Rebuild foes seek permit for protest march

Aux Armes, Citoyens!

Vowing to close down Mass. Ave., opponents of the plan to rebuild that road in East Arlington have asked the Board of Selectmen for a permit to hold a protest march.

Such a permit is only needed for large crowds.

The agenda for the March 28 Selectmen’s meeting includes the following item:

5.    Request:  Permit to March
Eric Berger, East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee

Berger last month described a plan for an “opposition march down a closed-down Mass. Ave. corridor.” He has also promised “civil disobedience” should Mass Highway approve the Town’s plan over his objections.

Berger has also promised to bring “thousands” of opponents to the hearing on April 12.

“The crowd at Town Hall that hearing night in opposition will be so large [that] the lobby and the sidewalk out front will be packed,” he said.

The permit request by the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee, which was founded by Selectman Candidate Maria Romano, threatens to inject the hot-button Mass. Ave. issue into the Selectmen’s race in its final week.

I always like to see Arlingtonians exercise their First Amendment rights, as long as they respect the rights of others.

Update: Bob Sprague has more on this story.

Further update: The permit request was withdrawn.


23 comments so far

  1. Bob Sprague on

    See story at

    as well as poll at the upper right of the main site.

    Bob Sprague

    • Adam Auster on

      Bob’s story has more information than mine–I was just going off the Selectmen’s agenda, but Bob apparently has a statement from Eric, which he quotes.

      I’ve put a link to it in my story.

  2. Mark Kaepplein on

    I plan to take part in the march. To be realistic, given the general apathy and low turnout for even Memorial Day and other parades in Arlington, I think audience and participant attendance will be somewhat less than for protests in Egypt, Tunisia, or even Wisconsin. Mr Berger may have been over-enthusiastic in using the phrase “shut down”, which is not literal. Walking in a lane slated for removal shuts down one lane and congests Mass Ave no worse than snow or a construction dig, or the proposed plan for Mass Ave. It is not complete closure like parades are.

    BTW, nice graphic. Will EALS request a May Day parade?

    • Adam Auster on

      I don’t speak for EALS, but this sort of thing is not really their style.

      Mark, why a 3-hour permit to walk a mile? Do you know?

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        I don’t know why three hours. My guess is to educate more people. We can go back and forth. It can be a health and exercise day for walking groups or others to join. In the interest of public political fairness, other groups could support the lane closure for other causes like “take-back” Mass Ave for pedestrians! Make it a party to overcome resident apathy… yes on override, stop the wars, save the whales etc. Might need Arlington Police Department deployed in riot gear for potential idealogical conflicts, however! ;)

  3. dr2chase on

    Speaking as someone who grew up in Florida, and saw square miles of orange grove converted into “adult retirement community”, the idea of such a protest looks really, really silly. You’ve got a road, with either giant lanes, or unstriped lanes, or something, and a proposal to make it look more like roads in many other parts of the country, with striped lanes, a median, defined parking, and a defined bike lane (of some quality), and this deserves a protest march? Get real. This is an itty-bitty, harmless change.

    “Help, help, I’m being oppressed!” You might stop to consider whether you resemble that skit.

  4. lucylu on

    I’ve got to agree with dr2chase, and add that there’s really no harm in bringing East Arlington into the 21st century (or really, the late 20th century for that matter). Some great businesses are there that could use an area friendlier to pedestrians, and some drivers who could use a safer road to drive. I take the bus up and down Mass Ave into Cambridge every day for work, and I’m not worried one bit about traffic. Would be great to see these “protesters” pour their money and energies into something that matters – there’s certainly no shortage of need in this world.

  5. Mark Kaepplein on

    Atoms For Peace was seen as progressive and modern. Countless other things have been viewed as steps forward and later judged not so great. Bicycle use is a step backward from modern transport methods especially in developing countries where it is associated with poverty and not being able to afford a motorbike or car. What’s really old are Fresh Pond Parkway, Alewife Brook Parkway, and Mystic Valley Parkway, not improved to accommodate traffic volumes in at least 75 years. Because they are so outdated and deficient, more traffic diverts to Mass Ave, Lake, Pleasant, Mystic etc.. If those roads were fixed, narrowing our Mass Ave would be less of a problem. Unfortunately, the conservationists/cyclists “own” them and got them listed as National Historic Places to preserve their archaic nature.

