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Rally for Bike Lanes

19 Oct

Bike safety advocates rally for protected lanes as city points to lack of rollout specifics in plan

 

Bike safety advocates rally Wednesday in front City Hall. (Photos: Tom Meek)

The Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group organized a bike rally Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to urge faster progress in the installation of protected bike lanes – asking the city to follow its own 2015 Bike Plan, which it interprets as calling for a 20-mile bike network by 2023 with just around five miles of lanes in place and only a half-mile more planned for the fall.

The plan is not on track, said one of group’s organizers, Nathanael Fillmore.

The city, though, differs with the group’s interpretation.

“The 2015 plan details an aspirational concept [but] does not indicate a specific numerical goal for the amount of miles of protected bike lanes across the city. It is intended to be a guide and reference for long-, medium- and short-term infrastructure projects,” said Bridget Martin, communications manager for the Community Development Department, in a Wednesday email.  

“We are planning to start an update to the Bicycle Plan this fiscal year to include a more detailed implementation plan, taking into account recent experience with quick-build projects, input from community stakeholders and available funding,” Martin said.

Those experiences have been mixed. Lanes in Harvard Square and on Cambridge Street have drawn loud opposition from some businesses and residents. On Monday, while appropriating $5 million to redesign traffic flow in Inman Square, where cyclist Amanda Phillips died in 2016, city councillors were still hearing objections from people who thought the changes were about Phillips. Mayor Marc McGovern felt it necessary to send a tweet clarifying that she was killed after the redesign process began.

Reaction to the push for bike lanes after the death of Phillips and others included complaints of “bicycle bullies” and even its own term: “bikelash.”

Bikes were laid on the lawn to help illustrate the average 160 collisions involving bicycles seen annually in Cambridge.

The Bicycle Safety Group, which formed in the wake of Phillips’ death, remained focused on safety Wednesday. Bikes lay on the lawn at City Hall to represent the 160 bike collisions in Cambridge annually over the past 10 years, according to police data. The group says 40 percent of the incidents could be prevented with the installation of protected bike lanes, but just 1.2 miles of city bike lanes are in that category, mostly along Massachusetts Avenue immediately south and north of Harvard Square, and on Cambridge Street between Inman and Harvard squares.

The rally also boasted a marching band that bent popular tune lyrics into anthems about protected bike lanes, and saw about 140 bicyclists, activists and supporters gather to hear speakers including city councillor Quinton Zondervan and state Rep. Mike Connolly, who each pledged support for improved bike safety and infrastructure.

Vice mayor Jan Devereux, who could not make the rally, had a supportive statement read pointing to a Nov. 27 public hearing to discuss progress on bike infrastructure, including the next steps in creating a protected bike network and other infrastructure improvements.

A “micromobility” conference coming Nov. 3 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be another source for ideas, councillor Craig Kelley said. The five-hour event, “Transportation Transformation: A Conference About the New Urban Mobility,” is co-sponsored by Kelley and includes Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, among other experts.

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Porter Square Clean Up

9 Sep

Group effort cleans Porter Square Saturday; power washing, window cleaning to come

 

Cigarette butts are the main haul in a Saturday sweep in Porter Square as part of an organized cleanup. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If the T plaza at Porter Square and the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue north and south of it looks a bit trimmer and neater, thank the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, Porter Square Shopping Center owner Gravestar, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, a smattering of area residents and 15 or so students from Harvard who threw in a part of their Day of Service. The “Porter Square and Mass Ave Clean Up!” organized by the association kicked off Saturday with about 30 volunteers broken into teams to weed, sweep and pick up trash along the corridor over four hours. Gravestar and the city donated tools and trash bags, and coffee and doughnuts were provided for those lending sweat and sinew. (For volunteers, the bane of the cigarette butt far outweighed that of the resilient reed.)

The MBTA and Gravestar have promised power washing and window cleaning follow-ups, association organizer Ruth Ryals said.

Oscar move not so popular

13 Aug

Oscars make room for ‘popular film’ category, ignoring that great popular films already win

Marvel film stars Chadwick Boseman and Chris Evans present the award for Sound Mixing at the 88th Oscars in 2016. (Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences via Instagram)

Brows were raised Wednesday when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organizations that puts on the Oscars) announced that a new “best” category – “outstanding achievement in popular film” – would be added to its awards slate. The move, clearly to keep the award and its ceremony relevant as TV ratings and viewership continue to slide to historical lows, would give such popcorn pleasers as “Black Panther,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Deadpool 2” and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” a chance to come to the fore and collect a bald, golden Adonis.

