2023 Cambridge City Council Election: Don’t let them rip out our bike lanes!

This page is a publication of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Independent Expenditure PAC

Cambridge’s new quickbuild separated bike lanes reduce bike crashes by 50%, and improve pedestrian safety. Unfortunately, opponents are suing to remove all of them. And now their leaders, including named plaintiffs on the lawsuit, are running for City Council in November’s election, just as 3 key supporters retire. All nine seats on the Council are up for re-election.

Read on to learn how to vote, who to vote for, and more information about the issues. But first, consider signing up to our mailing list so we can keep you updated on the election and volunteer opportunities.

How to vote, and other ways you can help

If you are eligible to vote

  • Vote in person on November 7; find your polling location here. See below for our list of supportive candidates! You can check your voter status here.
    • If your registration is “active”, you don’t need ID. But you may wish to bring it just in case, see below.
    • If it says you are “inactive”, you can still vote, but you will need to bring an ID or another document that has your address on it (see here for more details, including which documents are valid for identification).
  • Make sure your vote doesn’t get wasted: Take advantage of Cambridge’s ranked choice voting, and rank multiple candidates who support bike safety (see below) in the order of your choice. If your first choice fails to get elected, or if they get elected without your vote, your second choice will be used, and so on. As a result, it’s important you rank multiple candidates on your ballot if you want your vote to count. We suggest ranking 5 candidates if you can, but fewer is fine if you can’t.
  • Did you request a mail-in ballot, but haven’t mailed it yet? You have two options to make sure your vote gets counted:

Everyone, regardless of voting eligibility

  • Sign up to our mailing list to get updates, reminders of important dates, and info on how you can volunteer to help us win this election.
  • Donate to help us fund flyers, signs, and mailers to reach as many voters as possible.

Who to vote for: candidates who support building and expanding Cambridge’s separated bike lanes

Strong legislative record, pledged to finish network on time

Burhan Azeem (incumbent)ABC, UAW9A
Marc McGovern (incumbent)ABC
Sumbul Siddiqui (incumbent)ABC, CResA, UAW9A
Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler (councilor 2020-2021)ABC, Boston DSA, CResA, ORC, UAW9A
Dan Totten (long-time aide of retiring councilor Zondervan)Boston DSA, CResA, ORC, UAW9A

New candidates, pledged to finish network on time

Ayah Al-ZubiBoston DSA, CResA, ORC, UAW9A
Doug BrownCCC, CResA
Peter Hsu
Adrienne KleinABC
Frantz PierreABC
Vernon K. WalkerCResA, ORC, UAW9A

Supportive voting record, has not pledged in 2023

Patty Nolan (incumbent)CCC, CResA

Links to referenced endorsing groups:

The Cambridge Bike Safety IEPAC voter guide is focused on candidates’ commitments to installing safer bike infrastructure and identifies candidates that we expect to support this infrastructure based on their voting history and pledge to do so. Candidates have a variety of views on other issues. The CBS IEPAC voter guide lists other endorsements for each of the candidates without taking a position on these groups or other issues.

Who are the candidates who are fighting against safer bike lanes?

Joan Pickett and John Hanratty were named plaintiffs in the lawsuit to remove all new quickbuild lanes. E. Denise Simmons and Paul Toner have fought against safer bike lanes in the council. But these are just a subset of opponents: there are many other candidates who would vote to delay or remove bike lanes if elected. Some are less explicit about it in their messaging, or deliberately obfuscate their position, or don’t have a strong opinion but would likely vote against bike lanes due to their perceptions of their supporter base. Virtually all candidates will claim to support safety for people on bikes, including those who have a years-long public record of trying to stop bike safety projects, so you can’t necessarily rely on candidates’ messaging.

Given the voting mechanism is choosing who to vote for, rather than who to vote against, we’ve published a list of people we have strong reason to believe actually do support safer infrastructure, because of their voting record or because they made a very specific public pledge to support them. If you vote for other candidates we don’t list (even if they claim to support bike lanes in their campaign materials) you may end up voting for someone who is actually against bike lanes.

