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Shared Streets Program Update

Update from Joseph Barr, Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation

I am sharing information about the future of the Shared Streets program that the City initiated in late June of this year, as we work together to ensure that Cambridge streets are used effectively to help control the spread of COVID-19. Since the start of the program, we have received a significant amount of feedback from the community and observed the operation of the Shared Streets. Based on this information, we have decided not to expand the Shared Streets pilot into a larger program. The existing Shared Streets will be removed for the season today, Friday, December 4 in advance of the projected snow.

Prior to COVID-19 we were able to support community-run events—such as block parties—that allowed people to come together in ways that are counter to current public health guidance. However, the goal of the Shared Streets pilot was to provide additional space for social distancing so that people could travel safely through the City during the pandemic. Given the many constraints of operating during a pandemic, we designed the program to minimize the impacts on local residents, requiring cooperation from all road users. Through the course of the Shared Streets pilot we have learned that order to be done well, a Shared Streets program of the type we designed requires changes in user behavior that may not be realistic at this time, as well as more resources than we are able to dedicate to this initiative in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We received a number of comments about the program that we were not able to address to the community’s satisfaction, in some cases due to the resource constraints described below. In particular, there were aspects of user behavior that we were not able to significantly impact, including people driving above 10 mph, and the ability and willingness of different users to share space in a respectful way.

Some of the specific factors that we considered in this decision included:

  • Community Decision Making - A program that is being implemented at a city-wide scale deserves a broad community conversation, including intentional outreach to the people who have been historically excluded from these types of conversations. While we worked to make ourselves available by phone, email, and webinar during the pandemic, we could not engage in the level of conversation that these types of city-wide programs require. 
  • Signage and Materials - To minimize impacts on residents, we used temporary traffic control devices that require significant maintenance. Staff spent time on almost a daily basis readjusting and sometimes chasing down signs and barricades (A-frame signs). Some street users were very uncomfortable navigating these devices. We cannot implement more permanent barriers without more extensive community conversation and planning work to ensure access for emergency services.
  • Staffing - During the ongoing pandemic, staff maintained and replaced signage, responded to constituent requests, and read the thousands of comments that came in about the program. This was challenging given our commitment to support many aspects of the City’s COVID-19 response at a time when City staff are also impacted by COVID-19.

We appreciate that many people enjoyed and benefited from the Shared Streets program, however, there were also a number of people who for whom the spaces did not feel safe or accessible. When weighing the impact of the program compared to the amount of resources that would be required to do it well, we could not justify continuing the current program.

As we look forward to the next year, we are continuing to work with our colleagues across the City on the following key initiatives that help to support public health and the overall safety of our streets and our city.

  • Preparing for a COVID-19 vaccine - We have supported the Cambridge Public Health Department in planning for large-scale flu clinics and will continue this support as we all work to make COVID-19 vaccinations available quickly and efficiently.
  • Small Business Support - We continue to support small businesses that are using street and sidewalk space to enhance the services they can offer to customers, including outdoor dining and restaurant/retail pick-up, including making changes to ensure that these spaces are safe and available through the winter.
  • Cycling Safety Ordinance - The Cycling Safety Ordinance recently passed by the City Council requires the installation of approximately 25 miles of separated bike lanes within the next six to eight years. Achieving these ambitious requirements involves a significant dedication of engineering, outreach, and operational resources.

Moving forward, we are looking at whether a modified version of the Shared Streets program could be redeployed in the spring of 2021, assuming that the need for such a program is still present. Modifications to the program would need to address the resource issues described above and the more significant community comments we received during our outreach efforts, as well as better defining the expected behavior in a way that provides all Shared Street users with a safe and consistent experience. While there are no guarantees that such modifications are feasible, we recognize that those who support this program would like us to explore whether further refinements are possible to make the program more successful.

We would also like to thank everyone who used and commented on the Shared Streets pilot program, as your input was invaluable in understanding how the program was working (and in some cases, not working). 

Accessibility Statement

The City of Cambridge does not discriminate, including on the basis of disability. We may provide auxiliary aids and services, written materials in alternative formats, and reasonable modifications in policies and procedures to people with disabilities. For more information contact Najah Casimir at ncasimir@cambridgema.gov, 617-349-4359 (voice), or via relay at 711.

Page was posted on 12/4/2020 1:21 PM
Page was last modified on 3/22/2021 11:44 AM
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