Council votes to advance Carlone's call for Safe Truck program

The Cambridge City Council voted 8-0 this evening to approve Councillor Dennis Carlone's motion to advance the concept of a "Safer Truck" program.

As a result, City Manager Richard C. Rossi is requested "to work with all relevant City Staff, safety experts, and bicycle and pedestrian advocates to consider the possibility of deploying truck side guards across all city-owned and city-leased trucks."


Councillor Carlone, who serves as Chair of the council's Transportation and Public Utilities Committee, also submitted this report from an October 22 hearing that featured discussion related to side guards and the city's pilot program of installing protective gear on certain trucks.

Last month, the City of Boston became the first in the nation to require side guards on all city-owned and city-leased trucks. While such measures are new to the United States, side guards have been mandatory in Europe for many years and have been credited with saving lives.

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Update on Planning Board reform efforts

Tonight, the Planning Board will meet to review its procedures and listen to public comment on ideas for improving the special permit process. The meeting will take place at 7 pm at City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway.

Building on the efforts of Nancy Ryan and other concerned residents – I focused on the issue of Planning Board reform this summer when I introduced a proposal to enable the city council to temporarily exercise its oversight authority on certain Project Review Special Permit decisions for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

The council ultimately voted to quash debate on the so-called "Carlone, et al. petition," which would have effectively provided a mechanism for reshaping the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment as well as other large projects in the Fresh Pond / Alewife area. Nevertheless, one of the positive outcomes of the petition was that it helped bring Planning Board issues to the forefront.

Over the course of the summer, we learned that the Planning Board had been operating with vacancies and expired terms, and we heard from residents who expressed a myriad of concerns regarding communication, notice, and procedure. We also learned that for large development projects, the Board has never denied a Project Review Special Permit.

As a council, we voted in July to create an Advisory Committee to address these issues. The committee was supposed to be formed this fall – but last night, the City Manager informed the council that he would convene a focus group instead.

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Councillor Carlone looks to expand Hubway access for low-income residents

57BF429229064D0F99D2D6F06F9804ED.jpgCambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone has introduced a policy order to create a subsidized Hubway program for low-income Cambridge residents. 

"The City of Cambridge has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation's best cities for biking, but as we continue to develop our multi-modal transit infrastructure, we ought to look at ways of expanding access to the Hubway program in an equitable fashion," Councillor Carlone said.

Indeed, just this week, the Boston Globe lauded the fact that the number of bicycle miles traveled in Cambridge is up some 237% since 2004. And with new bike paths and innovative safety technology now in the works, it's clear that we are fostering a culture that promotes biking and other sustainable transit options. We even have traffic signals just for bikes!

But in recent days, neighborhood leaders have contacted Councillor Carlone asking whether we could establish a program similar to Boston's subsidized Hubway membership for low-income residents. The Boston program offers deep discounts and other benefits for people who otherwise may not be able to afford a Hubway membership.

The Cambridge city council moved to explore the idea of a subsidized Hubway program in late 2012, but in a subsequent memorandum from city staff, the concept was deemed "as yet unproven." The memo further noted that, "ridership in lower-income communities has been shown to be constrained by cultural and perceptual, as well as physical barriers that are generally unrelated to cost."

However, the City of Boston recently presented this report from Boston Bikes, which shows that under the direction of Nicole Freedman, their subsidized bike share program has succeeded at engaging low-income residents while also expanding access to underserved populations. Bostonians who participate in the program also report that they are now getting more exercise.

A standard Hubway membership costs $85 per year if paid upfront – but that figure rises to $240 per year if paid in monthly increments. While such costs may not seem prohibitive for many Cantabridgians, the Poverty in Cambridge report that "stunned" councilors earlier this year suggests that a subsidized Hubway program could go a long way toward expanding access to all Cambridge residents.

Councillors Denise Simmons, Leland Chueng, and Nadeem Mazen have signed-on as co-sponsors of the order, which will appear as agenda item O-10 during Monday's council meeting in the Attles meeting room at CRLS, 459 Broadway. The meeting begins at 5:30 pm, and members of the public arriving prior to 6 pm are welcome to speak for up to three minutes during public comment. The full text of the order is posted below...

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Silver Maple Forest update: Oct. 28 Committee Hearing and Policy Order

Silver_Maple_Forest_Belmont_Police.jpgTime appears to be running out for the Silver Maple Forest, a unique "urban wild" located on the border of Cambridge and Belmont between Acorn Park Drive and the Alewife Reservation.

Despite pleas from climate advocates, a developer plans to cut the trees and build a sprawling housing complex on the site. The ideal solution would be a negotiated agreement to purchase the forest for conservation, but unfortunately, the developer has been unwilling to deal, and officials have resisted efforts to leverage public funds on multiple occasions.

Right now, advocates are sounding the alarm and taking action to defend the trees. I want to commend three Cambridge residents — Ellen Mass, Joanna Herlihy, and Susan Ringler — as well as two Lesley Students  who committed an act of Civil Disobedience earlier this week.