The Cambridge Bicycle Safety Pledge

Our city councilors play a critical role in supporting the buildout of the protected bike lane network, and so Cambridge Bicycle Safety volunteers meet with candidates to educate them about this issue and ask them to sign the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Pledge. We use the pledge to provide Cambridge residents with a voter guide so they can identify candidates who will support the buildout of a network of protected bicycle lanes as specified in the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

The Cycling Safety Ordinance was passed by the City Council to provide everyone with the opportunity to travel safely and efficiently, regardless of their mode of transportation. Our street designs should minimize risk to all users, especially vulnerable users such as children, older adults, and people with disabilities. This includes people who walk, use mobility devices (such as wheelchairs and walkers), push a stroller, or ride a bicycle. 

The Cambridge Bicycle Safety Pledge is not only a promise to support the Cycling Safety Ordinance, but also a commitment to ensuring an implementation that is fair, equitable, and inclusive with all stakeholders in the community. It is crucial that these projects engage a broad and diverse array of community voices to move this important work forward together. 

The pledge states:

I support rapid implementation of the citywide network of protected bicycle lanes as mandated by the Cycling Safety Ordinance.

I pledge to do everything in my power to ensure the successful implementation of the ordinance, including voting in the City Council, advocating in the public realm, and connecting stakeholders to ensure a positive outcome for all in our community.

I will not vote for any proposal that weakens the ordinance or delays its timelines. Mass Ave is the most important street in Cambridge and needs protected bike lanes as soon as possible. I will not vote for any proposal that delays protected bike lanes on Mass Ave beyond the timeline of the rest of the ordinance. This should be done in a way that supports transit, improves pedestrian safety, protects the tree canopy, and enhances the business environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can a supportive city council help make this process more effective?

A supportive city council can do a lot to implement these projects effectively. Councillors can provide critical insight into project design, engage with constituents, ensure that community meetings are responding well to different stakeholders, and collaborate with city staff. By signing this pledge, councillors are committing to improving safety on our streets in a way that balances the needs of all members of our community.

Does taking this pledge force councillors to adhere to a specific timeline?

The timeline set by the Cycling Safety Ordinance (CSO) is designed to ensure consistent progress is made on building the protected bicycle network. This deadline was a key part of the legislation, as written by councillors who passed it.

Why is the timeline important for these improvements? 

Over the last decade, the city has designed a core network of bike lanes. These address serious safety issues and allow people to travel from one part of the city to another on separated infrastructure. Unfortunately, without a timeline, just a tiny fraction of the network was built in the 5 years after the 2015 Bike Plan was published. So the Ordinance timeline helps keep us on track as a city – because it’s not just about talking safety; it’s about making these important changes. We’ve all seen before how projects can drag on when there’s no clear plan or accountability.

Does this prevent councillors from making changes to the Cycling Safety Ordinance?

The pledge does not forbid changes to the CSO. Changes could be needed for technical or substantive reasons as projects and community needs evolve. The pledge does include a commitment to not weaken the ordinance’s requirements for a connected network of separated bike lanes as outlined in the city’s bike plan, and to maintain the ordinance’s timelines (including built-in extension mechanisms).

How does this balance the needs of people who need to drive, for example because they are older or disabled?

Our infrastructure, transit, and mobility investments should be made equitably to provide opportunities for everyone to move around reliably, regardless of ability or mode of transportation. It will still be possible to drive to all parts of the city and only a small fraction of existing parking city-wide will be reallocated to build these lanes. We seek to ensure that people who can’t drive because of their age or disability or lack of car can access all parts of the city safely via genuinely accessible routes. Investments should also prioritize historically underserved neighborhoods.

For people with disabilities who require cars, the City aims to increase the number of accessible parking spots when installing bike lanes, based on site feedback from the Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

Will these improvements really make more people bike?

A network of separated bike lanes will allow a broader spectrum of people to feel safe and comfortable biking in Cambridge. We have seen from prior projects that access to better quality and safer facilities enables more people to bike and to bike more frequently. The number of people using bikes has grown dramatically throughout the city as the network has expanded, and the CSO is meant to increase that number in line with forward thinking and modern cities. 

