Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, May 2019

The Cambridge City Council last month passed an ordinance – thought to be the first of its kind in the nation – mandating protected bike lanes, with vertical physical barriers, on all streets that are part of the city’s five-year street and sidewalk reconstruction plan as well as the city’s Bicycle Plan.

“Providing safe biking infrastructure is making streets safer for everyone, not just bikes,” said Mayor Marc McGovern, “and there is a growing constituency that is saying we want this and need this.”

The ordinance, introduced in January, was a joint effort by the mayor, City Manager Louis DePasquale and Cambridge Bicycle Safety. It was the result of years of discussions between municipal officials and cycling safety advocates.

“People have to be willing to sit down and listen to each other, folks who want the protected lanes and those who have concerns about parking,” McGovern said. “We were able to find a middle ground, and we came up with something that accomplishes our goals.”

The city’s extensive sidewalk and street plan, adopted in 2018 and updated regularly, assumes $4.5 million per year in spending for reconstruction work. The bike lane ordinance integrates with the city’s Bicycle Plan, adopted in 2015 to develop a network of “complete streets” – meaning streets that are as friendly to cyclists and pedestrians as they are to vehicles.

Joseph Barr, the city’s director of traffic, parking and transportation, said the new ordinance is not expected to have a major impact on the five-year plan in the short term because bike lanes were already part of the Bicycle Plan.

“Improving bicycle safety is already one of a number of factors that go into deciding which streets go into the five-year plan, and that will continue to be the case in the future,” Barr said. “Over time, [implementation of the ordinance] may lead to additional emphasis on streets where separated bicycle lanes are needed, but there will always be a variety of reasons why streets wind up in the plan – for example, utility needs, pavement conditions, pedestrians accessibility.”

The ordinance lays out a process for exemptions, but officials expect it to be used rarely, if at all.

“The city would need to provide a strong justification as to why separation is not possible, and what other measures can be put in place to create an alternate connection,” Barr said.

For more information, contact Cambridge Traffic, Parking and Transportation Communications Manager Najah Casimir at 617-349-4359 or ncasimir@cambridgema.gov.

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