The City Council voted 6-3 last night (June 4) to approve sending a home rule petition to the state legislature to reconfigure the open space in Inman Square, enabling us to change the intersection’s geometry to significantly improve its safety and efficiency for all modes. The proposed design, which reflects the best efforts of our professional staff to redesign a complicated and very busy intersection with one of the highest crash rates in the state, will further our commitments to Vision Zero, Complete Streets and the Vehicle Miles Trip Reduction Ordinance. (See the project website.)
I am proud to have led on this issue throughout my time on the Council, and very much hope that all the members of both the Cambridge and Somerville state delegations will advocate strongly for the home rule’s passage before the end of their legislative session on July 31. The city manager will wait to forward the home rule petition until after the Cambridge Historical Commission meets this Thursday (June 7) to review an appeal, filed by residents opposed to changing Vellucci Plaza, of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission’s decision to find the open space redesign “not incongruous” with the historic or architectural character of the district. [UPDATE: The Historical Commission denied the appeal by a vote of 3-1, so the petition can advance without a cloud to our state officials for their consideration.]
If the appeal is denied and the state passes our home rule petition, the Council would have to vote to accept the state’s decision. I hope that the state will have made its decision in time for us to take this next vote at our special summer meeting on July 30. Only then can the City put the project out to bid for construction; once the bids come back we will have a firm idea of the project’s cost (estimated to be around $6M) and the duration of the construction (estimated to be 18-24 months, starting in 2019). The Council would still have to vote to appropriate the funds, and there would be time for more public discussion and engineering review to further refine and improve both the intersection’s design and operations and the landscaping details of the new and existing portions of Vellucci Plaza. There would also be time to work with local businesses and residents to phase and stage the construction to try to reduce its disruption as much as possible.
I would add that starting next week, and throughout most of the period before any construction begins, the new Urban Forest Task Force (formed as a result of a policy order I sponsored) will be meeting monthly with a consultant and our urban forestry staff to draft a master plan to preserve and increase our tree canopy citywide. No one takes any pleasure in the necessity of removing the four honey locusts in Vellucci Plaza, and believe me if there were a way to avoid it and still meet the safety and operational goals of the intersection’s redesign, I would support it. In fact, I was the councillor who asked the manager and staff to go back to the drawing board one more time at the end of last year to see if another option was possible. They agreed and now I must trust our staff’s expertise and good faith in determining that there is no other feasible option. I do not want to see the project delayed any longer by wishful thinking, denial of the the intersection’s obvious dangers and inefficiencies, and fear of change. I was also the councilor who sponsored the order to “fast track” the project following the tragic death of Amanda Phillips in June 2016. Lest anyone think this “fast tracked” process has shortchanged opportunities for public engagement, here is a timeline of the project that goes all the way back to June 2014.
Passage of this essential first step in the process would not have been possible without the partnership of Mayor McGovern. I am also grateful to Councillors Carlone and Siddiqui for supporting the redesign all along and to Councillors Mallon and Zondervan for changing their original positions and getting us to required six votes. I would like to send a huge shout-out to Cambridge Bicycle Safety, LivableStreets Alliance, Boston Cyclists Union and Walk Boston and all the Cambridge and Somerville residents who are working to change habits, minds and culture through their tireless and thoughtful advocacy for safe and sustainable transportation. Thank you and safe travels to all.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA