Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

October 31, 2018

Cambridge Growth Policy – Toward a Sustainable Future

Filed under: Cambridge,planning — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:34 pm

Today’s Homework Assignment:
Please identify which policies, if any, from Cambridge’s Growth Policy Document should be changed.
[To the best of my knowledge, these important policies have never been part of the discussion among the current Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee or its various Working Groups. Indeed, some of the current recommendations growing from the Envision Cambridge process clearly contradict some of these current policies. – RW]

Cambridge Growth Policy – Toward a Sustainable Future
1993, updated 2007
[Full Document – with graphics and narratives]

Policy 1
Existing residential neighborhoods, or any portions of a neighborhood having an identifiable and consistent built character, should be maintained at their prevailing pattern of development and building density and scale.

Policy 2
Except in evolving industrial areas, the city’s existing land use structure and the area of residential and commercial neighborhoods should remain essentially as they have developed historically.

Policy 3
The wide diversity of development patterns, uses, scales, and densities present within the city’s many residential and commercial districts should be retained and strengthened. That diversity should be between and among the various districts, not necessarily within each individual one.

Policy 4
Adequate transitions and buffers between differing scales of development and differing uses should be provided; general provisions for screening, landscaping and setbacks should be imposed while in especially complex circumstances special transition provisions should be developed.

Policy 5
The major institutions, principally Lesley College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the hospitals, should be limited to those areas that historically have been occupied by such uses and to abutting areas that are reasonably suited to institutional expansion, as indicated by any institutional overlay district formally adopted by the City.

Policy 6
For such institutions reasonable densities should be permitted in their core campuses to forestall unnecessary expansion into both commercial districts and low density residential neighborhoods.

Policy 7
Notwithstanding the limitations implied in the above policy statements, (1) the establishment of a new center of tax exempt, institutional activity may be appropriate in one or more of the city’s evolving industrial areas and/or (2) the development of a modest and discreet institutional presence may be appropriate in any non-residential district when a combination of two or more of the following benefits accrue to the city:

1. Such action will permanently forestall excessive development at the core campus of an existing institution, in particularly sensitive locations; or

2. Existing institutional activity in a core campus area will be reduced or eliminated, particularly at locations where conflict with existing residential communities has been evident or is possible in the future; and

3. The potential for future commercial, tax-paying development is not significantly reduced; or

4. The presence of a stable, well managed institutional activity could encourage, stimulate, and attract increased investment in non-institutional commercial tax producing development.

Policy 8
The availability of transit services should be a major determinant of the scale of development and the mix of uses encouraged and permitted in the predominantly non-residential districts of the city: the highest density commercial uses are best located where transit service is most extensive (rapid transit and trolley); much reduced commercial densities and an increased proportion of housing use are appropriate where dependence on the automobile is greatest; mixed uses, including retail activities in industrial and office districts, should be considered to reduce the need to use the automobile during working hours. Similarly, the scale, frequency, mode and character of goods delivery should play an important role in determining the appropriate density of non-residential uses anywhere in the city.

Policy 9
The evolution of the city’s industrial areas should be encouraged, under the guidance of specific urban design plans, and through other public policy and regulations such that:

1. Those areas can adapt to new commercial and industrial patterns of development;

2. The residential neighborhood edges abutting such areas are strengthened through selective residential reuse within the development areas or through careful transition in density, scale and lot development pattern;

3. New uses and varied scales and densities can be introduced into such areas;

4. Uses incompatible with the city’s existing and future desired development pattern are phased out.

Policy 10
In some evolving industrial areas multiple uses should be encouraged, including an important component of residential use in suitable locations not subject to conflict with desired industrial uses, to advance other development policy objectives of the city:

1. To provide opportunities for those who work in the city to live here;

2. To limit the use of the automobile to get to Cambridge and to travel within Cambridge;

3. To encourage more active use of all parts of the city for longer periods throughout the day; and

4. To limit the secondary impacts of new development on the existing, established neighborhoods. These impacts may be both economic, as in the increased demand placed on the limited stock of existing housing, and environmental, as in the increase in traffic on neighborhood streets.

Policy 11
A wide range of development patterns should be encouraged in these evolving industrial areas at scales and densities and in forms which would be difficult to accommodate in the city’s fully developed districts and neighborhoods.

