Patty Nolan on Bike Lanes

Do I support building a network of bike lanes in Cambridge?

Do I support our small businesses, mobility-impaired people, and those who have issues with the City’s implementation of bike lanes?

How can I answer “yes” to both questions?
Because the two need not – and should not – be in conflict.  I have a consistent record of support for bike lanes and consideration of all the people whose lives and businesses are affected.

Despite bringing some important positive changes to our city, bike lanes present some challenges and have become incredibly polarizing. That’s a problem because solutions grounded in single, polarized perspectives lead to unsatisfactory outcomes when they leave out groups of people and their concerns. The City Council needs to consider all of our citizens and all of their needs in its decision-making. Good design and decision-making take commitment, inclusion, mutual respect, listening, and hard work. And in this process, we – the city – failed. We did not communicate well, were not fully transparent, and implemented poorly in many respects. Recent improvements in inclusive outreach for which I advocated are welcome, and I will ensure they continue. And we should celebrate the fact that, after initial problems and some meaningful remediations, many bike lane installations are working well. Change is always hard, but it doesn’t have to be polarizing. Safety for cyclists need not be at odds with respect for pedestrians, drivers, people with limited mobility, and our businesses.

I stand for a balanced approach that respects all stakeholders and does not compromise safety. I signed the bike pledge two years ago and continue to support the Cycling Safety Ordinance and the installation of bike lanes. However, I have not signed the pledge this year since it has come to symbolize the overly-simplistic notion that you are either for or against bike lanes. That contributes to polarization, hinders good planning and decision-making, and damages our city’s sense of community.

Cambridge needs to be safe for bicyclists. That will require separated bike lanes along main arteries of travel. And the lanes need to form a network across the city, or cyclists who are not confident or strong won’t use them. We provide that for cars and pedestrians; now we are doing it for bicycles. Our city must be one that changes and adapts, following best practice. Just two generations ago, cars didn’t dominate – streetcars were everywhere. Today we need to adjust the allocation of our public ways more equitably.

It’s essential to recognize that the installation of separated bike lanes can be compatible with a city that’s welcoming for all. We can have a network of bike lanes AND support our small businesses, allow houses of worship to serve members, and provide a safe space and access for pedestrians, including people with limited mobility. Public ways need to be designed to provide a safe environment for all users, not just drivers. The economic impact study of the bike lanes that I supported will give us data on actual experience among Cambridge businesses and organizations. If the result is what other cities have experienced (e.g., Minneapolis, where overall businesses experienced no negative, and some positive, impacts), then we can all breathe easier. If the result shows some dislocations or negative impacts, then we need to review possible remedies – remediation, new design guidelines, exceptions and/or relief.

I’d like to acknowledge an important point: Many, even most, of us – pedestrians, cyclists and drivers – fail to follow the rules of the road at times. It’s dangerous and it leads to hard feelings. All of us need to follow the rules. Period. And enforcement will get us only so far. We need a cultural shift where all honor the rules of the road. When we do, conflicts and stress will decrease and safety will improve.

It’s the job of advocates to promote their positions. But a councilor’s job is to acknowledge and consider all constituents then facilitate solutions that lead to outcomes that best serve the city as a whole.

The actions I’ve taken demonstrate my commitment to all stakeholders in the development of our bike lane network:

  • I voted for, and am not walking away from, the Cycling Safety Ordinance. My vision for Cambridge is to transition (like Montreal, Paris, and dozens of US cities, too) to a new normal where bike lanes are numerous and drivers, cyclists and pedestrians share well-designed road systems and treat each other with care and respect.

  • I successfully advocated for implementation changes: adding handicapped and meter spots on side streets on upper Mass. Ave., allowing parking in some bus lanes during specified hours, adding back some parking along Brattle St. (e.g., for Holy Trinity Church), and fixing a pedestrian island that made turning hazardous. Some proposals haven’t [yet] been successful: Allowing parking in every bus lane during non-rush hours, restoring two-way traffic on part of Garden Street, and a study of a rotary at the Brattle/Craigie/Sparks intersection. I won’t stop working to improve implementation.

  • To improve the city’s poor outreach to residents and businesses, I worked successfully to change misleading City communications. Now notices about new lanes mention any loss of parking. I got full council support for a request to mail the map of all affected streets to every household. We should have done it before the ordinance passed, AND after. I’m working to ensure that it happens now.

  • I proposed that the city work with small business associations to make on-street dining work with bike lanes. And I am open to changes to the Cycling Safety Ordinance that do not compromise safety if they are deemed necessary to accommodate all parties’ needs.

  • I proposed more comprehensive language for the economic impact study to make sure the data would be useful and valid – so it can inform action, not sit ignored on a shelf.

Together, my actions demonstrate a nuanced, thoughtful, approach that considers and is responsive to ALL stakeholders and is backed by solid research and analysis.

To see my thinking on other issues, here’s a discussion of my other priorities.

Share Your Thoughts and Get Involved

    I'll help Patty get elected! I can:

    I'd like to stay informed:

    I am not a robot.

    Scroll to Top