Monday, May 20, 2024

Bicycles locked to a rack in Central Square on June 26. (Photo: Marc Levy)

An innocent-seeming policy order to review and revise the Cambridge Street Code, which advises people on the rules of the road, was taken as another volley in the city’s bike wars upon introduction at a Sept. 19 meeting of the City Council.

The order by councillor Paul Toner would order the city manager to convene meetings of the Traffic, Transportation & Parking Department, police and various committees to review and revise the code. Improved traffic enforcement was also asked.

Its preamble mentions bicycle-related reasons for modifying the code and improving enforcement, including the continued proliferation of bike lanes and of e-bikes, e-scooters and e-skateboards.

“There have been regular complaints in the community by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists that due to a lack of education regarding ‘the rules of the road’ in our increasingly multimodal environment, lack of clear signage and lack of enforcement of such rules, there is increasing frustration among residents and concern that more near misses and accidents may occur,” the order said.

Some councillors and residents felt blame for cyclists was implied in the order’s language.

“I know that that wasn’t the intent, but the impact of this policy order really, for me as a cyclist, as a pedestrian, and as a driver, it really felt like to me that this was in response to saying cyclists are the scofflaws and card are somehow not part of the problem,” said Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon.

The installation of protected bike lanes since 2016, spurred in large part by the deaths of bicyclists in traffic, has sparked comment by pedestrians and drivers over the times bike riders disregard the rules of the road and fail to take precautions such as wearing helmets. This is followed inevitably by reminders from bicyclists that car drivers also often ignore the rules of the road, causing greater dangers and sometimes fatal outcomes. There are times bicyclists break the rules to ensure their own safety on poorly engineered roads and dangerous traffic patterns. they say.

Mallon suggested a substitute amendment putting less blame – or implied blame – on cyclists.

Councillor Patty Nolan, who was a co-sponsor of the policy order had a different perspective.

“It did not seem to me to be something that was anything other than we really need to get a handle on this,” Nolan said. “It was very balanced. It was saying drivers are a huge part of the problem. Cyclists also follow the road and pedestrians, we have a responsibility in this too.”

She says that she would be “happy to consider an amendment to make sure all of us feel comfortable with the language.”

Resident reactions

Residents had a similar clash of views on the order.

“The first three clauses set the stage that the reason why we’re here and discussing this is because of mode shift, bike lanes and e-bikes,” Christopher Cassa said. “And this falsely perpetuates the myth that road safety challenges are caused by mode shift and cyclists.”

While bicycles can be part of the problem, Cassa said, the discussions could be more balanced. 

Resident Jules Kobek, on the other hand, felt the mode shift was exactly what needed to be looked at. “I’m one of the people who has a lot of near misses with bicycles,” Kobek said. “And it seems to be increasing and while I’m really glad that there are alternative forms of transportation, we really need to have a system together so that everybody can get around safely.”

Other objections

Other objections to the order were not related to language.

Mark Boswell, a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, asked councillors to vote “no” on the order because he does not believe the advisory committees were qualified to tell the police how to do their job.

“I think they try to do the best they can and I think that should be left up to them,” he said, referring to the police. “They are already doing enforcement and they try to do it in a way that’s proportional to the number of people in each mode on the roadways.”

Itamar Turner-Trauring warns against increased traffic enforcement because of the risk of excessive use of force by the police. He encouraged the council to encourage the state to allow for red light cameras. He suggested the use of civilian traffic enforcement.

Councillor E. Denise Simmons used her “charter right” to push back consideration of the order to the Oct. 3 council meeting so each side of the argument on language could come together produce an amended order.

This post was made Oct. 2, 2022, to appear retroactively in the record to Sept. 26, 2022.