Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Last week Cambridge Day reported that SaveMassAve.com had submitted a petition to the City Council concerning the Cycling Safety Ordinance. The petition, signed with more than 1,050 names, requests an advisory committee of stakeholders to give input before implementation of new bicycle lanes and a study of the financial effects on businesses that have had their parking already removed. Both of these requests have been adopted as policy orders, but as of yet the advisory board has not been formed and the study has been put off until after more parking has been removed. The petition also requests a project manager that can look at all aspects of the separated bike lanes before they are built, and that the city considers plans for shared parking The signers of the petition want a voice at the table, and that shouldn’t be too much to ask of our elected officials.

The petition was presented at the March 28 council meeting and was allotted less than four minutes of discussion. Councillor Patty Nolan initiated discussion, saying that this many signatures warranted further consideration. Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui quickly decided to refer the petition to councillor Burhan Azeem’s Transportation Committee. Azeem said, and this is a direct quote: “I am not sure what further conversation would add.” The plan presented by the city will remove 95 percent to 100 percent of the parking on Massachusetts Avenue from Dudley Street to Harvard Square if the MBTA’s wires are not removed, and 50 percent to 60 percent of the parking even if the wires are removed and construction is used to remove the median. The fact that the council as a whole is letting this design be considered without addressing the consequences shows that the voices of the voters of Cambridge are not being heard. The biggest obstacle to finding a solution is that the city is looking at the Cycling Safety Ordinance as a transportation issue. It is not just a redesign of roads and how people commute. It is much bigger than that.

How our roads are designed affect much more than transportation. It is accessibility for disabled, handicapped, elderly and everyone else that needs cars and parking. It is preserving neighborhoods and quiet, safe streets. It is economic: supporting small businesses, keeping people employed and supporting diverse businesses, including ones that are women- and minority-owned. It is ensuring medical access to dentists, doctors and therapists. It is helping industries hard hit by the pandemic and the lockdowns, including restaurants and service industries. It is economic and feasibility studies. It is store owners that have their savings and livelihoods wrapped up in their businesses.

This is the ultimate problem with the ordinance: It is focusing just on transportation and was given to the transportation and Public Works departments to implement. The law needs to look at Cambridge as a whole and the consequences of taking away the parking from 22 miles of Cambridge streets. The council has talked about unintended consequences; the petition is asking the city to look before it acts at who is being affected and how they will be affected. The petition asks for a project manager because there are so many elements involved. Businesses are closing and moving away from North Massachusetts Avenue. Accidents on North Massachusetts Avenue and adjacent streets are being reported. What happens in one section of the city has consequences in other sections.

Porter Square was significantly redesigned within the past few years to increase bicycle safety without any opposition from the business community. Everybody wants safe roads. The 2019 city census report rates Cambridge at the highest level for being accessible by bike, which is an achievement to be proud of. Everybody can support creating safe ways for people to cycle; it is the design being implemented and its negative impact for so many in our community that is the issue to be solved. Other cities and towns have found ways to create bike lanes that offer cyclists protection without destroying small businesses and diverting commercial traffic onto small residential streets. The best practices outlined by the state’s Department of Transportation for separated bicycle lanes encourage retaining parking because the parked cars provide a physical separation between the bikes and moving traffic.

If the council’s policy orders were followed, the city would have more information to help create a better design. Please support the businesses, neighborhoods and elderly and disabled residents and call or email the city officials and let them know what is important to you.

We support the businesses and neighborhoods that rely on Massachusetts Avenue as a major roadway for our city. We need a plan for the city that will improve safety for everyone, will help traffic flow, preserve parking and support public transportation and businesses. If the Cycling Safety Ordinance will not allow for a plan that meets these goals, the ordinance needs to be changed.

Annette Osgood and Jeanne Oster, SaveMassAve.com