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Cambridge City Council Discusses Bike Lanes, Racial and Gender Disparities in Contracting

The Cambridge City Council discussed a report on the economic impacts of bike lanes during a Monday meeting.
The Cambridge City Council discussed a report on the economic impacts of bike lanes during a Monday meeting. By Quinn G. Perini
By Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council passed a policy order against racial and gender disparities in city contracts and discussed a report on the economic impacts of bike lanes during a Monday meeting.

The bike lane report, presented by the office of City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05, comes after sustained resident concerns over the economic impact of the Cycling Safety Ordinance, a local law requiring the construction of a 25-mile network of separated bike lanes throughout Cambridge.

Bike lane expansion was one of the key issues during the City Council election last year, igniting worries from residents and business owners that the removal of parking spaces and loading zones could impact business activity.

But the survey results said the economic impact of the policy was “inconclusive.”

The quantitative study could not get vital information, such as local sales tax, needed to determine the influence the bike lane had on the Cambridge businesses.

Many bike lanes were also built durting the Covid-19 pandemic, which made it difficult to separate the impact of bike facilities from other macroeconomic factors.

However, in a qualitative survey of 300 local businesses, approximately half with bicycle facilities installed in their proximity reported a decrease in their overall revenue.

“The people who feel that they’ve been harmed, feel harmed, and they responded to the survey,” Councilor Paul F. Toner said in the meeting. “We need to work harder at trying to help them with going forward.”

Assistant City Manager for Community Development Iram Farooq said the city intends to continue to examine economic impact of the CSO, adding that the model used in the study can be replicated in future years.

“We don’t intend for this to be a one-and-done kind of study,” Farooq said.

The Council also unanimously passed a policy order to address racial and gender disparities in City contracting and procurement.

The order comes in reaction to a December report which revealed that less than 1 percent of businesses that receive city contracts are owned by racial minorities.

The policy order, introduced by Councillor Ayesha M. Wilson, Mayor Dennise Simmons, Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, and Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui, requests the City Manager to facilitate public hearings and working sessions on this issue.

“What this disparity report shows us is a manifestation of systemic racism,” Wilson said.

Public procurement contracts are given to the lowest bidder, Huang said, which privileges larger companies that can provide low cost and fast delivery.

For minority women owned businesses, Huang said that “one of the biggest challenges is contract size and the size of the company.”

“There’s clearly work that we need to do in terms of increasing certification, outreach to minority and women owned businesses,” Huang added.

Though Wilson praised the “safeguards against favoritism” in the city’s procurement regulations, she said the Council had to critically evaluate the disparities caused by the current process.

“The current rules that we do have, have the side effects of constraining how intentional we are and how direct we can be,” Wilson said.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at ayumi.nagatomi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @ayumi_nagatomi.

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City PoliticsPoliticsCambridge City CouncilBikesMetro