Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 311-312: May 15, 2018

Episode 311 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 15, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast May 15, 2018 at 5:30pm. Main topics drawn from May 14 Council meeting and some history of the Parking Freeze and the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]


Episode 312 – Cambridge InsideOut: May 15, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast May 15, 2018 at 6:00pm. Main topics drawn from May 14 Council meeting: proposed Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, traffic calming, trees. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

March 14, 2018

The Marcia Deihl bicycling fatality

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

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

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

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

So, what about the report?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s incredibly frustrating that:

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

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

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

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

February 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 16, 2018

A look at the Brattle Street bikeway

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

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

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.

June 6, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 231-232: June 6, 2017

Episode 231 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 6, 2017 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on June 6, 2017 at 5:30pm. The main topic was the June 5 City Council Roundtable meeting on Envision Cambridge – Alewife. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Episode 232 – Cambridge InsideOut: June 6, 2017 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on June 6, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics: a) Envision Cambridge Roundtable; b) Mass. Democratic party platform; c) short-term rental regulation. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube]

[Materials used in these episodes]

April 20, 2017

Sheet of ice draws praise from bicycle advocates

Snowmelt drains across "protected" bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

Snowmelt drains across “protected” bikeway on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge

OK, spring is around the corner, so I’m a bit late with this post. But the issue I describe here will occur every year, at least until global warming puts an end to snows or converts central Cambridge into an extension of Boston Harbor.

The headline of the February 17 Boston Globe article with this picture is “Snowbank becomes accidental hero for area cyclists”.

The shiny area in the bikeway is meltwater from said snowbank. When the temperature drops below freezing, the meltwater becomes a sheet of black ice. This problem is unavoidable with a street-level barrier-separated bikeway. I discussed it at length years ago in connection with the 9th Avenue bikeway in Manhattan, a bikeway which, on the other hand, I have some nice things to say about.

Neither Steve Annear, author of the article, nor anyone quoted in it, makes any mention of the black-ice problem.

From the article: “’I like this snowbank-protected cycle track,’ Ari Ofsevit, a local cyclist, said on Twitter.” Ari usually ranges widely, imaginatively and thoughtfully in discussing transportation improvements his blog. I usually agree with him, but not in this case.

The article cites Joe Barr, of the City of Cambridge:

Barr acknowledged that the snow mound separating the bike lane and the road has offered a sense of protection to cyclists, but he said it could also be masking damage to the base of the flexible posts.

“We won’t know that until we get some more melting. But it certainly looks good on the street,” he said.

And Richard Fries, Executive Director of Massbike, commented: “It’s great. It won’t last that much longer, but it does help to hammer into people’s heads [road] patterns and driving habits,” he said. “Because it’s there, it makes the existing bike lane more visible to drivers and more prominent.”

Segregation promotes a sense of entitlement on the part of the majority group –in this case, motorists. How do I explain to horn-honking motorists that I have to ride in “their” travel lane, now narrowed to make room for the barrier, to avoid crashing on a sheet of black ice?

Or for that matter, to progress at my usual 15 miles per hour so I’m not stuck behind a cluster of bicyclists who are traveling at 8 miles per hour?

Or to avoid being right-hooked and crushed under the back wheels by a right-turning truck at Douglass Street?

Or that the rear-end collisions that this installation protects against are vanishingly rare on urban streets?

Or that parallel Harvard Street, Green Street and Franklin Street would serve admirably as low-stress through bicycle routes, if the city made the right kind of improvements?

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