Moving forward, a number of things are happening:

1) I have been working with my colleagues to schedule a meeting of the council's Health and Environment Committee to discuss the impact of this development on the flood plain. That meeting is now scheduled for Tuesday, October 28, at 3 pm, in the basement conference room, 831 Massachusetts Avenue. Thank you to Councillor Cheung for chairing this meeting.

2) I am also co-sponsoring an order on Monday's city council agenda to ensure that no "drainage pipes" are placed on the 2.7 acres of the forest that lie within our municipal borders. I am confident that this order will be approved, and I want to express my appreciation to Councillor McGovern in drafting the order.

3) Right now, we are awaiting word from a Middlesex Superior Court judge who will rule on a temporary injunction to stay the removal of the trees. Yesterday, the developer's attorney suggested that concerned residents ought to be "sanctioned" for questioning the legality of the project. That's just wrong.

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Update: Planning + Development News in the City of Cambridge

As we continue on the path toward a new citywide Master Plan, I want to let you know about two recent editorials that reflect on the latest efforts to inject a greater sense of accountability and collaboration into the city's special permit process.

First, DigBoston News Editor Chris Faraone writes about the Carlone petition, the Sullivan Courthouse debate, and the movement to get big money out of local politics. His column hits newsstands and kiosks on Wednesday, but you can read it online right now:

Next, Cambridge Day Editor Marc Levy goes even more in-depth on these topics, dissecting some of the statements that were made in opposition to my plan to give the city council additional authority over the Sullivan Courthouse and other troubling projects in the Fresh Pond Alewife flood plain area; read Marc's piece online, here:

Residents who are concerned about these issues will have two important opportunities to continue the discussion, tomorrow, September 30th.

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Keeping Track of Incentive Zoning "Linkage Fees" for the Affordable Housing Trust

Screen_shot_2014-09-13_at_6.13.51_PM.pngEarlier this year, I introduced a policy order calling for action on an update to the Incentive Zoning Ordinance "Linkage Fees" that help support the city's affordable housing programs.

"Linkage" refers to the connection between new commercial real estate development and the local housing market. In 1988, the Incentive Zoning Ordinance was established to require non-residential developers who are seeking a special permit for an increase in density to mitigate the housing-market impact of their commercial development through a Housing Contribution (i.e. "Linkage Fee") to the Affordable Housing Trust.

According to Section 11.203.1 of the Zoning Ordinance, "the amount of the Housing Contribution shall be subject to review and recalculation...every three (3) the Cambridge City Council based on a consideration of current economic trends including but not limited to development activity, commercial rents per square foot, employment growth, and housing trends measured in terms of, but not limited to, vacancy rates, production statistics, and prices for dwelling units."

Despite this mandate for periodic updates, the council hasn't recalculated the linkage fee for many years. In 2002, the city commissioned a "nexus study" to determine an updated linkage rate — but subsequent recommendations by noted economist Barry Bluestone were never implemented.

Ultimately, the council voted to refer my order to committee — but not without agreeing to have the city perform an audit of "how much money for affordable housing would have been obtained had the City Council implemented the 2002 recommendations."

As a result, the Community Development Department published an accounting of the lost funds in a memo dated July 8.

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Councillor Carlone Looks to Expand Protections for Cambridge Bicyclists

IMG_1110.jpgCambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone has introduced a policy order that looks to expand upon the city's pilot program of installing protective "side guards" on various city-owned trucks.

"Just this week, Cambridge Police reported an accident involving a bicyclist and garbage truck in mid-Cambridge," Councillor Carlone said. "Fortunately, the cyclist's injuries were non-life-threatening, but the data shows that accidents involving trucks are quite serious, often fatal, and protective side guards can help make our roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians alike."

According to bicycle advocacy groups, truck side guards "prevent pedestrians, cyclists and smaller motor vehicles from rolling or falling underneath the body of the truck." In the United Kingdom, legislation requiring side guards has already been credited with saving lives, and right now, the City of Boston is looking to enact legislation of its own.

To be sure, biking gets safer all the time in the City of Cambridge. As the city's Bicycle Safety Report shows, the more folks take to the streets on two-wheels, the fewer accidents are reported per miles traveled.

Nevertheless, accidents involving trucks seem to be the most likely to cause fatalities — at least according to recent data from the City of Boston. And like Boston, the City of Cambridge has also been exploring the idea of installing side guards on city-owned trucks — and with this order, Councillor Carlone is hoping side guards will be considered "more broadly across all city trucks."

Residents wishing to speak on this topic are welcome to attend Monday's city council meeting, which is being held at 5:30 pm in the CRLS Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway. You may sign up for public comment by calling the council office between 9 am and 3 pm on Monday — or just show up at CRLS and add your name to the list between 5:30 and 6 pm. Be sure to mention Policy Order #11. You may also email the entire city council at (and be sure to copy the City Clerk,, too).

For the full text of Policy Order #11, please see below...

