It has been a busy two weeks since my last update. This month there were many events related to Earth Month and the continued and ongoing need for climate action. I went to a panel at MIT which unveiled some stellar projects that are part of their global climate initiative. Special Climate Envoy and former Mass. Senator John Kerry spoke and the presentations on the five selected projects were inspiring – since they were about solutions. I also note that MIT should be praised for their leadership on these important global projects AND should be pushed to reduce their own emissions pollution in Cambridge. On this last point, we are working to have all building owners in Cambridge focus on reducing their emission pollution through our local ordinance (more below).
As part of Earth Day, I ventured out of Cambridge to a DCR park, Breakheart Reservation, which had an Earth Day clean up last weekend. The park was great – and is another gem I discovered that is a delightful place of nature and trees surrounded by urban development. As much as I love other places, it was a joy to see a new place. I also attended the Jerry’s Pond clean up /pond fest – which was wonderful! The Mayor and Rep. Steve Owens spoke also – and the area will be a marvelous addition once theIQHQ project is finished.
On the Council, the past week was dominated by the issue of protected bike lanes. I have a statement on my vote, which is below. As always, I voted in the interest of the whole city as I see it. And as is often the case, I was in the relative middle. I was not strong enough on the bike lanes to satisfy the cycling activists, and I was not strong enough to counter the bike lanes to satisfy the folks advocating for a delay. I am comfortable with my vote – and I am committed to working on greater accountability and inclusion and moving forward with an eye towards a transition to different modes of transit without assuming everyone will be hopping onto a bike.
At the State of the City this week, the City Manager summarized the progress made during his tenure, and the remarkable way the city stepped up to the Covid pandemic. A highlight in his remarks was the truly remarkable commitment to affordable housing the city has made, and actions taken – with nearly $300 million allocated just over the last decade – no other city our size has done as much. The Mayor made a groundbreaking announcement that the Cambridge RISE program of Guaranteed Basic Income would be greatly expanded by allocating $22 million of the City’s federal ARPA funds to expand the program to every eligible family in Cambridge!!! Each family will receive $500/month for about 18 months. The program will be evaluated and if successful will serve as a model. If not as successful as expected, we will learn a lot and be able to address deep income inequality with actual data. One of the RISE participants was at the event and shared her story of using RISE funding to finish a program that will lead to getting a job – RISE allowed her the certainty that she could pay for transportation, child care, and other costs that too often stymie people’s move towards independence.
I’ve continued to work on a range of issues – and am open to hearing from any of you on issues we should address. Happy May, happy spring, and the ongoing Covid pandemic may be in a different phase, but it is still present, the number of residents getting Covid is on the rise and the state of the world can be overwhelming. Take care of yourself – reach out for yourself and to others.
Last Week’s Update:
Ordinance Committee Meeting on BEUDO: The Ordinance meeting on the BEUDO amendments went well; we are not there yet, but getting close! We heard from many members of the community, from activists to developers to large institutions, and there was a broad consensus that the climate crisis is an emergency and we cannot afford to wait. Due to this agreement, the Council voted to instruct CDD to change the final net zero deadline from 2050 to 2035! We will continue to discuss specifics of the amendments, such as carbon credits and alternative compliance payments, before this piece of legislation comes back before the full Council.
Finance Committee Meeting on ARPA Funds: At the Finance Committee meeting, we heard many different proposals for the use of Cambridge’s ARPA funds. Among them were proposals from HEART, Jerry’s Pond, and more. I hope that we are able to spread the funds as widely as possible, so many different members of the community can feel this benefit. We will continue to hold Finance Committee meetings as discussions for ARPA funds continue.
POR 2022 #67 and POR 2022 #70 – Bike Lane Policy Orders: These two policy orders were both introduced by Councillor Toner and co-sponsored by Councillors Carlone and Simmons. The first requested that the City Manager direct the Traffic, Parking, & Transportation Department to work with the MBTA to remove the catenary wires in Porter Square as soon as possible, and that the bike lane construction does not move forward until the wires are down. The removal of the wires (and the median) will allow 50% of the parking in this area to be retained, rather than the removal of all parking. The second policy order asked that the original plan for the Porter Square bike lane construction be abandoned, and instead the section of bike lane in Porter Square be built in conjunction as a part of the whole MassAve4 section, so that there is one, cohesive plan stretching from Dudley Street to Waterhouse Street. This vote was very hard for me to decide, as I can see valid concerns on both sides of the argument. Cyclists deserve to have safety on our roads AND small businesses deserve to flourish. At the Council meeting , I decided to vote against both policy orders along with several of my peers, and the final vote was 3 in favor 6 against on one and 2 in favor 7 against on the other, which means they both failed. Those votes do not mean I will stop asking for more accountability, for more support to small businesses, and better communication and inclusion in decisions and planning.
POR 2022 #68 – Rollout of New Trash Bins: I introduced this policy order, co-sponsored by Mayor Siddiqui, in anticipation of DPW’s rollout of new, larger trash barrels for all residents. The standardization of the bins should have many benefits, including benefits to DPW workers’ health and better control of rodents. The standard bin for single- and two-family residences will be either 45 gallons and residences with more units will be 65 gallons; currently, the standard bin for single- and two-family residences is 35 gallons. The City has successfully reduced the amount of trash the average household generates, through innovative initiatives such as curbside composting and textile recycling efforts, such that 35 gallon bins suffice for most households. Many residents want to contribute to the solution and having larger trash bins could inadvertently send the message that more trash is acceptable, and a large bin may incentivize residents to produce more waste, not less. I am asking that the City Manager confer with the Department of Public Works to devise ways to encourage residents to request the smallest size they need and to keep waste output low with the rollout of the new bins in June. I am glad that this policy order passed and the city will get the word out.
