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CAMBRIDGE — The city is once again gearing up for major upgrades to its streetscape, this time by installing more protected bike lanes along a stretch of its namesake thoroughfare.
Under the Cambridge Street Safety Improvement Project, officials will replace roughly half the parking spaces between Oak Street, in Inman Square, and Second Street with protected bike lanes and curb extensions, to make the street safer for commuters, officials said.
The city is midway through the project’s planning and engagement phase, with construction slated for spring of next year. In the meantime, “there will be more events in 2024, when the city will come back to the community with draft designs for review and feedback,” according to the city’s website.
The project will add another 2 miles of bike lane to the 25 miles mandated by the Cycling Safety Ordinance of 2020 — and the changes are arriving at a time when bike advocates say they’re needed most.
More than 150 crashes have occurred in the past two years along Cambridge Street, according to the project page. Nearly one-third of the crashes involved a driver and a cyclist, or a pedestrian, with most resulting in hospitalizations. The city is implementing protected bike lanes to reduce crash frequency and severity.
Galen Mook, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, said adding the lanes will make roads safer for everyone.
“It’s proven time and time again: Including separate bike infrastructure prevents severe crashes of all kinds, which keeps people alive and tells me it’s worth the investment,” he said.
In December, community members showed up for the first virtual meeting about the project, with many people speaking up in favor of the changes.
During the meeting, Nihit Trivedi, who rides his bike to work in East Cambridge and uses it to bring his daughter to King Open School, said the increase in bike lanes around the city has made it feel safer to travel on two wheels.
“I really appreciate what the city is doing here, and I think this is a great plan for making the streets safer for drivers and bikers,” he said.
In a feedback map about the reconfigurations posted on the city’s website, one commenter said, “good bike infrastructure, like in Inman Square, would make it a lot easier and pleasant” to visit businesses along Cambridge Street.
“Currently, I find myself going towards Somerville more because of the ease of biking on side streets versus on Cambridge Street in its current state,” the person wrote.
While cyclists have been optimistic, some business owners have remained skeptical about the project’s rollout. Some were even reluctant to speak out against it for fear of community backlash.
“I think the general sentiment among businesses is that participating in the feedback is a waste of time,” said Jason Alves, executive director of the East Cambridge Business Association. “The decision was made when the ordinance was passed. This hasn’t been a true public process.”
Alves said he speaks regularly with business owners who are worried about available parking and what will become of loading zones.
“I’ve seen people sign shorter leases just to see what’s going to happen,” he said.
Alves asked four business owners in the neighborhood to share their thoughts on the new bike lanes, but all of them declined. Businesses along Cambridge Street visited by the Globe also declined interviews.
City Councilor Marc McGovern, the city’s vice mayor, said, “it’s not easy to be anti-bike-lane anymore.”
“The question on bike lanes has shifted from if and when, to how,” he said. “People are beginning to turn down the volume on the rhetoric.”
The updated Cycling Safety Ordinance, which fast tracks building out the city’s bike lane network, drew disapproval from some residents and businesses when it was first passed.
Cambridge Streets for All, a nonprofit group, later sued the city in 2022 as plans for more lanes on Massachusetts Avenue got underway. The group claimed there was a lack of transparency and public input, and that the ordinance was causing “huge damage to the community.” The lawsuit was dismissed last spring.
Cambridge Transportation Commissioner Brooke McKenna acknowledged that the reception to the latest plans has been mixed at neighborhood meetings, with businesses expressing concerns about how bike lanes will affect operations.
But city staff said they intend to meet with every business that could be affected, to accommodate their needs as the design plans permit.
Aside from the bike lanes, “everything else is basically on the table,” said Cara Seiderman, the city’s transportation program manager.
Still, not every business is upset about the pending changes.
“Repaving the street benefits us, in a way,” said Elvis Medrano, owner of Euphoria Barbershop. “It makes the storefronts nicer, gives it more of a community feel.”
Medrano said in the 11 years he’s been operating on Cambridge Street, he’s seen a lot of changes, including a clientele that often arrives by bicycle. Although not everyone will be on board with the upgrades, he welcomes the proposal.
“I’m part of the generation that likes improvements,” he said.
For Cambridge resident Lauren Crowe, seeing the plans move forward is a relief.
In 2018, Crowe was struck by a car on Cambridge Street. She was pregnant at the time and suffered a misaligned tailbone, an injury that kept her off a bike for two years, she said.
“I’ve always felt a lot safer in the protected lanes,” Crowe said. “And now that I have two kids that I pull around in a trailer, that’s even more important.”