenda for this week, here are some items of interest:

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The economic sustainability of Hubway may require additional advertising revenue or increased user fees (currently $20/month or $85/year). Or you could just buy a bike and a good lock.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to make the appropriate staff available to assist the Mayor’s Office in facilitating a community conversation about the roles and intersection of race, class, gender, and culture in Cambridge within the first quarter of 2017.   Mayor Simmons

Mayor Simmons has organized such events in the past and does a pretty good job at it.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council regarding the potential of building affordable housing on City-owned parking lots along Bishop Allen Drive.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

At some point, city councillors and City staff will have to start distinguishing between "building affordable housing" and "making housing affordable". As an interim measure, creating housing accessible to low and moderate income people who access it by applying to a government agency or quasi-governmental entity makes sense. However, this contributes to the division of housing into high-cost housing for the well-to-do and subsidized housing for the not-so-well-to-do. It doesn’t do much for those who are simply looking for an affordable place to live and who are not inclined to seek government-owned or government-controlled housing. Affordable options for most people should be available without having to apply to a governmental agency.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Law Department with the intention of ensuring that zoning and building code restrictions will not prohibit the rebuilding of the damaged structures and to report back to the City Council with necessary language or steps needed to ensure a straightforward process for families and current property owners to rebuild.   Councillor Toomey

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Inspectional Services Department, the Community Development Department, the Legal Department and any other appropriate city departments to determine what measures can be taken to fast-track the rebuilding of homes impacted by the fire that may be non-conforming with the current zoning code and report back to the Council in a timely manner on what actions can be considered.   Councillor Devereux

These are both very timely, and if there’s any need to insert an emergency amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to facilitate this, the City Council should fast-track it. Hopefully there’s insurance money to cover most or all of the costs of rebuilding.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to ensure that all money raised during this campaign is distributed to the Wellington Harrington residents impacted by this incident and to report back to the City Council when all funds are distributed.   Councillor Toomey

So far it seems that City efforts and the efforts of the Mayor’s Office have been well-coordinated with the Red Cross and other agencies. Cambridge should be very proud of all these efforts and those of individuals who have stepped forward to assist with money, materials, and housing.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Director of Communications, the Community Development Department, the Human Services Department, and Public Safety Departments to develop an outreach and communications plan for renters in Cambridge about the importance and availability of renters insurance and consult with these departments to assist low- and moderate-income tenants in acquiring affordable renters insurance policies, and to report back on both orders.   Councillor Devereux

Though clearly motivated by the Berkshire Street fire, the reality is that most Cambridge residents and certainly most residents in this affected neighborhood are renters. Buildings can be rebuilt, but the loss of personal property can be equally devastating. People often don’t think about rental insurance, so this is, as they say, "a teachable moment".

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with DCR to request that the speed limit be reduced to 25 mph on Fresh Pond Parkway from the BB&N Upper School campus to the Route 2/16 split west of the Alewife MBTA station.   Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone

Though it may not make sense to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on a limited-access highway or an arterial road with relatively few street crossings, Fresh Pond Parkway and Alewife Brook Parkway both have many intersections where vehicles and pedestrians and abundantly present. Since Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville are all reducing the speed limit on City-owned streets, the DCR should do the same on all of their roads that operate like major city streets. Having uniform traffic standards regardless of ownership makes a lot of sense.

Order #12. That the City Council’s Government Operations Committee seek to identify a suitable site to honor Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. for his long and distinguished commitment to the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Simmons, Councillor Cheung

This is a great idea. I certainly hope that City Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. will continue in his role on the City Council for years to come – maybe even as Mayor.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 16, 2016 to discuss gradually increasing the parking permit fee and to consider other improvements to the program to help fund the City’s budget towards reducing vehicle miles traveled and to promote alternative forms of transportation.

This was the meeting where some city councillors (Mazen, Devereux) argued in favor of dramatic increases in the Resident Permit Parking fee. Basically, they would like to jack it up as high as they can politically get away with. Councillor Devereux wants to jack the fees up as a way of disincentivising automobile ownership – at least for those with lower incomes. She also noted that Uber does not have enough curb space to pull over and that this could be relieved by driving out resident parking from major streets. In a Twitter post recently she also expressed her desire to double Cambridge parking meter rates like Boston is planning to do in the Seaport District. Gee, thanks.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a zoning petition by the City Council to amend four sections in Article 19.000 of the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Oct 27, 2016 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Title 15 entitled “Buildings and Construction” by adding a new Chapter 15.22 entitled “Outdoor Lighting.”

Rather than get into the details of all this, I will simply note that it is so classically Cambridge that a proposal that was originally intended to limit light trespass into bedroom windows has now morphed into a showdown on the aesthetics of building signage and architectural lighting. It almost makes me yearn for the days of "spectacular lighting" such as the one adorning the Shell gas station on Memorial Drive or, even more spectacularly, the much-beloved Citgo sign overseeing the good fortunes of the Red Sox. – Robert Winters

December 1, 2016

A Peanut in Inman Square?

Inman Square is a difficult, pre-automotive, cramped, often congested, diagonal intersection. Thoroughgoing safety and traffic-flow improvements are not possible, short of tearing down buildings to create more travel space, or an expensive grade separation.

Anne Lusk, Visiting Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health and a relentless advocate for on-street barrier-separated bikeways, has promoted a proposal for a “peanut roundabout” as a solution to the problems with Inman Square.

A grade separation was built long ago, farther west where Cambridge street runs between Harvard buildings. Though Lusk works at Harvard University, Inman Square does not adjoin the campus, and the political and financial resources of the University evidently don’t come to bear on the Square’s problems.

A Web page from the Boston Cyclists Union describes the “peanut roundabout” concept which Lusk is promoting for Inman Square. Here’s a conceptual drawing from the Web page:

"Peanut Roundabout" concept for Inman Square

“Peanut Roundabout” concept for Inman Square

I do think that the peanut roundabout concept is clever in itself. By eliminating traffic signals, this design might improve traffic flow.

— except for problems for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In the conceptual drawing on the page, to continue across the square in the same direction, bicyclists are directed to follow a circuitous route on separated bikeways, subject to right-hook risks, and turn sharply left after waiting at locations where they would block other bicyclists bearing right. There is no waiting area other than the narrow bikeway in which the bicyclists approach. The page describes the crossings as “European-style protected crossings” — but they aren’t. Strictly speaking, in traffic engineering, “protected” means that conflicting movements are prevented by traffic signals. No traffic signals are shown in the conceptual drawing. Four of the six crosswalks are raised, and these would slow motorists, but there are no waiting areas that would make it clear whether bicyclists will be turning across motor traffic or proceeding straight.

All in all, I cannot imagine how this concept would work for bicyclists or pedestrians without traffic signals for the crosswalks. Signals, though, would result in more motorists in the roundabout blocking other motorists’ travel in the roundabout. The conceptual drawing avoids raising this issue. Few vehicles are shown in the roundabout, inconsistent with the many in the connecting streets.

The conceptual drawing shows door-zone bike lanes leading to and from Inman Square at every approach. Earlier this year, cyclist Amanda Phillips was killed when the opening door of a parked vehicle flung her under a truck — the incident which led to calls for redesign of the Square. She was, however, not in the Square: she was had left the Square. (Identification of the crash location) It has been reported that she was exiting the sidewalk just before she was doored — so, she came from behind the vehicle whose door opened in front of her. What lessons from this crash have informed the proposed peanut design? Apparently none. The bike lanes shown at exits from the Square place bicyclists in the same hazardous situation as Phillips: emerging from behind parked vehicles, rather than where they might be visible with a driver’s-side mirror or a glance over the shoulder.

The page claims that “[s]uch a design could radically improve traffic flows, safety, and the community fabric of crash-prone Inman Square.” It would be useful in evaluating proposals, and claims like these, to have  a traffic capacity and flow analysis, and a crash study.  Instead, on the Web page, there is a list of claimed advantages, with no mention of potential problems and no analysis.

My overall impression of this design as a bicyclist, in addition to the concerns about safety, is that while it might increase appeal to bicyclists who are fearful of riding in mixed traffic, delays will be such that bicyclists who want to get where they are going will ride in the motor traffic. And let’s hope that they understand that safety would require them to ride in line with the motor traffic rather than keeping out of its way, as the designated routes strongly imply to be the key to safety.

The City of Cambridge has put forward two other proposals. A  “bend Cambridge Street” proposal is shown in the image below. Traffic on Hampshire Street would travel straight through, and traffic on Cambridge Street would zigzag. A similar “bend Hampshire Street” proposal is more or less a mirror image of this one. These proposals are similar to what has been done with Union Square in Somerville and at Lafayette Square (the intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue) in Cambridge.

City of Cambridge "bend Cambridge Street" proposal

City of Cambridge “bend Cambridge Street” proposal

The “bend” proposals include traffic signals and require bicyclists and motorists to make left turns. I do think, however, that the blue space in the “bend Cambridge Street” proposal might include bikeways, so  bicyclists on Cambridge Street could continue straight where the street bends left toward the first traffic light and then re-enter Cambridge Street by crossing Hampshire Street at the second traffic light rather than by turning left. (This would not be practical with the “bend Hampshire Street” proposal, because bicyclists would have to turn left across Hampshire Street to enter the blue space). The drawing below shows my proposal. Bicyclists would follow the red arrows.

Bend Cambridge Street proposal with shortcut bikeways

Bend Cambridge Street proposal with shortcut bikeways

The blue areas also might include useful social space — unlike the peanut roundabout proposal, where the extra space would be in the middle of the street.  The two traffic lights in the Bend Camridge Street proposal would, to be sure, increase delay for motorists. Bicyclists following the red-arrow route would encounter only one traffic light.

I’ll admit that I don’t have any more thoroughgoing answers to Inman Square’s problems other than the two I’ve already mentioned — tearing down buildings or creating a grade separation — which are not going to happen. I’ll be trying to think of other possibilities, and please, you do also.

March 29, 2015

Out Like a Lamb – What’s Happenin’ at the March 30, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Out Like a Lamb – What’s Happenin’ at the March 30, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Out Like a LambAs this brutal winter stumbles to a welcome end, the City Council meets on Monday to do its thing. Here are a few noteworthy items (at least to this Council watcher).:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a rescission of the remaining amount of the loan order ($1,600,000) authorized by the City Council on Feb 13, 2012 for the renovations to the original police station at Five Western Avenue.

How can you not like it when a project comes in $1.6 million under budget?

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-07, regarding a report on variance requests and application results since January, 2010. [really big attachment]

I’m reminded of the time several summers ago when a City Council request for information from the Police Department yielded a stack of paper several feet high resting on Councillor Kelley’s desk. This is just a PDF file and not nearly as voluminous, but it always reminds me that you shouldn’t ask for information that requires some effort to generate unless you have some notion of what you’d like to do with that information once you get it. This request came from an Order by Councillor Kelley that was adopted on Feb 20, 2015. If the goal is to identify shortcomings in the Zoning Ordinance that routinely lead to many requests for variances, that would be a useful exercise that might warrant some tweaks to the Zoning Ordinance. It’s just as likely that the intention might be to crack down on variances without examining why people seek them in the first place.


Manager’s Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of members of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Committees for two year terms, effective Apr 1, 2015.

Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the status of the Pearl Street reconstruction project.

I occasionally wonder what would happen if someone like me who questions some of the bicycling infrastructure decisions made internally by the City were to apply to be on the Bicycle Committee. My sense is that diversity of opinion is not welcome on that particular committee and that applicants are screened accordingly. Regarding the Pearl Street project, I fear that the plan is to wait out the opposition and proceed with the elimination of curbside parking when the best opportunity arises – regardless of need or the preferences of abutters.


Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the recommendation from the Planning Board to approve 1) the disposition of the leasehold interest in the Foundry Building; and 2) a diminution of the disposition process as it relates to the provision of a traffic study and provision of real estate appraisals of the Foundry Building.

Unfinished Business #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City’s plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community…

It’s good to see some progress on the Foundry matter. I really don’t know what balance will ultimately be struck among the competing interests and financial constraints associated with this building, but at least things are moving forward. It’s great to see how the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is playing an active role in this and other initiatives.


Unfinished Business #11. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.67 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 24, 2014.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 12, 2015 to discuss amendments and other related documents associated with the plastic bags ordinance.

It’s likely that this proposed ordinance will be voted at this meeting. The essential elements are that (1) plastic checkout bags would be banned in Cambridge (which won’t affect those of us who shop almost exclusively in Somerville and Everett), (2) a mandatory fee of at least 10¢ will be charged for every paper bag used at checkout (not sure what this means regarding single- vs. double-bagging), and (3) a minimum thickness (3 mils) will be established for what constitutes an approved reusable bag. There are only limited provisions for exemptions.

