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Cambridge City Council Introduces First-of-Its-Kind Cycling Safety Ordinance

A biker rides through Harvard Square in the bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue.
A biker rides through Harvard Square in the bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue. By Quinn G. Perini
By Declan J. Knieriem and Katelyn X. Li, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge City Council passed a law last week to establish a 20-mile network of protected bicycle lanes across the city and implement a five-year sidewalk and street construction plan.

The legislation, termed the Cycling Safety Ordinance, stipulates the city must provide suitable accommodations for bicycle travel on Cambridge streets that undergo construction. The bill aims to advance Cambridge’s Vision Zero action plan, an initiative established in 2018 to improve transportation and promote “safe, healthy, and equitable mobility for all,” according to a statement on the city’s website.

The ordinance seeks to eliminate fatalities and injuries by mandating that the city construct a “connected network of permanent separated bicycle lanes.” The legislation, passed as an amendment to the Cambridge Municipal Code, defines permanent separated lanes as bicycle lanes that are protected from motor traffic by a “permanent vertical barrier.”

The cycling ordinance has drawn media attention, and bike safety advocates have praised it as the first legislation of its kind.

Vice Mayor Jan Devereux said she thinks it is “obvious” that Cambridge cyclists lack a “minimum standard of protection,” but also said she is hopeful that this law will make biking safer and, as a result, more popular.

“We've allowed the car culture to really take over city planning in a way that we're now understanding has had really negative impacts on a lot of quality of life issues, a lot of environmental issues,” she said.

There have been more than 700 reported accidents involving bicycles since 2015, according to Cambridge Police Department data.

The Cycling Safety Ordinance is the product of a collaboration between the City Council and local advocacy group Cambridge Bicycle Safety. The Council first introduced the legislation in January, following a year’s worth of discussion with the group.

Sam B. Feigenbaum, a volunteer with Cambridge Bicycle Safety and current Harvard Law School student, said he thinks the ordinance could mark an important step forward in making protected bike lanes “as ubiquitous as sidewalks.”

“We have space that’s set aside for pedestrians, and we have space that’s set aside for cars and cyclists,” Feigenbaum said. “Right now we're in this in-between world where we're expected to mix it up with cars to a degree that's not safe.”

Feigenbaum also praised the grassroots effort involved in advocating for the legislation.

“We're an all-volunteer group, and so dozens of people have spent a whole lot of their time working on this to make it happen because they think that it will make the community a better place,” he said.

Some Harvard students said they think the ordinance could help make their daily commute safer.

Lily Gao ’21 said the current bicycle lane system makes her “nervous” when she rides in the city, but she hopes the new law will change that.

“I think it will really change biking around campus,” she said. “I think it'll be much easier to get around Cambridge.”

Calvin Marambo ’19 said he thinks separated bicycle lanes would make him feel more comfortable around the “reckless” drivers in the city.

“Safety wise, I think it’s going to be good for me because I am someone who is always very careful, especially given the culture in Boston,” he said.

— Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem

— Katelyn X. Li can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @KatelynLi2

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