Why protected lanes?

Protected lanes would prevent 40% of crashes in Cambridge

In Cambridge, nearly 40% of reported bicycle-motor vehicle crashes occur away from intersections – these include doorings, sideswipe crashes, rear end crashes, and head on crashes. These crashes that do not occur at intersections are made either physically impossible or much less likely by the design of protected bike lanes. A bicyclist riding separated from moving cars by a row of parked cars or another physical barrier simply cannot be sideswiped or run over by a moving car, or is at least substantially less likely to be run over, as long as the barrier is in the way.

Regarding doorings, the second most common type of crash reported in Cambridge, the protected bike lane design used in Cambridge that includes a buffer between parked cars and protected bike lane also makes doorings much less likely, since car doors will be opened into the buffer, not the bike lane. Moreover, even if a dooring occurs, the cyclist will be thrown into only the bike lane or sidewalk, not into moving traffic. For example, Amanda Phillips’ death, in which she was doored, thrown into traffic, and run over by a truck, would not have happened if she had been in a protected bike lane, because even if she had been doored, she would not have been thrown under the truck.

Regarding right hooks, the increased distance from cars moves the cyclist out of the car’s blind spot, while also giving everyone more time to react before a crash happens. See the diagram below from the MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Guide.



Protection is necessary for many people who want to ride

A study identified four different types of riders, including one type for people who would never ride. The majority (56%) of riders were in the “Interested but Concerned” group, showing that many people wanted to ride but felt unsafe in the current conditions. A similar survey of 50 metropolitan areas found a similar breakdown.

A survey conducted in Cambridge in 2014 found that the majority of concerned cyclists who only bike some places or were scared to bike in the city are comfortable in a protected bike lane or raised cycle track, but not conventional lanes.

160 crashes happen every year, and even more go unreported

Based on the Cambridge Police Department’s data analysis from 2000-2015, the average crash rate is 160 crashes per year. This means a crash is happening involving a person riding a bicycle and a car almost every other day. An average of 45 people (28%) were injured severely enough to require EMS transport.

Not only are there crashes that are not reported to the police, but also there are plenty of close calls. To show what sort of toll that takes on everyone involved– the person riding, their friends and loved ones, and the person driving– we collected stories from regular people, people coming home from dinner or trying to go to work, school or errands, as a part of the Scary Moments Project.

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What was the public process behind the Cycling Safety Ordinance?

The Cycling Safety Ordinance was first passed by the elected City Council in April 2019, and then amended in October 2020 to define a timeline for completion. Both processes involved multiple public meetings and votes, and were covered in local media, and in the case of the first ordinance, its passage was covered in national media as well. The first ordinance also inspired ordinances in other cities like DC and Seattle (the latter literally copy/pasted some of the Cambridge ordinance language). Both ordinances were written in part based on significant feedback from city staff to ensure realistic timelines and general feasibility. There were two elections, in 2017 and 2019, in which a super-majority of elected city councilors explicitly supported these plans and timelines.

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What does the Cycling Safety Ordinance say about accessible parking?

The ordinance specifically made sure to exempt accessible parking spots from the requirement for protected bicycle lanes, so that the needs of people with disabilities could be met. Here is the exact language:

“… the bicycle lane need not be separated from motor vehicle traffic by a permanent vertical barrier for short stretches to accommodate crosswalks, curb cuts, accessible parking and accessible loading, intersections, and Public Transportation.”

For the full text see:

In the Mid-Mass Ave project, for example, the new bike lanes preserve curbside handicap parking spaces next to the Cambridge Senior Center.

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How does this ordinance help Cambridge achieve its Vision Zero goal to eliminate serious injuries and deaths on our streets?

Protected bike lanes save lives by preventing almost 40% of crashes including doorings, side-swipes, and front and rear end collisions.

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How does this ordinance help Cambridge achieve its mode-shift goals?

Cambridge is on track to miss its goal of reducing car ownership by 15% from 1990 levels. This ordinance can help reduce car use in Cambridge by making it safer and more comfortable for people to bike and use other forms of micromobility. One reason the Cambridge Bicycle Plan was created was to support “interested but concerned” people, who would be willing to bike but who are concerned about their safety while doing so. Protected bike lanes provide a low-stress facility for people of all ages and abilities that can make bike commuting a better option for more people.

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How does this ordinance help Cambridge in its fight against climate change?

The Cambridge Climate Action Plan recommends improving bike facilities as a step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Won’t the network get built eventually? Why do we need to go faster?

Biking in Cambridge is popular and getting more popular, with the second highest rate of bike commuting on the east coast (second to Somerville). But it is largely confident people who are biking, and who tolerate the risk and danger of our streets. We want all ages and comfort levels to see biking as a viable option, where they and their loved ones feel safe biking to school, to work, to shop at local businesses, and generally to go wherever they need to.

In the 2020 Community Needs Survey, 53% of Cambridge residents who did not bike within the last year, and 85% of residents who biked at least once, said they wanted to bike more in Cambridge. The most common reason people cite as a barrier to biking is safety: 89% of those who do not bike said they do not feel safe riding on Cambridge streets. Specifically, 87% felt unsafe around motor vehicles, and 48% cited poor connections to their intended destinations.

