Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

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?

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.

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August 21, 2015

City of Cambridge Selects Utile Architecture + Planning team for Citywide Plan

Filed under: Cambridge,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 4:40 pm

City of Cambridge Selects Consultant for Citywide Plan
Utile Architecture + Planning team selected to run multiyear process

Cambridge NeighborhoodsAug 21, 2015 – Today, Cambridge Officials announced that an interdisciplinary team led by Utile Architecture + Planning (Utile) has been selected for the Cambridge citywide planning project. “The City is looking forward to embarking on this important citywide process with Utile,” said Richard C. Rossi, City Manager. “This multiyear effort is a major investment that the City is making in the future of our community. Residents, business employers and employees, property owners and developers, institutions, non-profit organizations, and many other stakeholders will be active participants in this process and a key component to ensuring that the citywide plan reflects the values of our community. I want to thank the other highly qualified and respected firms that participated in our selection process.”

The other finalists in the City’s selection process were Sasaki, and Perkins + Will.

On July 27, 2015, the finalists made presentations to and answered questions from the public in an event held in the Sullivan Chambers in City Hall. Following the public presentations, the City’s Selection Committee conducted a multi-day evaluation process that resulted in City Manager Richard C. Rossi accepting the recommendation to hire Utile. Over the next few weeks the City will be working with Utile to finalize a contract, including financial arrangements, for the public process that will begin this fall.

“The Utile team brings a deep understanding of local planning issues and a fresh, creative approach to public engagement,” said Lisa Peterson, Chair of the Selection Committee. “Using a rigorous, data-driven process, the Utile team will complement and augment the capacity of City staff to develop a strategic framework to address a broad range of issues including mobility, housing, land use, urban design, environment, social equity, economic development, and open space.”

The planning process that will be kicked off this fall will span multiple years and will include a robust community engagement process.

“Cambridge’s citywide plan will create a shared vision for the city, develop policy and design goals and actionable recommendations to guide future changes in the city,” said Iram Farooq, Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development. “The end result of this process will be a shared vision on how Cambridge can remain livable, sustainable, and equitable not just for the current generation, but also for generations to come.”

The citywide planning process aims to integrate and build upon the City’s existing policies, programs, and initiatives through an inclusive, wide-reaching process that looks beyond traditional planning efforts to guide future change in Cambridge. During the multi-year process, early action items and pilot projects may be identified and launched. [Read Utile Proposal (22.6MB PDF)]

The planning process will examine a broad range of issues, including mobility, housing, land use, urban design, environment, social equity, economic development, and open space. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks about the public process that will begin this fall!

For more information, please visit the project page on the Community Development Department’s website, or email CambridgeConversations@CambridgeMA.gov.

Utile is a 40-person, Boston-based planning and design firm. Built like a think tank, the firm thrives on solving complex problems in intelligent and pragmatic ways. From theoretical issues that frame policy to the practical implementation of architectural commissions, Utile develops a rigorous research-based approach for finding the best solutions. Utile specializes in unique regulatory, political, and design challenges, and is committed to the revitalization of the American city through proactive planning and design that bridges public and private jurisdictional boundaries.

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 30, 2014

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:29 am

Master Plans and Monkey Wrenches – June 30, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

The curtain falls tonight on the FY2014 Fiscal Year as the City Council enters its Summer Recess – but not without a little controversy. Councillor Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone is the first signer of a new zoning petition that is almost guaranteed to bring some fireworks in advance of the July 4 holiday. The petition has near zero chance of ultimately passing but stands out prominently in its disrespect for the Planning Board, the Community Development Department, and previous Cambridge City Councils who have passed a variety of zoning petitions with detailed Special Permit criteria spelled out to guide the Planning Board in the granting of Special Permits under the Zoning Ordinance.

Monkey WrenchApplications & Petitions #5. A zoning petition has been filed by Dennis Carlone, et al. requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to designate the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.