Policy 12
Those necessary or desirable uses and activities which require specially tailored environments should be provided for and those uses, activities and development patterns which create distinctive environments that serve as amenities for the whole community should be protected or maintained.

For example: low rent industrial space for start up enterprises; locations for industrial use and development which could be compromised by proximity to other, incompatible, uses, including residential uses; small commercial enclaves which directly serve their immediate surrounding residential neighborhood; locations appropriate for gas stations, car repair facilities, tow yards, etc.; structures or clusters of structures eligible for local historic district designation; or for designation as a local conservation district; environments as frequently found in the Residence “A” districts, where a unique combination of distinctive architecture and landscaped open space prevails; areas designated or eligible as national register historic districts.

Policy 13
A pace of development or redevelopment should be encouraged that permits the maintenance of a healthy tax base, allows for adjustment and adaptation to changing economic conditions, and is consistent with the City’s urban design and other physical development objectives yet does not unreasonably disrupt the daily activities of the city’s neighborhoods and residents or overburden the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.

Policy 14
Increase the City’s investment in Transportation Demand Management to promote non-single occupancy vehicle forms of transportation and assist Cambridge employers, both individually and collectively, in developing such programs for their employees and operations.

Policy 15
Enact land use regulations that encourage transit and other forms of non-automobile mobility by mixing land uses, creating a pleasant and safe pedestrian and bicycle environment, and restricting high density development to areas near transit stations.

Policy 16
Encourage regional employment patterns that take advantage of areas well served by transit to and from Cambridge.

Policy 17
Seek implementation of MBTA transit improvements that will provide more direct and, where demand is justified, express service to Cambridge from those portions of the region now inadequately served by transit to Cambridge.

Policy 18
Improve MBTA public transportation service within the city including updating routes, schedules, signs, and bus stop placement.

Policy 19
Investigate the feasibility of developing and implementing, within the financial resources of the City, a paratransit system, utilizing taxi cabs where appropriate, in order to supplement the current MBTA system in Cambridge.

Policy 20
Encourage the state transportation and environmental agencies to develop a regional goods movement plan; in the meantime, use the City’s limited authority as much as possible to route truck traffic around rather than through residential neighborhoods.

Policy 21
Discourage vehicle travel through residential areas both by providing roadway improvements around the neighborhoods’ perimeters and by operational changes to roadways which will impede travel on local streets.

Policy 22
Undertake reasonable measures to improve the functioning of the city’s street network, without increasing through capacity, to reduce congestion and noise and facilitate bus and other non-automobile circulation. However, minor arterials with a residential character should be protected whenever possible.

Policy 23
Encourage all reasonable forms of non-automobile travel including, for example, making improvements to the city’s infrastructure which would promote bicycling and walking.

Policy 24
Support regional transportation and land use policies that will improve air quality by reducing dependence on single occupancy vehicles, both through reduction in employment-based travel and in other trips taken for non-work purposes.

Policy 25
Promote the use of truly clean alternative vehicle technologies for necessary vehicle travel particularly in regards to fleets.

Policy 26
Maintain and preserve existing residential neighborhoods at their current density, scale, and character. Consider exceptions to this policy when residents have strong reservations about existing character, are supportive of change, and have evaluated potential changes in neighborhood character through a planning process.

Policy 27
Where possible, construct new affordable housing that fits neighborhood character. In existing residential neighborhoods housing should be built at a scale, density, and character consistent with existing development patterns. Permit reconstruction of affordable housing (defined as more than 50% of units rented or owned by households at 80% or less than median income) that serves a wide range of incomes and groups at previous nonconforming density where reconstruction is less expensive than rehabilitation. Emphasize construction of affordable housing designed for families with children.

Policy 28
Affordable housing in rehabilitated or newly constructed buildings should serve a wide range of households, particularly low and moderate income families, racial minorities, and single persons with special needs.

Policy 29
Encourage rehabilitation of the existing housing stock. Concentrate City funds and staff efforts on rehabilitation that will provide units for low and moderate income residents.

Policy 30
Concentrate rehabilitation efforts in the city’s predominantly low and moderate income neighborhoods.

Policy 31
Promote affordable homeownership opportunities where financially feasible.

