Cambridge Council Recommends Updates to ‘Cycling Safety Ordinance’ to Accelerate Bikeway Projects

The Massachusetts Avenue protected bike lane near Front Street and the Cambridge Bicycle shop, pictured in May 2019.
The Massachusetts Avenue protected bike lane near Front Street and the Cambridge Bicycle shop, pictured in May 2019.

On Tuesday evening, seven of nine Cambridge city councilors, meeting as the city’s Ordinance Committee, gave a favorable recommendation to a suite of proposed amendments to the city’s year-old Cycling Safety Ordinance to set a 2026 deadline for a large suite of protected bike lane projects across the city.

The Ordinance Committee (which includes all city councilors) voted  7-1 to recommend the proposed ordinance with some minor amendments (Councilor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. was the sole “no” vote, and Councilor E. Denise Simmons was absent). The favorable recommendation sends the legislation to a formal hearing in front of the full City Council, where a vote to enact the ordinance into law could come within the next few weeks.

Cambridge’s original Cycling Safety Ordinance, which was enacted in April 2019, requires that any street reconstruction project involving a street in the city’s planned bike route network must include the infrastructure called for in the city’s 2015 Bicycle Plan.

The City of Cambridge's proposed network of protected bike lanes, from its 2015 Bicycle Plan.
The City of Cambridge’s proposed network of protected bike lanes, from its 2015 Bicycle Plan. Proposed amendments to the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance would require at least 22.6 lane-miles of this network – including the specific segments highlighted in red dashed lines – to be built by 2026. Courtesy of the City of Cambridge.

“The ordinance changed the conversation from ‘Do we really need a protected bike lane in this construction project?’ to ‘This street is going to include a protected bike lane, so how do we do it?’” says Samuel Feigenbaum, an advocate with the all-volunteer Cambridge Bike Safety organization.

But street reconstruction projects in Cambridge often take many years to plan, design, and build. “Who knows how long it would have taken to get the full protected network?” asks Feigenbaum.

Before last fall’s election, Cambridge Bike Safety volunteers asked city council candidates if they would pledge to implement the city’s Bicycle Plan “within 5 years.”

Fourteen candidates – including seven of the current City Council’s nine members – signed that pledge.

“Coming out of the election, we felt that there was a mandate for a more aggressive timeline,” says Feigenbaum. “Over the course of the past 5 to 6 months, Cambridge Bike Safety, the city manager, city solicitor and other staffers have worked together on ordinance language that everyone can get behind.”

The proposed new amendments to the Cycling Safety Ordinance broadly aim to accelerate the construction of protected bike lanes in Cambridge by encouraging the use of “quick-build” projects and adding a May 1, 2026 deadline for most projects.

The amendments would also add two new links to the city’s planned network of protected bikeways: Broadway, between the Harvard campus and Kendall Square, and Garden Street, between Cambridge Common and Huron Avenue.

Both these links, plus Hampshire and Cambridge Streets east of Inman Square, are highlighted in the amended ordnance as specific routes that must be improved by 2026. Otherwise, city staff would have some flexibility in choosing where to build other protected bike lanes, provided that at least 22.6 lane-miles are built by 2026.

The amendments also give special consideration for Massachusetts Avenue, with requirements that the city create a detailed plan for protected bike lanes north of Harvard Square by May 2021.

Given the council’s pledges to date, Feigenbaum and his fellow advocates at Cambridge Bicycle Safety are optimistic.

“But obviously we’re not counting our chickens before they’ve hatched,” says Feigenbaum. “We’re going to keep working hard on this and see it through the finish line.”


Meeting details:

Cambridge City Council Ordinance Committee Meeting

Tuesday July 7, 5:00 p.m.
View instructions for virtual meeting participation here.

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