The intent of this petition appears to be to enact an effective 30-month moratorium on all larger proposed developments in Cambridge by turning each project into a political football. Except for Councillors Carlone and Mazen (first and last signers), the signers of the petition consist almost entirely of principal players of the Cambridge Residents Alliance who have made no secret of their desire to enact such a moratorium. The essential component of the petition is the transfer of Project Review Special Permit authority from the Planning Board (where there is substantial professional expertise) to the City Council. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Planning Board working together to devise detailed conditions on the granting of a Special Permit should now imagine what this process might look like if conducted by the City Council as they play to the favor of their various political supporters. I shudder to think of it.

Fortunately, it appears that this misguided proposal has the support of only the two city councillors who signed it. Ideally, the City Council would just vote it down and declare it Dead On Arrival, but it’s possible that it may be formally referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee (co-chaired by Carlone) so that it can receive a proper funeral. As a zoning petition, it would require 6 of 9 city councillors to support it and that’s pretty much an impossibility unless they start lacing the Kool-Aid with hallucinogens.

Meanwhile the initial phase (Cambridge Conversations) of the upcoming review and possible revision of the City’s existing master plans has been met with expressions of satisfaction from most members of the public. Perhaps this is why Carlone and Company have chosen to toss a monkey wrench into the process. Political organizing thrives so much more when wrapped in controversy.

Communications #6. A communication was received from Rick Snedeker, 107 Clifton Street regarding a request for a Special Act Charter for Cambridge that does not include Proportional Representation.

This is included primarily for comic relief. This Snedeker fellow has now written a series of letters to the Cambridge Chronicle detailing his hostility regarding the structure of Cambridge city government and the way municipal elections are conducted. He believes that having 90% of ballots count toward the election of city councillors is more disenfranchising than a winner-take-all election where often fewer than 50% of ballots count toward the election of a candidate. That’s interesting math. He would have elections of ward councillors by simple plurality vote with no runoffs or primary elections. This installment from Snedeker also calls for the Mayor and City Council to be able to dismiss any City department head by a simple majority vote. I can only imagine the thrilling City Council meetings when a department head says something not to the liking of the elected councillors.

Communications #11. Sundry communications were received regarding the East Cambridge Courthouse.

There are 38 individual signed letters plus an additional 74 petition signatures in support of the proposed redevelopment of the Courthouse building. The prisoners are now out of the East Cambridge Courthouse and the transfer of the property from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Legatt McCall, the chosen developer, is imminent. While there is clear opposition to the proposed redevelopment from many residents, it’s pretty clear that this is not a unanimously held position. The Planning Board is expected to make a decision on the Special Permit for the 40 Thorndike Street proposal at its July 29 meeting (to be held in East Cambridge, most likely at the Kennedy-Longfellow School). Regardless what the Planning Board decides, it is very likely that lawsuits will follow.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on June 25, 2014 to discuss the ongoing out of school/STEAM working group research.

I’m sure the participants at this meeting meant well and I think we all want to see some good programs developed in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). The report, however, is remarkable in some of its convoluted quotes. Some of my favorites are these: "Councillor Mazen explained that it’s important for one subgroup to track other subgroup. People in this subgroup should ask other subgroups: Are we talking around the subject or are we addressing it?" and "Councillor Mazen confessed he isn’t opposed to having another subgroup but he feels that this can fall into other subgroups and can also be discussed by each subgroup." and "Councillor Mazen said he hoped next time will be an opportunity for everybody to work more circularly about a coordinator position".

Exactly how does one "work more circularly?" Does it involve beating around the bush? I’ll have to consult with my subgroup about this. – Robert Winters

Note: Due to construction in the Sullivan Chamber, this City Council meeting will take place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (CRLS).

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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February 13, 2014

MBTA Role in Cambridge Center Project – Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989

MBTA Role in Jump-starting Development of the Cambridge Center Project
Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989

By Thad Tercyak, Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, Associate Director, 1968-1990

The purpose of this narrative is to provide additional information about the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s (CRA) Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project and to describe the role of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) in helping to jump-start development of the CRA’s Cambridge Center Project in 1979-1989, a major factor in helping to attract high-tech companies to locate in the East Cambridge industrial area. UMTA provided the MBTA with critical financial assistance made available under President Carter’s Urban Initiatives Program.

