Cambridge cycle lanes mandate hurts us all
An op-ed by former councilor Jen Devereux (“Word this: Roads that allow space for bikes and buses are safer,” Feb. 25) belittles growing resident opposition to Cambridge’s bike lane mandate. She compares it to a conspiracy around a pun, castigates the rhetoric of the opponents and warns them with therapeutic advice that feelings are not facts and emotions are not truth.
Her call for a return to norms and an end to what she cites as the “bike war” rings hollow, as she ends her article by recalling that two people have been killed by drivers in Porter Square since 2016. seems ironic to me. , since the bike wars she laments were sparked by bike advocates using two cyclist deaths in 2016 as a rhetorical battering ram to advance cycle lanes in Inman Square, Cambridge Street and Brattle Street.
Organized cycle advocates doing business as Cambridge Bike Safety have used this emotional plea to shut down the debate and short-circuit consideration of the financial, environmental and social costs as well as alternative ways to improve safety for all. Those who objected were even called killers by association with unfortunate drivers and, by all accounts, blameless in fatal accidents.
They say that the truth is the first casualty of war. The same can be said of our bike wars. Facts are rarely checked and only valued for their emotional or clickable impact, and opponents’ arguments or interests are dismissed out of hand.
If we want to get out of this situation, a good first step would be to see it not as a war but as a social dysfunction, not zingers flying between supporters, but the equivalent of a heart attack of endemic distrust of our body Politics. It affects everyone and hurts all of us, because if we don’t trust each other, if we don’t trust our government, we won’t be able to act with the unity we need to face the existential threats of climate change or the immediate needs of our community. We need to figure out how to work together on common solutions to critical issues, and disputes over bike lanes are a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.
Trust cannot be restored by councilors blaming citizens for voicing their concerns about cycle lanes when the real impacts become apparent. Indeed, councilors have created the current civic mess by not involving the very people – the body politic – that they represent.
The contentious speech and public debate that Devereux deplores could and should have taken place before the Bicycle Safety Ordinance mandates were enacted in 2019 and strengthened in 2020. It recognizes that parking is the third rail of the policy. Other advisors should also be aware. Yet to this day, the majority of city council as well as city administrators downplay the scope of the bike lanes mandate, calling them benign bike safety improvements. And the mandatory public notices of community meetings and the installation of new bike lanes were totally ineffective, leaving most residents and business owners in the dark until the day before installation.
But now the truth is emerging that the bike lane mandate is a big deal. It hits the third parking rail. And the City Council’s flawed process has created a giant mess.
Mandatory lanes are a 26-mile network covering 10% of public streets in Cambridge, including Massachusetts Avenue and other major thoroughfares, and is to be completed or under construction by 2026.
This will mean removing several hundred parking spaces, in some areas half or all of the parking, as well as the loading areas needed for business deliveries and pick-ups. The costs are not known, but will be substantial. Engineering services alone for the first rapid-build lanes, not including implementation, cost an average of $160,000 per mile. The complete design and construction of just one major intersection, Inman Square, is expected to cost nearly $10 million.
The financial impacts on local businesses are not known because the City has not interviewed the businesses concerned. In places where parking has already been removed, some business owners report that their revenues have dropped by 45%. As parking access and loading zones are removed over time, there are reasonable concerns that commercial dead zones will extend to sections of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street and Huron Avenue where shopping districts are now located. diverse and prosperous.
Thousands of residents who rely on street parking and access to homes, needed services and local businesses will also be affected.
The scope of the bike lanes mandate is so broad and complex that city council could reasonably have put it on residents’ ballots in a city referendum before taking action. Instead, council adopted the terms of reference after limited public discussion and debate and delegated the Director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking to inform affected residents and property owners at community meetings of what safety cycling means to them.
Now that citizens have a clearer understanding of the grand plan and how it affects them, we are beginning to see the beginnings of the kind of vigorous, contentious, and fact-based debate that is necessary for democracy to work and that we expect as Americans. These agitations should not be discouraged or silenced, but rather welcomed as a hopeful start to the civil discourse we urgently need to build trust in each other and strengthen our community.
John Pitkins, Rue Fayette
John Pitkin has been active in Cambridge civic affairs since 1971 and chaired the Cambridge Transportation Forum, which was established by the City Council and City Manager to coordinate citizen involvement in transport planning in 1972.