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With New Councilors, Bike Lane Expansion in Cambridge Could Face Steep Challenges

Efforts to expand protected bike lanes in Cambridge could face steep challenges with the new slate of city councilors coming into office next year.
Efforts to expand protected bike lanes in Cambridge could face steep challenges with the new slate of city councilors coming into office next year. By Elias J. Schisgall
By Muskaan Arshad and Julian J. Giordano, Crimson Staff Writers

The expansion of Cambridge’s network of separated bike lanes — one of the main points of contention this election season — may now face more of an uphill battle in the Council.

Supporters of expanding protected bike lanes — which are partitioned from vehicular traffic — retained a slim majority on the city’s legislative body in the Nov. 7 elections. Only five of the nine candidates elected to the Council have a supportive voting record for the 23-mile expansion of protected bike lanes set out in the 2019 Cycling Safety Ordinance and its 2020 amendments, which called for the completion of the network in 2026.

With the new Council, the debate now centers around whether the city should pause this timeline.

Cambridge Bicycle Safety, a volunteer organization that has advocated for the construction of separated bike lanes, asked candidates to sign their bicycle safety pledge for the past two Council election cycles. This year, candidates were asked to commit to supporting the continued construction of separated bike lanes in accordance with the expedited timeline required by the amended CSO.

While seven current councilors took the 2021 Cambridge Bike Safety pledge, only four of the elected councilors took the 2023 pledge — less than half of the nine-member body. Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80, Paul F. Toner, Ayesha M. Wilson, Joan F. Pickett, and E. Denise Simmons did not take the pledge.

Nolan gained the endorsement of Cambridge Bike Safety despite not signing the pledge for voting for the CSO amendments.

Former Councilor Jivan G. Sobrinho-Wheeler — who signed the pledge and was elected back to the Council this year — said the election results show a “pretty strong mandate” to continue growing Cambridge’s network of protected bike lanes.

Sobrinho-Wheeler, who was an original sponsor of the CSO in 2019, said he is hoping to effectively collaborate with councilors who have been less supportive of the CSO and to engage in more resident engagement and outreach.

“You need five votes for a majority, but you want to try to get it done with even more than that,” he said.

A promotional sign by Cambridge Bicycle Safety sits affixed to the side of a bike.
A promotional sign by Cambridge Bicycle Safety sits affixed to the side of a bike. By Muskaan Arshad

Pickett’s entry to the Council means that the body will now have someone who campaigned on strong opposition to the push for separated bike lanes.

Pickett was one of the previous chairs of Cambridge Streets For All, an advocacy group that sued the city in 2022 over concerns that separated bike lanes harmed businesses due to their removal of parking spaces and loading zones.

While a judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year, the group’s current chair John Pitkin seeks to work with the new Council to “address the concerns of all users of the streets on an equal basis.”

“The current regime has been explicitly to ignore any effects on anybody who’s driving a car,” Pitkin said.

Pitkin said he hopes to see more information on whether separated bike lanes improve street safety.

“We’re hoping that the new Council will take a hard look at what has actually happened, what has been achieved, and whether it makes sense to go forward on the same basis in the eastern third of the city,” Pitkin said.

Pickett, an incoming councilor, said she supports a pause on the construction of bike lanes and hopes the Council can reassess the Cycling Safety Ordinance based on its impacts on congestion, parking, and small businesses.

“I’m hoping that I can work with my fellow councilors to pause the implementation and do a really hard look at the broader transportation implications of what the separated bike lanes have meant to the city,” Pickett said.

In addition to other councilors, Pickett also hopes that residents and businesses will give input on the topic because she believes that “many people felt disenfranchised, felt that they weren't listened to.”

Chris Cassa, a volunteer with Cambridge Bicycle Safety, said a pause on the construction of bike lanes will pose a danger to residents.

“Putting a moratorium on these projects and stopping those projects — it will absolutely cause more injuries and crashes than it would prevent,” Cassa said.

“Every day we wait there is more danger on our streets because we’re not acting,” he added.

—Staff writer Muskaan Arshad can be reached at muskaan.arshad@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @MuskaanArshad or on Threads @muskarshad.

—Staff writer Julian J. Giordano can be reached at julian.giordano@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @jjgiordano1 or on Threads @julianjgiordano.

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