Kendall Urban Initiatives Project 1980
KENDALL SQUARE URBAN RENEWAL PROJECT
Urban Initiatives Project – 1980

To understand the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, it must be divided into two phases:

Phase 1. 1963-1979. The objective was to transform a 43-acre blighted urban industrial area into vacant land for construction of improvements.
Background. The Kendall Square Urban Redevelopment Project planning activities during Phase 1 included creating, initiating and financing the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project; preparing an urban renewal plan to accommodate development by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and, after NASA withdrew from the Project, preparing an entirely new plan for development by private developers; a painful, prolonged and laborious process because Cambridge was unprepared to carry out the difficult and complicated tasks involved in overhauling the original plan with an entirely new plan.

In 1965, when the City of Cambridge approved the CRA’s original Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, it anticipated that the Project would attract NASA-related private development to replace a blighted industrial area of old, deteriorated and underutilized buildings with a modern, attractive industrial area which would generate tax revenues and jobs. In 1970, when NASA withdrew from the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project and transferred its interests in the Kendall Square Project to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the feeling in Cambridge was that the project had been delivered a tremendous setback because it lost its major developer; a severe blow to the city’s efforts to expand its economic base.

The 1970-77 period involved two major activities:
(1) The execution of land preparation activities in order to transform a 43-acre industrial slum into vacant land for new construction. The activities required the acquisition of 70 parcels of land, relocation of the Broad Canal to an underground water system, relocation of nearly 100 businesses, demolition of 50 buildings, construction of infrastructure, and formation of new traffic patterns of circulation. Land preparation activities are the "nitty-gritty, heavy-lifting" period of the redevelopment process because most are messy, noisy, a public nuisance and a favorite subject of complaint.

(2) The resolution of planning issues in order to amend the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Plan to designate new reuses for the land. Activities included negotiations between the CRA, DOT, and the U.S. General Services Administration to retrieve the rights to develop 10 acres of vacant land left behind by NASA; and rejection by the Cambridge City Council of four redevelopment plans prepared by a task force comprised of representatives from a cross section of Cambridge organizations working with the CRA.

In 1976, the CRA engaged the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) advisory panel services to review the Kendall Square Project and propose ways to help break the multi-year planning deadlock. Among the "Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations" of the ULI panel:

• Only a few properties in the country have a broader array of locational advantages as the Kendall Square area and the opportunities associated with the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project: Cambridge Center is a unique opportunity area, one that should be reserved to maximize its locational advantages.

The MBTA’s Kendall Station subway is one of the more spectacular assets affecting the redevelopment potential of the CRA’s Cambridge Center project (emphasis added).

• Attracting developers will not be easy. Citizen concerns, political pressure, economic uncertainty, the absence of a united and strong development process, high taxes, environmental constraints, contentious political climate, and congested surface transportation have combined to create a credibility problem with the real estate development community relative to the City of Cambridge. With few exceptions, the lack of credibility has been a severe restraint to real estate development in Cambridge.

These development problems are such that all but the most determined developer, the one who perceives a very close relationship between locational advantages and development opportunities, will be deterred from coming into the community (emphasis added).

Engaging the ULI greatly helped to break the planning deadlock because the panel’s expertise gained the confidence of the Cambridge City Council and the CRA. The panel advised the CRA to make extraordinary efforts to impress potential developers by efficiently completing site preparations and all major pre-physical development activities. The CRA responded by removing legal and technical impediments to development by completing an Environmental Impact Statement; securing plan and zoning amendments; carrying out a $7-million public improvements program; and implementing traffic circulation plans, such as widening Binney Street to provide direct major access to Memorial Drive.

In 1977, Cambridge City Council approved a mixed-use development plan for the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project. For marketing purposes the name Cambridge Center was adopted to refer to the 24 acres in the Kendall Square Project Area separate from the land occupied by DOT. In 1978, the CRA invited proposals to develop Cambridge Center, and in 1979, selected Boston Properties as the initial developer.

Phase 2. 1980-Present. The objective was to sell the vacant land created during Phase 1 for private development.
The CRA and Boston Properties executed a Development Agreement which provided that the CRA would sell land to Boston Properties in stages after approval of development plans; and Boston Properties was required to start construction of an office building within seven months of signing the agreement.

