City Council Ordinance Committee meeting public comments, October 3, 2017

I’m speaking as a member and cofounder of the Friends of the Grand Junction Path, in general acknowledgement and support of MIT’s commitment to working with the city, and this generous commitment to fund the design and construction of parts of the Grand Junction Path.

I would urge us to change the focus of the metric away from the simple monetary contribution and, even staying within the same agreed upon budget, instead hold both MIT and the City responsible for committing to specific geographic aims for path construction within a specific timeframe.

A couple of reasons for this. First, I think we want more than a least-resistance level of participation from MIT. It’s a real opportunity to include the wide array of talent and perspective from within the Institute, to make the Grand Junction Path something ultimately more innovative in design and approach – also, to increase the level of ownership and sense of place, with regard to the uniqueness of this corridor as relates to MIT and its students, faculty, and community. Second, to make this a more collaborative project and vision beyond the landownership in question, and keep and include MIT at the table for the completion north to Somerville and joining the Somerville Community Path, and south to the Charles River Paths on the Boston side.

Further, I would request the convening of a focused transit study group including the City, MIT, and the MBTA, and perhaps a spin-off of the Allston Task Force, specifically to identify the most feasible way to begin light rail service in the short-term between West Station, Kendall Square, and North Station, as well as eventually beyond to Somerville, Chelsea, and the Airport, all via the Grand Junction railroad.

These are important results that should come out of the Volpe rezoning process, and it goes without saying the benefits that the utilization of the Grand Junction brings to MIT, Kendall Square, and the City of Cambridge, as well as regional connectivity, and, moreover, the necessity of utilization of the corridor – for walking, biking, and transit – in order to make the intensity of development in Allston and Cambridge, and points beyond throughout the urban core, to make these places even functional as we add thousands of jobs, residents, and daily trips in a concentrated way – and with little to no other means of conveyance between and among them really identifiable – not to mention enjoyable, communal, and thriving.

Now to speak a little to overall site plan and design, a few suggestions on context (and some of this goes off of Councilor Kelly’s comment about MIT not necessarily just doing what any developer could do): 1, the historic Broad Canal (which brings to mind questions of water/climate change resilience infrastructurally, and, perhaps, ecology), 2, the presence and prominence of biotech specifically along Binney Street and perhaps consistency with that when arranging the site, 3, Third Square (which may not have been ideally designed from the beginning, but we might deal with some sense of the relation of that element more than just treating it as a black hole on the map), 4, the sense of this being a unique, large, contiguous parcel, and being continually mindful of not just integrating with the grid so to speak, but what can be done monumentally (interesting and even iconic architecture) and the seemingly somewhat diminished concept of a grand-scale open space, 5, the very particular history of this site for the last four or five decades as a place for transportation research – and so transportation planning in and around the site ought to be innovative and a hallmark rather than simply meeting parking requirements and making vague bus route shifts, and 6, being acutely mindful about reflecting the soul of MIT itself, which among its peers is quite distinctly global, and maintains, through careful effort and allegiance to values, a notable and pronounced socioeconomic diversity.

More at facebook.com/grandjunctionpath

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City Council Ordinance Committee meeting public comments, October 3, 2017

October 17, 2016’s many policy orders regarding bicycling in Cambridge

Regarding tonight’s many bicycling-related policy orders, and this moment where we might finally tip toward public way design paradigm shift:

POR 2016 #263 (general “what can be done?”) and POR #269 (Vision Zero working group). Yes, good long-term stuff. Although, to the former, refer to the extensive decades old design standard literature that proliferates around the world (we don’t need to reinvent the wheel). Our staff knows what to do, and we have enormous design talent and innovative thinking within our borders; let’s aggressively enlist it.

POR 2016 #264 (pilot flex-post/protection areas on Mass. Ave., Hampshire, Cambridge). The first pilots should roll out by next week, and it can be modest to start with and build from there. No reason to wait, we can find a few places right now.

POR 2016 #265 (Pearl Street). We really missed the mark on Pearl Street and it’s too late for the most part. I would love to see a “what could have been” design from the city who failed to even produce a basic complete streets concept or design. I have talked about Pearl extensively and I hope that the sad failure there contributes to inspiring more city council candidates like it contributed to my own political foray. I didn’t think we had to “win” the design process and get it exactly our way, but the city failed to even produce an option with a separated bike lane, real bus stops, or ecological features with any vigor (the PO should be amended to reference this fact: that the city didn’t present a basic world-standard complete streets option, but ruled out real complete streets before the process began).

POR 2016 #266 (Mass. Ave. reconstruction standards) Yes, and all streets. Some of us thought this was already city policy. If it is, city practice isn’t even close (not in execution or design, or even in concept).

