Sunday, June 16, 2024

According to the city manager’s 2024 budget, there is a capital allocation of $50 million that will be the largest infrastructure investment related to the Cycling Safety Ordinance for the year. It is safe to assume that most of this money is for separated bike lanes.

In my view, and in the view of many citizens with whom I have spoken, this is an eye-popping figure for infrastructure that is used as sparingly as these lanes are used, and then during only good weather months.

But even if there were bumper to bumper bikes – excuse the clumsy metaphor – $50 million is a huge sum for poles in the ground! (I won’t go into the way these configurations destroy the beauty of our streets and historic neighborhoods and create economic problems and major inconveniences for businesses and residents.)

This figure does not of course capture what has already been spent nor what will be spent before the entire 25 miles of separated lines are complete. Is it possible that the Cambridge Safety Ordinance could cost us in the realm of $50 million to $100 million? Is this a serious possibility for this extremely controversial undertaking that benefits so few residents and nonresidents? Where is the transparency and accountability such expenditures require in a democracy?

Recently, I wrote to the City Council and city manager to urge them to put the brakes on this mission of folly before it is too late. I urged them to take a sober and hard look at what they are doing and what their full-steam-ahead policy is costing the citizens of Cambridge.

Last week, I asked the city manager in a public forum about this $50 million figure. I mentioned it could go to $60 million. The city manager did not flinch! He just explained that if that is what the engineers say, then that’s the deal. (I paraphrase). He also said that with bike lanes comes pothole repairs and other road repairs. 

I think our city officials need a much better hold on reality if they believe citizens will accept such costs once they become well known – and they will be! And should there be any property tax increase because if this, they can expect a city in an uproar from owners and tenants who will also bear the brunt of tax increases. 

In all my years of federal and state public service – more than 40 years – what I have learned is that when public officials continue to impose their will onto citizens for projects or policies that hurt the majority of citizens, ultimately the will of the majority will prevail and those unpopular policies will be reversed. Sometimes it takes a few years, but it will happen. In the meantime much damage is done, including the erosion of confidence in democratic institutions.

I think our city is at a crossroads. The cost of this public policy folly will soon become a major fiscal issue across our region. People can’t afford housing and groceries, and Cambridge officials are spending from $50 million to $60 million, $70 million or maybe $100 million dollars on bike lanes? How can a serious governing body think this would be appropriate?

I strongly urge city officials to stop and take a hard look at the fiscal path they are on. It will not have a happy ending for the citizens of Cambridge.

Barbara Anthony, Baldwin neighborhood