Returning two-way auto traffic to Garden Street holds appeal despite a warning on bicycle safety
Returning part of Garden Street to two-way car traffic is less safe than the current one-way configuration with bike lanes, but it’s possible and some city councillors remain interested in seeing it happen, residents heard at a Monday meeting.
The major thoroughfare in West Cambridge got bike lanes in each direction in October, creating enough of a squeeze that transportation officials decided to turn the five blocks between Bond Street and Huron Avenue into a one-way. While the bike lanes are popular, the traffic that’s been shunted onto side streets is not.
A report on Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department efforts to ease the problems said it was “too early in the process” to undo the one-way configuration.
Councillor Paul Toner expressed disappointment that the “thoughtful suggestion” to bring back some two-way traffic, letting drivers take a right turn from Linnaean Street back to the Taylor Square fire station, wasn’t taken more seriously. “I feel like we could have had a win-win-win here.”
Instead of bike lanes on opposite sides of Garden Street, a two-way set of lanes side by side would be needed. “I realize that might not be the ideal for bicyclists. But at the same time, what we have now isn’t ideal for the folks most proximate to this, the people who live in the neighborhood,” Toner said.
Having the directions of bike traffic separated is “always better,” with more predictability and safety resulting from fewer crossings, said acting transportation department chief Brooke McKenna. Councillor Patty Nolan repeated it back immediately afterward, saying “What I just heard is that the only way [to get two-way car traffic back] is less safe than what’s currently in place” – without drawing a correction. Bicyclist deaths have been the biggest spur to the push to install a network of protected bike lanes citywide under a Cycling Safety Ordinance enacted in 2019 and amended with a timeline in 2020.
But Toner clarified again that having a short stretch of two-way bike traffic on Garden Street was possible, considering there’s an entire length of two-way bike lanes on Brattle Street in Harvard Square.
“Correct,” McKenna said. “We consider it to be suboptimal to what we have out there now. But it can be done.”
In addition to Toner, councillor Burhan Azeem and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui expressed continued interest in returning some two-way traffic to Garden Street’s new one-way stretch.
Too early to undo
In the transportation department approach outlined in the report, “it can take three to six months for drivers to adjust” and the area remained in a “settle-in period.” Final data collection is due in the spring.
Additionally, a series of adjustments have been made or are underway to help, including getting online maps updated, making signal timing adjustments, the addition of a left turn for eastbound Huron Avenue traffic and a few new signs and markings. There was support from councillors such as Nolan for giving the complete set of mitigations time to be installed and tested, but already, transportation officials said in their report, “total [traffic] volume is within the range across side streets from October before implementation.”
Speed data collected on side streets such as Linnaean, Bond and Raymond were all up or down by 1 or 2 miles per hour, within the margin of error, and while McKenna didn’t have travel time data to present, she had peak-hour vehicle counts showing that between 3 to 6 p.m., a road such as Raymond Street was seeing an additional two more vehicles per minute. Additional congestion was “offset by additional cyclists … getting out of their cars because of the safety facilities,” she said – a belief supported by several bicyclists during public comment.
Street calming called for
There was pushback, with other residents saying during public comment that street calming remained needed urgently on side streets and expressing frustration that some solutions weren’t being pursued. Joe Adiletta, a Walker Street resident, argued that traffic data from before the changes on Garden was misleading, because Covid lockdowns had affected patterns at the time it was collected. “The implication of the data is that there isn’t really a problem and ‘don’t believe your lying eyes.’ Ask the residents of Raymond Street,” Adiletta said.
The “before” data in the memo discussed at the council meeting was collected Oct. 12, just a few weeks before the switch to one-way operation Oct. 28, said Elise Harmon-Freeman, communications manager for the Traffic, Parking, & Transportation Department.
Some councillors agreed residents on the new cut-through side streets had cause to still be upset. Friends on Walker Street “won’t even talk to me,” councillor Dennis Carlone joked. “I’m sure we believe it got better, but they don’t think it has,” Carlone said, suggesting that police be sent in for traffic enforcement.
