Monday, February 26, 2024

At just 7 square miles and with relatively few hills, Cambridge should be the perfect city for biking. Children should be able to bike to school and explore their world with friends without worrying their parents. Adults should be able to bike to work, appointments, errands and for leisure without feeling like they are risking a trip to the hospital.

Instead, we have middle and high school students whose direct routes to school are on busy corridors such as Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street. Both roads have long stretches where only a mere stripe of white paint separates bicycle riders from parked cars on their right, and large, fast-moving vehicular traffic on their left. At any moment, someone opening their car door could fling them and their bike into traffic (known as “dooring”), resulting in serious injury or even death.

Although the number of people traveling by bike in Cambridge has increased by 350 percent between 2003 and 2019, standard painted bicycle lanes (or worse, streets with no bike markings at all) are still too stressful and intimidating for many people to consider biking. In the 2020 Community Needs Survey, 53 percent of Cambridge residents who did not bike within the past year said they wanted to bike more in Cambridge, and the most commonly cited barrier to biking was safety (89 percent).

To make roads safer, we need protected bicycle lanes to separate people riding bicycles from trucks, buses and cars. With separation, people riding bikes no longer fear being thrown into traffic by an open door, feel pressured to move faster or move aside for large vehicles.

Additionally, protected bicycle lanes make pedestrians safer by providing a crossing refuge, reducing the number of cyclists riding on the sidewalk and reducing speeding by motor vehicles. Although the speed limit on Cambridge Street is 25 mph, it wasn’t until protected bicycle lanes were installed on one stretch of the street that the 85th percentile car speed decreased to 25 mph from 31 mph. This has significant safety implications, as studies have estimated that a person is about 70 percent more likely to be killed if they are struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph versus 25 mph.

How do residents feel about protected bike lanes? In a Cambridge city survey, residents were asked to respond to the statement, “I would like to see the city install more protected bike lanes in Cambridge.” The result:

  • 64 percent of online respondents and 60 percent of phone respondents were in agreement or strong agreement.
  • 11 percent and 13 percent of online and phone respondents, respectively, were neutral.
  • Only 23 percent of online respondents and 26 percent of phone respondents, respectively, were opposed.
  • Backed by two-thirds of the public, in 2019 the City Council passed the Cycling Safety Ordinance and in 2020 defined a timeline for construction of a network of protected bike lanes across the city. Both processes involved multiple public meetings and votes, and were extensively covered in local media.

Every day that a protected bike lane project is delayed is a day that people riding bicycles are at risk for serious injury or death. There have been more than 300 crashes resulting in cyclist injuries, as well as three fatalities, since 2016. The Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline sets reasonable and achievable goals to construct protected bicycle lanes, reducing the risk of injury and death and helping the city’s long-term goal of reducing vehicle congestion and pollution. While the changes will happen over the course of six years, change can require a period of adjustment. To ensure all stakeholder needs are being met:

  • The ordinance explicitly ensures that accessible parking spots for people with disabilities and bus stops will be preserved.
  • The city has also used the ordinance as an opportunity to improve bus transit. For example, the plan is to install dedicated bus lanes alongside bicycle lanes on North Massachusetts Avenue, which will reduce travel time and increase reliability for the as many as 7,500 daily users.
  • Designs for protected bicycle lanes are presented to the public and to businesses along the relevant streets, often including door-to-door outreach, and feedback is incorporated into the final design.
  • As in previous years, the majority of City Council candidates have pledged to continue working toward safety for people on bikes, on foot and on transit. They believe that the children, parents, university students, commuters, workers, retirees, tourists and small-business owners who bike through Cambridge all deserve safer, more accessible streets.

You can learn more about the candidates who took this pledge at the Cambridge Bicycle Safety website. Our thanks to Burhan Azeem, Dana Bullister, Dennis Carlone, Robert Eckstut, Tonia Hicks, Alanna Mallon, Marc McGovern, Patricia Nolan, Sumbul Siddiqui, Theodora Skeadas, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Nicola Williams and Quinton Zondervan for prioritizing the lives of our children and loved ones. We urge you to vote only for these candidates.

Katherine Beaty (Harvey Street), Mark Boswell (Walden Street), Susan Sheng (West Street) and Itamar Turner-Trauring (Oxford Street) on behalf of Cambridge Bicycle Safety

This letter was updated Oct. 17, 2021, to correct the number of daily users on North Massachusetts Avenue to 7,500; the previous figure was overestimated.