The city’s Bicycle Program was created in 1992 and is administered within the Division of Environmental and
Transportation Planning, a part of the Department of Community Development. The program includes 1) installation of bicycle lanes and related improvements as streets are reconstructed and other development takes place, 2) the installation of bicycle parking around the city, 3) working with a community bicycle committee, and 4) the provision of educational materials and programs about bicycle safety in schools and elsewhere in the community.
The program is guided by a series of principles that are integrated into bicycle-related work across city departments:
Bicycles have been a priority for the city of Cambridge since at least 1992. In that year the city adopted the Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance (City Code Chapter 10.17) aimed at creating a more livable city through reducing automobile use and encouraging alternative, less polluting forms of transportation. The ordinance established the Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Program with a mandate to "design and implement a program to encourage greater use of bicycles as alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles within the city."
In 1993 the city created its Growth Policy Document, “Toward a Sustainable Future.” This document put forward a long-term plan and strategic policies to guide the sustainable development of the city. Policy 23 states: "Encourage all reasonable forms of non automobile travel including, for example, making improvements to the city's infrastructure which would promote bicycling and walking." This document was updated in 2007 and the commitment to bicycling was reaffirmed.
In 2002, the city adopted a Climate Protection Plan that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emission to 20% below 1990 levels by 2010. This plan reemphasized bicycling-related aims, including the action item to “Improve facilities for walking and cycling. Install more bicycle lanes and parking facilities; create and improve off-road paths including railroad rights-of-way; expand efforts to retrofit streets and intersections to better accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.”
Most of these initiatives were the product of Cambridge’s “Plan E” form of government — a strong City Council (which creates guiding documents) and a City Manager and staff (which implement policy and coordinate across departments). However, Cambridge also has a Bicycle Committee that promotes bicycle issues and acts as a citizen advisory group. Established in 1991, the committee was instrumental in getting more attention from city government focused on biking issues. The committee is made up mostly of citizen members who live or work in Cambridge and also has representation from the Departments of Public Works, Policy, Traffic and Parking, and Community Development, and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the city, as well as representation from Harvard University, MIT, and other large institutions in the city.
The city develops new bicycle facilities through four principal channels:
Cambridge policies consider all roadways in the city as bikeways. To implement this policy, staff in the bicycle program aim to use the reconstruction process to eventually make every street bike friendly. This doesn’t mean that all streets will have bike lanes, but rather that each street will integrate one of a palette of options: bike lanes, traffic calming, special roadway markings or signals, etc. Funding for bike improvements made in this way is part of the budget for any project — it is not segregated. Most street reconstruction projects come through the Public Works Department, which oversees sewer infrastructure and street maintenance in the city. Funds come through local, state, and federal sources. A separate budget allocated to traffic calming measures comes from the city’s general fund. A large advantage of this integrated development method is that the additional costs of bike infrastructure are very small when integrated into a planned road and infrastructure improvement project.
In addition to developing bicycle infrastructure, education is an important part of the city’s bicycle program. Collaborations between city departments, nonprofit organizations, and the city’s schools have developed informational materials and conducted programs for both adults and children. Materials developed include bike maps and brochures. Informational campaigns have included one targeted at bikers promoting bike lights and one titled “Watch for Bikes” targeted at drivers, which included decals, brochures, safety information on bus shelter ads, flyers, and online materials. Educational programs include bike registration and on-bike training at public events, programs hosted by the police and the nonprofit Cycle Kids in public schools. Additionally the city is hosting a neighborhood pilot program called CitySmart to use social marketing to encourage sustainable transportation choices, including biking.
Although rigorous data collection methods on bike infrastructure have only been in place over the past few years, the trends in bike ridership and bicycle infrastructure are correlated. In 1992 the city had only six miles of off-street bicycle paths designed primarily for recreation and no on-road facilities. The city installed its first on-street bike lane in October 1995 and bike facility development continued to accelerate over the next decade and half. By 2004 there 30.23 total miles of bike facilities, in 2008 there were 37.65 miles, and by December 2010 a total of 39.30 miles — including 18.15 miles of dedicated on-street bike lanes.1 The number of bike facility miles in the city is more than one-quarter the total length of all streets in the city (147.1 miles). Even after the years of new facility development, as of the end of 2010 there were still an additional 6.6 miles planned.
Additionally, as of the end of 2010 the city has 730 bicycle racks on public property. These have been installed through a variety of policy mechanisms including integration in all new public infrastructure projects, as required components of new private developments, and installed directly on sidewalks by the city’s bicycle parking program. From 2005 through 2009 the bicycle parking program installed 248 racks. Installation of 80 more racks in 2010 was funded by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
According to a bicycle count data collected by the city annually at 17 intersections, bicycling in the city more than doubled from 2002 to 2008. Increases were seen each year, from under 3,000 in 2002 to more than 6,000 in 2008 (see chart). After 2008 the city began collecting bicycle count data bi-annually. At the time of publication the 2010 count was still being finalized, but the overall trend was continuing upward.
Additionally, data from the 2000 Census and the 2006–08 American Community Survey show that the percentage of commutes by Cambridge residents made by bicycle has grown from 3.9% in 2000 to 5.8% for 2006–08. Similar upward trends were seen for people who work in Cambridge regardless of where they live: up from 2.4% to 3.4%. Although small relative to the total number of commutes, this increase has likely contributed in part to the corresponding decrease in drive-alone commutes: down from 35.3% to 30.5% among residents and from 50.6% to 46.4% among all workers.
The nearly two decades of experience in bicycle policy at the City of Cambridge provides takeaways for other communities looking to implement or expand a policy in this area: