Ordinance FAQ

The Cycling Safety Ordinance, passed in April 2019, made it a requirement to build protected bike lanes on streets in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan when they are being reconstructed according to the Five Year Sidewalk and Street maintenance plan. The Amendment to the Cycling Safety Ordinance aims to increase the rate that protected bike lanes are created in Cambridge by adding some new requirements to help get Cambridge’s network of protected bike lanes built in only six years.

Read some more information about what the ordinance would accomplish and what it requires.

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.

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.

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.

How does the City Council feel about this ordinance?

We have twice asked City Council candidates to support a network of protected bike lanes built in five years, and both times a supermajority of elected councillors have signed our pledge. The policy order which introduced this ordinance was also cosponsored by a supermajority of councillors.

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.

What about businesses? I know that some businesses in the past in Cambridge haven’t supported protected bike lanes because they’re afraid that parking loss will hurt their businesses.

This is a red herring. This issue has been studied many, many times and not a single study has found a substantial negative impact on businesses. Most of the studies have found no impact at all or even a positive impact.

Not surprisingly, there’s strong evidence that this has also been the case in Cambridge. There was concern that protected bike lanes along Brattle St, Cambridge St, and South Mass Ave would imperil business along those street segments. That just hasn’t happened. People and businesses have adapted well to the new, safer streetscapes.

Indeed, intercept studies that the City has conducted shows that very few people drive to frequent businesses along Cambridge’s busiest commercial corridors. In East Cambridge, for example, only 22% of people intercepted had driven to Cambridge St; in Inman Square, only 13% of people intercepted had driven to the square; and, in Harvard Square, only 18% of people had driven to the square.

Plus, the bottom line is that there’s strong support for building a complete network of protected bike lanes from the business community in Cambridge. 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

A network of protected bike lanes would be an asset for Cambridge businesses, drawing customers to their shops and making it easier for employees to commute to work. And as one local employer put it: “I don’t want my children, my employees, or my neighbors to be involved in accidents.”

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 abilities 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Also, if COVID-19 causes public outreach activity delays, the City Manager has until July 1, 2022 to extend the timeline for the construction of the complete protected network by up to 4 months, again, 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.

There is also a serious risk that due to COVID-19, transportation mode shift will halt and a greater percentage of people will start relying on cars again to get around. This, quite literally, cannot happen. Traffic would be gridlocked everywhere. And the impacts on equity would be profound. This ordinance is a powerful statement that Cambridge is more committed than ever to building a transportation system that works for everyone: one that is safe and pleasant for those on foot and on bike, and one with less traffic because more people have gotten out of their cars and decided to walk or bike.

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.

This sounds great! What can I do to help? What happens next?

On Tuesday, July 7th, the Council will vote to move the ordinance from the Ordinance Committee to the full Council. Once it’s been voted to the full Council, the Council will vote to pass it into law.

Your help will be essential in getting this ordinance passed. Email your councillors as described above and tell them how excited you are to see this happen and happen quickly. City Council and City staff need to hear from you so they know that this ordinance is what Cambridge residents want.