Because of the disorderly events of the 1970’s, expectations regarding development of the CRA’s Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project were gloomy. Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the two Boston Properties principals, was aware of the difficulties: "It was a very bleak time when the Kennedy Space Center moved to Texas…There was just a lot of land there" (Woolhouse, "Making a High Tech Mecca", Boston Globe, June 26, 2011)".

The CRA realized that to overcome Cambridge’s credibility problem with the real estate community, it had to establish a reputation for being able to work efficiently and effectively with Boston Properties in stimulating private development of the Cambridge Center Project. The MBTA was about to provide the CRA with the opportunity to establish that reputation.

The MBTA operated three facilities in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project area: the Kendall subway station (Kendall Station), bus layover facilities, and a traction power substation. The Kendall Station was old (built in 1912), dilapidated, obsolete, with dimly lighted platforms. The traction power substation was considered to be obsolete and a blighting influence, and its 50′ high fire-damaged brick facade dominated the heavily travelled Main Street eastern entrance to the Kendall Square area.

The MBTA recognized that because of the improvements designated for the CRA’s Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, the MBTA facilities would have to be modernized. During the mid-1970’s, the MBTA and the CRA staffs met to coordinate plans regarding future reconstruction efforts. It was decided that reconstruction would be integrated with the CRA’s redevelopment activities, and the CRA’s Concept Design Plan for the Kendall Square Project would be used as the standard for urban design amenities.

By coincidence, Jimmy Carter was the U.S President from 1977 to 1981, and his Urban Policy plans included shifting the allocation of federal resources to favor urban areas. Priority was to be given to projects that leveraged the expenditure of federal funds and strong incentives would be awarded to projects engaged in efforts to attract private investments to urban areas. The effort would be called the President’s Urban Initiatives Program.

Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project
The MBTA determined that its Kendall Station met the qualifications to receive designation as a Urban Initiatives Project because it was already integrating its plans for modernizing the Kendall Station with the CRA’s plans for the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, and that the CRA had executed a Development Agreement with Boston Properties to attract private development and investments to the Cambridge Center Project. In its application to UMTA for project approval, the MBTA made the following points:

"The project’s financial assistance will be used to provide Kendall Station improvements in support of a major urban redevelopment effort and to stimulate private investments for urban improvements… The CRA has designated Boston Properties as developer for Cambridge Center and Boston Properties is expected to generate $150 million of private investment over the next 10 years and produce in excess of one-million square feet of office, hotel, retail, and open space. More immediately, Boston Properties is prepared to begin construction in October, 1979, of the first office building (13 stories) involving 250,000 square feet of space and costing approximately $20 million. This initial investment could be followed the next year with a second building of the same magnitude".

UMTA designated the Kendall Station project as an Urban Initiatives Project, agreeing that "the proposal has excellent characteristics for effectively achieving the President’s intentions in calling for an UMTA Urban Initiatives Program". The Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project involved the CRA, the MBTA, and Boston Properties. It included Parcel 4 of the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, a triangular 5-acre site bordered by Main Street, Broadway and Sixth Street around the Kendall Station.

Initially, because of budgetary constraints, the MBTA programmed construction of the Kendall Station improvements for the late-1980’s and called for only a modest renovation of the existing facilities and entrances; and the program for the traction power substation provided only for replacement of electrical equipment, with no provision for replacing and relocating the building. This schedule was of grave concern to the CRA because the Kendall Station, in its present antiquated condition, would have an adverse effect on the initial marketing efforts by Boston Properties to attract private development to the area.

At that time, Boston Properties marketing efforts highlighted the locational advantages of the Kendall Station: (1) The MIT campus was in the immediate neighborhood. (2) Two subway stops easterly from the Kendall Station was downtown Boston, and two subway stops westerly was Harvard University. (3) The MBTA public transit system provided access to virtually the entire Boston Metropolitan Area. (4) The Kendall Station was within easy walking distance of any location within the Cambridge Center Project area. The CRA believed that an efficient and timely transformation of the Kendall Station from old, dilapidated and obsolete to a modern, attractive, and well-designed subway station, and the simultaneous construction of buildings by Boston Properties and public improvements by the CRA could have a dramatic positive effect on Boston Properties’ marketing efforts. Also it could stimulate private development of the vacant land in the rest of Cambridge Center; and might influence the real estate community’s perception of Cambridge’s credibility.

