Saturday, May 18, 2024

The public deserves straight talk from elected and appointed officials. When it comes to the installation of separated bicycle lanes, straight talk is not what we are getting from the City Council or city staff.

Policy decisions inevitably involve tradeoffs. One good decision may foreclose other reasonable options. We all try to make wise decisions for which the benefits exceed the costs. But where have residents of Cambridge been clearly told about the costs of creating separated bicycle and bus lanes? The cost is not only measured in money, although separated lanes will cost tens of millions of dollars.

A recent case in point is the set of slides about the Garden Street Safety Improvement Project presented by city staff to attendees in a public Zoom meeting on May 24, and that may be used again at future meetings scheduled in July and August. The project will install separated bicycle lanes on Garden Street for about six-tenths of a mile, from Huron Avenue to Mason Street. Two slides that are labeled “benefits” include, for example, “reduces crash and injury risk.” Of the 46 slides, none answers or even poses questions like, “What will this design cost?” and “What are the disadvantages of this project?”

In fact, according to the slides, the proposal for separated bike lanes will eliminate at least 93 permitted parking spaces and one loading space. But that number only begins to describe what will be lost.

Not a word is included in the slides about the negative impacts on residents, or on businesses and nonprofits within walking distance of Garden Street. Yet those impacts are significant costs. Where will people who now park on Garden Street park in the future? What will be the impact on neighboring side streets and the people who live or visit there, especially old people? Where will contractors and delivery vehicles park? Are any businesses likely to lose money due to the reduction in parking? Will we see an increase in bicycle-pedestrian accidents as more bikes use Garden Street, especially if the bike lane is bidirectional?

Do members of the City Council believe that making it more difficult to own or operate a car in Cambridge is a benefit of this project? Perhaps so, but that is not identified either as a cost or a benefit.

Public officials and their presentations should inform us when their policies will produce significant changes that many residents will find inconvenient or harmful. Straight talk means explaining both the projected benefits and the associated costs, even for policies as complex and challenging as the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

Perhaps a majority of Cambridge residents agree with the City Council that the benefits of separated bus and bike lanes outweigh the costs; perhaps not. Not to acknowledge the costs, or to pretend they are minor when they are not, will erode trust in government.

Andy Zucker, Winslow Street