Tag Archives: Cambridge

Watch Dogging the Historic Charm of Harvard Square

12 Jun

Harvard Square isn’t losing Defense Fund, it’s just gaining Neighborhood Association

Longtime thorn in side of developers morphs with new generation

Gladys “Pebble” Gifford, Caroline James, Marilee Meyer and Abra Berkowitz amid work on Harvard Square issues. (Photo: Carole Perrault)

The Harvard Square Defense Fund is back – rebranded.

The citizens group had some powerhouse years after its founding in 1979 by Gladys “Pebble” Gifford – blocking fast food franchises, sending the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum off to Boston and reshaping Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts – but has been dormant for years, even as people griped that the quaint square was losing its charm amid an infestation of banks and chain retailers. Believing the fund dissolved as far back as 2008, when Gifford gave testimony against the coming of The Sinclair nightclub in 2011, she did so as just a neighbor.

“The directors all got elderly or died. We thought we’d officially put it to bed,” Gifford said of her organization.

But when the city announced a $4.6 million plan to revamp the square’s 89-year-old Out of Town News kiosk and surrounding plaza, activists worried the alterations would nullify its classic charm and iconic features.

Members of the group Our Harvard Square, which includes Suzanne Blier, a Harvard architectural historian, and Susan Labandibar, president of Tech Networks of Boston, began calling for the structure – already on the list of the National Register of Historic Places – to be designated as a landmark by the Cambridge Historic Commission in hopes it would further ensure its preservation.  Continue reading

Inman Square Redesign

4 May
Plans for Inman Square add a plaza on Hampshire Street that bends it to the west where it meets Cambridge Street.

Just in time for National Bike Month – and almost a year after bicyclist Amanda Phillips was struck and killed – the city announced its redesign plans for Inman Square.

The chosen design revealed Tuesday is the “signaled” solution, also referred to as the “Northside Bend,” which splits one complex intersection into two, putting a bumpout (and public plaza) in front of where the Punjabi Dhaba restaurant is situated. That results in bending Hampshire Street to the west as it meets Cambridge Street.

The solution was met with mixed reactions, but most everyone was happy something was being done, city councilor Marc McGovern said.

Cambridge officials have felt pressure to make a safer, more bikeable city sooner, rather than later, since the death of Phillips and a fellow bicyclist only months later. Activist groups such as Cambridge Bicycle Safety and the Boston Cyclists Union have been among the most vocal in pushing for solutions – most hoping for a peanut-shaped “roundabout” solution considered to offer more safety benefits, said Michael Davidson of Cambridge Bicycle Safety, pointing to its “15 mph rated speeds and raised crosswalks.”  Continue reading

Make Way for the Bike Lane

27 Apr
Members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee listen to Dutch transportation planner Jan Nederveen on Sunday on Cambridge Street, which is getting a protected bike lanes. (Photo: Michael Davidson‎ via Facebook)

The first public meeting on a Cambridge Street separated bike lane project drew some 150 cyclists, street residents and concerned business proprietors and others Tuesday, and the design – shifting the bike lane between parked cars and the curb – and summer timeline were received with overwhelming support.

The proposed lane passes by major city waypoints including Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where high schoolers have been advocating for a safer way to bike to campus, Cambridge Hospital and the Cambridge Main Library. The meeting was held at the school.

“As the mom of a CRLS student who bikes to school, and as a bike commuter myself, I can’t wait for a comprehensive network that will allow us to get around the city safely and without polluting,” said Ruthann Rudel, a Rindge Avenue resident and Cambridge Bicycle Committee member.  Continue reading

Bye Bye Pooh House

12 Apr

Winnie-the-Pooh tree marked for removal after 20 years delighting visitors to Hurlbut

Residents: Lucky to have had something that makes goodbyes hard

The Winnie-the-Pooh tree on Hurlbut Street drew visitors from all over – including kids on geocaching missions out of Canada. (Photo: Geo Kidz)
The tree was a full silver maple until an April 1, 1997, snowstorm. (Photo: Tom Meek)
Inside are notes, a guestbook and a lending library box. (Photo: Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis)

The “Pooh House,” a beloved jewel of Neighborhood 9, will be torn down in the coming weeks as part of a lead pipe replacement and repaving scheduled by the Department of Public Works, officials have told Hurlbut Street residents.

Twenty years ago, a grand silver maple that lorded over the street became a victim of a April Fool’s Day snowstorm that dumped nearly two feet of heavy, wet snow on the city. The remaining stump, initially hollowed out by Harvard anthropologist and neighbor Irv Devore, was crafted into the Pooh House by wood sculpture artist Mitch Ryerson, whose imaginative, interactive sculptures dot playgrounds across the city.

Funded in part by the Cambridge Arts Council, the belly of the tree became a living room occupied by a plump Pooh Bear with a guest book hanging inside to be signed by visitors – mostly children inspired by the chance to see a physical incarnation of A.A. Milne’s cherished creation. The eight- to nine-foot structure was capped by a meticulously laid shingled roof and a weathervane with a faded sign below for “Mr. Sanders” near a small door and window leading to the root system, a reference to Milne’s previous Pooh house tenant.

Soon the whimsical structure will be uprooted and removed.

“Sad to see it go, but 20 years is a pretty good run for an old stump,” Ryerson said.

Hurlbut Street resident Bill King recalled Devore’s caring curation of the Pooh House, which also became a take-and-return honor library of sorts, and reported that the guest book was once used to facilitate a marriage proposal (and, the next day, an acceptance).