The CRA requested (1) the MBTA reschedule construction of the Kendall Station to start during the early 1980’s, and the proposed station improvements be upgraded to match the CRA’s design standards; and (2) the traction power substation be replaced and relocated so that it could be subsumed within the private development occurring on-site. The MBTA was supportive, but because the MBTA system had operated at a loss during the past five years, it had determined that "no part of the costs associated with the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project can be financed from MBTA revenue".

Designation of the Kendall Station modernization plans as an UMTA Urban Initiatives Project also qualified the MBTA for the maximum amount of Federal assistance, making it eligible to receive funding from UMTA. Accordingly, UMTA provided the critical financing the MBTA needed to reschedule construction of the Kendall Station to begin sooner, upgrade design standards, and relocate the new traction power substation.

Then a rare event took place in the City of Cambridge. Two public agencies – the CRA and the MBTA – and a private developer – Boston Properties – initiated meetings to discuss the funding, design and construction details of the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project. They entered into a variety of formal and informal arrangements to cooperate in the planning and development around the Kendall Station. Their arrangements extended from land use planning and urban design to land acquisition and transfer policies, construction activities, and the maintenance of public and private improvements. For example:

• The Kendall Station modernization would include lengthening the subway platforms from four cars to six cars, relocating the stations entrances, and upgrading the stations interiors.

• The MBTA’s new traction power substation would be integrated with the improvements planned by the CRA and Boston Properties.

• The CRA’s design standards for the renewal area would be used to plan project improvements related to the Kendall Station reconstruction.

• The CRA was awarded a $5.1-million grant to provide transit-related improvements and urban design amenities, including street and sidewalk improvements, a bus contraflow lane, a Transit Plaza, an urban park at the gateway to the project, and pedestrian connections to nearby neighborhoods.

Urban Initiatives Project Area - 1980

Construction Coordination
A particularly difficult task was the coordination of simultaneous construction activities by the three entities in performing over- lapping construction work within tight, limited areas where the lines of responsibilities were difficult to draw. The parties devised a cost-sharing formula to determine how much of the total cost would be the responsibility of each party if the entire job was performed by a single contractor. A contractor would then be engaged and each party would pay its agreed-upon share of the total contractor cost. For example:

• The MBTA dug a huge excavation across Main Street and abutting vacant land. The excavation was for the expansion and renovation of the Kendall Station (to be constructed by the MBTA); and for an area to provide services to the buildings on Parcel 4 (to be built by Boston Properties). The building service area was to be located under a Transit Plaza (to be built by the CRA) so that it would be out-of-sight.

• The new northerly entrance to the subway (to be built by the MBTA) would abut the Transit Plaza (to be built by the CRA) and include an extended canopy from the wall of an office building (to be built by Boston Properties). The canopy would provide the MBTA patrons with a covered walkway and direct access to a food court (to be built by Boston Properties).

• The three parties collaborated on the location and design of the new traction power substation (to be built by the MBTA) so that a 12-story office building (to be built by Boston Properties) could be constructed on air rights over it.

• As construction was completed by the MBTA and Boston Properties, the CRA was to construct public improvements in the abutting public ways.

The redevelopment of Parcel 4 was a team effort by the CRA, the MBTA, and Boston Properties. The renovations by the MBTA in modernizing the Kendall Station, and by the CRA in constructing public improvements and urban design amenities, created an environment to reinforce Boston Properties’ marketing efforts to attract highly-qualified companies to locate in the Cambridge Center Project.

Kendall Station - Urban Initiatives Project - 1985
KENDALL STATION
Urban Initiatives Project – 1985

Urban Initiatives Project Area - 1985
Urban Initiatives Project Area – 1985
Construction Coordination

Urban Initiatives Project Area - 1989
Urban Initiatives Project Area – 1989

Transit Plaza contributions
The Transit Plaza, named Nowiszewski Plaza, abutted the Kendall Station’s exit/access, and was surrounded by active uses. It included a multicolored paving pattern, and a 75-foot sculptured tower, which also served as an emergency exit for the hotel, ventilation for the building service area under the Plaza, and amphitheater seating. Boston Properties funded the tower and the gold-leaf octahedron adorning its top, and was obliged to operate, maintain, and repair the Transit Plaza.