POR 2016 #267 (specific roll out of a protected lane on Mass. Ave. between Cedar Street and Harvard Square) Yes. Also, Mount Auburn Street between somewhere close to Harvard Square & Putnam Square; Broadway in Area IV; somewhere on First Street; somewhere on Oxford; could think of many places…

POR 2016 #268 (Huron). Absolutely, just like Pearl Street, here’s a classic left-holding-the-bucket failure. What happened? Anyway, let’s fix it. Also, please include bus stop consideration; standing next to a marker on a benchless and shelterless sidewalk by a pull-off zone for 70 minutes isn’t transit priority.

At this point, it all can’t end in a capitulation to push things off onto a working group, come back with findings in months or years, and too heavily emphasize “education and enforcement.” (Design is 95%+ of the issue.) The Cambridge Bicycle Committee has been that working group for a long time and released a plan which city council adopted and instantly ignored. For instance.

It has to be ‘pop-up’ protected bicycle lanes, right away. It has to be vigorous, all-hands-on-deck redesign of our streets to maximize biking and transit safety and convenience — particularly streets and areas that are up for reconstruction.

The stakes are not just our willing choice to accept a violent death by someone riding the simple, beautiful instrument that is a bicycle, every few months or even more frequently. The stakes are also our soul — the essence and quality of the city we give to subsequent generations — and the stakes are the example we give to the world: what Cambridge can do, rapidly, in a visionary way, innovative, harnessing the enormous energy and design talent that lives within our borders (people who are likelier than anywhere else in the world to win Nobels and Pritzkers and radically change the world over the coming decades are walking our streets right now as freshmen and grad students, and we are foolishly wasting their talent by not bringing them in to tackle the problem of our public way and public spaces being stuck and failed).

Moreover, our stakes are the world itself. The livability of the world, in both a human-spiritual sense (what we choose to live among, how we choose to design and experience our Place), and in the face of climate change, doing everything we can (and we have to do a lot, more than almost anyone else in the world, given the privilege of our circumstances and resources and unique ability to drive change in Cambridge), to combat the ruin and desertification of the world. It’s all interconnected and codependent and linear: consumption, extinction, barren oceans, suburban sprawl, atmospheric depletion, human health, automobile-oriented planning.

We aren’t even living up to the most basic standards that are rolling out all over the country and world, let alone being that experimental beacon that Cambridge ought to be — that Cambridge must be.

Please, see past the political locks and dams and dare to build something (boldly, rapidly) that is truly for the ages. Even, see past this moment of crisis and the begging to prevent death — of course, a worthy policy endeavor— because this is moreover a question of what is the city, what is civilization, what is our time on earth, where can our children go safely and easily and by what means, how do we do something so transformational that we inspire cities and towns across the Commonwealth and across the nation? — because anything short of that is consciously contributing to the world desertification crisis, the coma of mankind in a concrete world stuck inside cars on highways and paving over and missing out on the web of life and Creation around them. If we don’t do better, then we are derelict, and active participants in doing worse: watching the world careen into the final extinction crisis as the earth evaporates into a barren Mars, for wont of what, exactly?

I happen to agree that intersection improvement is the real priority; while there are many areas where I think there are low-hanging opportunities for rapidly implemented protected straight-lanes, intersections are the most dangerous and most prohibitive. Obviously intersections are the most complicated, and we may have to (at least in the interim) accept things like 30-60 additional seconds of “traffic delay” for automobile movements in order to accommodate safer bicycle movements. Again, obviously, it’s complicated, and of course that’s what we will hear from the staff and the state and consultants in the future, but the complexity is not a reason not to implement a shared (safety) goal.*

Protected lanes, though, as difficult and politically fraught as they might seem, are the easy stuff. Yes, the more we have, the more we demonstrably cause natural mode shift— more people choosing to bicycle as default, normalized means of simple travel. However, the real danger and the prohibitive obstacle preventing another massive chunk of people shifting to bicycling are the intersections and the ability to make desired turning motions in a low-stress manner. Porter Square and Inman Square obviously. But also little ones here and there. We should dare to hold to (even minimum) design standards for all intersections, every time we redo them, and in the meantime, enact policy orders like those on the table today that try to safety-up some of them more quickly.