  6. dr2chase on

    Mark, I think you are mistaken. Auto use is very much a marketed thing, is quite dependent on cheap energy, and on cross-subsidies to condemn land, build roads and parking, maintain roads and parking, and to keep the fuel flowing from not-entirely friendly nations. This is not a matter of “modern” and “archaic”, it is a matter of it looks cheap (because of how the costs are shuffled around) it looks convenient, at least until everyone is driving to the same place you are — and then, this “modern”, “better” way to travel needs even more dedicated space? Are you sure this is better?

    In addition, overuse of driving (or rather, underuse of feet and legs) results in thousands of early deaths and extra medical care. One study I’ve seen suggests that the mortality rate is 28% higher (“adjusting for risk factors” — it’s worse if you don’t, no surprise) for people who do not ride their bicycle to work. In addition, there are the direct deaths — 3000 pedestrians killed each year by autos and light trucks, plus the crash deaths of people in cars (about 35,000, isn’t it?). Bikes are safer than that (at least, in Europe, where they are widely enough used to gather reasonable statistics).

    The Dutch and Danish experience also suggests that cars are bad for urban economies. One way or another, parking is a tax on business — either a cost to customers, to pay to park, or a cost in space, or a cost in obstructing access. E.g.,

    So, seriously, why on earth are people protesting? Cars need more support than they get already? We fight wars to keep the fuel flowing, and that’s not enough?

  7. Mark Kaepplein on

    What are the 10 and 20 year projections for bicycle and pedestrian traffic? Do they justify increased capacity? Consider looking at things that way. How much marketing is needed to make them grow? I’m merely asking to reframe space allocation in the same way the MassDOT changed looking from the centerline out to outside in and was cheered as innovative.

    Motorcycles and scooters are far more efficient than SUVs in many ways, but the marketing and cultural support is missing. The culture and medical community is against them, even. The same DOT people pushing bike lanes also push bigger, heavier, and thus less efficient vehicles. Environmentalists have contributed to higher fuel consumption – I’m guessing the MBTA’s lower emmissions diesel buses are 20-25% less efficient based on data showing 14% lower MPG since half the fleet was replaced. Likewise, catalytic converters in cars require excess hydrocarbons (worse MPG) to reduce nitrous oxide components. Ethanol has a lower energy density than gasoline, again reducing MPG.

    Some things are marketing. Baby formula over breast milk (used in primitive cultures). Some comes from experts like doctors promoting induced labor and C-sections so they are on time for dinner or golf. Epidural anesthesia does, however, have appeal to mothers over “natural childbirth”. Marketing can not overcome lack of inherent appeal except in the short term – pet rocks, beanie babies, bad movies, the mullet. Cars and fast food seem more than fads. Even baby formula has appeal – before it existed, wet nurses were employed to unburden mothers.

    I agree bikes make lots of sense for some applications and never disputed that. Cycles here share more technology with Formula-1 race cars and supersonic jets than passenger vehicles! Unfortunately cycling and walking modes are in small demand and I don’t see them replacing vehicle transit in 10 and 20 years. I really wish expensive green demands were reduced on developers so local, biking distance jobs could exist at Mugar and Symmes.

    Constantly, motorists are being treated unfairly, having to justify the existence of the dominant mode. Instead of each mode justifying its share based on volume and projected volume, only motorists are having that applied to them. Its like white man’s burden for motorists and actual white man’s privilege for cyclists!

    • dr2chase on

      Motorists are hardly being treated unfairly; property taxes (not gas taxes) pay for local roads, and the cost to fight the Iraq war (never mind the cost to maintain a military presence there) is good for about $.70/gallon in taxes. The additional medical costs of a sit-on-your-ass lifestyle are also large, and subsidized by those of us who don’t (I don’t get a prescription+coverage for bike maintenance, I don’t get an insurance discount for riding my bike). Drivers also get an almost-free pass on running into things with their cars, in ways that nobody else does. That’s a subsidy. When you bought your car, you bought a car. You did not buy a right to a reserved lane on the road.

      As far as projections, it does depend on marketing. The Cambridge+Somerville combo is demographically and geographically similar to Groningen, where there’s a 57% trip share for bicycles (and the rest of the 43% is not all cars). We could get there in 20 years, but it would need a heck of a sales pitch to get people to buy in to that kind of change. There’s a ton of money (oil industry, auto industry) interested in keeping you in your car; there is nowhere near as much money interested in getting you out of your car (this is a corollary of you can save a lot of money by not driving so much).

