It was a dark and drizzly night and I was in my car going up and down a block of Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge where a number of restaurants are clustered. I was meeting a friend for dinner so was desperately searching for a place to park. Metered parking spaces — such as they are — have always been somewhat limited in this area. But in addition to that, I was also challenged by changes to the street landscape I’d managed to avoid until then. The parking spaces have always been flush to the curb, but now they’re on the other side of a special lane for bicyclists. And the lane is framed by short white poles I later learned are called flexible post bollards. After circling the block for at least 15 minutes, I finally nabbed a spot when someone else pulled out. These days, parking spaces in Cambridge are more valuable than Bitcoin.
I was lucky that night, not only because there were some metered spaces but because in other neighborhoods, there are no parking spots at all. They’ve been removed as Cambridge implements the Cycling Safety Ordinance, or CSO. The design plan includes creating space for bike lanes and an inbound bus-only lane in a half-mile section of Massachusetts Avenue, which runs from Alewife Brook Parkway on the Arlington town line to near the North Cambridge MBTA bus garage. The CSO was approved in 2019 and amended the next year as construction of bike lanes on four segments of Massachusetts Avenue got underway, with a first deadline at the end of this month.
Cambridge residents have generally supported the expansion of bike lanes across the city. But residents and especially business owners are upset that their need for customer parking seems not to have been fully considered. Cindy Hughes, co-owner of Fast Phil’s Barbershop, is just one of the North Cambridge business owners who say they were “blindsided” by the drastic changes to the streetscape. Hughes told GBH News in January that the barbershop had lost 70 percent of its business, saying, “I’m sick of answering the phone just to say, I don’t know where you can park.”
Recently, I drove near Fast Phil’s to see for myself — there was no, and I mean not one, parking meter. Who thought this was a good idea? Even the Cambridge City Council is rethinking the bike lane rollout, earlier unanimously approving policy orders for more consultation with those North Cambridge business owners. City Councilor Paul Toner also told GBH News that he would be working with city staff to “try to reverse some of the negative issues that have happened.” And at today’s meeting, the Council will consider a postponed decision to delay construction on bike lanes at Porter Square, pushing off a May 1st Cycling Safety Ordinance deadline. Council members agreed to the delay to allow for “meaningful engagement” with all concerned.
To be clear, the business owners have said they are not anti-cyclists or opposed to bike lanes; they just don’t want to be collateral damage in the city’s effort to be more climate-resilient. Certainly, I have seen the benefit of well-thought-out protective bike lanes and bus-only lanes. I just don’t understand what’s so hard about having ongoing conversations with those who have to live with the changes before putting a plan in place.