Wednesday, June 19, 2024

It is election season, and Cambridge Bicycle Safety will soon be asking City Council candidates to sign its 2023 pledge to continue uninterrupted installation of separated bike lanes, especially along Massachusetts Avenue. It will come as no surprise to many that I will not be signing.

Separated bike lanes are only one part the city’s complex transportation discussion, which should not be viewed as a stand-alone issue. To do so ignores Cambridge’s many other vital transportation needs, including public safety, delivery access, curb accessibility for seniors and the mobility-impaired, as well as resident parking, parking for businesses, mass transit and safe pedestrian access. The unglamorous needs of the city itself for snow removal, trash removal, street repairs and paving and underground utility work all need to be accomplished on the same streets.

If you have driven in Cambridge recently, you know we have a transportation problem, and short-term it is not solvable by more people cycling. Some people cannot ride a bike. Many people have already reduced vehicle trips. Even cyclists use their cars occasionally. Reliable bus service would help reduce congestion, and without it people will still resort to driving.

Somehow, we lost track of the fact that well-functioning streets are an important feature of a well-functioning city. With the elimination of parking and travel lanes for installation of separated bike and bus lanes, congestion has increased. The goal of reducing greenhouse gases by promoting more cycling activity has instead increased the number of idling vehicles and lengthened travel times. Motorists take alternate routes through residential neighborhoods to avoid clogged traffic on major thoroughfares. It is unclear if the streets are any safer for cyclists or anyone else. On the redesigned Cambridge Street in Inman Square, buses and delivery vehicles can’t pull over, and stop in the middle of the travel lane – backing up traffic almost to Prospect Street. Fire vehicles and ambulances are having a tough time getting through traffic. These are the byproducts of a City Council approach to policy that focused on one issue to the exclusion of other important transportation needs.

As you may know, for the past several years, I, along with many others from Cambridge Streets for All and Save Mass Ave, have been raising these issues and realities, only to be rebuffed by a majority of the City Council. The council’s refusal to have a meaningful discussion about modifications to the Cycling Safety Ordinance led Cambridge Streets for All and a group of plaintiffs to sue the city. Residents were denied due process by the city to have a formal hearing with the Traffic Board over street changes created by separated bike lanes. Lack of upfront impact assessments, community input and flexibility of design and timetable were included. The goal of that lawsuit was not to remove all separated bike lanes, but rather to cause the City Council to convene a belated community discussion, to show flexibility in implementation and design based on location and to develop mitigation approaches. This never happened.

We need clear-headed thinking about our city streets. I believe we need to do a full assessment of the bike lane installations and undertake a thoughtful, comprehensive transportation planning process, especially for Massachusetts Avenue. Robust data collection and analysis of street activity and use, input from stakeholders and engineering and design assistance that consider the multiple uses and users of our streets should be part of the process.

Separated bike lanes have fueled deep division within Cambridge. We can start to mend our civic relationships by hitting the pause button on further installations and undertaking a process that will focus on the goals of safe and efficiently functioning streets. And that is why I will not sign the CBS pledge.

Joan Pickett, candidate for Cambridge City Council