(NOTE: The Transit Plaza was subsequently modified.)

Urban Initiatives Project - 1989
Urban Initiatives Project – 1989

Pedestrian Circulation
Efforts were made to facilitate pedestrian circulation and activities: 5 Cambridge Center contained Legal Seafood restaurant; 3 Cambridge Center had a food court and MIT Coop store; and 2 Cambridge Center, a hotel abutting the Transit Plaza, had a restaurant, bar, and a public easement through the hotel lobby connecting to a pedestrian way to the surrounding area. The Transit Plaza provided exit/access for the subway, outdoor use of tables and chairs, amphitheater seating, and occasional entertainment programs, fairs and informal performances by free-lancers. Directly east of 1 Cambridge Center was an urban park, "Galaxy at Murphy Park". Also, Boston Properties constructed an elevator-accessible 1-acre public park on the roof of a parking garage. (Note: The garage roof was subsequently modified.)

"Galaxy at Murphy Park"
The eastern gateway to the Kendall Square area at the intersection of Main Street and Broadway, was a triangular site used to construct "Galaxy at Murphy Park". Galaxy was conceived through the successful collaborative efforts of the CRA and the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

The CRA considered Galaxy to be one of the most attractive features of Cambridge Center.

The centerpiece of Galaxy was an environmental structure which featured a 5-foot-in-diameter "earthsphere" placed in a fountain. Water spray – during the warm months – , or steam – during the cold months – enveloped the sphere to create the appearance of "floating" on clouds. Surrounding the fountain were 12" moon-globes which were perforated in individual patterns. At nighttime, the globes were illuminated from within and its shadows cast light and patterns on the pavement around the globes; and when steam from the earthsphere passed over the globes, rays of light were visible coming through the perforations. Surrounding the fountain were benches for sitting; two rows of trees and shrubs; and grassy open spaces.

Boston Properties was responsible for operating, maintaining and repairing "Galaxy".

Urban Initiatives Project 1989
Urban Initiatives Project 1989

Urban Initiatives Project 1989

National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO)
In 1990, NAHRO’s Annual Agency Awards of Excellence in Housing and Community Development chose the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project for its Administrative Innovation Award. "The Kendall Square Project showed excellent coordination of public and private funding, as well as excellent planning and team work by three major agencies over the 10-year development period. A joint development carried out among two public agencies, the CRA and the MBTA, and a private developer, Boston Properties".

Summary
Although the project was complex, the objectives of the Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project were achieved:

• The MBTA modernized and expanded the Kendall Station by relocating station entrances, lengthening the station platforms, and renovating the station’s interiors; and constructed a new traction power substation to replace the old, outmoded one.

• Boston Properties marketing operations attracted qualified competent companies to locate within the Urban Initiatives Project area, resulting in the construction of 1.1-million square feet of mixed-used development, including two 12- to 13- story retail, office buildings; a 13-story office building constructed on air rights over the MBTA traction power substation; a 25-story hotel; a 4-story retail, office building; and a 863-car garage with a one-acre open space roof–top garden.

• The CRA constructed public improvements throughout the area: streets and sidewalks, landscaping, Transit Plaza, Galaxy park, and pedestrian walkways.

• UMTA provided the critical financing the MBTA needed to reschedule and upgrade its Kendall Station facilities. UMTA considered the Kendall Station Project to be a successful Urban Initiatives Project because it attracted private investments to the Cambridge urban area, and "a model for other cities on the positive impact that transit accessibility can have on community development".

• The joint public-private cooperative effort helped to create an environment that supported Boston Properties’ marketing operations and provided a jump-start to generate momentum to develop Parcel 4.