Of course, the transit discussion can’t be sidelined and should be had at the same time and in complementary terms. Pearl Street, again, is a fine example of where we drop the ball in prioritizing transit use. Signs on sidewalks are not bus stops, at least if the bus is something we want people to use and not be a punishment. Waiting for the bus on Pearl Street (and virtually all other streets in Cambridge) is a punishment. Transit is a punishment, a dive into a filthy, uncomfortable, and unreliable misery pit. It doesn’t have to be this way. And it’s a poor, sad excuse to throw our hands up and say “MBTA.” We can’t do everything, sure, but we can do vastly more than we do now. We have full power over most design aspects as concerns transit movement and waiting areas and accessibility and wayfinding in our public way, and we too often fail to even try to design for transit priority (not just traffic signals, but real bulbed-out bus stops with comfortable accommodations that take buses out of the ditch and place them at the center of how we get around — an easy, happy choice) when we ought to be designing the best, most innovative infrastructure for transit. Instead, we celebrate meeting poor minimum standards at least most of the time.

And that then gets to the crux of it all, with again Pearl Street and Huron Ave as prime examples of how Cambridge has actively decided to regress in street design: we never even considered robust options to begin with, because the city chose not to even design, let alone conceptualize, them. We were never presented with the simple protected bike lane + real bus stop (+ complete streets water retention rain gardens, but I dream) options on Pearl & Huron & others. It was never on the table, never even a consideration. The city chose before the processes began that it was a bridge too far even for simple conceptual pondering. This is several steps behind where we should be. The city should be planning complete streets by default, and walking back from the most robust design treatment only in the face of overwhelming engineering obstacles.

It hasn’t been engineering obstacles. It has been, frankly, murmurs about parking from a small group and it has been a subtle vitriol about “cyclists” whoever those are, from an even smaller group. And then there are 10 or 15 people who prefer vehicular cycling and don’t care about closing off simple-choice-bicycling for the other 98%.

The overall design standards failure is already coming to represent a political flop, as the policy makers of Cambridge are simply wrong about where people are on this issue. It also represents, obviously, a failure of leadership — not of our leaders per se— but by our lack of collective will to bite the bullet a little harder and see through to the beautiful public way we can have, and moreover the urgency with which we need to get there.

It’s a choice, it’s a choice, it’s a choice. It’s not engineering. It’s not that we don’t know what design standards work. It’s not that we don’t have the money (and, if we had been doing it correctly/negotiating with developers etc., the cost would be marginal for the most part).

John

*Another quick anecdote is the Green Line Extension, where I thoroughly believe we could have created zoning packages and density bonuses and in turn gotten developers to build stations at least 3 times better than what we now are getting, while keeping a billion or two out of the publicly-funded slush fund. Sure, the zoning would have been complicated and taken a lot of effort, but would it not have been worth the multiple times better transit service and saving enormous cost while getting excellent transit-oriented development? Bike lanes (including street reconstructions adjacent to developments, another area where we have completely dropped the ball) are 100x easier, and we still aren’t even trying in the first place. I.e., this is the failure to do better because of the difficult excuse, when this is the very reason we have city government, not to mention an enormous budget.

October 17, 2016’s many policy orders regarding bicycling in Cambridge

Light rail for Cambridge

A modest proposal for the next phase of transit expansion in and around Cambridge…

(scroll down for interactive map)

  • Streetcar light rail lines
    • Major corridors, largely replacing major bus lines, and feeding T stations
    • Frequent stops
    • Supplants inbound vehicle trips from the western towns to/through Cambridge, while providing hyper-local light transit
  • Grand Junction light rail loop
    • One-seat routes from West Station to North Station, and West Station to the Airport
    • Stops in Cambridgeport, Kendall Square, Sullivan Square, Assembly Square, Everett, and Chelsea
  • Red Line Extension to Arlington/Lexington
    • Route 2 median branch/supplemental commuter line?
    • Reduces demand for vehicle travel on Mass. Ave./western Parkways

The light rail lines could have very frequent stops and service, and be in-street.

The Red Line extension, Orange Line extension, and restoration of the Green Line “A” Line would of course be major undertakings. For the Red Line, using the Route 2 corridor seems slightly easier, though it’s questionable whether it would have a significant level of service without being some kind of new development corridor. The commuter rail-style alternative (or something else) for that corridor would recognize the lower level of service while still providing service to the residents and businesses there, and into Alewife – with the idea of reducing SOV use on Route 2.

The Red Line extension proper (Arlington-Lexington) would be a state-level project serving multiple municipalities. It has been talked about for decades, and was initially intended to be part of the Red Line extension from Harvard northward, but was met with fervent opposition at the time in Arlington. Surely, Arlington of today would be of the opposite attitude…?

While this is largely limited to lines that would run through or terminate in Cambridge, almost any town you go to in any direction, streetcar lines would bring a lot of social and economic value, and in many cases, could go where streetcars historically went.

