Cambridge City Council Forcefully Rejects Effort to Delay Mass. Ave. Bike Lanes

New separated bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue near Dana Street in Cambridge.
New separated bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue near Dana Street in Cambridge. Photographed on Sept. 16, 2021.

The Cambridge City Council rejected two policy orders that sought to delay implementation of the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance on Monday night after sitting through two and a half hours of public testimony from constituents.

At Monday’s Cambridge City Council meeting, Councilors Dennis Carlone, Paul Toner, and E. Denise Simmons jointly sponsored two policy orders that sought to delay the city’s plans to build protected bike infrastructure in the vicinity of Porter Square.

Policy order three would have directed the city to delay the installation of new protected bike lanes on two long segments north of Harvard Square until overhead wires from the MTBA’s now-decommissioned trolleybus lines have been removed. Policy order six would have shelved the city’s quick build” plan for bike lanes through Porter Square until 2026, “so that Porter Square may be included in the plans for ‘partial construction” infrastructure as part of one, cohesive plan stretching from Dudley Street to Waterhouse Street.”

The three sponsors failed to convince any of their colleagues to support the delays. Policy order three failed by a 6-3 margin, and policy order six failed 7-2, after co-sponsor Councilor Carlone voted against the item.

Both opponents and supporters of the Cycling Safety Ordinance had drummed up supporters to speak out on both agenda items during a marathon public comment session.

Supporters of the Ordinance generally focused on its safety and environmental benefits, and expressed disappointment that the Council would delay life-saving safety improvements just to preserve a handful of parking spaces.

10 year-old Ada Turner-Tauring, whose family lives near Porter Square, told the Council that “we go through that intersection a lot, and the longer it takes to build protected bike lanes in Porter Square, the longer I won’t be able to bike through that intersection because it’s not safe.”

Supporters of the proposed delay, on the other hand, shared dramatic speculations about what might happen if Massachusetts Avenue loses some of its on-street parking spaces.

Dr. Lisa Price, a physician whose office is on Mass. Ave., asserted that “our young patients, families, and elderly can not bike to their appointments… if (policy orders) three and six are not supported, mental health care in Cambridge will be crushed.”

Those threats failed to change minds among the City Council, though, and several Councilors openly expressed their frustration with ongoing attempts to delay safety improvements on Massachusetts Avenue.

“I honestly don’t even understand why we’re having this conversation at this point. We’re already compromising; we’re already agreeing, in spite of what the ordinance says, to allow a longer timeline to mitigate some parking loss. And yet we’re being told that it’s not good enough and we need further delays. So I am a bit frustrated by all this,” said Councilor Quinton Zondervan. “People are afraid for their lives, and rightfully so.”

Councilor Burhan Azeem was clearly exasperated that bike lane opponents were seeking yet another delay, weeks after the Council approved a plan to  hold additional public hearings and miss its original deadline for building protected bike lanes through Porter Square.

“This was not a minor issue in the last election… seven of nine City Councilors ran on implementing (the Cycling Safety Ordinance). And I get it, it’s a complicated issue, we need to have compromise. But every time we talk about bicycle safety we compromise,” said Azeem. “When will it be good enough? At some point, you just have to admit you don’t want the bike lanes.”

Also on Monday night, the City Council also formally approved a plan and implementation timeline for building out physically-protected bike lanes on most of Massachusetts Avenue north of Harvard Square by the end of 2026 (8-1, Councilor Simmons opposed).

Cambridge Officials Propose Protected Bike Lanes on Most of Mass. Ave. By 2026

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