Longtime Avon Hill resident Ruth Ryals talked about the draw of the house when her now-mature grandchildren from Pittsburgh came to visit. “It was a special place for them that helped make Cambridge special,” Ryals said. Many other area residents shared equally fond remembrances.

At the roots is a doorway with a faded sign for “Mr. Sanders.” (Photo: Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis)

A less substantial Pooh House was been a fixture outside Harvard’s Science Center at 1 Oxford St. since 1990.

19 Dec
One of Cambridge’s separated bike lane tests is along Massachusetts Avenue just north of Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The City of Cambridge made good last week on a City Council order from October implementing two experimental, separated bike lanes along short swaths of Massachusetts Avenue – one in Central Square, along the northbound stretch skirting Lafayette Park; the other also northbound, just north of Harvard Square along the Harvard Law School campus. The Law School installation removed parking spaces; the Central Square setup shifted parked cars outward, so the bike lane runs between the passenger side of parked vehicles and the curb. Each section is about about a football field long.

The implementations are similar to ones installed in November along Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as part of the city’s pursuit of Vision Zero – a program aimed at achieving a rate of zero traffic fatalities. The October order was one of a series of bicycle safety orders pushed by cycling advocates and groups after the death of Amanda Phillips in Inman Square in June and Joseph Lavins, struck by a truck in Porter Square, three months later.

The separation device is a zebra-striped swath painted on the road with flex posts, and the raised structures are removable pylons. More permanent flex barrier posts have been ordered and should be installed in the next two weeks, weather permitting, said Joseph Barr, director of Cambridge’s Traffic, Parking and Transportation department.

Still, there is “no set date” for how long the lanes will be left up, Barr said. The primary purpose of the temporary measures is to garner feedback on safety and the feasibility of the solution for expansion. There are plans for similar protected lanes in Inman Square in the spring, but the loss of parking spaces is typically fiercely debated in traffic changes.

“Folks will realize the loss of some parking in some areas is less important than than creating safe streets for those riding bikes,” vice mayor Marc McGovern said.

The reaction from the bike community so far has been guarded elation. “The new protected bike lanes are a great start,” said Joseph Poirier, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group formed in the wake of Phillips’ death, “but we know that we won’t see the huge mode shifts to biking from driving until we have a complete network of low-stress, protected bike lanes throughout the city. Isolated segments are a helpful start, but people won’t start to replace driving trips with bike trips until their entire journey is protected and low-stress. The research is pretty clear about this.”

Cambridge can be a leader in rolling out a connected, comprehensive network of protected bike lanes, group members say. “Remember that all of the great policies in the Netherlands started with a single car-free day in Utrecht,” is how Richard Fries, executive director of Mass Bike, sums it up.

26 Oct
A “ghost bike” memorial is set up Tuesday in Porter Square in memory of bicyclist Bernard “Joe” Lavins. (Photo: Andrew Huang)
A “ghost bike” memorial is set up Tuesday in Porter Square in memory of bicyclist Bernard “Joe” Lavins. (Photo: Andrew Huang)

More than 200 cyclists, co-workers and friends gathered in Porter Square on Tuesday to hold a candlelight vigil for Dr. Bernard “Joe” Lavins, who was struck and killed Oct. 5 by an 18-wheeler while bicycling through the tangled intersection in front of Christopher’s restaurant.

Details of the accident have yet to be released, but his death marks the second cyclist in Cambridge killed in a little over three months after Amanda Phillips was doored and struck by a lawn service vehicle June 23 in Inman Square.

The ceremony, led by the Rev. Laura Everett, head of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and a cycle advocate, dedicated a “ghost bike” memorial in Lavins’ memory, and mourners recalled Lavins, a 60 year-old research scientist at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge.

The Rev. Laura Everett leads the Tuesday memorial ceremony in Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)
The Rev. Laura Everett leads the Tuesday memorial ceremony in Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

He was a cautious man, mourners said, who took a bike safety class put on by the company before he began commuting from his home in Lexington two years ago. (To get away from the frustrations of driving and to get more exercise, because he loved junk food too much, one friend pointed out.)

Ken Carlson, a colleague of Lavins’ at Ironwood who also chairs the Somerville Bike Committee, and Chris O’Dea, another co-worker who cycles, called for “something positive to come from the terrible tragedy” – namely to make Porter Square and all hazardous hotspots throughout the city safe for cycling.

Five city councillors attended the event – Craig Kelley, Leland Cheung, Jan Devereux, Nadeem Mazen and vice mayor Marc McGovern – and John Adams, proprietor of the Kendall Square pool hall Flat Top Johnny’s, gave a history of the ghost bike, a symbol of remembrance and a reminder to motorists to share the road. Peter Cheung, a video editor and cycling enthusiast from Jamaica Plain, painted Lavins’ ghost bike after it was found in the basement of Flat Top Johnny’s. Admiration of his work brought a sweeping response from Cheung: “No more ghost bikes.”

Lavins leaves behind a wife and a 13-year-old daughter – and a heartbroken cycling community that wants change now.

Bike safety

26 Oct

Flowers in Porter Square for cyclist killed by truck yesterday morning.

Sadly, this is the second time in a little over three months that I’m writing about the hazardous state of cycling in Cambridge, Boston and the surrounding areas – now after the death of Bernard Lavins, 60, who was dragged under an 18-wheeler in Porter Square this week. In June, Amanda Phillips was doored in Inman Square and killed by a passing lawn service truck. Both came after the conclusion of Bike Month, when I submitted a passionate callout of municipalities for their slack and slow response to perilous hot zones outlined in letters submitted to the respective transportation departments requesting their attention before something tragic happened. Continue reading