For several election cycles, Cambridge Bicycle Safety has encouraged City Council candidates to sign our pledge to support the buildout of a protected bike network. Since the Cycling Safety Ordinance was passed in 2019, we have asked candidates to commit to the implementation of a safer bike network following a timeline. The pledge is an important tool for voters because it asks candidates to commit to following through if elected, which is democracy in action. The CSO itself has a lot of flexibility built in, which has been demonstrated as its projects have been designed and changed with stakeholder feedback. Lastly, the pledge only addresses one aspect of a candidate’s platform.
In a representative democracy, such as we have in Cambridge, citizens vote for candidates who will carry out their wishes. The Massachusetts Constitution even gives us the right to “give instructions to [our] representatives.” This system assumes the citizens know what candidates will actually do, though. Without a pledge, candidates are free to say they support safe bike infrastructure in theory but, once in office, happen to oppose every project presented to them. The pledge is simply a clear statement of plans, allowing Cambridge citizens who care about the bike network to vote for candidates who will make sure it is built out.
The CSO lays out a timeline for building the protected bike network. It is important to have a timeline so the city plans and budgets for making it actually happen. It does not mandate the exact design or even the means of protection. In fact, the ordinance leaves open some possibilities for swapping the order of projects so long as the yearly mileage is met, and allows the city to opt for reconstruction projects that provide more time to complete individual segments. Each project includes multiple rounds of community meetings and design updates. For instance, in response to community feedback, accessible parking spaces were added to the Massachusetts Avenue project, and Garden Street was converted into a one-way street for car traffic to preserve more parking spaces at the request of neighbors. Often, especially with quick-build projects, there is tweaking after installation to better meet the needs of the community.
The pledge asks candidates only to support the CSO as one part of their platform. Signers of the pledge often have very different views on housing or different priorities, such as education and police reform. Thus, the pledge only guides a small portion of the successful candidate’s actions in office.
Cambridge citizens deserve to know if they are voting for candidates who will commit to expanding our network of safer bike lanes. Cambridge Bicycle Safety’s voter guide lays out who has made this commitment. The pledge does not hem in candidates inflexibly, because the CSO itself is flexible and candidates are pledging only about one aspect of their platforms. Cambridge’s bike network is gaining national attention, and we think every candidate should be proud to prioritize the safety of their constituents.