City Council Agenda Highlights (5/7/30)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, May 7, 2018 at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal, and it is shorter than usual. My summary is below. We will hold our second day of FY19 budget hearings on Tuesday, May 8, starting at 9:00am, and we will meet to discuss and vote on the School Department budget on Wednesday, May 9 at 6:00pm.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Improvements to Martin Luther King Plaza: This public space at the Franklin Street entrance to the Central Square branch library is getting a makeover as part of the Cambridge Housing Authority’s renovation of the Manning senior housing tower next door, which is nearly complete. In tandem with the CHA’s financial commitment to re-landscape the plaza and add new public artwork, seating and lighting, the City will allocate $125K to “coat” the walls of the municipal parking garage that borders the plaza and to add new signage. Local artist John Powell is creating an art installation that celebrates Dr King’s legacy in our area.

Applications and Petitions

#1-4: Banners promoting events and exhibits: Expect to see colorful banners on utility poles and above some streets promoting: the Cambridge River Festival (June 2), the Dragon Boat Festival (June 10), the Central Flea market (Sundays through Oct. in a new location at University Park), and two exhibits at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center.

Policy Orders

#1 MBTA Service Planning for CRLS students: I sponsored this order after hearing from high school students that MBTA bus service does not adequately or equitably meet the needs of CRLS students, many of whom rely on MBTA buses to arrive at school on time. Since the MBTA will be conducting a Service Plan this year, I felt it would be important for our Traffic Dept to include unmet student needs when the City’s provides input to the MBTA. The School Committee recently asked for a survey to assess the bus transit needs of high school students to help gather data. The City and School Dept also are considering whether to subsidize discounts on student T passes because the current cost ($30/mo.) is a financial burden to many families and because we want to encourage transit use from an early age. Councillor Zondervan and Mayor McGovern are my co-sponsors.

#5 Parking for Small Businesses in Inman Sq: We have heard from quite a few small businesses in the Inman Square area that employees who must rely on cars to commute have difficulty parking. The anticipated reconstruction of the Inman Square intersection will likely make parking more difficult for these employees as well as for their customers. This well-intentioned order suggests offering daytime parking passes to employees of small businesses in Inman Square (details to be determined). All of us support small business, but I would say the devil is in the details with this suggestion. Public school teachers and other municipal employees also would like parking passes and we have declined to create a pass program for them. I will be interested to read the staff memo that comes in response to this.

#6 Palmer Street Design Charrette: This order, which I sponsored along with Mayor McGovern and Councillor Mallon, grew out of our discussion last week about the Harvard Square Business Association’s proposal to suspend a light banner from the Coop’s skybridge across Palmer Street. After a good bit of debate over the lack of public process in the proposal for a light banner, the Council voted to allow it, but we all agree that Palmer Street is not living up to its potential as a vital pedestrian corridor between Church and Brattle. During the meeting I suggested the City and other stakeholders organize a public “charrette” to generate more ideas for urban design interventions to make Palmer Street more inviting, and this order formalizes the suggestion. There was a similar charrette last winter for Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square, which people felt was productive, inclusive and fun.

#7 Closing the Digital Divide: Fast, reliable broadband service is recognized as a critical 21st century public utility, not a luxury, but an estimated 5,000 Cambridge households do not have home broadband service, and many others are cost-burdened by Comcast’s monopoly. This order asks the City Manager to develop a plan to meet a set of digital equity goals. One goal would be to ensure that all residents have affordable broadband service by 2025 and that all high school students have affordable access by 2020. The order defines “affordable” with prices for low-medium-high speed service, from ranging from about $15/mo to $100/mo. Councillor Zondervan sponsored this order and Mayor McGovern, Councillor Simmons and I joined.

Committee Reports

Public Safety Hearing on Neighborhood-Based Resiliency Planning: We had a good discussion about the importance of social cohesion and strong neighborly relationships in helping communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters and other emergencies. It was suggested that the City create a new position of Chief Resiliency Officer to coordinate more intentional community building and resiliency-planning efforts across departments and in the community.

Communications for City Officers

#1 Regulating Micro-Mobility Devices: Councilor Kelley’s memo reflects his concern that our streets and sidewalks soon will be overrun with all manner of wheeled and motorized devices from skateboards to scooters to electric bikes to Amazon delivery droids. In the absence of clear or comprehensive state laws, he suggests developing municipal regulations to restrict where they can be used (whether street, bike lane, or sidewalk) and at what speeds (the slower, the better, for everyone’s safety). Given the challenges we face in getting people out of cars and onto bikes, I am skeptical that all these micro-devices will suddenly become ubiquitous, but we can expect to see more e-scooters and e-bikes as technology-enabled sharing programs are emerging. Motorized devices may be easier for people who can’t or don’t want to exert themselves by pedaling, but city streets that don’t feel safe for bike riders of all ages and abilities probably won’t feel any safer on an e-scooter or e-skateboard. I would say e-scooters should not be allowed on the sidewalk if its motor is being used. Electric bikes have the potential to gain ride-share among older riders and people with long commutes, but they shouldn’t be allowed on sidewalks if they are using an electric assist or even in a bike lane if they are going over 15-20 mph. Steve Miler wrote a good blog post on e-bikes for Livable Streets Alliance.

#2 Update from the Mayor on School Committee work: The most interesting item here is that there is again consideration of lengthening the school day and/or year, following a report by a Joint Labor Management group. A longer school day was recommended in 2013, but was rejected by a narrow vote during union contract negotiations. There is more detail in this Cambridge Day article on this new extended-hours initiative. No changes would take effect until the 2020-21 school year. The Council will discuss and vote on the School Department’s FY19 Budget this Wednesday night (May 9), in a Finance Committee meeting starting at 6pm at City hall.

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for up to 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. A new online system for signing up for public comment was recently launched, and it goes live on the Friday morning before the Monday meeting. Here is the link. You also may call 617-349-4280 on the Monday of the meeting from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign up when you arrive at City Hall by going to the City Council office after 5:00pm and using the public computer terminal on the desk by the door. Regardless of how you sign up you should do so before 6:00 pm on Monday. To submit written comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at Your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next regular Council meeting.

City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal.

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA