Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Harvard Square Patagonia store fills Thursday for a bike-focused political event. (Photo: Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group)

Cyclists strategized Thursday around one of the most polarizing issues driving the upcoming City Council election: the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

The event that packed the Harvard Square Patagonia store was organized by the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, marking a renewed effort to hold the city to its 2019 commitment to build approximately 26 miles of protected bike lanes, followed by an amendment the next year that set timelines.

In elections two years ago, the group asked city councillors and challengers to sign a pledge to uphold and see the CSO through to completion. The same is true now as the November election looms – though the group is more concerned this time, as three supporting council members (Dennis Carlone, Alanna Mallon and Quinton Zondervan) are leaving, and some candidates running to fill those slots are against completing the project or want to “hit the pause button” to reevaluate.

Council challengers John Hanratty and Joan Pickett are part of a group who sued the city to have bike lanes removed in Porter Square and North Cambridge, CBSG organizer Chris Cassa said.

The presentation was brief but pointed, homing in on the critical nature of the moment and detailing the formal launch of a campaign strategy to make voters aware of the 10 of 24 candidates who have signed the pledge to date, including five incumbents.

Besides Cassa, long-term Cambridge Bicycle Committee member Randy Stern spoke. Then the mic was passed to Sarah O’Connor, who is in charge of a get-out-the-vote campaign. (“A powerhouse,” Cassa called her.)

Yard signs, buttons and cards were handed out as O’Connor signed volunteers up for canvassing and phone bank outreach efforts.

“The energy at our campaign launch was truly inspiring,” O’Connor said, “We’re going to mobilize the power in that room to ensure a win for bike safety on the ballot in November.”

Cassa, a lecturer at MIT, reminded the audience to use a grassroots approach: “When I’m stopped at a light, I pass out a few cards to other people biking, and no matter how goofy I may look, I wear my button into shops to let the store owners and staff know that I biked there to give them my business.”

The group is preparing a booklet to help guide residents to candidates supporting bike lane and safe-street measures, though voters sympathetic to bike lanes do not have to choose a candidate on that singular cause, Cassa said. “If you are about affordable housing or green spaces, there are candidates on our list that support that cause and bike lanes.”

The gathering, hosted by the outdoor apparel outlet, was well attended by a diverse group of people, and had to be capped at the storefront’s 130-person limit. “This is the most people we’ve had in here,” an employee said.

“I was so impressed with how packed the event was,” said Sandra Fairbank, of Mount Auburn Street. “I’m 76 and love biking in Cambridge. I feel super safe when I use the new Brattle Street bike lanes.”