Personally I use only reusable bags and have done so for years. I imagine most municipal election candidates this year will be distributing reusable bags emblazoned with their names and the usual #1 Vote request. Perhaps I’ll vote for candidates based on who provides the most durable shopping bags. Councillor Toomey was way ahead of everyone last time in this regard.


Unfinished Business #13. That any committee report that has not been signed by the Chair of the committee within seven days after submission of the committee report by the City Clerk be placed on the City Council Agenda unsigned. Order Number Eight of Mar 2, 2015 Referred to Unfinished Business.

It’s interesting how many committee reports have been submitted since this proposal was submitted by Councillor Toomey. Anything that moves things along is welcome. Now if only we can come up with a Rules Change that would prevent significant matters from being endlessly kicked down the road – and I’m definitely thinking of Central Square here which is only now getting some renewed attention years after a broad range of recommendations were presented as part of the K2C2 process. There will be an Ordinance Committee hearing on those recommendations on Wed, April 15 (at 5:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber), but only for the purpose of discussion with no actionable items before the committee.

The Normandy/Twining zoning proposal for the Mass. & Main area of Central Square is also now before the Ordinance Committee. The petitioners recently increased the percentages of permanently and privately subsidized units in their project to 20 percent should the proposed zoning be approved. Their original petition called for 17 percent affordable and middle-income units. They have now doubled the percentage of affordable units (50 to 80% of area median income) from 8.5 percent in the original petition to 17 percent and will maintain 3 percent middle income units (80 to 120% of area median income). The proposal would deliver 40 affordable and 7 middle income housing units for a total of 47 permanently and privately subsidized units out of a total of about 230 units. Enhanced ground floor retail opportunities and neighborhood connectivity are also included in their proposal.

Unfinished Business #14. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 3, 2015 to continue discussions on the zoning petition filed by Whitehead Institute to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District: and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Mar 30, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Dec 16, 2014. Petition expires Apr 8, 2015.

This zoning petition will likely be ordained at this meeting.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Chestnut Hill Realty, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Basement Housing Overlay District Section 20.600.

I won’t pretend to understand what the intent of these technical amendments are. As was the case when the original zoning was introduced and passed, I’ll just say that it would be a shame if any basement space in buildings that is actually necessary for bicycle storage and other needs of residents is lost just to pack in a few more income-producing units. On either side of my house on Broadway there are buildings that maximized the rentable space by eliminating options for on-premises bike parking and seriously compromising the options for storing and managing waste and recycling.

Resolution #24. Reminder to Cambridge residents that street cleaning will begin the first week of April.   Councillor Toomey

Run for your lives! The sweepers are coming! Don’t get towed!

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with all relative City departments to increase the number of electric charging stations available in the City, to determine the feasibility of making these stations free and to recommend other incentives that may include, but not be limited to, free resident parking stickers and allowing electric cars to park at parking meters free of charge as ways to encourage the purchase and use of electric cars.   Councillor McGovern

Let me see if I got this straight. This proposes to provide free parking and free electric charging to anyone with an electric vehicle. Why stop there? The City should also pay the rent and mortgage costs for these superior beings. But seriously, I would think that driving an energy-efficient vehicle that costs less to operate should be more than enough incentive. I also expect that any lost revenue or added energy costs borne by the City will ultimately lead to increased parking fees for those of us less enlightened beings who still have more conventional engines in our vehicles.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city departments to update the City Council as to whether there are any proposed increases to Common Victualer (CV) and Liquor License renewal fees, to determine if there is a liquor license cap in the Central Square area and to the suitability of raising the liquor license cap in and around the Central Square area.   Vice Mayor Benzan

I’m not sure what’s behind this, but my understanding is that there is a cap on the number of liquor licenses that may be sold, but the License Commission has been issuing nontransferable "no value" pouring licenses to restaurants In Central Square and elsewhere in order to help those businesses.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the local business associations, neighborhood groups and city departments to conduct a series of cleanups of our neighborhoods and City Squares, primarily Kendall, Harvard, Central, Alewife, Inman, Huron Village and Porter.   Vice Mayor Benzan

These kinds of events are always best organized by the local business and neighborhood associations and by individuals with whatever assistance the City is able to affordably provide. The City should simply let the organizers know what help they might be able to provide, but let the residents and business owners take the lead.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on the analysis that has been done to understand the finances of new development in Central Square, including the report by economic consultant Sarah Woodworth.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Mazen