Questions abound: Just how do you classify “popular”? Is there a box office bar that needs to be notched or, like the MTV awards, do filmgoers get to cast a ballot? In the eyes of cinephiles and serious filmmakers the move dimmed the shine of the golden pate. A fellow film critic said it makes the Oscars “less relevant than the Golden Globes,” a ceremony largely considered to be more about pop and celebrity than art. 

According to the Academy letter, “Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.” The category will be introduced this year and be part of the ceremony airing Feb. 24 on ABC. That’s also where things get interesting. Disney – the company behind “Black Panther,” a clear front-runner in the new category, the bigger Marvel Universe and the “Star Wars” franchise – also owns ABC. Seems like a nice little fix: Pick up an Oscar while propping up sagging television ratings. Continue reading

Nolan and Escher at the MFA

17 May

 

What Artist M.C. Escher And Filmmaker Christopher Nolan Have In Common

To complement the perception-warping lithographs of M.C. Escher currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, curator Carter Long and the smart folks over in the MFA’s film department have put together “Math, Mind and Memory,” a retrospective of Christopher Nolan’s films. The program launches on Wednesday, May 16 with Nolan’s debut, “Following” (1998), and concludes on May 31 with the British auteur’s 2014 planet-hopping odyssey, “Interstellar.”

If the crossover connection between surrealist graphic designer and alternate reality-conjuring filmmaker doesn’t immediately make sense, consider Escher’s continuous stairway to nowhere, “Ascending and Descending.” Its endless bend of perception and geometric form could easily be mistaken for a storyboard cell pulled from Nolan’s dream-thief thriller, “Inception” (2010), in which streetscapes and buildings get folded in on themselves, even inverted, creating an endless maze of concrete and tarmac that beguiles as it overwhelms. (The film plays on May 24 and 25.)

On the left, M.C. Escher's "Ascending and Descending." On the right, a still from Christopher Nolan's "Inception." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and MFA)
On the left, M.C. Escher’s “Ascending and Descending.” On the right, a still from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” (Robin Lubbock/WBUR and MFA)

More thematically, the Dutch artist’s famous “Drawing Hands,” where one hand sketches the next into existence while that hand conversely draws its creator, plays with the sense of time and origin. It’s the chicken and the egg conundrum visualized in evocative 2D (though the deeply layered shadowing lends a rich 3D effect). Something similar is explored in Nolan’s “Interstellar.” The humanity-saving space mission sails off into the fourth dimension of time and space density, creating a scenario in which children out age their parents. (“Interstellar” screens May 20 and 31.)

The retrospective, which includes the latter two of Nolan’s popular Batman films, “The Dark Knight” (on May 26) and “The Dark Knight Rises” (also on May 26), rightly recognizes the director’s box-office brilliance. Who else makes thinking-man thrillers that regularly gross more than $500 million? But the MFA series also more aptly shines a light on Nolan’s early efforts and influences.

“Following,” shot in noirish black and white and on 16mm guerrilla style, unravels agendas within agendas as a wannabe writer (Jeremy Theobald), who follows random people for muse material, gets tangled up with a dapper petty criminal (Alex Haw) and an aloof woman with a Marilyn Monroe-perfect coif (Lucy Russell). The ever-twisting plot complicated by love triangle implications cast wafts of Danny Boyle’s gritty early work, “Shallow Grave” (1994), and is a clear blueprint for Nolan’s sophomore effort, “Memento” (2000). Continue reading

Porter Square Redesign

11 May

Protected bike lanes aren’t in final proposal for traffic changes coming to Porter Square

 

A human wall formed at an April 26 bicyclist protest in Porter Square to dramatize the need for protected bike lanes to city transportation officials. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Final plans for traffic safety improvements in Porter Square were presented Tuesday, updated from a form presented Jan. 18 but not erasing fully the strong opposition by residents and cycling activist groups.

