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Prioritizing Urban Safety: A Comprehensive Approach to Complete Streets in Cambridge

Monday, June 26, 2023

Navigating the city streets of Cambridge can be a challenging task for anyone — pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike. However, the City’s unwavering commitment to urban safety is set to transform the landscape for all. The focus is not just on repairing damaged roads or improving accessibility but also on prioritizing safety at dangerous intersections.

Our commitment to the Vision Zero initiative remains strong. The mission is clear: to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

Last year, the City took a significant step forward by installing quick-build separated bike lanes on sections of Mass Ave, Garden Street, and Brattle Street. The rapid deployment of these lanes is designed to provide cyclists with safer, protected routes around the city.

By the end of this year, the Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department plans to ban turns on red at most intersections across Cambridge. This move is expected to significantly increase safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

Other safety improvements on our streets include adding pedestrian refuge islands, curb extensions, bicycle signals, floating bus stops, and speed feedback signs. We are also introducing more accessible pedestrian signals and pedestrian-activated flashing lights at crosswalks. This user-controlled crossing beacon system alerts drivers to pedestrians who are crossing or about to cross the street, making our crossings safer for everyone.

The term “Complete Streets” encapsulates our vision — streets designed to safely accommodate all users, regardless of their mode of transport or ability. The Department of Public Works is using the Five-Year Street and Sidewalk Plan to design and construct Complete Streets throughout Cambridge. Major projects include reconstruction work on River Street, Huron Avenue, the Port, and Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square and Central Square.

In the new fiscal year, our infrastructure investment has more than doubled, soaring to $70.6 million. A significant chunk of this funding — $50 million — will be channeled into the Mass Ave Partial Reconstruction project. This ambitious project aims to meet the Cycling Safety Ordinance (CSO) goal of creating separated bike lanes down one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. The project will involve removing much of the median, adding quick-build separated bike lanes, making improvements for people walking and reconfiguring the street to enhance safety and accessibility. This project marks the largest infrastructure investment related to the Cycling Safety Ordinance presented in the FY23 five-year capital plan.

The Cycling Safety Ordinance, passed in 2019 and modified in 2020, provides an ambitious blueprint for implementing a separated bicycle lane network across the city within six to eight years. The City is already well underway in realizing this vision.

Between May 2022 and April 2023, the City installed or began construction on 3.58 miles of separated bike lanes, bringing the total to 9.81 miles since May 2020. By April 2024, the City plans to add quick-build separated bike lanes to parts of other major streets, including Brattle Street, Hampshire Street, Main Street, and Mt. Auburn Street.

In addition to the quick-build separated bike lane projects and the Mass Ave Partial Construction project, the City is working on designs for constructing separated bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square and Central Square.

Cambridge’s commitment to urban safety is not just about improving the infrastructure. It’s about creating an environment where everyone — whether on foot, on a bike, or in a vehicle — can navigate our city safely and comfortably. This comprehensive approach to Complete Streets is redefining the urban landscape of Cambridge and setting a safety benchmark for other cities.

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