Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Last week, like most weeks, people were hurt while biking on Cambridge streets. An example was shared Oct. 18 with the City Council: “A student riding their bicycle was struck on Cambridge Street and Windsor Street at approximately 8:28 a.m. … The bicyclist sustained minor injuries, refused medical transport and went to school.” These incidents end frequently in trips to the hospital and, on tragic occasions, death. This is what motivates Cambridge Bike Safety’s work and why the Cycling Safety Ordinance is so important, as it will ensure a complete protected network of bicycle lanes in the city within seven years.

In a lengthy essay (“A healthier conversation for safer streets: Candidate on bike law and group’s pledge,” Oct. 23), City Council candidate Joe McGuirk says he supports the Cycling Safety Ordinance and that the group has mischaracterized him as an opponent. 

We don’t think we have, however. In the essay, McGuirk emphasizes that he did not sign the pledge this election because he he supports the 2019 law and not the 2020 amendment. This, in a nutshell, is the key dividing line. CBS and the 13 council candidates who signed the pledge to ensure the timely implementation of the ordinance understand that the 2020 timelines are the heart of the law. The urgent safety issue that faces cyclists in this city – multiple cyclists hit by cars each week – means we cannot further slow the already measured pace of protected bicycle lane installation in this city. Lest we forget, the ordinance timelines stretch up to seven years, nearly twice the length of time it took the United States to fight and win World War II.

Ultimately, this is the crux of the matter, as the timeline is the most critical part of the law. Under the original version passed in 2019, protected bike lanes are required to be built only when the city fully reconstructs roads in the network. Because streets are reconstructed rarely, virtually no bike lanes would have been required to date under the 2019 law alone. It’s very easy to express support for protected bike lanes when almost none are installed in practice. 

Because the timelines are so critical to getting safer streets, Cambridge Bicycle Safety asked candidates to pledge to uphold the CSO as passed into law. This allows voters to learn before they vote what candidates will actually do when elected. Pledges are central to an open and democratic process because they commit candidates to stay true to the wishes of those who elected them. President Barack Obama, for example, was deeply committed to civility, openness and responsible governance, and made no fewer than 533 promises while campaigning. 

We want cycling to be safe in Cambridge. The pledge helps make sure that when our elected leaders say they want that too, they actually follow through. For example, leading up to 2017 and the 2019 elections, certain council candidates pledged to pass a timeline to implement a complete network of protected bike lanes. In both elections, Cambridge residents elected a council on which a supermajority of councillors had signed the pledge. The 2020 timeline ordinance, voted for by seven out of nine councillors, made good on the pledge after years of widely held public debate.

Taking a pledge to uphold the law as passed does not mean elected officials give up their duty or responsibility to address the needs of the public in implementing the law. Nor does it preclude a robust and inclusive discussion. The discussion shifts from whether and when a protected bike lane should be installed to what the protected bike lane should look like when it does go in. This is exactly the debate occurring over North Massachusetts Avenue now. We know that this debate may require difficult conversations. What the timelines and CBS pledge do is ensure that those conversations take place and lead to timely decisions; they keep the can from getting kicked down the road. When that happens – as it has for far too long already – people get hurt and people die. 

Sam Feigenbaum, Normandy Avenue; Janie Katz-Christy, Elm Street; Ruthann Rudel, Rindge Avenue; Steve Horner, Florence Street

The authors write on behalf of Cambridge Bicycle Safety.