The presentation had the square’s current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only, and another to leave the mall parking lot) still being replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

A left exit from the Porter Square shopping plaza through a zebra-striped pedestrian pavilion will remain; the January plan showed it being eliminated, with the exit blocked by cement planters – a proposal called cheap and ugly by many in attendance.

In addition, a pedestrian island between lanes of traffic where Somerville Avenue meets Massachusetts Avenue will remain, shifted a bit toward the T stop and widened some. The move is meant to better distribute motor vehicle traffic and allow for implementation of buffered bike lanes, which have gridded white paint separating bicycle and motor vehicle traffic. The buffered lanes are planned for both sides of Somerville Avenue.

“We want to move forward with this plan,” said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, to a crowd of about 75 at Lesley University’ University Hall, “but that does not preclude future safety enhancements.”

The project would run “over the next few months [during] construction season,” he said.

Barr said plans were altered based on input from the community and an April 26 protest by the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, but he still received criticism from cycling activists who felt their message went unheard.

“Worthless,” is what one angry attendee called the plan, and city councillor Quinton Zondervan asked senior traffic engineer Patrick Baxter repeatedly why there could not be plastic flex posts – the primary demand of the April protest – where the city planned to put buffered bike lanes. An April 30 council order, though passed with some debate, also hoped for more extensive steps toward bike safety.

Baxter said trucks coming trough the snaky area would shear off posts in the curves, drawing criticisms from one upset cyclist that the city was “prioritizing trucks over bikes.” As part of the April protest, people formed a human wall in the Somerville Avenue bike lane buffer area to prove protected lanes were possible – and cars and bikes passed by without incident, using the lanes on either side of them.

Changes to the square were spurred by two deaths in 2016: Psychotherapist Marcie Mitler, 63, was hit by a car at 5:56 a.m. Feb. 18 while walking at Somerville Avenue and White Street, and died later at Massachusetts General Hospital; Ironwood Pharmaceuticals employee Bernard “Joe” Lavins, 60, was hit by an 18-wheel truck at 8:08 a.m. Oct. 5 while bicycling on Massachusetts Avenue across from the shopping plaza and pronounced dead at the scene.

Agnes Varda

7 Mar

A Pioneer Of The French New Wave, Filmmaker Agnès Varda’s Career Spans The Playful And Pointed

Filmmaker Agnès Varda with street artist JR. (Courtesy Cohen Media Group)closemore

Filmmaker Agnès Varda has seen and done much in her life — from witnessing the German invasion of France during World War II, to becoming the female face of the French New Wave, to hanging out with enigmatic Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison and, now, being recognized with a Charles Eliot Norton professorship at Harvard.

Varda, who was born in Brussels and spent most of World War II on a boat off the French port of Sète (where her mother was born), stumbled into film. Bestowed with the birth name of Arlette Varda, she changed it at the age of 18 — something that other famed French filmmakers of the time like Jean-Pierre Melville and Chris Marker did as well. A photographer by trade, Varda returned to Sète to shoot pictures for a friend who was physically unable to make the journey to the Mediterranean fishing port.

That photographic mission inspired Varda to make a cinematic postcard of the area with Philippe Noiret (“Cinema Paradiso”) cast as a man trying to reconcile a rocky marriage. The result was the 1955 film “La Pointe Courte” — the title referring to a small, water surrounded quarter of Sète. Shot using natural locations on an incredibly modest budget — and reluctantly edited by fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais who was working on a similar effort at the time — the film is widely considered the forerunner of the French New Wave. Continue reading

Porter Square Alterations

3 Feb

 

Planned changes in Porter Square allow left turns from White Street and close one shopping plaza exit. (Image: City of Cambridge Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department)

Traffic safety improvements in Porter Square would remove the pedestrian island where Somerville Avenue feeds into Massachusetts Avenue; close an exit from the mall allowing for a left-hand turn onto Massachusetts Avenue; and make the left turn from Massachusetts Avenue onto Somerville Avenue a single, dedicated left lane, replacing a center southbound lane that can be either left or straight.

The goal is to simplify the nest of intersections surrounding the mall and T stop and make it safer for all – drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department representatives said. The current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only and another to leave the mall parking lot) would be replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

The changes, intended to be low-cost and and come as soon as spring or summer, were shared Thursday with around 100 people gathered in University Hall at Lesley University, presented by Phil Goff of Alta Planning and city engineer Patrick Baxter. Continue reading