Resident Mark Boswell, of Walden Street, agreed that traffic calming measures were needed – but with a historical twist.
“A while back I attended a small meeting of Raymond Street residents [who] had some serious concerns about speeding and traffic volume. Some residents, especially those with small children, were very unhappy with the dangers of speeding cars,” Boswell said.
“That meeting was in 2019,” Boswell said. “Traffic complaints on Raymond Street are unfortunately nothing new.”
As long as traffic cameras remain illegal in this state, car drivers are going to do whatever they want and get away with it.
Ask any one who spends any amount of time walking around the city.
The people of these side streets deserve some traffic calming measures, but I doubt anything will do much
time to come to the realization that this ain’t Amsterdam. few cycle folk obey traffic laws, ask a senior citizen or two about ’em fumbling through the current patterns. one can cloak themselves in the false argument of being friendly to the environment, let me recommend heading out a few minutes early and walking…or the bus.
Thank goodness some of our Councillors are using the logic and data that were missing when the one-way plan was devised. As dozens of residents have testified publicly, Raymond and several other surrounding streets are now less safe than the were. The traffic department’s assertions that one-way on Garden is best ignores the impact on side streets as a major thoroughfare’s cars are diverted onto much smaller roads.
“But Toner clarified again that having a short stretch of two-way bike traffic on Garden Street was possible, considering there’s an entire length of two-way bike lanes on Brattle Street in Harvard Square.
“Correct,” McKenna said. “We consider it to be suboptimal to what we have out there now. But it can be done.””
This is the nice way of saying the short segment of 2 way traffic is a dumb idea. It’s less safe and will require further traffic controls to transfer the two way bath back into one way paths on each side of the road. Toner will never be happy with any bike projects, there’s no use in trying to please him.
@jeffery – Amsterdam was a car centric hellhole prior to the 80s. The mayor of the city received death threats and required 24/7 body guards due to outraged motorists. The only difference is that the dutch are actually willing to do hard things and reap the rewards, unlike us I guess?
The big problem here is that there are just way too many cars on the road, full stop. I don’t think Toner et al understand that. We need to do more to make other forms of transportation more attractive (and driving less attractive). If the T didn’t provide terrible service, more people would take transit. If biking wasn’t dangerous (because of too many cars and reckless drivers), more people would bike. The city can’t fix the T’s woes, but it can increase bike infrastructure and safety through projects like this.
Amsterdam has a population of 900k vs Wokeville of 110k -comparing the two is foolish.
Let’s make all the streets one way, remove parking and bike lanes on both sides with accompanying plastic pylons.
@prc can you explain why comparing the two is foolish? And why the population matters? For greater context, the Amsterdam metro’s population is around 2.5 million and the Boston metro has around 5 million (metropolitan statistical area). Population totals don’t affect the viability of bike infrastructure. Cambridge is very dense (for America) and is one of the easiest places to make more bike friendly, especially given its pre-car layout and majority of residents who don’t commute via car.
“This ain’t Amsterdam” is what linguists would call a thought-terminating cliché.
A little give and take seems to be in order here. This option retains most of the two way bike lane and it will help ease some of the side street traffic.
All of Brattle Street will have side by side bike lanes. So, if it is safe there, why is it less safe on a short stretch on Garden Street?
Dear “Cities should Change”
If two way bike lanes are a “dumb idea” why is okay for the entire length of Brattle Street.
Also, this isn’t about “Toner will never be happy with any bike projects, there’s no use in trying to please him.” It is about the 150-200 people who live in the neighborhood and asked the city to make this change. That is why I called it a “win, win, win”. Bike lanes and parking would remain and some of the traffic problems caused by making Garden street all one way would ms have been greatly reduced.
I am just doing my best to meet the needs of everyone involved.
