Accountability is needed on issues around Cambridge’s Cycling Safety Ordinance
The fiscal year 2024 proposed budget will be due to the City Council by May 1, and the third annual Cycling Safety Ordinance progress report by May 22. We are counting on City Manager Yi-An Huang to be an impartial, transparent chief executive accountable to Cantabrigians and breaking the “business as usual” modus operandi at City Hall.
To that end, Huang should consult with the Law Department on the legality of “breaking” the CSO by increasing the scope of the MassAve4 project – and renaming it – to cover a “partial build” of bike lanes from Harvard Square to Alewife Brook Parkway on Massachusetts Avenue without community participation. If authorized, that authorization should be stated clearly in the budget; otherwise, the deficiency should be rectified.
For transparency and accountability, Huang should disclose fully in the budget report the capital budgets for fiscal year 2024 and the projected 2025-2028 fiscal year capital plans for all CSO projects for the duration of the ordinance’s timeline. It should be without a caveat such as “As the scope of work evolves, the cost estimates will be updated.”
Finally, for tracking purposes, please break out the budget and capital plan for CSO implementation as a sub-line item of the River Street Reconstruction project.
For the progress report, please include the following, again for transparency and accountability:
- Cost performance accounting, including budgeting at the start of CSO implementation; the cost to date; and the estimated total cost at completion.
- City manager reports to the City Council related to CSO implementation.
- The status of CSO tasks identified in city manager reports.
- City Council policy orders about the CSO still awaiting reports.
- A coordination plan, if a CSO project involves multiple departments, to avoid duplication of work and the waste of valuable tax money.
Please update the CSO requirements and timelines webpage and all related webpages to be consistent, including a point of contact for overall implementation and to be hierarchically organized and accessible directly from the city’s homepage.
Young Kim, Norris Street
Fossil fuels are baking the planet. So let’s nickel-and-dime measures that are allowing people to travel safely without using fossil fuels.
Do you know what is going to cost huge amounts of taxpayer $$? Dealing with the effects of climate change.
@FrankD. I totally agree. Some people will stop at nothing to prevent change and stop things that inconveniences them, even in the slightest. Do you know where I want taxpayer accountability? For all the money used to give tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry.
Young, why is there a laser focus on the CSO? Is creating facilities for one type of road user really that different that it needs special scrutiny? Should we also ask for accountability and transparency at this level of detail for other road items in the city budget? For example, why not ask the city manager to break out the cost of every single road reconstruction project unrelated to the CSO: curb cuts, sidewalks, new sections of pavement? Those projects are in the millions, and the road part is what is expensive, not the flex posts.
The money for these road changes comes from all residents, the lion’s share of it comes from general tax funds (gas and excise taxes cover very little of the cost of local roads and parking permit fees don’t even pay for the parking program). Over a third of households do not own a single car, and a greater number of people do not own a car. They are all paying for the roads and they deserve efficient and safe ways to get around too.
The democratically elected council made a decision. They voted twice for the CSO, twice for the CSO timeline, and against some very large number of policy orders that have tried to erode it. This is happening both because it is good policy and because more people want safer roads. The CM’s job is to follow the law, not to find a way out of it because some people prefer not to have the projects done.
Until China and India stop using coal and natural gas, none of this is going to change things. Should we try to wean ourselves off of the use of fossil fuels in Cambridge. Absolutely. However, bikes are not going to make any impact on climate change, and unfortunately will impact the residents and businesses in other ways. Caring about bikes is virtue signaling.
We have a good DPW department. Why are the vehicles continuing to spew fossil fuels while the vehicles are idling for an hour at a time? Why don’t we have electric vehicles for city vehicles, although electric vehicles have their own problems i.e. what about all the mining that is required to bring to the surface the metals that are needed? Why are so many lights left on at night at Cambridge city buildings?
Let’s get real and stop with measures that only make some people feel good.
@concerned43, over 1.7 million trips were taken by people in the BlueBikes system in Cambridge last year. Most of those trips would have otherwise been done in cars, ride-shares, or on buses on our roads. Of course, many more of us ride our own personal bikes most of the time, and that accounts for millions of additional rides. So I think it is far from virtue signaling, this is making a real dent in our local transportation and emissions.
Separately, imagine if even half of those trips were taken by car: the roads would be in complete gridlock and there would certainly be no places to park. So leave the climate out of it, folks who prefer to drive should be grateful that so many people are willing to use their bikes.
Those who walk, bike, or use transit in the city deserve safe and efficient infrastructure, and the CSO moves us in that direction. Please don’t marginalize a piece of the solution, even if it isn’t the whole thing.
Many of those 1.7 million rides are very short. People, mainly students, are using them instead of walking. They wouldn’t use a car, mainly because they don’t have one.
Your statement of “imagine if even half of those trips were taken by car” is specious.
I appreciate you writing back. I really appreciate that the BlueBikes system publishes data about every single ride in the system. It is a really helpful lens into one piece of our transportation system, and can help dispel some common misconceptions about the types of people who rely on or prefer biking as a mode of transportation.
It may be surprising, but most people who use bikes are not college students. The BlueBikes system previously published ride data with year of birth, so I dug out a dataset from just before COVID which included it. The average ride age was 35.07, and only 7,722 of 128,598 (6.005%) of the rides taken in the system were from people aged 22 or younger (you need to be 16 to use the system). This fraction undoubtedly fluctuates, but it is flatly incorrect to assert that these are mainly students using the system.
The average trip distance in 2021 was 1.29 miles. Certainly some of those trips would have been 25ish minute walks, but they are not all short. I don’t think it is specious to argue that a sizable number of trips at that distance or greater would have been substituted in a car. I certainly drive that sort of distance even though I enjoy biking and try to travel by bike when I can.
I would presume (but would not assert without data) that people who ride their own personal bikes are going similar or longer distances than those in the bike share system. At least in my personal experience, my commute to the office is ~4 mi each way, and I almost always choose my personal bike over a BlueBike, as it is more efficient and comfortable for me. Presumably, we can also agree that some reasonable fraction of those non-BlueBike trips are not just college students substituting walking.
If you would like to discuss this further, I would be delighted to chat over coffee. We can continue to discuss on here, but you should consider treating me to coffee if I have to write any more data queries.
Yes, Young Kim, your anti-bike views are loud and clear. thanks
Delay North Cambridge bike lanes
Calls bike safety pledge divisive
Now, I’m really confused.
You said ” over 1.7 million trips were taken by people in the BlueBikes system in Cambridge last year.”
Then you said that pre Covid there were 128,598 rides taken.
Has the ridership gone up 13 times in two years?
I must be missing something.
@concerned43, the growth is enormous, but not _that_ big! You can glance at the systemwide numbers here: https://www.bluebikes.com/system-data — the 2022 numbers are ~33% higher than 2021, if I recall. Numbers from 2020 are lower than 2019 because of COVID, but are still quite high. This is also where I’ve downloaded the data from, it is very accessible.
All three numbers are from different time frames, but you have my word they are not cherry-picked (I’m here signing my name on them and happy to walk anyone through the approach.)
The over 1.7 million trip figure is from 2022 rides, starting or ending in Cambridge.
I only have data from 2020-2021 loaded on my machine (loading more will require that coffee.) I first calculated the average non-zero trip distance from a sample of 1,000,000 rides from the data I had in 2021, using the Haversine formula. This distance is conservative, because it is the ‘as the crow flies’ measurement between the origin-destination pair of geocodes for the stations in the ride.
Next, I dug into the year of birth, and it turns out that the BlueBikes system stopped providing the year of birth of the rider during 2020, but I didn’t feel right using the data during COVID, because it might be skewed with students gone (but I did not check if it is different, again I am happy to do that, but for a scone.) So for the beginning of 2020, I took the average of the ages, and also checked for anyone not yet 23, and divided by the total number of rides in the same period.
Again, I am a bit baffled at how people might look at these numbers and question whether cycling is having a serious impact on transportation in Cambridge. Again, these are _just_ from the bike share system, not including the thousands of people who ride their own bikes. Many households in Cambridge do not own cars, these folks need to get around, and cycling is healthy, fun, and efficient.
Marginalizing it through a million bureaucratic papercuts (e.g., this op ed), or minimizing it by treating it as a hobby or indulgence (or even worse, as mere ‘virtue signaling’) would be best avoided. These are truly transformative numbers and they are having an impact.
I looked at the data. Studied actuarial science so I think I know what I’m looking at.
The data is there, unfortunately in a form that doesn’t show what we have been talking about.
But, more importantly, getting back to our conversation. You now say ” the growth is enormous, but not _that_ big!” Well, why did you put those figures in your post? Did you make them up? Were there really 1.7 million trips last year? I’m interested to hear your response.
