FAQ on proposed Cycling Safety Ordinance

Update: the final vote for the Cycling Safety Ordinance is scheduled for Monday, April 8! We are so excited to see the progress this has made over the last few months and we’re grateful for the kind words in support so far from the community and the city council. Your support at this meeting and in advance can help ensure the ordinance’s quick passage into law.

What is the proposed Cycling Safety Ordinance?

The Ordinance is a law currently under consideration by City Council that would legally require the City to build permanent protected bicycle lanes whenever a road included in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan’s protected network is reconstructed under the City’s Five-Year Sidewalk & Street Plan. The Ordinance is critical to reaching the City’s Vision Zero goals.

  • Full text of the Ordinance is available through the city website.
  • Benefits of protected bike lanes are detailed on the CBS FAQ page.
  • A map of the 2015 Cambridge Bike Plan, a 20-mile network of protected bike lanes, is available on the city website (see last page of pdf, figure 5.14 on page 94 of Chapter 5 of the Bicycle Plan)


What is an ordinance?

An ordinance is a law—a revision of the municipal legal code enacted by the City Council.

City councillors more commonly vote on policy orders, which are typically requests or recommendations to City staff. When the City Council passes a policy order, the City Manager and City staff are under no legal obligation to follow it.

If the ordinance passes, however, the City Manager and City staff are legally bound to comply with the ordinance.


As the first law written into the Municipal Code on bike safety, does the Ordinance set any other important legal precedents?

Yes. The Ordinance establishes for the first time in the Municipal Code :

  • the Cambridge Bicycle Plan, an important planned network of 20 miles of protected lanes across Cambridge
  • the concept of “connectivity,” meaning all desired routes between major origins and destinations in the city, and that any update to the Cambridge Bike Plan’s protected network must maintain connectivity
  • the specification that permanent protected bicycle lanes shall have year-round vertical barriers.


When a street is included in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan’s protected network, but isn’t scheduled for reconstruction in the City’s Five-Year Sidewalk & Street Plan, does the Ordinance specify when the City will install the protected bike lane?

No. The Ordinance does not apply to streets in the Bicycle Plan’s protected network that are not up for reconstruction. If the Ordinance passes, it is imperative that Cambridge residents organize and advocate for rapid construction of quick-build (that is, non-permanent) protected bicycle lanes on important streets not scheduled for reconstruction.


Does the Ordinance cite any exceptions that would exempt City staff from their legal obligation to install a protected bike lane on a street scheduled for reconstruction?

Yes. If a protected lane is not possible in a particular project, the City must provide a written analysis of why and how connectivity can otherwise be achieved. The Ordinance states the exemptions should be limited to “rare circumstances” based on physical features or usage of the street or due to financial constraints. City staff developed the Cambridge Bike Plan, so it follows the City should be able to follow the requirements of its own design.


I don’t bike. Does the Ordinance affect me?

Yes. The Ordinance will protect your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers when they are biking on streets where the City has been required to install protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes prevent 40% of crashes by rendering those crashes physically impossible.

Protected bicycle lanes also make streets safe for pedestrians. Streets with protected bike lanes are typically narrower, which forces people to drive more slowly. People who drive are more likely to drive at the City’s new reduced speed limits. On Cambridge Street, the quick-build protected bike lanes have reduced the 85th percentile speed from 31 mph down to 25 mph [pdf], resulting in a significant decrease in risk of injury or death from crashes. A person is 9 times more likely to die if hit by a car traveling at 40 mph compared to 20 mph.

The Ordinance also stipulates that new bicycle lanes cannot interfere with accessible parking, crosswalks, public transportation, curb cuts, or intersections.


If the Ordinance is passed, what next?

Again, CBS will need to mobilize dozens of volunteers to participate in resident engagement, business outreach, and public meetings in their neighborhoods to push City staff to install 4 miles of the protected bike lane network each year to complete the 20-mile network in 5 years.