Policy 32
Encourage non-profit and tenant ownership of the existing housing stock.

Policy 33
Encourage where appropriate, recognizing housing’s possible impact on desirable industrial uses, the construction of new affordable housing through requirements, incentives, and zoning regulations, including inclusionary zoning provisions, in portions of the city traditionally developed for non-residential, principally industrial, uses. Create effective, well designed transitional zones between residential and industrial uses.

Policy 34
Cambridge’s evolving industrial areas are a valuable resource whose mix of uses must be carefully planned over the next twenty years.

Policy 35
Appropriate development in the city’s evolving industrial areas should be encouraged to maintain the city’s overall economic health, to expand the tax base, and expand job opportunities for Cambridge residents.

Policy 36
The observable trend towards the development of clusters of related uses in the city’s evolving industrial areas should be strengthened through the city’s land use policies.

Policy 37
In evolving industrial areas for which economic development, urban design, or other plans have been developed, private phased development consistent with those plans should be permitted to develop to completion, even if completion may take more than a decade.

Policy 38
Within clearly established limits, land use regulations in the evolving industrial areas should recognize the need for flexibility of use as, for instance, between office, research, and light manufacturing activities and provide for a wide range of density options throughout the city including those which foster research and development and start up operations.

Policy 39
Development patterns in all non-residential areas must be planned to minimize negative impact on abutting residential neighborhoods.

Policy 40
The City should actively assist its residents in developing the skills necessary for them to take full advantage of the city’s changing economic makeup and to provide the personnel resources which would make Cambridge a desirable place to locate and expand.

Policy 41
The benefits of a strong employment base should be extended to portions of the resident population that have not benefitted in the past; the City should support appropriate training programs that advance this objective.

Policy 42
While recognizing some of the disadvantages of any urban location for many kinds of manufacturing activities, the City should make every effort to retain and recruit a wide range of enterprises suitable for a Cambridge location, presently, or in the future as manufacturing processes evolve and change. Where possible the disadvantages should be minimized and the real advantages strengthened for manufacturing activities that can widen the city’s job base and solidify its economic vitality.

Policy 43
The City should establish the regulatory environment and provide the support necessary to encourage the establishment of manufacturing activities for which the city may be a suitable location in the future.

Policy 44
The City should actively cultivate a regulatory and policy environment that assists in the retention of existing industries, supports the creation of new businesses and the innovative thinking that precedes it, retains an inventory of low-cost space necessary for fledgling enterprises, and fosters an innovative environment where entrepreneurship thrives.

Policy 45
Specialized economic activities for which Cambridge is a congenial host, such as the tourism and hospitality industries, should be supported.

Policy 46
The diversity, quality, and vigor of the city’s physical, ethnic, cultural, and educational environment should be nurtured and strengthened as a fundamental source of the city’s economic viability. More specifically, minority businesses and economic entrepreneurship should be encouraged.

Policy 47
Existing retail districts should be strengthened; new retail activity should be directed toward the city’s existing retail squares and corridors.

Policy 48
Retail districts should be recognized for their unique assets, opportunities, and functions, and those aspects should be encouraged, in part to assure that they can compete with regional shopping centers and maintain their economic viability.

Policy 49
The City and its major institutions should engage in a formally established ongoing dialogue to share concerns; identify problems, conflicts, and opportunities; and to fashion solutions and areas of cooperation to their mutual satisfaction. As part of this dialogue, each institution should create a plan describing its existing status as well as outlining its future needs and goals, and the means for achieving those goals.

Policy 50
The City should recognize the need for the major institutions to adapt and respond to changing circumstances to maintain their leadership positions in education, health care, and research while recognizing, responding to and coordinating with City policy goals.

Policy 51
Where tax-exempt academic uses are expanded into retail corridors and squares, mixed-use development including taxable retail or other commercial development should be incorporated wherever possible, especially at street level, recognizing each retail area for its unique assets, opportunities and functions, and strengthening these aspects when expanding into such areas.

Policy 52
The city’s major educational institutions should be encouraged to provide housing for their respective faculties, students, and staff through additions to the city’s inventory of housing units. Effective use of existing land holdings should be a tool in meeting this objective, where it does not result in excessive density in the core campus. In addition, where new housing is to be located within or abutting an existing neighborhood, it should match the scale, density, and character of the neighborhood. The institutions should be encouraged to retain this housing for client populations over an extended period of time. They should consider housing other city residents within these housing developments as a means of integrating the institutional community with city residents.