This would be a rather radical revisioning of all these corridors. The idea is that it could be a mix of dedicated corridor and Euro-style (or, more aptly, Green Line E-line style) with cars and trains mixing — tracks in the street. Either way, a significant replacement of driving and parking space would be necessary.

Streetcars historically served American towns large and small. Much is different, but I don’t think I’m trying to reinvent any wheels.

I’m not an engineer and of course there are many unstated details and obstacles, better route alternatives, the necessity of priorities, etc. — however, I believe we should be working backwards from an extensive, interconnected, complete transit network.

We should be thinking big and ending up somewhere in between here and there.

Light rail for Cambridge

Opening of the first phase of the Grand Junction Path

gjp

On June 9, 2016, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the first phase of the Grand Junction Path, including a pocket park at the corner of Main Street & Galileo Way.

Grand Junction first section context

The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority led and executed the project, along with the Department of Public Works and significant support from CDD (planning and coordination) and MIT ($$$).

This is a major step toward building momentum for the overall Grand Junction Path, which will ultimately link with the Charles River Paths, the future multiuse path in Allston, and the future extension of the Somerville Community Path.

Grand Junction Path, zoomed map, intersections

As Cambridge City Manager Rich Rossi pointed out at the ribbon-cutting, the Grand Junction Path is always an uncontroversial 9-0 proposition at City Council with support throughout the community. As I pointed out, it still took 15 years to get this one small section built, with some planning progress made on the rest, but a long way to go. Since most of the path will be on property owned by either MassDOT or MIT, continuous engagement must take place with those entities. Agreements with developers to construct abutting path sections should be made, and the $10M request from the City Manager toward designing and construction the path north of Binney Street must be followed through proactively.

The Main Street to Broadway section now serves as a “demonstration piece” of what we could have along the entire Grand Junction corridor, and furthers the demand for making this critical walk/bike link between Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Urban pathways are central to shifting the mobility paradigm away from cars, complementing transit, and reshaping one’s everyday interaction with the urban environment. The Grand Junction Path is a unique opportunity that’s been studied in depth since 2001, gains universal support, and has momentum, yet it’s taken this long to do the smallest, easiest section. As I said in my remarks at the ribbon-cutting, it’s all about showing up: we have to keep showing up.

Friends of the Grand Junction Path on facebook

Opening of the first phase of the Grand Junction Path

Woman on bicycle struck at Mass. Ave. and Sidney St.

Another “just a matter of time” one, sadly.

The whole intersection is bad (you kind of just get used to it) but this particular corner always feels extra bad: 1. the approaching bike lane is a narrow, raggedy gutter, 2. you’re about to cross paths with the #1 bus which has to diagonally cut the bike lane – or with cars that continue straight-ish into the bike lane before realizing the lane shifts diagonally left, and 3. right-turning vehicles (including large trucks!) can be awfully eager. This is an intersection I have spent tons of time in and around over the years. 

Mass Ave Sidney Street

Also hearing this was a female on the bicycle, which makes it worse.

Her injuries are reportedly non-life threatening—which says nothing about the urgency and swiftness that we need to fix all bicycle infrastructure and intersections in Cambridge. Frankly, given the circumstances of the crash – a right hook by a semi – and the condition of the bicycle – bad – this could have easily been a fatality. After seeing the photos, it was surprising to hear it wasn’t.

Even in Cambridge, outside of a handful of spots, protected lanes and intersections are still far out of reach. Even at intersections like Mass Ave. & Sidney St., where there tends be a stream of bicycles passing through at all times of day and night and all seasons.

Even if we do get some kind of rapid, temporary protection at this corner or throughout this intersection, what does that say? That, at this pace (ref: Mass. Ave. southbound at Beacon St. in Boston), only a few more thousand of us have to get run over and mangled before we get a very basic 21st-century bicycle network?

Mass Sidney improvements

The SE side of this intersection particularly lends itself to floating bus stops with protected bike lanes against the curbs. All four right-turns could be protected in some way with some kind of rapid implementation (bollards). A longer-term solution might include good bicycle queueing areas and bicycle signal phasing. It’s a tough intersection but it’s nowhere close to good enough right now. It’s better than some in that it’s mildly predictable, but it’s not luring any would-be bicycle users onto the roads, that’s for sure. It’s a mess for buses and the crossings aren’t nearly as good as they could be. There’s certainly the real estate to ensure turn radii for the fire trucks coming out of the Lafayette house, and large trucks accessing the Main Street and Sidney Street corridors, while creating protected bicycle infrastructure and good bus infrastructure.

Now: we need temporary, rapid protection and calming implemented here and at all of our most-dangerous intersections.

