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For months, longtime Cambridge resident Joan F. Pickett faced off against the city government in court. Now, she’s seeking to join it.
Pickett is the former chair of transit advocacy group Cambridge Streets for All, a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn amendments to the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance expanding bike lanes across the city.
The lawsuit objects to the removal of parking and loading areas for the purpose of adding bike lanes, citing negative impacts on business owners, including loss of customers and loading difficulties.
In an interview with The Crimson, Pickett lamented that there was “very little opportunity” for affected business owners to give input on the bike lane ordinance — which will add 22.6 miles of new separated bicycle lanes by May 2026.
“The businesses I spoke with were never contacted at all,” Pickett said. “The theme is lack of communication, lack of outreach, which resulted in there being huge divisions within the community over an issue that should have been bringing us together.”
Before March 2020, Cambridge’s government held an array of resident outreach efforts as it considered modifications to the ordinance, tabling at several local events and festivals and conducting in-person interviews with residents.
But Pickett said the backdrop of the pandemic had reduced the opportunity for residents to express their views on biking and transportation in the city.
“There was not a lot of opportunity for input nor was there any input from residents — people were pretty much caught up in all of the issues surrounding the pandemic,” she said.
For Pickett, advocacy against the bike lane ordinance is part of a larger focus on improving the city’s transportation infrastructure and ensuring it works for all residents. As part of that goal, Pickett said she hopes to “change the dynamic of how the city is interacting with its businesses and residents.”
Pickett also said she wants the Council to approach street design more intentionally. “We need to step back and stop doing things quickly and do things thoughtfully,” Pickett said.
“If we sat down, and really thought about how we were going to reengineer our streets and do it in that fashion, as opposed to one size fits all, ‘let’s put in those separated bike lanes,’” she added.
A resident of Cambridge for more than a quarter century, Pickett has taken leadership roles in several nonprofit organizations in the Boston area in addition to her advocacy.
Most recently, Pickett worked as senior director of planning and business development at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She also served as the president of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association.
Pickett also expressed reservations about some portions of the controversial amendments to the Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay.
“We need affordable housing, and we need more middle income housing,” she said. “Is this the best way to achieve that?”
The AHO amendments, which have sparked controversy since their introduction in February, recently passed, now allowing for taller building height maximums for affordable housing in certain corridors throughout the city.
Pickett said she believes these changes are “probably going to be inappropriate for most of those neighborhoods.”
Pickett has received an endorsement from the Cambridge Citizens Coalition, which faced recent criticism for their endorsements of two candidates — Carrie E. Pasquarello and Robert Winters — after the pair were found to have promoted transphobic and Islamophobic content on social media.
Pickett called the situation “truly unfortunate,” but said she was satisfied with the candidates’ response to the controversy.
“I support these candidates. I think they have adequately explained what the tweets were,” she said.
Pickett said she was looking forward to engaging directly with local residents and businesses, which she called “the life blood of a community and neighborhoods.”
“I decided that it was time for me to not sit on the sidelines anymore and really fully engage,” Pickett said.
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