Policy 53
Except in circumstances where further institutional growth is appropriate or beneficial to the city as a whole (see Policy 7) the city’s institutions should be discouraged from creating new fiscal burdens on the City treasury through the conversion of property from tax-producing uses to non-taxable uses, and should mitigate any harmful effects of such conversions through financial compensation.

Policy 54
The institutions’ capacity for commercial investment should be directed in part to assist in the transformation of evolving industrial areas and commercial districts, as defined by City policy and elaborated upon through formally established, ongoing planning discussions.

Policy 55
Where major institutions invest in commercial properties, their willingness to manage those properties partly in response to broader community objectives of diversity and community need, as articulated through the continuing formal dialogue with the City and its residents, should be encouraged, consistent with the institutions’ fiduciary responsibilities.

Policy 56
Recognizing the localized nature of their physical presence, the city’s smaller institutions should be regulated on an individual basis as provided in the zoning ordinance’s institutional regulations and as they are impacted by zoning, urban design, and other City policies.

Policy 57
Design review for new development should be established throughout the city for all areas where future development will be of a scale or quantity that will potentially change or establish the character of the district.

Policy 58
Even in areas where the character of a district is firmly established and new development is likely to be very modest, design review should be required where small scale changes are likely to disrupt the desired district character.

Policy 59
The regulations for all zoning districts in Cambridge should reflect the city’s fundamental urban design and environmental objectives: height, setback, use, site development, and density standards imposed should be consistent with or advance those urban design objectives.

Policy 60
Urban design and environmental standards should be developed for all areas of the city which are or may be in the future subject to redevelopment or significant new development.

Policy 61
Urban design standards should reflect the historic context within which change will occur while permitting design that is responsive to contemporary circumstances.

Policy 62
As transitions between differing uses are extremely important in a densely developed city, urban design standards should be developed to ensure that these transitions are made properly, respecting to the maximum extent possible the needs of each contrasting use.

Policy 63
Open space and recreational facilities serving a wide range of functions and clientele, including the elderly and special needs populations, should be encouraged, either through expansion of the existing inventory, through multiple use of existing facilities, or through creative programming of those facilities.

Policy 64
Conservation lands and other environmentally sensitive areas are a vital part of the city’s open space system and should be maintained and protected appropriately. Public access to and use of these areas must be carefully planned and balanced with preservation of these resources.

Policy 65
Expansion of Cambridge residents’ opportunities to use regional recreational facilities (those owned by the Metropolitan District Commission and the Commonwealth) located in the city should be encouraged, particularly where the adjacent residential community is underserved by local recreational facilities, and when the legitimate regional use of that facility would not be unduly restricted. In addition, there should be increased coordination of recreation programming and planning between the local and regional levels.

Policy 66
New open space facilities, including larger ones for organized activities, should be considered for those private developments where the size of the development, the amount of land area and/or the ownership patterns provide the flexibility to accommodate such a facility without loss of economic value for other uses.

Policy 67
Acquisition of publicly owned or administered open space should be made in those dense residential areas clearly deficient in all forms of open space, but only where significant fiscal resources are provided through federal or state acquisition programs or a substantial portion of the cost is borne privately; facilities of modest size and flexible in use characteristics, located close to the homes of the persons for whom they are intended should be encouraged.

Policy 68
Only under extraordinary circumstances should existing open space facilities be eliminated from the city’s inventory for other uses; small, passively or merely visually used facilities, should not be undervalued in this regard merely for lack of intensive or active recreational use.

Policy 69
The city should encourage the permanent retention and protection of useful, effective, attractive private open space whether publicly accessible or not. Community use of private recreational and open space facilities in the city should be encouraged at reasonable levels where the private function of those facilities would not be impaired and where the recreational activity provided by the private facility is not well served in available public facilities.

Policy 70
Repair, maintenance and timely upgrading of existing facilities should be the City’s highest fiscal priority with regard to open space and recreational facilities. The City should explore, and adopt as appropriate, mechanisms whereby the private sector can reasonably provide, assist in and/or contribute to the maintenance of publicly useable open space and recreational facilities.