How do these projects help pedestrians?

The rollout of the bike lanes by the City is also being used to improve safety for pedestrians, on multiple dimensions:

  1. In every project, the city takes the opportunity to improve pedestrian infrastructure. For example, on Brattle St they added pedestrian refuge islands so pedestrians don’t have to cross the whole street at once. On Hampshire St they have been improving ramps at sidewalks (for accessibility) and in general rebuilt a few street corners, and they changed a number of crosswalk angles so there is more visibility of pedestrians to drivers. And in every project they try to tune any light timings to try to make it safer for everyone. Because these are quickbuild projects, with small budgets and fast implementation, there are limits to what they can do, but they put a lot of focus on pedestrian safety improvements as part of these projects.
  2. In general, narrowing roads by adding bike lanes causes reduced speeding by motor vehicles; wider roads tend to encourage speeding. On Cambridge St, for example, according to a city report “The pre-construction 85th and 95th percentile speeds were 31 mph and 35 mph, respectively. The post-construction … speeds were 25 mph and 28 mph, respectively, suggesting that the bike facilities contributed to a significant reduction in vehicle speed.”

If you go to the websites of any of the projects the city is doing, you will see they discuss safety for all road users as a goal, with a focus on the most vulnerable users: pedestrians and people on bikes. For example, the Hampshire Street project. This is based on the City’s Vision Zero goal of reducing major injuries and deaths of road users, which in practice in Cambridge (given no highways) tends to mean pedestrians and people on bikes.

How do these projects help bus riders?

As part of CSO projects, the City has been including bus priority designs where applicable. This includes dedicated bus lanes and bus signal priority. These improvement have shown incredible reductions in bus travel times and increases in predictability of travel times. For example, North Mass Ave have seen bus riders saving over 4 minutes per trip over just half a mile. Rider experience along Mass Ave will be further improved with a supportive Council completing the Mass Ave partial reconstruction from Harvard to North Mass Ave.

Are the new bike lanes perfect?

No, they’re a compromise—but they’re also much better than previous paint-only designs, as they reduce crashes for people on bikes by 50%. In terms of safety, the best option is adding curb-level bike lanes or other physically constructed bike lanes, which typically requires full street reconstruction as was done in Inman Square or Western Ave. However, doing so is a years-long construction process, which means it’s very disruptive and very expensive. In contrast, the quickbuild lanes Cambridge is building with flexposts are much cheaper and faster to implement, and City staff will typically adjust and tweak them after installation.

When streets with quickbuilds eventually get fully reconstructed, they will get even safer bike lanes and even better designed streets in general. In the interim, the quickbuilds will still reduce crashes and therefore injuries.

Is the pledge anti-democratic?

Knowing what a candidate will do when in office is an important part of democracy. The pledge lets voters know that building the bike network is one of many parts of a candidate’s platform. The pledge provides accountability so that councillors keep the promises they made while campaigning. Without the Cycling Safety Ordinance timeline, minimal progress was made to improve cycling infrastructure in Cambridge. 

Do you ask all candidates to sign the pledge?

We invited all candidates to sign the pledge. We also took into account a public record of statements, votes, or actions opposing the Cycling Safety Ordinance, and other factors. For example some candidates running this year sued the city demanding that the bike lanes be removed. 

What is Cambridge Bicycle Safety and what role did it play in advancing the Cycling Safety Ordinance?

Cambridge Bicycle Safety is a group of local volunteers who are working to make streets safer and more enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities in Cambridge, MA.  Among many other activities towards this goal, we worked to turn the Cycling Safety Ordinance into a law. The CSO was then updated in 2020  to require that Cambridge complete a network of protected bicycle lanes within six years. The City of Cambridge has a web site reporting progress toward meeting these requirements. If you’d like to get involved in our work, sign up here.

What is the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee (CBS IEPAC)?

The CBS IEPAC is the entity that creates and distributes a voter guide for Cambridge city council elections and engages in related activities and expenditures to independently promote candidates who support making our streets safer.