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Separated Bike Lanes Divide Cambridge City Council Candidates Ahead of Nov. 7 Election

Cambridge City Council hopefuls have sparred over the city's bike lanes during the lead-up to the election on Tuesday.
Cambridge City Council hopefuls have sparred over the city's bike lanes during the lead-up to the election on Tuesday. By Elias J. Schisgall
By Muskaan Arshad, Crimson Staff Writer

Cambridge’s bike lanes have emerged as a divisive topic ahead of the City Council election. While numerous candidates have championed the continued development of separated bike lanes, others have actively participated in lawsuits to halt their construction.

In 2019, the Council passed the Cycling Safety Ordinance, requiring the establishment of a network of bike lanes that are separate from vehicular traffic. A year later, the Council passed an amendment setting a timeline to implement around 25 miles of such lanes in five to seven years.

Cambridge Bicycle Safety, a volunteer group that advocates for these lanes, urged voters to elect candidates who signed the 2023 Cambridge Bicycle Safety Pledge asking candidates to commit to implementing the 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance without delays or alterations.

Incumbents Burhan Azeem, Marc C. McGovern, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, former Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, and Dan Totten were endorsed for their “strong legislative record” and pledge commitment. Sobrinho-Wheeler was the lead sponsor for the amendments to the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

“The goal is to actually hold your leaders accountable to say we want to make sure that you’re really committed to doing this important stuff that we care about,” said Chris Cassa, a volunteer with Cambridge Bicycle Safety.

Other endorsed candidates include Ayah Al-Zubi ’23, Peter Hsu, Adrienne Klein, Frantz Pierre, Vernon K. Walker, and Doug Brown. Incumbent Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80 was endorsed despite not signing the pledge.

While all 24 candidates express support for biking, some aim to halt the network’s expansion.

Both John Hanratty and Joan F. Pickett have been involved with the transit advocacy group Cambridge Streets For All, which filed a lawsuit in June 2022 against the city challenging the removal of parking areas for bike lanes, citing impacts on customers and loading capacity. The suit was dismissed in March.

Some Cambridge residents think there is insufficient public understanding of the Cycling Safety Ordinance.
Some Cambridge residents think there is insufficient public understanding of the Cycling Safety Ordinance. By Elias J. Schisgall

Hanratty currently serves on the group’s board, and Pickett was previously chair of the board.

In an interview, Pickett said she hopes the city can have a comprehensive conversation with those who oppose separated bike lanes about their impacts.

Hanratty called the establishment of separate bike lanes a “one-size-fits-all solution” that “really doesn’t fit all of the neighborhoods” in an interview.

Cassa acknowledged that people “are genuinely worried” about the potential drawbacks of implementing separated bike lanes, but added that “most of these projects tend to do a really nice job of accommodating the challenges.”

“There are trade-offs for every single decision you make, whether it’s curbside uses like parking, or whether you alter the configuration of the lanes,” he said.

John Pitkin, the current chair of Cambridge Streets for All, said he believes there is insufficient public understanding of the Cycling Safety Ordinance’s overall impact, citing difficulties for vehicles to unload and load deliveries, which primarily affects businesses.

“The fundamental problem was that the public had no way of understanding what the impacts of the ordinance was going to be. It did not say to remove hundreds of parking spaces across the city to create and take away curb access,” Pitkin said.

He also questioned whether separated bike lanes enhance safety, attributing reduced cyclist fatalities to lowered speed limits.

Brooke McKenna, the Cambridge transportation commissioner, explained that the rate of crashes has decreased after the implementation of separated bike lanes.

“Back in 2003, we had 28 crashes per million bike miles traveled, and that’s gone down to 9.3 crashes per million bike miles traveled in that for 2022 — and that’s a decrease of 67 percent,” McKenna said.

McKenna added that every step of the implementation process of the separated bike lanes includes input from the residents of the neighborhood.

“What those separated bike lanes look like, how we regulate the remaining parking, other pedestrian improvements that might be necessary — those are all things that kind of come out of that community process,” she said.

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

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