October 17, 2018

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 345-346: Oct 16, 2018

Episode 345 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 5:30pm. Topics: Baseball, Oct 15 Council meeting, Inman Square, Subsidized Housing Overlay controversy, Envision Cambridge. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]


Episode 346 – Cambridge InsideOut: Oct 16, 2018 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Oct 16, 2018 at 6:00pm. Topics: Zero Waste Report, urban design & retail (creating active storefronts), Central Square, upcoming events. Hosts: Judy Nathans, Robert Winters [On YouTube] [audio]

[Materials used in these episodes]

October 15, 2018

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:07 am

Notable items on the Oct 15, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallHere’s my first pass at the interesting stuff up for discussion at this week’s meeting:

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $160,000 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account which will fund an expansion of free food programming for Cambridge youth.

Expanded Free Breakfast & Lunch in Cambridge schools and pre-schools courtesy of Mother Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $5,000,000 from Free Cash to the Public Investment Fund Public Works Department Extraordinary Expenditures Account to support the completion of the Inman Square Intersection Improvements Project.

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Councillor Kelley, transmitting memorandum regarding Inman Square Redesign Project.

There are some who still feel that the plan needs revision (including Councillor Kelley), but the judge isn’t going to look at the twenty-seven 8 x 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one.

Manager’s Agenda #10. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-76, regarding a report on Linkage fee as part of the Incentive Zoning Nexus Study.

Another study coming. At least this time there will also be effort expended to measure the impact of new nonresidential development on employment opportunities for Cambridge residents (could there be a positive impact?). Currently any linkage fees exacted from new development go toward subsidized housing. Some might argue that the greatest deficiency in how these nexus studies and associated linkage fees work is that they do little to address the lack of access for existing residents to jobs in all these new bright shiny buildings, and building additional subsidized housing without such access to employment isn’t necessarily the best strategy.

Charter Right #1. That the Envision Cambridge draft recommendations should be reviewed by the entire City Council in respective committees.

As I have said previously, handing a laundry list of suggestions from Envision Cambridge working committees to each of the City Council committees hardly seems like the best path toward comprehensive planning (you know – the Master Plan). Maybe they just want the Faster Plan.

Order #1. That the City Manager confer with the City Solicitor’s Office on the legal question and the feasibility of placing a condition in public bidding documents prohibiting municipal contractors from displaying any signage—other than company markers and contact information—on vehicles.   Councillor Siddiqui, Mayor McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux

Though I don’t know for sure (really, I do), I believe this Order came about because somebody snapped a picture of a cement truck that had "Make America Great Again" on it.

Order #4. That the Chairs of the Ordinance Committee schedule a hearing on Tree Protections and the Chairs of the Health & Environment Committee schedule public hearings on Tree Protections and the preliminary results from the Ordinance Committee hearing.   Councillor Zondervan

I may just have to take down sooner than later that problematic ash tree in my yard that’s leaning on my roof. Otherwise, if a new ordinance is passed I may need a lawyer and an additional check.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department and the City Solicitor to investigate the queries posed by the Economic and University Relations Committee for a City-Based Cannabis Social Equity Program.   Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Zondervan

Cast me out from the community, if you will, but I simply cannot wrap my head around a policy that gives preferential treatment to relatives of people convicted of drug-related crimes. Ensuring that the new dope industry provides economic opportunity broadly, i.e. "social equity", is one thing, but getting nailed for dealing dope under previous laws should not provide an advantage over those who lived within the law.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 27, 2018 to discuss Affordable Housing Overlay District.

The juggernaut continues. I spoke my mind on this subject at the most recent meeting of the Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group (which really should be renamed the "Subsidized Housing Working Group" based on the fact that they never addressed housing generally). As I have stated repeatedly, it’s certainly true that people want housing to be affordable in the sense that a typical person or family can find a place to buy or rent within their budget, but this is not the same as advocating for a dramatic increase in subsidized housing (of which Cambridge already has a significant amount when you add up all the Housing Authority properties, Inclusionary housing units, etc.). Indeed, I think an argument can be made that the singular focus on subsidized housing may be contributing to the non-affordability of housing generally. The best affordable housing program ever conceived was the proliferation of multi-family housing, and that involved no government subsidy at all.

