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Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons Urges Caution Against Bike Lane Expansion

Then-Councilor E. Denise Simmons sits at a Cambridge City Council meeting. Now mayor, Simmons cautioned against the rapid expansions of bike lanes.
Then-Councilor E. Denise Simmons sits at a Cambridge City Council meeting. Now mayor, Simmons cautioned against the rapid expansions of bike lanes. By Frank S. Zhou
By Ayumi Nagatomi and Avani B. Rai, Crimson Staff Writers

Days ahead of a contentious City Council meeting where councilors are expected to vote on delaying a construction deadline for Cambridge’s citywide bike lane network, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons cautioned against the rapid expansion of bike lanes at the expense of small businesses and senior citizens.

“I actually want cycling,” Simmons said in a Friday interview with The Crimson. “I love cycling safety, but I also have to balance it with the small business owner or the senior citizen.”

On Monday, councilors are expected to vote on a policy order which would extend the deadline by which Cambridge needs to construct approximately 25 miles of separated bike lanes under a local ordinance from May 1, 2026 to Nov. 1, 2027. The delay would allow the city to gather additional data on the impact of bike lane construction on small businesses — a longstanding concern of opponents of bike lane expansion in Cambridge.

The city commissioned a study on the economic impact created by bike lanes, but the results turned up inconclusive.

Simmons declined to say how she intended to vote on the policy order, but expressed concerns that the removal of parking to build bike lanes could negatively impact small businesses, especially those on the ground floor of buildings.

“If ground floor retail shrivels up, goes away, those are less opportunities for people to be in the streets, going into the restaurants and meeting their friends,” Simmons said.

She also said bike lanes posed safety risks to senior citizens in Cambridge.

“They’re always gonna say, ‘I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid I’m gonna get hit by a bike. I can’t get to the pharmacy anymore,’” Simmons said.

The construction of bike lanes was one of the most prominent issues in the 2023 local elections and has continued to bitterly divide many residents. When the policy order was first discussed earlier this month, nearly 100 Cambridge residents spoke out against the extension, and hundreds more have sent emails to the Council about the order ahead of Monday’s meeting.

Simmons said though it may be hard to reach consensus, she hopes that the City will find an “unhappy medium.”

“We’re not all going to be happy but hopefully we’ll be better off,” she said. “You get a little, I get a little.”

Asked whether Cambridge ought to reduce car dependency long-term in order to become more environmentally conscious, Simmons cautioned against transitioning too quickly away from cars.

“A number of my constituents in particular, they can’t get out of their cars,” Simmons said, adding that working class Cambridge families in the city need cars to get to their jobs and would be most affected by a shift away from car usage.

“I’m not gonna say to a family, ‘Your car burns fossil fuels, therefore you need to get out of it or buy a Tesla,’” she added.

She said that environmental improvements, though increasing Cambridge residents’ quality of life, also threaten to increase rents and property values, “pricing out vulnerable residents and drawing in new and wealthier residents.”

“If we want diversity, we have to be intentional,” Simmons said. “How do we balance that conversation? It’s not an either-or. I wish we could get away from the either-or-ness.”

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

—Staff writer Avani B. Rai can be reached at Follow her on X @avaniiiirai.

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