A Middlesex Superior Court judge on Friday ruled that Cambridge’s ambitious bike lane expansion initiative can move forward this summer while a lawsuit that seeks to halt and roll back construction makes its way through court.
Filed last month by a newly formed faction of business owners and residents under the name Cambridge Streets for All, the lawsuit alleges that the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance will cause irreparable harm to local businesses by eliminating street parking spots. The ordinance mandates protected bike paths be created on 25 miles of Cambridge streets by the end of the 2020s.
The CSA had asked a judge to temporarily halt construction under the ordinance while the lawsuit moves forward, but Judge John Pappas denied that request Friday, a signal that the group’s legal action is unlikely to succeed. In his ruling, Pappas cast doubt on the CSA’s claims that the city ordinance violates state and Constitutional law and that it will cause significant harm to the city’s business owners and residents.
The CSA said in a statement Friday afternoon that it would continue its lawsuit and appeal Pappas’ denial of an injunction, likening it to recent “anti-democratic” Supreme Court decisions, including the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
“It’s been a bad week for court decisions,” said Lee Jenkins, a plaintiff in the suit who is the owner of Violette Gluten Free Bakery in Porter Square. “We are asking those who support the process in which these flexi-post bike lanes were installed to take a careful look at what happened this week nationally, and how it feels when one interest out of many, takes control and imposes their will on others.”
The City of Cambridge said in a statement that it was “pleased” with the ruling, and that the preliminary injunction “would have caused significant impacts on the City’s current and future bike lane projects, as well as other roadway projects.”
The suit ultimately seeks to halt any future construction and tear 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 Cycling Safety 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. The initiative is popular among cyclists and transit advocates, but has touched off a bitter public spat that has escalated since it was adopted by the City Council in 2019.
In the complaint filed last month, the CSA alleges that business owners in parts of Cambridge where protected bike lanes have already been constructed have seen “a drastic decline in business volume.” 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.
But supporters of the bike lanes have questioned those claims and fiercely defended the project, saying it’s a common-sense solution to make streets safer and more climate friendly.
The lawsuit comes at a key juncture for the ordinance, as bike lanes are set to go up in Porter Square by the end of the summer, before spreading to other neighborhoods around the city in the coming years.