Better ideas would be to permit multi-family housing in all zones, adjust allowable densities to better reflect the existing built environment, and work regionally to increase the overall housing stock. As I stated at the very first meeting of the Envision Cambridge Advisory Committee, constructing many housing units in Somerville’s Union Square, in Everett, in Allston, and elsewhere will do more toward making housing more affordable in Cambridge than anything. Only when people have options can they make rational economic choices. It is the shortage of available better options that allows housing costs in Cambridge to rise unchecked.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Sept 12, 2018 to discuss Storefront Vacancies Best Practices.

Though I suppose I like the idea of "pop up" art in vacant storefronts, it’s a poor substitute for actual retail. On a related matter, current state law requires all new marijuana stores to obscure the views into these establishments (kinda like a speakeasy in the prohibition era). The crappy response has been to propose putting artsy stuff in the front windows. There are better approaches. My proposal is to create arcade-like shallow retail operations on these frontages. How about a hot dog vendor? A newsstand (if anyone still buys newspapers/magazines)? Maybe just a simple water bottle filling station. How about just creating a recessed area with an awning where a local vendor can sell hats, scarves, or trinkets? There are plenty of other good ideas. I would make the same proposal for other "formula businesses" to create active, low-cost, retail opportunities. – Robert Winters

August 14, 2018

Tight spot on Huron Avenue

Filed under: Cambridge,cycling — Tags: , , , , , , — jsallen @ 1:01 pm

I am expanding here on comments which I made on a post in the Cambridge Bikes Facebook group.

The overhead view from the post shows a stretch of Huron Avenue near Sparks Street.

Huron Avenue and Sparks Street, Cambiridge, Massachusetts

Huron Avenue and Sparks Street

I see here a retrofit to a car-centric street design in an attempt to accommodate bicyclists of all ages and abilities, a popular goal of bicycling advocacy.

This stretch is downhill right to left in the overhead view. A common explanation for the buffer (diagonally-striped area) to the left of the bike lane is that it is to protect cyclists from overtaking motorists — but it places the bike lane in the door zone. A bike lane in the door zone is unsafe for any bicyclists, but it is worse here. Motorists don’t have x-ray vision. A look in the driver’s side mirror won’t show a bicyclist until rather late on a right-hand curve: bicyclists are hidden by the parked cars behind. Bicyclists can travel as fast or nearly as fast as cars here, also worsening the dooring hazard. and do best to merge out and ride in the stream of motor traffic. This also improves sight distance for motorists who might (horrors!) have to slow a little to follow a bicyclist.

On the other side of the street, the bike lane leads bicyclists into the right-hook zone at Sparks Street in the expectation that all right-turning motorists will yield. The green-painted crossing is an attempt to accommodate bicyclists who do not check for traffic behind them, whether due to lack of skill, a stiff neck, inattention or misplaced trust. But, not all motorists yield. A bicyclist needs to be extra careful here, casting a look over the shoulder, and preferably merging left to block a right-turning motorist or let that motorist pass on the right.

Is it actually possible to design safely for all ages and abilities here? A speed hump could help by slowing motor traffic. Removing parking spaces would make a big improvement, but parking spaces are sacred to residents and business owners, and illegal parking (as in the bike lane on the south side) is tolerated as a minor sin. Moving the legal parking to the uphill, soutth side, would reduce the dooring risk. On the south side, bicyclist are traveling more slowly and sight lines are better.

But above all, a major change in motorists’ behavior is needed — a cultural change: reduction in speed, and respect for bicyclists who safely far enough from the parked vehicles to avoid dooring. Attempting to bring about bicycling accessible to people of all ages and abilities using paint first, without the public will to step up enforcement, gets things backwards. In the mean time, children might ride slowly on the sidewalk, but grownups do best to use defensive driving techniques, as I have described.  The major motorist behavior change can be expected (with autonomous vehicles) — in a decade or three.  If  shared use becomes dominant with motor vehicles, there also will be less need for parking spaces and that would be good too.

