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Cambridge Council Balks at Giving Residents Space to Physically Distance

An still from the livestream from the Cambridge City Council meeting of Monday, April 6, 2020. Most Councilors were participating via teleconference to abide by Governor Baker’s stay-at-home advisory.

The Cambridge City Council narrowly voted down a proposal to give its residents more space to safely physically distance themselves on city streets during their regular meeting Monday night.

In a 5-4 vote, with most Councilors participating by teleconference, the Council voted to table two policy orders that would have closed certain city streets to car traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councilor Marc McGovern, who expressed opposition to both resolutions at last week's meeting, sponsored the motion to table both orders. Councilors Dennis Carlone, E. Denise Simmons, Timothy Toomey, and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui voted to support McGovern's motion.

"I understand as a licensed clinician the importance of physical activity for mental health," said McGovern. But he went on to argue that it would be "unwise" to give residents adequate space to physically distance now.

"What we've experienced so far has been nothing compared to what people are saying we're going to see in the next few weeks," said McGovern. "I don't want (city staff) discussing if we're going to close Memorial Drive. I want (them) focused 100 percent on how we're going to keep people safe."

Other councilors pushed back against McGovern's narrow concept of safety.

In 2019 alone, according to state crash records, drivers of motor vehicles caused 142 crashes on Memorial Drive, including 37 crashes that inflicted physical injury to at least one victim.

"We're recommending people go outside. Everywhere it's already crowded," observed Councilor Patricia Nolan, a sponsor of both policy orders. "So what are we recommending in terms of providing more space? It's a matter of safety for people to have more space."

City staff admitted they have no alternative solution to the difficulties of maintaining 6 feet of personal space on Cambridge's narrow sidewalks, but promised that the idea of opening streets would be discussed at a Tuesday meeting of an expert panel of medical professionals that is advising the city in its pandemic response.

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