The 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance: 8 years in the making

A woman bikes on the two-way protected bike lane on Brattle Street
Photo credit: Colin Durrant

In 2020 the City Council passed the Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline, requiring the city to build a network of protected bicycle lanes over the course of 5 to 7 years. The network will make streets safer for people who bike and walk, and help fight climate change by enabling people to switch to more sustainable forms of transportation, including transit.

The 2021 election demonstrated that the Cycling Safety Ordinance continues to have broad public support. In 2019, 70% of #1 votes went to candidates who supported Cambridge Bicycle Safety’s pledge. In the 2021 election, that number grew to 79%, and once again 7 of 9 elected candidates have pledged to support safer streets by ensuring that the Cycling Safety Ordinance is implemented on schedule.

While the Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline was enacted in 2020, it was developed over many years:

  • Starting in 2013, the City of Cambridge began work on what became the 2015 Bicycle Plan. This process included a survey of over 700 residents, street teams collecting feedback with the help of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee (a city committee of residents whose appointments are approved by the City Manager), bicycle counts across the city, and the solicitation of public feedback online and at two public meetings.
  • During the 2017 election, the volunteer group Cambridge Bicycle Safety asked candidates to pledge to implement this planned network of protected bike lanes on a schedule. In 2019, the elected city council members passed the initial Cycling Safety Ordinance. As with any ordinance, this involved multiple meetings, and the ordinance was discussed broadly in local Cambridge media as well as the Boston Globe.
  • In parallel, during 2019 and 2020, city staff updated the 2015 plan to the 2020 Bicycle Plan; this included an open house, a wikimap for public feedback, table discussions at Danehy Park Family Day, PARK(ing) Day, Cambridge River Festival, city bike rides, as well as 11 in-person outreach events at outdoor locations across the city in 2020. The 2020 Bike Plan process also involved in-person interviews. Per city staff, “Deliberate efforts were made to hear from people of color (61% of respondents), seniors (31% age 65 and over), people with disabilities, and people participating in the city’s affordable housing programs.”

This brings us to 2020, and the Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline.

  • Ahead of the 2019 election, Cambridge Bicycle Safety again asked councillors to pledge support for building the network on a timeline, as the 2019 ordinance was helpful but not sufficient. So in 2020, the elected city council passed the Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline with 7 of 9 voting in favor. Again, this involved multiple public meetings, where both supporters and opponents shared their views.
  • Prior to passing the ordinance, the requirements in the initial draft were adjusted extensively based on feedback and expertise from city staff, and adjusted to local conditions on individual streets.

In short, the Cycling Safety Ordinance of 2020 builds on 8 years of work and discussion, two elections before it passed,the recent election that showed continuing support, numerous public meetings and targeted outreach, including interviews and surveys of people from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods, extensive media coverage, and broad and vigorous public debate by both supporters and opponents. The resulting legislation was passed by a city council that was democratically elected by Cambridge residents.

Finally, while the ordinance timeline sets the overall schedule and determines which streets will be included, individual projects are preceded by meetings with local residents and businesses. These meetings allow city staff to gather feedback and create a design that is well-suited to local conditions, while still ensuring that the ordinance’s goal of safer streets are achieved.

We should all look forward to continued implementation of the protected bicycle network over the next few years, and to the safer streets that will result. But we must remember that from the start of the process in 2013, it will have taken 13-15 years until the network is finished. We all still have the opportunity to participate in designing safer, better streets for everyone in the city, but we must not slow down this process even further, as every delay will result in more people getting injured or even dying on our streets.