June 4, 2018

First Look at the June 4, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,Inman Square — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 3:11 am

First Look at the June 4, 2018 Cambridge City Council Agenda

City HallThe City Council returns Monday for another crack at the Vellucci Park matter. The rhetoric will likely go something like this: (1) "You have to save the trees to save the planet" – even though you could define the word ‘negligible’ by this and many other Cambridge initiatives on that front; or (2) "You have to enthusiastically support the proposed reconfiguration because it removes bicycles from the roadway" (even though it was our 4th choice out of 4 proposed designs); or (3) "If you disagree with our position you support the murder of innocents." Cambridge rhetoric can be a bit overwhelming at times. I just think we could do better if the whole process wasn’t driven by the obsessive falsehoods that only motor vehicles should be allowed to safely use Cambridge roadways and that the only safe place for a bicycle is on the sidewalk.

Anyway, here are a few items that may be of interest at this meeting:

Charter Right #1. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with a detailed accounting of locations, if any, where Cured-In-Place Plastic Pipe (CIPP) and other plastic pipes currently exists in Cambridge, when it was installed, and why there was no public process for such a potentially hazardous change in water policy.

I believe the City Manager gave a perfectly good response to this at the previous meeting, so I’ll be surprised if there’s anything else that needs to be said this week. My only curiosity lies with the question of whether the Water Board or the Water Department makes the decision if they disagree.

Charter Right #2. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a request for approval to submit the attached Home Rule Petition that would authorize the City of Cambridge to include as part of the Inman Square Intersection Safety Improvements Project (“Project”) the planned reconfiguration of the intersection of Hampshire Street and Cambridge Street in the Inman Square area of the City (hereinafter, “Inman Square”) as well as a portion of the land that makes up Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci Community Plaza (“Vellucci Plaza”).

This requires 6 votes and it’s not at all clear that the votes are there. There are various reasons why some councillors might disapprove, and it’s not all about whether a few honey locusts get turned into mulch or if a roomy new Ganja Plaza is established adjacent to the new Cannabis Quickie Mart. At the very least, I’d like to see some more current statistics on traffic safety in Inman Square since the bike stripes appeared in the Square. It may be that $60 worth of paint makes for a better solution than $6 million and a year of disruption. The Public Comment should be entertaining, especially in counting all the permutations of the Talking Points sent out by the various advocacy groups who tutor people what to say and how to be as dramatic as possible.

Result: The Home Rule Petition was approved 6-3 (Carlone, Devereux, Mallon, Siddiqui, Zondervan, McGovern – YES; Kelley, Simmons, Toomey – NO)

Charter Right #3. That the City Manager is requested to create a structured commercial tax rate system for FY20 that prioritizes lowering the tax rate for small businesses.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from City Clerk Donna P. Lopez, transmitting a communication from Mayor McGovern, transmitting amendments to Policy Order #3 of May 21, 2018 regarding the creation of a structured tax rate system for FY20.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, any change will require a general change in state law or a Home Rule Petition, but there are some good reasons to crack open that Can of Worms. Some Cambridge retail is being driven into oblivion by the combination of rising rents (which include the real estate taxes) and shifting consumer habits. Tax changes may help, but there are other factors as well. Maybe we could consider exempting a portion of ground floor retail space like we do with the residential exemption.

Order #1. Issues to be resolved on the I-90 Interchange Project.   Vice Mayor Devereux, Mayor McGovern, Councillor Zondervan, Councillor Carlone

I have no dog in this race, but I’m eager to see the transformation of this area.

Order #3. Advancing Homelessness Issues Docket.   Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mallon, Councillor Siddiqui

This Order is almost like an Index of the good initiatives now being considered at the State Legislature.

Order #4. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to consult with the Community Development Department and any other relevant departments to explore starting a Citizens’ Academy in Cambridge.   Councillor Mallon

I like this idea! Remember – indoctrination is not the same as education and encouragement. Show people how things work and where the on ramps are located, and then let them define how they want to exercise their citizenship.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with the Cambridge Historical Commission, the Cambridge Women’s Commission, the Cambridge Arts Council, and the Community Development Department to commission a public art piece, statue, or memorial that would commemorate the dedication of women in Cambridge to passing the Nineteenth Amendment.   Councillor Mallon, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui

I agree 100%. We already have a lot of establishments celebrating the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment. – Robert Winters

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 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.

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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