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Will accelerating the creation of protected bike lanes cost a lot of money?

No. Quick-build protected bike lanes can be built very cheaply. The protected bike lane on Mass Ave from the Charles River to Sidney St, about a half mile long, cost only 0.05% of the City’s budget for that year, or $300 thousand out of $678 million

A network of protected bike lanes is a great investment for a city. For only the cost of some planning, public process, and some paint and flexposts, Cambridge can tackle many of its transportation goals all at once.

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Is it feasible for City staff to build the network in six years?

Yes. We have worked with City staff to ensure that the requirements in the ordinance are achievable. Most new protected bike lanes will be quick-build, and these can usually be implemented in a matter of weeks.

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Will there still be public outreach for new protected bike lanes?

Yes. City staff will conduct public outreach as appropriate as new protected bike lanes are proposed.

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What about COVID-19? Does this ordinance account for it?

Yes. If COVID-19 causes financial shortfalls for the City that make it impossible to meet the ordinance’s deadlines, the City Manager has until July 1, 2022 to change any deadline in it so long as they get the approval of the City Council. 

There is no doubt, however, that COVID-19 makes this ordinance more important than ever. The lack of safe pedestrian, cycling, and transit options has exacerbated the current public health emergency, as well as the economic crunch that Cambridge local businesses are currently facing. Nearly 30% of Cambridge households are without a car, and now have difficulty getting to their local businesses while ensuring appropriate physical distance from others. This ordinance will help address this problem.

Finally, we have seen how living in proximity to air pollution increases the risk of dying from COVID-19. Air pollution is often higher in communities of color, and a report from Attorney General Maura Healey describes how air pollution has contributed to COVID-19’s horrible burden on these communities. Reducing the number of motor vehicles on our streets is critical to addressing health issues caused by air pollution.

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How do Cambridge residents and voters feel about protected bike lanes?

We’ve collected thousands of signatures from the public in support of this ordinance.

Of the 21,239 #1 votes cast in the November 2019 election, 14,923 were cast for candidates who signed our pledge to do everything in their power for rapid implementation of a network of protected bike lanes. That’s over 70% of #1 votes.

In the City’s 2018 bi-annual resident survey, the survey directly asked residents for the first time if they agreed with the statement: “I would like to see the City install more protected bike lanes in Cambridge”. Of those who expressed agreement or disagreement, 71% of online respondents and 70% of telephone respondents agreed.

This is consistent with polling from MassINC which showed that residents are interested in expanding street uses for people:

“Most popular was setting aside more space for outdoor seating (83% support) and dining (79%), which many cities and towns did to help local businesses and encourage outdoor recreation during the pandemic. Close behind were two policies aimed at bicycling: creating bike lanes separated from cars (75%) and adding more parking for bikes (72%).”

Full MassInc Survey

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What about the impact on businesses?

Most of the studies on installation of protected bicycle lanes have found no negative impact at all on businesses, or even a positive impact.

The Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD) regularly conducts street intercept surveys in the business districts. These studies ‘intercept’ a customer who is about to enter a business, and asks how they traveled to the square and what changes would make it more appealing for them to shop in each square. Consistently, fewer than a third of customers travel to business districts by car (driving alone, carpooling, or via rideshare/taxi). The majority arrive by foot, bike, or transit. We wrote about the numerous studies looking at the economic impact of bike lanes which have shown that at worst, bike lanes have a neutral effect on businesses, and often have a very positive effect compared to neighboring streets without bike lanes.

Dozens upon dozens of Cambridge business–from small restaurant establishments to large employers like Google and Microsoft–have signed a pledge voicing their support for the construction of a complete network of protected bike lanes as an urgent priority. To see the complete list of businesses, click this link. As one local employer put it: “I don’t want my children, my employees, or my neighbors to be involved in accidents.”

In order to address the needs of businesses and other stakeholders, building protected bicycle lanes will follow the City’s normal process, with public meetings gathering feedback to help the City improve their designs.

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Do people bike in the winter or during bad weather?

With proper road maintenance,  i.e. plowing/salting, the same type of road maintenance drivers expect, people can and do bike year round, in all weather conditions. While there is certainly a strong seasonal pattern, the Broadway bike counter still shows thousands of bicyclists passing through even in the coldest months; pre-pandemic there were 12-13,000 riding in each direction every month in both January and February 2020. This particular counter is heavily tied to commuter traffic to Kendall Square, which is why it declined later in 2020 with COVID-19 shutdowns.

Overall, bicycle traffic in Cambridge has been growing 8% a year, and many, albeit not all, of those riders do choose to ride in a wide range of weather conditions.

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How do bike lanes impact pedestrians?

Protected bicycle lanes make roads safer for pedestrians, since they cause people in cars to drive more slowly. For example, on Cambridge St. the installation of protected bike lanes reduced the 85th percentile speed from 31mph to 25mph. This reduces the chances of severe injuries by 40%, per Nilsson’s formula. Protected bike lanes also reduce the number of people who choose to bike on the sidewalk because the road is too dangerous. In Calgary, Canada, for example, once a protected cycle track network was installed in the downtown core, only 2% of cyclists were observed riding on the sidewalk, compared to 16% prior to the installation.

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