Sunday, June 23, 2024

A bicyclist prepares for a left turn onto Main Street in Cambridge’s Lafayette Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Some are already questioning the plan to give a stretch of Cambridge’s Main Street between Lafayette Square and Portland Street separated bike lanes, potentially losing parking for cars close to the Newtowne Court and Washington Elms public housing developments.

An online community meeting Thursday introduced the Main Street Safety Improvement Project, which includes the installation of separated bike lanes and the improvement of pedestrian crossings. The proposed project is “quick-build,” meaning no construction will take place to make the improvements. New pavement markings, signs and flex-posts may be installed, according to the city. After a design is set in June or July, the project is projected to be installed this summer.

Around half of the parking spaces in the project’s area would need to be lost to provide buffer zones between car traffic and cyclists, said Stephen Meuse, the project’s manager.

“We’re going to do our best to maximize the total number of spaces that we can keep,” Meuse told meeting participants. “But we need to hear from you what types of parking are important here and where they should be located. That will help us figure out what regulations the remaining spaces will have.”

The plan is meant to fulfill bike lane requirements from the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance. All of Main Street to the Longfellow Bridge has been designated to get the separated lanes; this is the final section being planned. The bike lanes on Main Street now are not separate from car traffic.

“We have a vision that Cambridge will be a place where bicycling is equally available to everyone, where all destinations can be reached by bike and where streets are designed to accommodate biking for people of all ages, abilities and identities,” said Cara Seiderman, a transportation manager at the Community Development Department. “Creating safe and comfortable streets is a necessary condition to enable everyone to have this choice.”

Need for input

Richard Harding, a former School Committee member and city council candidate, had significant concerns about what separated bike lanes might mean for parking around the nearby public housing developments.

“This is a place where obviously the residents there are already having with tough time with parking,” Harding said.

Residents in the area are some of the city’s most vulnerable, Harding said, and conversation surrounding the project should not go much further without their input.

In every part of the city where separated bikes lanes have cost parking, some residents and businesses have expressed bitter unhappiness – often with complaints that the changes were poorly publicized. Staff solicitation of public feedback was a constant throughout the presentation, but during a question-and-answer period for the public, School Committee member and Cambridge Housing Authority program teacher Ayesha Wilson said communications to residents did not “speak clearly to what exactly will be happening.”

Getting people’s attention

The city announced the start of project planning through signs posted along Main Street, communications to businesses and houses of worship, email lists and postcards sent to area addresses. The postcards did not mention the potential removal of parking in the area.

Brooke McKenna, the acting Traffic, Parking and Transportation chief, said staff may need to “lead with the negative” – referring to the removal of parking – to engage area residents.

“We will do some more thinking about how we can shift at least some of our messaging to get people’s attention to the things that are really meaningful to them, even if they aren’t particularly interested in the bike aspects of the project,” McKenna said.

Several more outreach events have been planned, including an open house March 22, a second community meeting in May when draft plans will be presented, a second open house and another community meeting in June or July to present revised plans, staff said. The expects changes to the streetscape to be made in late summer.