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Council Votes to End Debate on Project Review Special Permit Petition

Dennis_Carlone_headshot.pngI am sorry to report that on Monday evening, the city council voted to halt further debate on the Carlone, et al. petition for additional review of certain large projects for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

The vote came on a motion to "pass to a second reading," a technical step that allows for additional public notice and continued debate on a zoning amendment proposal. Going back to the 1990's, similar motions have carried 99% of the time – even in cases where the petition ultimately failed.

Councillors Nadeem Mazen and Denise Simmons joined me in voting in favor of a second reading, but Councillors Kelley, McGovern, Toomey, Vice Mayor Benzan, and Mayor Maher all opposed.

By a similar 3-5 vote, the council also rejected a compromise proposal to further limit the scope of the petition to areas such as Fresh Pond, Alewife, and the Sullivan Courthouse – places where current zoning is in need of an update and troubling projects are moving forward via special permit.

Prior to the meeting, the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge issued a statement in support of the petition. "The planning and permitting process in Cambridge is in dire need of fixing, and the Carlone petition provides an interim mechanism to oversee the process until it is fixed," they wrote. The petition would have given the city council the final say on the Section 19.20 Project Review Special Permit for the controversial plan to redevelop the Sullivan Courthouse as a 20-story commercial office tower.

There is good coverage of Monday’s meeting in Cambridge Day as well as in the Cambridge Chronicle. Also, check out the video of the meeting on City Webcast. Discussion on the petition starts at approximately 2:42:00.

I want to highlight the fact that Monday’s vote was preceded by another excellent round of public comment – by my count, testimony ran 15-to-0 in support of the petition. This is in addition to strong support at meetings earlier this summer before the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee.

Thank you to everyone who got engaged on this issue. This year has seen many big conversations on the future of our city, and these conversation will surely continue.

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Dennis Carlone, et al. petition featured in today's Boston Globe

Today's Boston Globe features an op-ed on the Dennis Carlone, et al. petition to enable the city council to provide oversight on large development projects for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

According to columnist Paul McMorrow, "Carlone has created broad support for a more holistic approach to development in Cambridge — one that doesn’t just create individual buildings, but builds communities."

The column, titled "Cambridge Needs New Approach to Development," goes on to say, in part:

Surprisingly, Carlone’s critique of the way development works in Cambridge has resonated with people who oppose the specific fix he’s proposing. It has instigated a unique citywide conversation about the failings of development in Cambridge.
Carlone is no anti-development zealot. He’s been an architect and urban planner for four decades. He helped shape the redevelopment of East Cambridge. He says he advanced his bid to neutralize the Planning Board to stave off a push by residents to implement a development moratorium. But he is deeply critical of the type of development Cambridge’s Planning Board has approved in recent years.
Carlone and a vocal ally on the City Council, Nadeem Mazen, argue that Cambridge’s Planning Board has been greenlighting development projects without a broader perspective. The result is a pile of pieces that don’t add up to anything. The area around Alewife and Fresh Pond is a warren of subdivisions that feel more like Burlington or Waltham than Cambridge. The projects don’t have much to do with one another, or with the city as a whole. The developers check the boxes on the Planning Board’s narrow zoning checklist, but don’t offer a broader vision of where Cambridge, as a city, is heading.

“What are we creating?” Carlone asks. “The quality of development, and the quality of thinking, has to step up beyond the property lines.”

Mazen believes Carlone’s critique of Cambridge’s development process has struck a chord. The debate has drawn out a surprisingly broad group of people who have come to see Cambridge as wracked by inadequate zoning, weak planning, inattention to quality-of-life issues, and a development process that frustrates residents rather than engaging them.

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Planning Board discussion of City Council Project Review petition

photo_(9).JPGI want to say thank you to everyone who filled the room for this week's Planning Board hearing on the Carlone, et al. petition for City Council review of large projects for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

The biggest takeaway from this week's meeting was that City Staff confirmed that if the petition is adopted, then the City Council will get to have final say on Project Review Special Permits for the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment in East Cambridge, as well as on the 75 New Street and 88 CambridgePark Drive proposals that have been a source of concern in the Fresh Pond / Alewife Brook floodplain area.

The Project Review Special Permit was established in 2001 to ensure that large developments are consistent with the city's Urban Design objectives and do not impose adverse impacts on city traffic. In other words, this permit addresses the many of the key issues with the Courthouse redevelopment and with recent projects in the Fresh Pond / Alewife area. However, the Planning Board has never voted to deny an application for a Project Review Special Permit.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Planning Board expressed its opinion at this week's meeting that Project Review Special Permit granting authority should remain with the Board -- but it must be emphasized that the fate of the Carlone, et al. petition is entirely in the hands of the City Council. The council's Ordinance Committee will resume discussion of the matter on Wednesday, August 27, at 5:30 pm in the CRLS/Attles meeting room, 459 Broadway. You may RSVP or learn more about this meeting by clicking on this link.

With the opening round of hearings now complete, it's probably wise to take stock of what supporters and opponents of the petition both tend to agree on...

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