I am curious about the underlying purpose of this Order. While it’s certainly a good idea to have a firm grasp on the economic realities surrounding development proposals like the one contemplated for Mass. & Main (Normandy/Twining), my suspicion is that this could be an effort to cook up grounds to justify blocking the proposal. We’ll all benefit from an honest discussion of the economics, but hopefully not just as a smokescreen for a separate agenda.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status and next steps for the Beekeeping ordinance.   Councillor Carlone

I wasn’t aware that there was an actual proposed ordinance to allow and perhaps promote beekeeping, but it’s a good idea worth pursuing. On the other hand, it seems a bit ridiculous that this should be over-regulated or banned in the first place.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City personnel to determine and provide an update to the City Council on parking needs and availability in the Central Square area and to confer with the appropriate City personnel to determine, as part of the broader question above, the cost and feasibility of adding additional parking levels to the Green Street Garage, to determine how many additional feet the garage could be expanded to as of right and how many extra parking spaces that would yield, and what changes, if any, would be needed to existing zoning laws in order to build the garage to its maximum capacity.   Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Carlone

Though I think it would be a good idea to ensure a sufficient supply of parking in and around Central Square, I can’t help but note that if a proposal to add commercial parking was made a decade or two ago it would have been aggressively opposed by some activists. Those were the days when the Parking Freeze was giving way to the current Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance. Times have changed, vehicles run much cleaner, and there are now other competing priorities. Perhaps additional parking capacity at the Green Street Garage would replace what might be lost by building on surface parking lots elsewhere in Central Square. Perhaps the idea is to calm the fears of those who see the building of new housing as an existential threat to the well-being of their on-street parking. In any case, it’s a discussion worth having. – Robert Winters

February 21, 2015

Plowing, or sweeping under the rug?

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

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

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

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

western_avenue_winter

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June 24, 2014

Starts and Stops, mostly stops

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

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

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

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

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

The article goes on to say:

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

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

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

New bicycle-specific traffic light on Western Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

More to come.

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January 23, 2011

Jan 24, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:44 pm

Jan 24, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

As I am preoccupied with getting my courses ready for the start of the new semester, I’ll have to keep this one brief this week. Here are the items that struck me as significant or otherwise noteworthy:

City Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 10-189, regarding a report on the legitimacy of the tax exempt claim of Education First.

The report reveals little that was not already known. I take this opportunity simply to note that this was initiated by an Order from Councillor Toomey that was a consequence of a zoning vote a few weeks ago that also was the last straw leading to Councillor Toomey’s resignation as Co-chair of the Ordinance Committee. At the root of that controversy was the continued breakdown in trust between Councillor Toomey and the other Co-Chair, Councillor Seidel, that first became apparent during the controversy over last fall’s vote to amend the Sign Ordinance. You may remember that during that controversy, Councillor Seidel gave every indication in committee that he would be voting one way and then voted the opposite way apparently due to political concerns. As former Councillor Sullivan often said, "Your word is your bond."

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Director of the Arts Council and report back on the feasibility of the Arts Council partnering with local arts organization to establish a similar program to Shakespeare in the Park in Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

Good idea! The Cambridge Common, Danehy Park, and Magazine Beach would all be great venues for this sort of thing. Cambridge often just goes through the motions with the River Festival and Octoberfest and other regular attractions. Theater in the park (not just for kids) would be a great addition.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to contact Eric Lander, Broad Institute, to create a competition to design a Kendall Square of the future.   Councillor Reeves

Wait! Isn’t the City now putting out to bid a contract for a consultant to address the whole stretch from Kendall to Central Square stating at Kendall? We should gather input from all comers, but is the Braod Institute now being called upon to faciliate the future of Cambridge? Let me guess… BioTech!

Order #9. That the Austin, Texas "Parking Benefit District Pilot Program" be referred to the Council Committee on Transportation, Traffic, and Parking for further consideration and review.   Councillor Seidel

Upon reading this, my greatest fear is that the Traffic Department will simply use this as an excuse to install more parking meters in residential areas. They will then say, "Trust us. We’re doing it for your own good."

Miscellaneous #1. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the 2010 Town Gown Reports. [summary]

These reports are always an interesting read. The summary says a lot, but you can also read the detailed reports for Harvard University, for MIT, for Lesley University, and for Cambridge College.

Now…. back to writing my lectures. – Robert Winters

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