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Bike Lane Delay in Porter Square Stirs Conflict in City Council Meeting

Cambridge City Council approved two communications sent by City Manager Louis A. DePasquale at Monday's meeting.
Cambridge City Council approved two communications sent by City Manager Louis A. DePasquale at Monday's meeting. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writer

A delay in the construction of bicycle lanes in the Porter Square neighborhood of Cambridge stirred disagreement among residents in a Cambridge City Council meeting Monday evening.

During the meeting, the Council approved two communications sent by City Manager Louis A. DePasquale. One proposed an appropriation of more than $700,000 for studies and planning related to the Cycling Safety Ordinance, a law requiring the installation of 25 miles of separated bike lanes in Cambridge. The second informed the Council that the city will fail to meet the CSO’s upcoming construction deadline.

Under the Cycling Safety Ordinance, the city must construct “quick-build” separated bike lanes on the segment of Massachusetts Avenue that runs through Porter Square by May 1, 2022.

In his second letter, DePasquale said the city needs more time to engage “local stakeholders” before moving along with the project.

“We do not expect to be able to complete the level of meaningful engagement we have committed to while still meeting the original deadline,” the letter reads.

Over the course of the nearly 90-minute public comment period, many Cambridge residents voiced their disappointment with the delay.

Alexander K. Epstein, who lives in the Porter Square area, spoke about the death of Bernard “Joe” Lavins, a 60-year-old Lexington resident who was fatally hit by a tractor-trailer in Porter Square while biking.

“I biked with my older son through the intersection about five minutes before Joe Lavins was killed back in 2016,” said Epstein. “That has stuck with me. I think this is a case where safety delayed is safety denied.”

Many residents embraced the delay and argued that the implementation of the CSO has been rushed without sufficient time to understand its economic impacts. They voiced concerns that removing street parking could harm area businesses.

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that “the pressures placed on Porter Square are enormous and worthy of pause.”

“We are having this discussion because of the loss of parking for residents and businesses,” Jillson added. “This problem can be solved with strong leadership, thoughtful planning, good design, and a little more time.”

In the meeting, Councilor Burhan Azeem shared his own experience witnessing a collision between a cyclist and a vehicle in Porter Square and warned that excessive delay could allow for further accidents.

“I support this delay because I understand it needs to be done. But also, I imagine how difficult and different this conversation is going to be if we have an accident this summer in Porter Square and, God forbid, someone dies,” he said. “We'll look at this moment very differently.”

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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City PoliticsCambridge City CouncilCambridge