City of Cambridge Will Miss Cycling Safety Ordinance Deadline With Porter Square Project Delay

New separated bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue in front of Cambridge City Hall.
Massachusetts Avenue in front of Cambridge City Hall. Under Cambridge's updated Cycling Safety Ordinance, the segment of Massachusetts Avenue between Central and Harvard Squares gained protected bike lanes in the fall of 2021.

Citing various complicating factors, including the lack of contractors and new requirements for advance public outreach, City of Cambridge officials have announced that they will miss a legally-mandated deadline to install protected bike lanes through Porter Square this spring.

Under the city’s updated Cycling Safety Ordinance, several segments of Massachusetts Avenue, including a 1,400-foot segment between Beech and Roseland Streets in Porter Square, were required to have flexpost-protected bike lanes installed by May 1, 2022.

City of Cambridge officials hosted a public hearing about its planned Porter Square project on January 25, but after a flurry of controversy about newly-installed bike and bus lanes on another segment of Massachusetts Avenue, city officials announced that they would require additional public outreach for new Cycling Safety Ordinance projects.

“We do not expect to be able to complete the level of meaningful engagement we have committed to while still meeting the original deadline,” wrote Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale in a memo to the City Council. “City staff therefore need additional time and for the schedule to be extended, which will also allow more time for local stakeholders to gain comfort with the planned changes and make any operational changes that might be necessary (e.g., changing the hours when deliveries occur). We also hope that this additional time will help to mitigate the adversarial nature of some of the recent discussions.”

Though the project will miss the legally required deadline under city ordinance, City of Cambridge officials stressed that they still expect to implement the project within the next few months.

A second public hearing for the Porter Square project has been scheduled for March 15, when the City is expected to present a proposed design.

Cambridge City Council Votes to Fast-Track Citywide Protected Bike Lane Network

The delay was the topic of considerable discussion at Monday evening’s Cambridge City Council meeting. Councilor Burhan Azeem asked whether the delay to the Porter Square project would affect the city’s plans for other projects mandated by the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

“I’m particularly concerned that this sets a precedent for delaying future implementations,” said Councilor Azeem.

“We don’t want this to become the norm or the expectation,” answered Joseph Barr, Cambridge’s Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation. “To be fair, that goes both ways. We need to make it clear to the community that we are still proceeding on schedule for everything else in there, and the deadlines and the dates in the ordinance still remain very much in our minds… For all of us, this is certainly a lesson learned in terms of what the needs are going forward.”

In a related agenda item, the City Council also appropriated $730,000 in extra city funding to support implementation of the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

Some of those funds will go towards efforts to ameliorate criticism of the ordinance’s new bike infrastructure from business owners who have been complaining about the loss of free parking on the city’s public streets. The city plans to conduct a “comprehensive analysis of business and economic impacts” from the ordinance, plus additional communications and outreach materials.

Councilor Marc McGovern urged staff and his City Council colleagues to put those costs into perspective when the city conducts that study.

“I will say that we spend lots of money – a lot more than $700,000 – on repairing streets for cars, and nobody ever asks us to do an accounting of that,” said Councilor McGovern.

McGovern also noted that there has been substantial confusion between the Porter Square project, which was due to be complete this spring, and longer-term proposals to add protected bike lanes north and south of Porter Square.

The Cycling Safety Ordinance does not specify a specific deadline for building protected bike lanes south of Roseland Street to Harvard Square and north of Beech Street; instead, it requires that the City approve a plan and a timeline for those longer segments later this year.

Preliminary plans from the City suggest that it would implement protected bike lanes on those segments by removing the existing median, which would require a future construction project.

There are currently fewer than 40 public parking spaces along Massachusetts Avenue in the 1,400-foot segment that would be affected by the Porter Square bike lane project, and the City of Cambridge is considering protected bike lane designs that could preserve some short-term parking or loading zones on the street in conjunction with dedicated bus lanes, like the city’s recent redesign of Massachusetts Ave. near the Arlington town line. For context, there are at least 300 parking spaces in the 2.2-acre parking lots of the Porter Square shopping mall.

Porter Square has been a high priority for Cambridge cycling safety advocates. In October 2016, a truck driver sideswiped and killed Dr. Bernard “Joe” Lavins, an experienced bike commuter, while he was riding through Porter Square.

According to MassDOT crash records, there have been 19 injury-causing crashes within 1,000 feet of the Porter Square intersection since the beginning of 2019. 12 of those crashes involved a victim who was riding a bike or walking.

In a statement issued over the weekend, Cambridge Bicycle Safety, a group that was instrumental to the passage of the Cycling Safety Ordinance, wrote that “We are disappointed to learn that the City of Cambridge plans to delay implementation of the Porter Square protected bicycle lanes… While we do not see eye to eye with the City on whether this delay is necessary, we appreciate the City’s continued support of the Cycling Safety Ordinance and their commitment to implementing the Porter Square protected bicycle lanes with only a short additional delay.”

Several other bike facilities related to the Cycling Safety Ordinance are also scheduled for implementation this year.

“Planning and outreach for project implementation along the Brattle Street corridor is anticipated to begin in April, with work on the segment between Mason Street and Sparks Street expected to begin sometime this year, followed by the segment from Sparks Street to Mount Auburn Street,” according to the memorandum from the City Manager that was included in Monday evening’s City Council agenda.


Public hearing information:

Porter Square Cycling Safety – Second Community Meeting
Tuesday, March 15, 2022, 6-8 PM
Virtual hearing via Zoom: https://cambridgema.zoom.us/j/86294727392

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