Monday, May 20, 2024

Tracks of what could become a Grand Junction commuter rail line run through industrial Cambridgeport as well as through more populated and residential parts of the city. (Photo: Jonathan Rissmeyer)

The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick got a warning this week from Cambridge officials angry about being forced to accept a Grand Junction commuter rail line.

The proposed line, a pet project of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, would shuttle workers between Worcester and North Station — mainly on a dozen high-speed trains during rush hour, disrupting other traffic as well as city plans for the land on which the tracks lie.

“The Patrick administration received its second-highest percentage of votes in any community in the commonwealth of Massachusetts in Cambridge,” Mayor David Maher said, referring to last year’s reelection campaign and the 82.2 percent of the vote he won in Cambridge, compared with 48.4 percent statewide. “I think it is time we ask the lieutenant governor to think ahead to the impact this could have in 2014. I will tell you I am sure a number of people in this room would be very, very reluctant to support a candidate who pushed this down the throats of local residents.”

It was only one of the transportation issues running through the Monday meeting of the City Council. In addition to a report by city councillor and state Rep. Tim Toomey of a three- to five-year delay in completing the green line T extension, there was discussion of a bike share program extending from Boston.

There will be 14 Cambridge bike share stations as part of the program, six on college campuses, each holding anywhere from 10 to 15 gray, rentable bicycles branded “Hubway” — “Collectively agreed upon by some think tank. I wanted ‘City Bike,’ but I didn’t prevail,” City Manager Robert W. Healy grumbled. The program began last week in Boston, which has some 600 bikes at 61 stations, councillor Henrietta Davis said. A daylong pass costs $5.

Advertising on the bikes and stations have drawn criticism, leading to assurances from Healy that Cambridge’s kiosks will have only noncommercial, sponsor-based ads. But to the surprise of officials in a city that is No. 5 on a ranking of the “10 Best U.S. Bike Cities of 2011” on finance site TheStreet, the presence of the bikes themselves in traffic have been controversial, with remarks about the need for more safety and traffic enforcement coming during Monday’s public comment period from residents such as James Williamson, a candidate for the council, and Dan Epstein.

“Without a concrete, serious approach to doing this, I worry that we’re going to be creating more safety problems in our city by putting another group of bicycles out there,” Epstein said.

A policy order in favor of more safety training introduced by councillor Sam Seidel was passed to a second reading, but Davis said she doubted even 210 more bikes would be noticed on Cambridge streets. Councillor Craig Kelley said he found it “weird” that similar reactions aren’t leveled at car drivers and that no one responded with alarm when Cambridge-based Zipcar began introducing its hourly rentals to city streets. “Cars actually kill people in Cambridge, and suggest that we have somewhere around 110, 120, 130 shared bicycles and people jump all over the place,” Kelley said. “I really don’t get it.”

Drawing the line on commuter rail

No one, however, spoke in support of the Grand Junction rail line, an 8.6-mile broken-down freight rail line winding through East Cambridge and Cambridgeport, passing through Kendall Square and near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its proposed conversion to commuter rail has been raising public concerns about noise and safety since at least October, and a Department of Transportation traffic study discussed June 16 at a meeting at the Morse School did little to silence those concerns.

“It’s not in the public interest, it’s not in the interests of Cambridge and we certainly need as a community to be sending that message very clearly,” Davis said, noting that for commuters “it’s not so hard to get to South Station,” the city commuter rail hub Murray has cited as being too crowded to handle another line.

Councillor Leland Cheung agreed that the more he learned about the line — which in the past he considered accepting if it would bring Cambridge considerations such as its own stop — the more concerned he got. Wondering who did support the project, Cheung asked Toomey to confirm a report MIT was aboard.

Toomey doubted that was true, explaining that the institute had expressed to him “grave concerns” about the trains hitting students at Vassar Street or the effect on sensitive equipment in one particular building when passing at between 15 and 30 miles per hour. “It’s a real public safety hazard, so I was surprised to hear MIT was in fact pushing that,” he said. “In the discussion I had with them they had a lot of concerns.”

Councillor Marjorie Decker proposed gathering with the city’s legislative delegation to ensure the officials were united in resisting the plan.