Going forward: we need an aggressive Complete Streets/Vision Zero design focus for all streets and intersections, particularly those up for reconstruction.

What were we waiting for? What are we waiting for?

Woman on bicycle struck at Mass. Ave. and Sidney St.

May 9, 2016 policy items

City Manager’s Agenda item 2016 #114, transmitting the Planning Board’s recommendation to adopt the Stern petition. This (1) concerns a small number of parcels with one owner, and (2) results directly from a few neighbors’ objection to a specific redevelopment proposal. Supposedly, this is not how zoning is supposed to be done.

Supporting petitions like this, which rely on nonsensical anecdotal arguments (“there is a crappy business across the wide, highway-like road that I never see anyone go to, so all retail should be forbidden…and we should build residential low and sparse because that’s what the side streets look like”), stands in stark contrast to massive upzoning and urban design requirements in other parts of the city.

Look, I’m someone who values context highly. I served on the Avon Hill NCD Commission, and have spoken many times in various forums in favor of neighborhood conservation/preservation, proper architectural context, etc. — the point is, the context here actually calls for dense, multi-story, mixed-use development.

This is a site on Mass. Ave. with 15-minute walks to both Davis & Alewife stations. If not mixed-use density here, then where?

Passing this zoning calls into question the seriousness with which the citizenry should take the city’s commitment to housing, let alone good urbanism generally.

I’m sure the neighbors are fine people and may even have their hearts in the right place. However, the Planning Board’s recommendation is a weak capitulation, and virtually derelict. The recommendation letter is a rubber stamp with no thought or counterpoints.

The City Council should not adopt this zoning petition. This is not only bad urban planning in the context of this site and corridor, but a troubling precedent on several levels.

City Manager’s Agenda item 2016 #119, regarding the Green Line Extension. This could have all been done better from the beginning, and the blame lies with the state. Obviously, the GLX is a total disaster and a skeleton project is now being desperately pieced together. In my opinion, even the original ($2B, real stations, community path) wasn’t enough — well, the $2B was more than enough, but the service should have extended to at least Route 16, and the stations and facilities could have been even more elaborate. And lest we forget, the community path extension was barely included at the last minute and was spartan to begin with for much of its run. Now, we’re left with significantly less, paying more, and Cambridge and Somerville are looking to put up money. I don’t think it ends here. There is no enthusiasm for the project whatsoever at the state administrative level, who are likely weighing whether there is more, or at least equal, political gain to be had from canceling the project outright. Management and long-term planning at the MBTA is doing ??? and oh yeah, this was all supposed to be done 10 years ago.

As I’ve said before, a creative approach with station building should have been taken. All of the stations could have all been built privately by coming up with zoning packages and air rights/land swap deals with developers, leaving the MBTA to do tracks/signals/trains/path. I’m puzzled as to why this wasn’t even really explored. This could have been an early collaboration among municipalities, the MBTA, and developers, and led to faster completion, significant cost savings to the public, and even better transit-oriented development.

Policy order resolution 2016 #129, regarding 25 & 20 mph speed limits. I’m all for it, “20 is plenty” after all, but our focus should be on designing streets to calm traffic, not relying on signs and the vague and ineffective “enforcement” to make streets safer, calmer, and more pleasant. We can get to a default 20mph (or less), by focusing on good design with speed reduction as a side effect.

Policy order resolution 2016 #132, regarding bus stop access. Here’s another point where enforcement and signage will always fail where design offers a simple solution and numerous compounded benefits. Look no further than our new Western Ave. to find the real solution to bus stop access/accessibility: bus bulbs/platforms. Bus stop curbside pullover zones are wasted space, routinely abused, and have significant accessibility problems. We should commit to building bus bulbs/platforms around the city, which will create waiting areas with benches in the place of empty pullover zones, meet high accessibility standards, and open up room on sidewalks. Fully-built bus stops contribute to our urban landscape while re-prioritizing transit.

This is one of my favorite ways to (more or less cheaply) improve transit infrastructure and urban place, and doesn’t really take much planning or effort. Apart from the protected bike lane, the other great loss that came with the Pearl Street failure was an opportunity to build these platform-style bus stops.

Regarding the new City Manager search, I have a choice in my head, and maybe I’ll reveal it at some point. Hint: this person already works for the city. If I had been elected, I would be their advocate and champion (if they wanted the job…if they didn’t, I’d do my best to convince them).

Committee Report 2016 #17, regarding things fastened to street trees. I’m all for the aggressive removal and confiscation of any items fastened to, or which otherwise damage, street trees/plantings.

May 9, 2016 policy items

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