This Week’s Update
Alewife Zoning Petition Update: The Council will hear an update from the City staff on the Alewife Zoning Petition. We will hear an updated list of properties that would be impacted in the Alewife Overlay District by a proposed moratorium, legal analysis under 40A for inclusion or exclusion of projects approved by the Planning Board, and language to ensure that new and expansion of existing labs and offices will be subject to the moratorium.
POR 2022 #78 – Green New Deals for Cities Act of 2021: This policy order asks that the Cambridge City Council go on record in full support of H.R.2644, the Green New Deals for Cities Act of 2021. H.R. 2644, introduced by Representative Cori Bush, would distribute $1 trillion directly to states, municipalities, and tribes over four years, to be spent on a range of climate justice initiatives including replacing lead pipes, retrofitting water infrastructure, building bike lanes, installing electric vehicle charging stations, testing soil and water for contaminants, and phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure.
Other City News:
Next week the most critical activity will be the next phase of the City Manager search as the applicants are reviewed with an expected timeline of finalists being presented in a month. I am excited about the next phase of the city’s history – as we search for a new city manager. Personally I look forward to finding an excellent manager who will build on our city’s successes and move the city forward with an eye towards making good on the promise of a model city – municipal broadband, climate impact and more.
Bike Lane Statement:
As you may know, the Council voted at this week’s meeting on two policy orders, POR 2022 #67 and POR 2022 #70 . Introduced by Councillor Toner and co-sponsored by Councillors Carlone and Simmons, these policy orders concerned the quick-build bike lane installation in Porter Square. The first requested that the City Manager direct the Traffic, Parking, & Transportation Department to work with the MBTA to remove the catenary wires in Porter Square as soon as possible, and that the bike lane construction does not move forward until the wires are down. The second policy order asks that the original plan for the Porter Square bike lane construction be abandoned, and instead the section of bike lane in Porter Square be built in conjunction as a part of the whole MassAve4 section – which would delay the implementation of protected bike lanes in Porter by several years.
This is an incredibly divisive issue that has created unnecessary vitriol on both sides. I stand by the intent of the Cycling Safety Ordinance, and I support the proposed timeline. I was initially inclined to support both orders. For the first, it seemed reasonable to ensure the wires would come down before any final plans were under construction. However, the mayor has worked hard with the city administration to put pressure on the MBTA to deal with the wires, and I believe that is the best way to get the wires removed to enable construction that is less disruptive. I also note that I wish the MBTA was NOT taking down the wires, since the electric trolley buses are better from a sustainability view. The City Council advocated for maintaining the trolleys – but the MBTA is going ahead with electric buses with back up fossil fuel heaters, in which case we should have the wires come down sooner rather than later.
On the second PO, we should be comprehensive in our planning, so doing a quick build in Porter Square instead of including in the rest of the sections of Mass. Ave. on either side seemed counterproductive. However, after consulting with the traffic department, speaking with advocates on both sides, and reading every email, I decided that addressing the Porter Square intersection now, to better ensure safety and confirm that the city was moving towards a comprehensive network of safe separate bike lanes was best for the city as a whole. I, along with other councillors, also advocated strongly for ensuring that only a few parking spots would be lost with a quick build – those efforts were successful and fewer spots in that section will be lost. Given the need to move forward, be a model and make good on our promise and vision of leading on transportation, I decided that it does make sense for us to address the confusing and challenging Porter square intersection with a quick build. An advantage of quick build is that it is not only quick, it is far less expensive AND it can be changed, if it is determined that it is not meeting the needs of the community.
At the same time, I recognize that the implementation of the bike lane extensions has been flawed and challenging, with many residents feeling that their concerns aren’t being heard. And the small business owners feel sidelined, ignored and often disrespected as some activists dismiss the claims of a loss of business – as though they know more about running a business in Cambridge than the business owners. As someone who ran a small business, it was painful to hear that dismissive attitude. The studies showing that bike lanes increase business were not comparable to this stretch of Mass Ave. However, I stand by my vote since the city does need to move forward with a plan for ensuring the streets, which are a public way, are not automatically assumed to be only for cars and to only prioritize cars. We must do what the Cycling Safety Ordinance proposes: shift to a multi-modal use of our public way.
As I also stated, we MUST increase the number of cyclists AND decrease the use of cars by providing alternatives, whether free public transit or other means of travel. If we do all this work to establish bike lanes and do not dramatically decrease car use and increase bike use, we will have failed. I am committed to holding us accountable for that eventual outcome.
This vote was very hard for me to decide, as I can see valid concerns on both sides of the argument. Cyclists deserve to have safety on our roads and small businesses deserve to flourish. At the Council meeting , I decided to vote against both policy orders along with several of my peers, and the final vote was 3 in favor 6 against on one and 2 in favor 7 against on the other, which means they both failed.
Those votes do not mean I will stop asking for more accountability, for more support to small businesses, and better communication and inclusion in decisions and planning.
Ultimately, I chose to do what I believed was right for the City, and I could not rationalize delaying the plan for the Porter Square build by years.