Thursday, July 18, 2024

A parent and child use a bike lane in North Cambridge in 2022. (Photo: Tyler Motes)

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Maureen B. Hogan ruled for the City of Cambridge and dismissed a second lawsuit against the city that had argued bicycle lanes were an improper use of taxpayer funds and broke the law. Her opinion was entered Monday, but was dated Feb. 22.

The plaintiffs, Madeleine Aster and 19 others, previously lost their bid for a preliminary injunction in the same case – to stop in-progress bike lanes from being installed – in March. The city’s motion to dismiss was filed in December 2022 (before the injunction was denied), and was argued in October.

This second bike lanes case against the city was brought by the same attorney as the first, Ira Zaleznik. Zaleznik lost the first case, Cambridge Streets for All v. Cambridge, but appealed to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, which has been waiting for the today’s decision.

The Aster plaintiffs argued that bike lanes were “rules and regulations” of the city, and so subject to an appeal to the city’s subsequently resurrected Traffic Board under the special state law governing Cambridge’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department.

But Hogan agreed with the city: “Application of the plain language of the Special Act to the traffic director’s actions demonstrates that the installation of bicycle lanes and the signs and markings relative thereto are not rules and regulations under §3(a), but rather are markings and other traffic control devices within §3(b).”

Hogan also dismissed the claim that the city’s then-traffic director, Joe Barr, was unauthorized to hold the position because he was not a licensed traffic engineer. Citing her decision in the Cambridge Streets for All case, Hogan noted the law merely requires that “the traffic director ‘possess[] the qualifications required for associate or full membership in the Institute of Traffic Engineers,’” which has fairly liberal membership requirements, and plaintiffs did not even allege that Barr lacked those qualifications.

Standing

Plaintiffs did win one technical legal point: the threshold question of “standing,” or whether they were allowed to litigate the case at all. Hogan ruled they were indeed allowed to litigate the case, just that they lost on the merits.

Specifically, the city had argued the Aster plaintiffs lacked standing under the “taxpayer” law, because the funds for bike lane installation had already been spent. But Hogan found that although that was true, “as the installation of further bicycle lanes in Cambridge is ongoing, and as the City approves funding for the Five-Year Plan on an annual basis … the Taxpayers have standing.”

Next up

With this case decided, the appeals court will likely schedule the Cambridge Streets for All appeal. The Aster plaintiffs can also appeal the decision in Monday’s case, although it is likely that the appeals court would handle the cases in tandem if that were to occur, as it has already delayed the appeal waiting for this resolution.