April 25, 2016 policy items

First, the City Manger has requested a $10,000,000 loan as a budget item to design and construct the Grand Junction Path from Broadway to the Somerville city line. This is great news and a long time coming: the Cambridge Bicycle Committee explored path possibilities in depth in 2001 and the city released a report in 2006. Few conditions have changed in the intervening decade-plus (except, perhaps, the loss of momentum for the urban ring which presented both possibilities and uncertainties for path viability in the corridor). The primary hurdle remains getting MassDOT to not-disallow the path, mostly a bureaucratic issue—but nevertheless a significant bureaucratic issue.

On competition with light rail in the corridor – obviously, we’d all love to see light rail service on the Grand Junction line, but with the uncertainty faced by the Green Line extension, and the lack of good transit service to communities much more underserved than Cambridge around the region and Commonwealth, we are likely (and unfortunately) multiple major transit projects, multiple billions of dollars, and multiple favorable governors away from achieving passenger rail service in the Grand Junction corridor—which by some estimates doesn’t even compete with the ability of a path to share the corridor, which is the obstacle some presume exists and which causes some otherwise-advocates to oppose the Grand Junction Path. We should be advocating for and planning passenger service in this corridor, but it should not stand in the way of the much more near-term feasible walk/bike route.

Anyway, this is a MAJOR step forward for the path and points to real progress. The efforts of city staff and the city manager’s commitment to realizing the Grand Junction Path should be celebrated. Universal support from the city council, especially from the longtime standard bearer of the path, Councillor/Rep. Tim Toomey (plus dedicated active involvement from councillors Nadeem Mazen and Dennis Carlone in particular over the past couple of years) must be lauded.

This $10,000,000 investment will pay off enormously for regional mobility and the long-term viability of eastern Cambridge. Once the entire path is completed and integrates with the greater network via the future Somerville Community Path extension and the existing Charles River Path networks, we are looking at a new mobility paradigm that transforms our very notions of life in Greater Boston.

Other notable, worthy budget items

  • $149,600,000 to provide funds for various School building infrastructure projects including construction for the King Open/Cambridge Street Schools & Community Complex, building envelope repairs at the Fletcher Maynard Academy, and a new boiler at the Amigos School
  • $2,000,000 to provide funds for the reconstruction of various City streets and sidewalks (so long as we get good design)
  • $4,000,000 to provide funds for the renovations of the Out of Town News Kiosk Building and adjacent plaza area in Harvard Square (much, much needed)

Unfinished business ORD #2, regarding the Sage Cannabis zoning request to set up a marijuana dispensary between Central and Harvard. Popular opinion is of course to support so-called medical marijuana. I am honestly neutral on the whole thing, but it’s extremely agitating to be talking about “medical marijuana” when it’s blatantly a political tool toward recreational legalization. Since legalized recreational marijuana is the real aim, we should be having that discussion. Forwarding “medical marijuana” as not only not-harmful, but beneficial, is facetious and political, not scientific. Let’s accept that it’s harmful and that the real aim is the ability to get high, and go from there. Being harmful and being used to get high are fine. We accept that alcohol is harmful and that the primary aim of imbibing is to alter one’s state of mind, or at least dizzy the conscious a little bit. Fine. Let’s just be honest. Can anyone honestly make the case that this is actually about “medicine”? Come on.

These are glaring questions that ought to be confronted: (1) are we really pretending we’re talking about harmless medicine with no correlation to other, more dangerous and harmful activities and substances?, (2) how can it be that we are on the path to banning tobacco and pouring enormous energy into combatting opiods, while expanding marijuana access?

Of course, it’s probably hypocritical of me to oppose the Sage Cannabis petition, as someone who has engaged in recreational use of marijuana, even not so long ago — and I don’t have any specific intent to not use it again at any point in the future.

But again: it’s the lack of honesty by the proponents of “medical marijuana” which is extremely agitating.

The other side of it is the nature of the zoning petition itself, outside of this specific use. This is an entirely separate problem, and perhaps one which alone makes this petition worthy of outright rejection. Anyway, this petition is likely to go through due to the favorable politics of “medical marijuana” without any of the glaring questions being addressed. We’ll probably be back in a year discussing recreational marijuana access which will make this whole fake “medical” debate and zoning-tinkering obsolete anyway.

City Manager’s agenda item 2016 #101, regarding Barrett Petition zoning change suggestions. The CDD’s suggested changes to the Barrett Petition would make off-street parking required for accessory units, except with a waiver via special permit.

Language suggested in the CDD memo: The requirement for an off street parking space specified in Article 6.000 may be waived by the Board of Zoning Appeal for an accessory apartment upon finding that such waiver will not cause excessive congestion, endanger public safety, substantially reduce parking availability for other uses or otherwise adversely impact the neighborhood

(This replaces language which would exempt the accessory units from requiring off-street parking.)

This is the opposite direction we should be moving with parking. If we are requiring the construction of new parking spaces with these units—which are among the least likely to actually need parking—we are never going to reduce the space and resources devoted to parking (and thus driving) throughout the city, which ought to be our general and ultimate aim. This is reminiscent of the general approach to parking: play it safe by always requiring more parking, so people don’t complain about on-street parking availability. This is a policy strategy which holds us behind when it comes to our transportation future, good urban design, and livability.

In addition, this proposed language, along with the proposal to require a professional engineer’s assessment of flooding possibilities, seems to serve mostly to frustrate the creation of this new class of accessory units.

I’m not sure which of the parking or professional engineering requirements is more burdensome and thus damning for would-be accessory unit creators.

Policy order 2016 #115, regarding a temporary dog park while the one on Pacific Street is being reconstructed. There is language in this order regarding temporary fencing at Fort Washington. The City Council should be sensitive to the fact that Fort Washington is a Cambridge Historic District, and even temporary structural changes may negatively impact the District. This should be approached with great care. (I’ve been talking about overhaul of the Fort Washington area for a while – another issue for another time.)

Policy order 2016 #116, regarding the Green Line Extension. We should consider selling off air rights at all station locations to private developers who could in turn construct all of the stations as part of larger, more dense developments, leaving the MBTA with only the responsibility for things like tracks/signals, electrical systems, trains, the community path extension, etc. This would save enormous amounts of money for the MBTA and leave us with much better stations than the open air concrete slabs now being pushed by the Austerity Men.

Policy order 2016 #117, regarding late night T service. See here for a proposal that can work and get going quickly. Cambridge could certainly play a part in launching late night bus service in lieu of late night subway T. We should do more to move a solution like this along; it’s hard to imagine anyone else really taking the lead on this. Lacking late night T service, as many have pointed out, is a significant justice issue not to mention a negative mark on our identity as a cosmopolitan region.

Policy order 2016 #118, regarding installing sidewalks on the missing stretch of Huron Ave. This has been talked about for a while, and was brought to the forefront a little bit during campaign season last year. It’s insane that this even has to be a policy order or require any advocacy effort. Enough said. (Yes, I know there are site-specific issues, but it’s no excuse to not have put forward any real effort or plan anytime over the last many decades).

April 25, 2016 policy items

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