A healthier conversation for safer streets: Candidate on bike law and group’s pledge
The 2019 Cycling Safety Ordinance was passed after a robust public conversation. While I did not have a vote at the time, if I did sit on the City Council, I believe I would have voted in the affirmative. Which is why it is so disappointing to get so many emails accusing me of not supporting it.
Over the summer, as I worked on my first campaign to gain a seat on the council, members of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group reached out to meet with me. I was glad for this opportunity to get to know this successful activist group. I believe that active participation in our process is vital to our city’s long-term success, and organized groups such as these play an important role as we decide how we would like our city to progress. Cycling has become much more prevalent over the years, which is a very good thing – traveling this way does not add greenhouse gases to our quickly changing environment, and we must end our reliance on fossil fuels as quickly as we can. Safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians will be another huge boon to ending this reliance. As a pedestrian and father to a bicycle commuter, I agree that our streets need to be safer for the growing population of cyclists. I once was a commuter cyclist, but stopped after a cyclist was killed in Central Square some years ago. We must make traveling safely through our city a top priority.
I ended up having three or four conversations with members of the group over the campaign season, and came away pleased with our conversations. I let them know that I do and would continue to support the 2019 Ordinance, but I also let them know that I was less supportive of the amendments passed in October 2020. Those amendments were passed with little community input and have caused a lot of anger among other stakeholders.
I indicated to them that I was very much interested in bringing the various stakeholders together for a healthy and frank conversation so we could come to an accord on how to make our streets safer. I said I hoped that my long history of working at many of the locally owned restaurants and my relationships with many of the small businesses would help facilitate a respectful and productive conversation. Members of the group indicated that this would be helpful. I was unable to bring these folks together before work started in North Cambridge.
As implementation has begun along Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge, it is clear that many stakeholders, including small-business owners, residents and commuters, are upset about the process. Their complaints are valid, and they deserve an expectation of representation on the council. The process has been so divisive that groups have formed to demand their voices be heard. I know how difficult the past year and a half has been for restaurants and small businesses, and I am sympathetic to their concerns. Everyone I spoke with supports safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians, but they have some valid points on how the implementation has had and will have adverse impact on their community: a proposed loading zone will bring truck traffic to small side streets that are not designed to support it; 15-minute parking spots in commercial districts will not allow for certain small businesses to fulfill the needs of their customers who require more time in the shop. These concerns should be heard and answered, even if it is at odds with what others think is the best path forward. It is unfair to paint all of these people as “anti-bike” or “anti-safety,“ just as it would be unfair to describe bicycle activists to be antidemocratic.
Which is the problem with the 2021 Bike Safety Pledge. The wording is such that it does not allow for a robust and inclusive discussion. Despite my support for creating safer streets, I stand by my commitment to an open and democratic process. We can have both. We should have both. The pledge negates the second. I made public my reasoning on Oct, 3 in a blog post saying “Pledges are not always the best way to govern.”
So I was surprised to discover that CBS told its community through social media posts and emails that I, along with other candidates who did not sign the pledge, were opposed to the ordinance. I got many emails imploring me to support the ordinance, and I have tried to reply to each to explain that I do, but that its implementation should be open, transparent and built on consensus.
I admire the commitment of CBS to holding public officials accountable. But I am very disappointed that it would misinform its community on my stance, as well as the stances of other candidates. There are better and more honest ways at achieving their goals than misrepresenting candidates’ positions. One would hope that a group founded on the principles of community activism would support honest community engagement and welcome different views on implementing safer streets to the discussion.
Maybe I am wrong, but it appears that civility on our streets is waning, along with the civility of our discourse. I fear that without a healthy, inclusive, respectful conversation, we will miss an opportunity to build consensus on this issue. I will work to bring civility back to our conversation. I believe that this will also bring more civility to our streets, making them safer for all.
Joe McGuirk, candidate for City Council