On the surface that seems a gross exaggeration,
Assume there were 250 full biking days. That’s 6800 trips a day in Cambridge. Really that many?
I appreciate your thoughts on biking, but it really is important to provide accurate numbers if you want to make a point.
One other thing. I looked at the map as to where BlueBikes says they have stations. One of the places noted is on my street. However, my street is a small, relatively non travelled street, of single family homes. Thee is no station there.
Information can be given out by entities that wish to make a. point. We should all be alert to
making sure figures and statements are correct.
The transportation sector is a major contributor to climate change. Saying things like “there is no point in doing anything until China or India act” makes no sense. Every extra ton of GHG now is pain multiplied in the future. Waiting for others is a recipe for inaction.
@Chris Cassa You are so right. The author wants an audit of spending on CSO but, apparently, spending on other things related to roads etc. that’s all OK. Nothing to see there.
Some people are so transparent with their biases and agendas.
@concerned43, I can sense you don’t believe the data, but it is the electronically recorded system data from BlueBikes, and is easily downloadable and verifiable. I am glad to walk you through it together. I unfortunately do not know your identity as the comments are unsigned (which is certainly your right.) Please do feel free to reach out, we could verify the data together. I will not charge the coffee and scone if you promise to report back what you saw here.
But there are two sanity checks which may convince you (or anyone else reading with popcorn). Check out the BlueBikes system data web site (https://www.bluebikes.com/system-data):
1) Using the 2021 data, there were 2,954,624 trips. Among those, 1,308,112 started or ended in Cambridge. That stands up to a reasonable sniff test, as the large majority of stations are in Cambridge and Boston. (Again, the number of over 1.7 million Cambridge rides in 2022 is correct, this is 1.3 million for 2021.)
2) In the ‘Most Popular Stations’ section, six of the top ten stations are in Cambridge, and these account for 261,417 rides in Cambridge. That shakes out to 1,045 per day if you divide by 250 days you mentioned, and if you bike every day of the year (like many people do) it is 716. Again, that is just for 6 out of the over 80 stations in Cambridge.
It is actually my blessing that you find these numbers so unbelievable, because it means that your mind can be changed about how impactful the scale is when looking over this electronically captured ride data.
@ Chris Cassa
Thanks very much for the info; appreciate it. I’ll look at it during the next few days.
You said “Saying things like “there is no point in doing anything until China or India act” makes no sense.”
I did not say there is no point in doing anything. and it is wrong of you to put that in quotes. Do you always make things up to try and make your point? If you are going to criticize, at least have honesty to get it right.
Here is what I said: Until China and India stop using coal and natural gas, none of this is going to change things. Should we try to wean ourselves off of the use of fossil fuels in Cambridge. Absolutely.
You’re a bright guy. Surely, you’re able to see that I made the point that we should do something i.e wean ourselves off the use of fossil fuels.
Letter to the Editor is limited in length. The Editor had to take an ax to my original letter in order to shorten it to publishable length. All links to the source of my claims were taken out.
This letter addresses two upcoming City Manager’s reports – the lack of transparency & accountability in the same two reports last year and recommendations to correct them in this year’s reports.
Given infinite space, I could have written more extensive expose on all the areas in City governance that need to be reformed and brought up to 21st century standards.
Substitute CSO with any other topic and you can do your own research to determine how well the City handled that subject.
My letter had nothing to do with fossil fuel usage and. the effects of climate change.
Please comment whether:
1) you agree with me and demand the City Manager to address the issues I raised in the FY24 budget and 3rd annual CSO Progress Repot
2) you do not agree with me, and that end justifies the means. CM and the City should continue to run without being transparent and accountable to the Cantabridgians and without complying to Ordinance, rules and regulations. And cost is no object, so spend any way you want.
I agree with Young Kim. Most of the current City Council pays little, if no, attention to what the majority of the residents here would like. They have their own agenda – and don’t want to let citizens know what they’re doing until it’s too late to complain.
@joyce – Several of the current City Council ran with the CSO and bike lanes as a specific part of their campaign. The majority of the residents voted for them.
Moreover, in the City’s 2018 bi-annual resident survey, more than 70% of respondents agreed with the statement that the city should install more bike lanes (that’s both online and telephone poll respondents).
They definitely listen to the majority, even the supermajority. Maybe not the majority of people you talk to, but the majority of residents of Cambridge.