Our economy requires cars, and parking is vital for Cambridge’s struggling small businesses
“The bicycle’s biggest wave of popularity in its 154-year history,” gushed Time magazine in 1970 at the start of America’s five-year love affair with the bike. “Some 64 million fellow travelers are taking regularly to bikes these days, more than ever before, and more than ever [they are] convinced that two wheels are better than four.”
I am old enough to remember this bike craze in 1970. People were predicting the obsolescence of cars within 30 years as bikeways took over highways. As a youngster riding my bike with its big sissy bar and brightly colored handlebar tassels, I proudly wore stickers that said “Flower Power!” and “Bike Power!” This was a few years before the 1973 oil crisis, when lines at gas stations snaked around blocks. And yet, a mere five years later, bike companies were going bust, bike lanes that had gone in were being taken out. This was not the first, nor as we see today, the last bike craze, with people predicting that in 30 years there will be no cars! I baby my 18-year-old, first-generation hybrid car so it lasts until technology improves and prices of electric cars make them affordable for the average buyer and, most importantly, cities such as Cambridge install easily accessible public charging stations, preferably in existing private parking lots like we have at Porter Square.
I don’t want to drive anyone off the road or out of business. Bike safety is important, and that’s why the City Council should look at the full panoply of safety measures including requiring helmets and bike safety training. In a 2019 survey taken by the city, almost 75 percent of the respondents said they were happy or very happy with ease of biking in Cambridge. Only 25 percent were happy with ease of parking. And this is why I oppose the council’s current plan to remove parking from roads to install 25 miles of bike lanes. The council claims we have a climate emergency, and I absolutely agree. But the fact is, no climate scientist is arguing that bikes can replace cars. What they are saying is that all of us need to reduce consumption drastically. I’m not sure where the bikes-only advocates think their bike, clothes, phones, computers, beds, hair products, tableware, shoes and the like come from, but it is not from a source that can be walked to or biked to. Every item we use implicates and uses cars, trucks, trains, planes or boats. And it is a very entitled attitude to say “I don’t want cars in my backyard, but I still want to be a consumer.” It’s no different than locating trash facilities or pig farms in communities that are not our own.
I want a City Council made up of people who are forward thinking, who truly care about reducing our carbon footprint and who don’t fall prey to single-issue politics. I would rather the council use taxpayer dollars to develop a comprehensive carbon footprint calculator, building on the simple ones built to address the carbon footprint of driving, trash and flying. We should be including everything we buy and do into a carbon calculator so each family and individual can make informed choices of how they will spend their carbon points – once someone develops a model for what each person can safely use. An older person who drives to their local shop could have a far smaller carbon footprint than a cyclist. Why? Because older people tend to buy fewer consumer goods.
As a former lawyer who worked over two decades in Washington, D.C., on international environmental policy, I have been part of numerous stakeholder groups. I was on both President Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s task forces for trade and environment, on numerous U.S. government delegations and formulated policy at the domestic and international level. In each case we used a stakeholder process to make sure that all views were heard and taken into account when formulating law and policy. This is the basis of democracy. Unfortunately, we live in a world of single-issue politics in which anti-democratic tactics are used by the right and left. In the case of Cambridge, there was no stakeholder process to determine how we can address bike safety, given all constituents needs. This current plan to remove most of the parking on Massachusetts Avenue was passed by the council during the lockdown, when few government services were available and no one (other than the cyclist advocates) was expecting such a far-reaching action. The city could have notified the public through the daily email it sends out, but chose not to. Furthermore, when a so-called public hearing was held, it was tightly controlled. I personally sent in several questions that were not addressed, even though city councillors claimed they were reading and responding to all questions. Furthermore, a public meeting requires dialogue between government and the public, which was not allowed.
The anti-car constituency in Cambridge is tiny. I recently posted about this issue on Nextdoor and out of 412 responses, only 21 people supported taking out parking. Most of these people wanted a car-free Cambridge. Of those 21, only eight actually live in Cambridge. This tiny single-issue advocacy group uses anti-democratic tactics to stop public debate on these important issues by over-posting, threatening boycotts – which don’t work if you aren’t a customer! – and basically being so disruptive that no one wants to engage. This is the constituency that the council is supporting over the needs of all other constituents in Cambridge. It’s not as if the City Council is unaware that the pandemic drove most small businesses to the brink, but what they have given in aid to small businesses, including women- and Black-owned businesses, they are taking away with the removal of parking. That is not good governance. These businesses can’t survive without some sort of public parking. Before the pandemic, my little block of Massachusetts Avenue was hard hit because affordable housing was being built across the street and all the workers from that project were parking all day long at the meters. I complained to the City Manager’s Office on behalf of the small businesses at least seven or eight times because small businesses were feeling the pinch of having no customer parking.
I was previously in Cambridge in an area where there was no public parking. Had I not moved to the present location, we would have been out of business by now. You only need to look at the empty business locations without parking to know that public parking is essential to a small business.
Leesteffy Jenkins, Upland Road
Leesteffy Jenkins owns Violette Bakers, a gluten-free bakery near Porter Square.