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?

March 26, 2017

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:45 pm

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

First Sign of SpringHere’s my take on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn

This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that’s not all about the tourists – a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan’s at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don’t suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.

The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement – the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let’s hope there’s some state grant money available to help pay for the project.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.

Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.

"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).

Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.

According to the Manager’s report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we’re generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager’s figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.

Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride.   Mayor Simmons

It’s stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don’t doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won’t hold my breath.

Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.

Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they’ve been doing out of public view.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).

Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. – Robert Winters

July 12, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 155-156: July 12, 2016 – featuring Cambridge Water

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut,Fresh Pond,water — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:53 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 155 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 156 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Much of the discussion in both episodes focused on the Cambridge Water System.

May 13, 2014

Fresh Pond Day – Saturday May 31, 11am-3pm

Filed under: Cambridge,Fresh Pond — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:01 pm

Celebrate Our Reservation and Cambridge Community at Fresh Pond Day – Saturday May 31, 11am-3pm

Water Department logoJoin the Cambridge Water Department in celebrating the land, water, wildlife and people that make Cambridge’s Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge a unique and vital oasis at the 7th annual Fresh Pond Day. The festivities, hosted on the Reservation at 250 Fresh Pond Parkway will run from 11am-3pm and are open and free to all. Parking will be very limited at Fresh Pond Reservation; all visitors arriving by car are strongly encouraged to park at the Tobin School, 197 Vassal Lane.

Fresh Pond Day is for all ages. Highlights of the celebration will include: live music, children’s StoryWalk and storytime, face painting, stilt-walking, kids’ sing-along, wildlife and bicycle parades, container gardening, a live owl demonstration, fire truck and Reservation utility vehicles on exhibition, Reservation and water treatment facility tours, and a chance to meet and greet with City departments and community groups. Feel free to bring a picnic. Rain does cancel the event. For schedules, updates on weather, and volunteering, visit the Public Programs page at, or contact Kirsten Lindquist at (617) 349-6489,

Fresh Pond Reservation is readily accessible by public transit and bicycle; these “green” transportation options are strongly recommended. Bus routes #72, 75, 74 and 78 all stop within a 10 minute walk of the Reservation. To arrive by subway, take the Red Line to Alewife Station and walk down Alewife Brook Parkway past Fresh Pond Mall, then cross Concord Avenue into the Reservation. Ride a bicycle here by taking a right on Lakeview Avenue off of Brattle Street, crossing Fresh Pond Parkway to reach the bike path on the Reservation’s perimeter.

Fresh Pond Day!

June 5, 2011

Water Main Break at Broadway and Trowbridge

Filed under: water — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 1:03 am

June 4, 2011 (evening) – The water pressure has returned for most of Cambridge after the major water main break at the corner of Broadway and Trowbridge Street. It’s not yet clear what exactly failed – the 30 inch main, a coupling, or something else, but it wiped out the water pressure for much of Cambridge for several hours – especially in the eastern half of the city. We’ll have to wait and see what the damage is to the new Main Library where the water flooded into the underground garage and, presumably, into at least some parts of the lower floors. They never lost power and had their pumps running, so hopefully much of the potential damage has been at least somewhat contained.

The great flood
View westward along Broadway toward Trowbridge

The temporary moat in front of the new Main Library
The temporary moat in front of the new Main Library

CPD UPDATE: Residents on the even side of Broadway, from Goodman Street to Quincy Street, may be without water until approximately 7:00am tomorrow (Monday, June 6). Crews are working diligently to restore water to residents as soon as possible.

The Day After
The Day After

The Day After
Repairs Underway

The Brass Confer - City Engineer Owen O'Riordan, Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi, DPW Commissioner Lisa Peterson, Water Department Managing Director Sam Corda
The Brass Confer – City Engineer Owen O’Riordan, Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi, DPW Commissioner Lisa Peterson,
Water Department Managing Director Sam Corda (not sure who’s in the red shirt)

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