In 1979, when the MBTA submitted its application for Kendall Station designation as an Urban Initiatives Project, the CRA’s expectations were that the Cambridge Center Project would be completed in about ten years and produce 1.7-million square feet of mixed-use development and generate $200-million of private investments. Thirty years later, the Cambridge Center Project is in its last phase, and upon completion is projected to have produced 3-million square feet of mixed-uses, and generated about $1-billion of private investments, $15-million of property tax revenues and about 6,000 jobs.

The joint public-private team enterprise in the successful redevelopment of Parcel 4 was a factor in the real estate development community’s apparent re-evaluation of its skepticism about the development climate in the City of Cambridge. Starting in the 1980’s, private investments were made to develop the rest of the Cambridge Center Project, and subsequently a flood of development occurred in the East Cambridge industrial area.

END

P.S.: Robert F. Rowland was the CRA Executive Director in the 1970’s when planning to integrate the CRA’s and MBTA’s urban redevelopment operations in the Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project were initiated, and which resulted in the designation of the Kendall Station as an Urban Initiatives Project.


Thad J. Tercyak Professional Resume
1610 N Pebble Beach Blvd., Sun City Center, FL 33573; Phone (813) 633-5746 (Nov-May)
108 Alden Village Ct., Cary, NC 27519; Phone (919) 460-4526 (June-Oct)
E-Mail: tedtercyak AT cs DOT com

Professional Employment
Cambridge Redevelopment Authority: Associate Director, 1968-1990.
Boston Redevelopment Authority: Project Director, Washington Park and South End urban renewal projects; 1961-1968.
Cuyahoga County Planning Authority (Cleveland, Ohio): Economist, 1957-1960.
Connecticut Development Commission (Adams, Howard & Greeley, City Planning Consultants): Economist, 1956-1957.

Academic
University of Pittsburgh: Master’s Degree, Public Administration, 1961.
University of Connecticut: Master’s Degree, Economics, 1956.
Boston University Metropolitan College: Part-time Instructor, Urban Renewal, 1975-6.

Publications

Cambridge Civic Journal:
"Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project: Six Pivotal Episodes"; June, 2013.
"Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project, Initial Years, 1963 to 1982"; July, 2012.

Urban Land Institute:
"Joint Development at Kendall Square"; April, 1991.
"Marketing Public Land"; February, 1986.
"Cambridge Center Project Design"; April, 1985.
"Panel Revisits: Cambridge Center: Downtown Redevelopment"; February, 1985.

Journal of Housing:
"Project Design: A Cooperative Effort"; September/October, 1984.
"Kendall Square: An Urban Renewal Success"; September/October, 1982.

Urban Land Institute (ULI) , Advisory Services Panelist:
An Evaluation of the Development Potential and Revitalization Strategy for the Silver Triangle Site, Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, 1992.
An Evaluation of Kennedy and LaGuardia Airport Access for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the City of New York, 1991

Professional Resume, summary
Mr. Tercyak’s professional background includes Master’s degrees in Economics and Public Administration; 22 years as Associate Director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority; 7 years as project director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Washington Park and South End urban renewal projects; 5 years as an economist with city and county planning agencies; and Urban Land Institute advisory services panelist evaluating potential development projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and for downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. Several articles published in the Cambridge Civic Journal, Urban Land Institute Magazine and Journal of Housing. Part-time instructor, Community Development, Boston University Metropolitan College.

December 31, 2013

K2C2 Final Reports Released

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,Kendall Square,planning — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:58 am

K2C2 Final Reports Released

K2C2 areaThe final reports for Kendall Square and Central Square are now available for download. Zoning discussions based on the recommendations of the K2 and C2 Advisory Committees, which are encapsulated in these reports, will continue in 2014.

Community Development Department

Kendall Square Central Square Planning Study (K2C2)

Central Square Final Report 2013 Part 1, December 2013

Central Square Final Report 2013 Part 2, December 2013

Kendall Square Final Report 2013 Part 1, December 2013

Kendall Square Final Report 2013 Part 2, December 2013

This comprehensive planning effort guided by stakeholder advisory committees, City staff, and a team of multidisciplinary consultants led by Goody Clancy, developed a vision and master plan for Central Square, Kendall Square, and the area South of Main Street (including the Osborn Triangle) connecting the two squares. Both final reports are divided into two parts; in each case you will need to review both parts to read the entire report.

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