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The Cambridge bike lane battle is heading to court

Businesses and residents have sued the city over a plan for 25 miles of separated bike lanes, saying lost parking spaces will hurt sales.

The bike lane on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge between Alewife Brook Parkway and Dudley Street is separated from the bus lane by flex posts.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

A faction of local business owners and residents in Cambridge sued the city Friday, seeking to reel back an ambitious bike lane expansion project that they say will eliminate precious parking spaces and devastate small businesses.

The suit, filed by the newly formed group Cambridge Streets for All, asks a Middlesex Superior Court judge to block the city from new construction under its Cycling Safety Ordinance, which mandates separated bike paths be created on 25 miles of Cambridge streets by the end of the 2020s.

“We believe improved bike lane access to be an excellent goal, but not when the parking for business customers and staff, as well as for neighborhood residents and patients of local medical providers is being completely gutted, which will clog side streets where people live,” Lee Jenkins, a plaintiff in the suit who is the owner of Violette Gluten Free Bakery in Porter Square, said in a statement.

The suit also asks the judge to order Cambridge to take down existing bike lanes built under the initiative that eliminated parking spaces, such as an initial stretch that opened on Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge in November.


The ordinance represents a key part of the city’s plans to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, by making Cambridge less reliant on automobile traffic. But climate change has been handily overshadowed by the vitriolic public spat between business owners and bike advocates that has erupted since the initiative was adopted by the City Council in 2019.

A spokesman for the city said in an e-mail that “the City Solicitor is reviewing the complaint filed in Middlesex Superior Court and will diligently represent the City’s interests in this matter.”

In the complaint filed Friday, the group alleges that business owners in parts of Cambridge where protected bike lanes have already been constructed have seen “a drastic decline in business volume and attendant revenue, as a direct result of a lack of parking and customers being unable to patronize the businesses.”


Those bike lanes have also forced vendors to park on side streets when making deliveries, creating a major traffic conundrum, the complaint alleges. If more such bike lanes are built, the suit claims, it’ll only get worse.

“In short, the Cycling Safety Ordinance has caused huge damage to the community and it benefits only one group: bicycle riders in the city,” the complaint reads.

But supporters of the bike lanes — a large and vocal group in a commuter city like Cambridge — have fiercely defended the project, saying it’s a common-sense solution to make streets safer and more climate friendly.

From 2000 through 2015, a car hit a bike nearly once every two days in Cambridge, according to Police Department data. A few of those accidents were fatal.

Bike lane supporters have also questioned if the businesses really need the parking spaces to get by, pointing to studies in other cities with similar projects that suggest little effect on spending at local businesses.

“It’s going to be hard and impactful, and we should do everything we can to mitigate the impact on businesses,” Joe Barr, the city’s director of traffic, parking, and transportation told the Globe last month. “But whether it’s because of city policy, because of climate change, or because of the safety of our streets, we have a legal and moral imperative to make these changes.”


The group behind the suit also alleges the city did not do enough to inform residents of the ordinance and its implications. The city has denied that claim, saying it has worked with business owners on solutions that will mitigate effects on customer traffic.

The lawsuit comes at a key juncture for the project, as bike lanes are set to go up in Porter Square by the end of the summer. That neighborhood has been at the center of the debate.

A hearing on the case is slated for June 17.

Andrew Brinker can be reached at Follow him @andrewnbrinker.