Friday, May 24, 2024

A bicyclist heads south on Cambridge’s Garden Street on Tuesday in a separated bike lane added in October. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Residents frustrated by traffic changes on Garden Street since last fall were given strong signals Monday not to expect the fixes being championed by some city councillors, even as a list of some proposed fixes won approval. 

The list, including turning separated north-south bike lanes into a side-by-side version for a half-dozen blocks and bringing back some two-way car traffic, passed 5-3-1, but with a change in language: Where once the order to city staff read to “implement” the recommendations, the version that passed reads only to “consider” them.

“I don’t want to give folks false hope,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said, shortly before councillor Marc McGovern proposed the changed language.

The bike lanes were added in October as part of the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance, leading to changing a stretch to one-way car traffic. That diverted vehicles into surrounding residential streets. The situation has been boiling since the fall, leading to many calls to – and from – the council for reversals and mitigation.

The latest came March 20 from Paul Toner with the support of three other councillors, but Quinton Zondervan used his “charter right” to pause debate. When the order returned Monday, it was accompanied by a 54-page response by the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department to suggestions made in the past months. It said the worst of the problems had eased since last year, that traffic was basically on par with streets citywide and “will likely not change to the extent that residents hope for” from adding back some two-way car traffic.

Other recommendations from Toner: moving all parking to one side of Garden between Linnaean and Chauncy streets; installing signs at Raymond Street saying only abutters could enter during rush hours; and adding traffic measures on Walker Street to address “cut-through traffic, excessive noise and dangerous buses, trucks” and other large vehicles.

Report changes expectations

Considering the lengthy response from staff, passing the original order didn’t make much sense, vice mayor Alanna Mallon said. 

“If it gets passed, it will go to the city manager and the traffic department and they will come back and say ‘We’ve already said that these are not feasible changes,’” Mallon said.

Toner argued in favor of still forwarding the proposals, and responded to public comment and other critiques that the councillors were not experts and should follow staff guidance. “I’m just trying to do my best in terms of representing the people that have reached out to us,” a group that includes bicyclists who don’t feel the new infrastructure is as safe as it could be, Toner said. 

“This council directs department heads and the city manager on a weekly basis,” Toner said. “There have been policy orders voted on that some city managers didn’t want to do, but the council voted and asked them to do it.”

The votes

Toner and councillors E. Denise Simmons and Patty Nolan opposed changing “implement” to “consider,” so the amendment passed 6-3. On the final order, with the changed language, the opponents became Mallon, who saw the order as unnecessary considering the staff report; Simmons; and Zondervan, who said he would oppose the order because of his own failed amendment – asking the city manager to make changes proposed by staff in their report instead of those by Toner and other councillors in the policy order. Councillor Burhan Azeem voted “present.”

“I feel we should try their recommendations first and see how it plays out,” Burhan said of the staff report, “especially as people get more used to this traffic pattern.”

City staff are asked to consider the council’s proposed changes by May 30.