I trust in your sincerity and care on these issues, but respectfully do not agree that this is a “win, win, win”. Many residents in these neighborhoods will not benefit equally from this sort of change:
Win – For people who live on streets with increased travel volume who do not want to see traffic calming measures installed. (I get it, it can be annoying to have to turn more slowly on your own block when a curb extension or raised crosswalk is installed.)
Win – For people who drive through those neighborhoods and do not want to have to take an alternative route. (I get it, it can be inconvenient or annoying to go around a new way.)
Draw – For people who want safer driving behavior in neighborhoods. We saw very clearly that the speeding data is not different. So to the extent that there is new unsafe driving behavior, it’s just shifting the problem back to different residential streets (e.g. Linnaean) instead of solving it.
Lose – Residents on Raymond and Walker who already were already upset about speeding and unsafe driving. Speeds above 25 mph on neighborhood streets with parks are dangerous and should be addressed with traffic calming. As staff showed, this predated the Garden St. change, and was discussed at a public meeting in 2019. It’s a big missed opportunity to fix this.
Lose – People on Garden who wanted to preserve parking will lose more spaces, which the city had preserved with this one-way approach.
Lose – Pedestrians who benefit from shorter crossings and less turning traffic. (Note: pedestrians die in absolute numbers more than anyone in our roads.)
Lose – Cyclists would have two new crossings, with a great deal of turning motor vehicle traffic as the sections transition from one to two-way. These transitions are dangerous and keep people of all ages and abilities from biking. (Note: cyclists die in relative numbers more than any other group on our roads.)
Lose – City staff who worked tirelessly to develop a creative solution that is safer and preserves parking. They have said that these projects should not be changed so quickly and that many problems resolve with time and additional changes. They have provided evidence to this effect, too. We are going to demoralize them and take future parking preserving or innovative options off the table.
I very much respect the concerns people have raised on Raymond and Walker, and believe it is important to continue to rapidly address them with serious traffic calming measures. The transportation planners have asked for what seems like a very reasonable amount of time to execute those changes and to evaluate things, and I think we ought to at least consider that more carefully before causing more whiplash.
Very best regards and happy holidays,
We can debate other parts of your analysis later but having been to the area numerous times – there are no parking spots from Linnaean to the fire house. There would be no removal of any of the parking that was saved.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Dear Chris Cassa
Raymond is a main route for families and children between North Cambridge parks, schools and libraries and mid Cambridge and beyond to keep them from having to use dangerous north Mass Ave. There already are stop signs and raised crossings on almost every major crossing. The increased 590 cars per day have made this area a nightmare.
I suggest you ask Traffic off the record if they would have even recommended this Garden Street project if they weren’t so micromanaged by the narrow and arbitrary requirements of the BSO.
Its certainly not Councilor Toners mitigation efforts that are causing these problems.
Thank you Councilor Toner for standing up for the residents in these areas. Too bad not enough of your fellow Council members agree. We’ll remember this when it’s time to vote.
Counselor Dennis Carolone also said that the action can not be reversed. Another way of saying he won’t try. We can vote him out in the next election. These people don’t have to live with this mess on a daily basis like I do. I live at Garden and Shepard. But he will pay the consequences.
“I hate what cars are doing to my neighborhood, force them through someone else’s neighborhood” – the most NIMBY conversation of all time.
Maybe the problem isn’t with the bikes and pedestrians
I am so glad TP&T took the effort to collect so much data to study the effects of turning Garden Street into one way street for a few blocks to install separated bike lanes. Then why can’t they conduct a traffic count to mitigate the traffic congestion at the Mass Ave & Alewife Brook Pkway caused by installing separated bike lanes ad bus only lanes on Mass Ave from ABP to Dudley Street (see SeeClickFix Issue ID: 12524562 I reported on 06/08/2022 but hasn’t been even acknowledged)?
Traffic count should be conducted wherever separated bike lanes were installed under CSO to see its impact on the neighborhood.