Facebook Questions: Western Ave & Affordable Housing, August 10

***Link to comment: http://on.fb.me/1IyDsfN
***Questions in italics; my replies in bold

Hello John,

Im interested in hearing what ideas you are bringing to thd table for this great city so i have a couple questions below.

The “Complete Street” idea is great, but Western Ave has been a disaster for the past 3 years, especially for those of us driving on it everyday.  The street is always under construction.  Many cyclists still ride in the street instead of the bike lane that was created for them. Because of thr reduction in road space, in the winter with all the snow it is even more difficult to get through.  What would be your plan or idea to correct those problems and improve the design before going foward with “complete streets” on a wider scale throughout the city?

It’s important to consider the alternatives for Western Ave — (1) the street designed the way it was before, which was totally unacceptable for all modes of travel; and (2) not doing the major utility work (which accounts for much of the construction time – trying to keep traffic moving while digging and performing difficult utility work under the road) and waiting for a utility failure or catastrophe which would be far worse for everyone, and take much longer to fix than a managed construction process.

Additionally, Western Ave’s final paving was just yesterday and as recently as two days ago parts of the bike lane were blocked off, as lanes and areas have been throughout the construction process. The state of the road during construction is not a fair measure. Snow will be dealt with, presumably the way it always has been, via snow emergency regulations and the constantly improving work by the great DPW.

Narrower lanes to reduce speeding and reckless driving, problems that the neighborhood demanded be resolved, are worth the inconvenience of construction—construction which, due to needed utility work, was largely unavoidable anyway. That is, we should be happy that after three years of construction we don’t have the status quo, and instead a street that is now safer to cross, safe and comfortable to bike on, and has better bus stops that give transit a small boost in priority, while providing a safe and calm atmosphere for driving (instead of non-designed highway-scale lanes).

Is Western Ave the absolute most perfect it could be? Perhaps not. But, it’s barely one day old in its completed form (not even yet – it’s waiting on final striping). The state of any infrastructure during construction is not a measure of a final design’s merit, and I suspect people will come to love and treasure and show off the new Western Ave. The positives — for the protection of life and for quality of life — vastly outweigh the status quo that only prioritized driving and did so recklessly. I certainly want more streets in Cambridge to look like the new Western Ave. Its previous state is everything we don’t want a city street to be — a haphazard paved surface that gives little or no thought to modes of travel we want to encourage like walking, running, biking, or taking the bus.

The new Western Ave is a model I will champion for more of our corridors toward the goal of a complete, sustainable, healthy network that helps reduce reliance on automobiles, reduce traffic, and create a safer operating environment for all users. I also want to throw in a word for environmental and transportation justice. Western Ave and the surrounding neighborhood is historically underserved and contains concentrations of affording housing; it deserves better than unsafe and unattractive streets — for so many, crossing or biking or taking the bus is a daily routine and it should be safe and fun and interesting. Furthermore, the new and better sidewalks and trees and planters are functionally people’s front yards. 

Regarding bikes in the street – some people will bike in the travel lane, regardless of separate bike facilities, for one reason or another, and that is their right under state law. However, the point is that everyone of all ages and abilities can now safely and comfortably bike in the protected bike lane. This directly leads to reduced trips by other modes, especially driving, thus contributing to a reduction in automobile traffic and contributing to the social benefits of sustainability, public health, and personal interactions. 

Also, I am curious to hear your ideas regarding affordable housing.  It is extremely frustrating when many of us of who were born and raised here in Cambridge and would like to raise our own families here are pushed out due to the sky rocketing rents, high market values, and lack of affordable homes for middle class incomes which help makes Cambridge the diverse place that it is.  What would be your plan to keep Cambridge a home not only for transplants but for home grown Cantabrigians?

On the one hand, it is great that so many people want to live in Cambridge. Cambridge’s high price points and intense demand is certainly unique — many other towns suffer the problems of disinvestment or stagnation. However, we certainly can do more than is done today regarding affordable housing.

First, build more housing and negotiate openly and toward a balanced result with developers: maximize affordable housing ratios and community benefits like child care centers and ground floor retail. This is something the city already does with new development and must continue and must do even more and better.

Second, explore ways to maximize specific leverage like the linkage fee, to fund and preserve a wide range of existing affordable housing programs like rehabilitation, and better utilizing publicly owned lots.

We must give credit to our government and especially our planning staff — Cambridge actually does a lot toward affordable housing and even leads the way, but because the gap is so huge, it’s unacceptable to not be much more concerted and wide-ranged.

We must get buy-in across the board and continue to show why a diverse and mixed-income Cambridge is so much better for everyone. Additionally, ensuring a good, inclusive citywide planning process will help put us on the path to being that long-term and sustainable mixed-income community. 

Thank you!


Facebook Questions: Western Ave & Affordable Housing, August 10