Policy updates, August 14

A solution – click through for more details

Cambridge woman killed at Mass. ave./Beacon St. in Boston


  • Harvard Bridge needs a multi-modal design fix
  • Cambridge should take a leadership role among the stakeholders
  • Design solution are evident, so this is about political will

Anita Kurmann, age 38.

First, obviously, this campaign expresses our condolences. Moreover, we are moved to action because this a place where design failure, in the context of high travel demand, is extraordinarily pointed and obvious.

While the specific intersection is more of a Boston issue, the Harvard Bridge (aka “Mass Ave Bridge”) is a highly visible and high-demand corridor for biking, walking, and transit serving both Cambridge and Boston. Today, it is engineered for one use only: driving, with everything else getting marginal design treatment. The landings and intersections on both the Boston and Cambridge sides are tangled messes. Users—residents, workers, students, and visitors—deserve better than bureaucratic carelessness.

If I’m elected to City Council, I will raise the City of Cambridge to a leadership role when it comes to improved design of places like this in our city that are caught in these bureaucratic tangles.

  1. Immediate Action. We should employ temporary, emergency safety measures for biking within the Harvard Bridge corridor within the next month, e.g. barriers, cones, lighting, and signage, to achieve real safety benefits right away and to send a strong message.
  2. Vision Zero model corridor. The Harvard Bridge between and including the Beacon Street intersection in Boston and the Memorial Drive intersection in Cambridge should be established as a Regional Vision Zero model corridor, where walking, biking, and transit are safe and encouraged.
  3. Accelerated longer-term plan. The City of Boston, the City of Cambridge, MassDOT, and DCR must coalesce behind an executable design and commit to implementing it within two years. The City of Cambridge can take the lead on this, and if we are waiting for someone else to, hint: they’re not going to.

This is not Big Dig stuff. This is not enormously difficult. Every day we don’t take action, we encourage more traffic and less biking, walking, and transit use, and we deprive people of a safe, healthy, and sustainable experience. The above image, a design proposed by The Amateur Planner, is bold and doable. It’s a matter of choice.

  • Better biking, walking, and transit infrastructure means a safer and better experience for all, including those driving.
  • More people biking and safer biking comes 95% from infrastructure and design, with enforcement and education being small factors, often within an already failed paradigm.
  • This anti-infrastructure strain has an influential voice in policy despite overwhelming data showing the primacy of design to accomplish safety and mode shift goals (lowering the %age of trips by car => reducing traffic loads), and the overwhelming preference of users and potential users for dedicated design.
  • Most people would bike (or use other non-automobile modes more consistently) if the infrastructure were comfortable and safe.

We failed on Pearl Street. When there was an opportunity for the Cambridge City Council to champion a protected bikeway on Pearl Street* several city councilors deferred to the status quo interests of maximized street parking. We heard (from city councilors) that bikes can go somewhere else, that nobody bikes on Pearl Street anyway (somewhat true, because it’s horrible), and “do you expect the handicapped and elderly to just hop on a bike?” as though the proposal were to ban cars and driving and parking from the city.

It’s a paradigm question. The mantra of better enforcement and better education is fundamentally a pretend solution, but even if we take it seriously, it’s a solution after the wrong problem. It reinforces the paradigm of streets existing for one purpose, and that there’s only one legitimate form of transportation: driving a car. In this stale view of mobility and spatial appropriation, everything else is secondary or marginal.

Enforcement helps tilt toward safer streets in theory, but even simple design fixes are massively more effective. When it comes to enforcement, nobody, including and especially the police, has put together a credible case for even prolonged and intense speed/rulebreaking stings to provide anywhere close to the safety and comfort that walk/bike infrastructure—even modest and temporary protections—can. After a recent death and serious injury at Memorial Drive near the MIT Sailing Pavilion, a police officer in a discussion with stakeholders offered a rather obvious logic about the ineffectiveness of enforcement: traffic is too varied, voluminous, and unpredictable for even a massive and highly visible enforcement effort to have any long-term effect, or to prevent someone driving Memorial Drive, for the first time, from out of the area, to have any idea what the appropriate and safe practices are. Design can make expectations of speed and yielding plain and be self-enforcing.

However, creating more and better complete streets and safe intersections is NOT a given: the incumbent elected leadership in Cambridge tilts AGAINST expanding this network of complete streets.

Case in point: recent grumbles over the barely-finished Western Ave.

We must decide and be explicit: are transit and biking novelties?

*A temporary or permanent protected bikeway, and bus stop platforms, were favored by the neighborhood on and surrounding Pearl Street by a substantial margin according to a public record request for emails and public comment statistics. The repurposing of one of the two parking lanes for a bike lane was also supported by a city-commissioned parking data study.

Policy updates, August 14