      What we get for that, is fewer injuries from car crashes, quieter streets, less space spent on parking, and a greater intensity of economic activity (because we are quite often parking-limited). We’d save a fair amount of money, both individually (gasoline, repairs, insurance, long-term medications avoided) and at the government level (less road wear — trucks and busses tear up roads initially, but once the cracks are started, cars on wet roads tear them up fast). Flag men, they seem unnecessary for auto traffic, but they’re really silly for bicycle traffic — not only are cyclists better able to see what’s going on, and accustomed to doing it (not riding into holes in the road, part of your daily routine around here) we can easily detour off the road, or even walk the bikes around an obstruction.

      I think carbon-fiber bikes are a mistake for mass use; it makes them quite expensive, a bit risky in hard use, and more difficult to “fit” (lots of things you might attach to a bike, have special instructions for carbon frames, like “don’t”). The people in the Netherlands who ride a lot, use bikes that would not be regarded as at all sexy here.

      • dr2chase on

        Link missing above, on “almost free pass on running into things”: .

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        World’s #1 fuel consumer? US military! Without the wars, demand and prices for consumers would drop!

        State and federal taxes are paying for almost all the Mass Ave project, thus gas taxes, not property taxes or auto excise taxes. Just paid my excise tax, the town ought to restore bike registration and fees to gap revenue shortfall!

        I’m just calling for road rationing based on current use and realistic future projections of the expected 20-year lifespan, not wishful thinking of what ought to be. I don’t dispute the ought to be, only maintain that decisions need to based on reality.

        I wasn’t limiting bike technology to carbon and boron fibers. Mild steel is the norm in car frames and Euro bike frames. Aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and high-strength steel alloys not so much. Forged and milled parts, not so much. Car engine efficiency has grown considerably in 25 years, unfortunately so too has the added weight of regulations.

        Carbon fiber, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances are all sexy marketing successes and fashion accessories.

        • dr2chase on

          The main problem with cars is that they drive out other uses. They make cycling less desirable, because they make it feel more dangerous. And then hey look, extra space on the road, and nobody using it. Let’s allocate it to cars!

          It’s utterly unnecessary to buy an SUV to carry kids. Consider:

          A ride to school
          New bike, new smiles
          Three children in a bakfiets cargo bike
          419:  Cara Lin's Instigator Xtracycle

          Well, maybe if you have four. Then you could get a trailer.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Cute photos but most are illegal in Massachusetts if you could have even found some! Ages 1-4 must be on a fixed child seat. Helmet under 16, passengers on fixed seats. I suppose a luggage rack is a bench seat.

            • dr2chase on

              Yeah, a rational nanny state would not concern itself with bike helmets, since there are other much larger causes of mortality left unaddressed. Oddly enough, despite the lack of helmets, there’s no epidemic of head injuries in the the Netherlands (the source of about half of those photos). The one before-after study I know of (Australia) for helmets-for-all, showed a reduction in cycling, no change in total number of head injuries, and thus an increase in the injury rate. Basically, a public health disaster, since expected mortality increased for all those people who quit riding.

              • Mark Kaepplein on

                I’m with you here against poor nanny state decisions. Lawyers and regulators always look first at making laws and regulations to address problems. When you are a hammer all problems are nails. The latest one: new auto rollover protection requirements. What do they do? Yes, raise the center of gravity some more following child car seat laws which encouraged buying higher vehicles. Social host drinking laws discourages adult supervision so teens drink in the woods and need to drive home instead of partying and staying at a house.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        As far as trucks and buses tearing up road the most, true. The worst spots on Mass Ave. are where T buses are stopped and where they ripple the pavement stopping at lights. Get rid of T buses?

        To reduce road damage from heavy vehicles, do we over turn child car seat laws so parents are less encouraged to buy SUVs? (small, lower cars are harder for parents to bend over and get kids in and out of car seats)

        So, does the project call for fixing and fortifying the substrate at T bus stops?

      • WillRideNoMatter on

        “property taxes (not gas taxes) pay for local roads”

        Excise taxes pays for local roads.
        Property taxes (still) largely pay for town employee salaries & benefits (just sayin’).

        “There’s a ton of money (oil industry, auto industry) interested in keeping you in your car”

        No, having to go where the work is so that I can afford to live here is what keeps me in my car – that love affair is overstated as is pretending we all work intown and can afford the luxury of biking to work any or all year around.

        FWIW For recreation and exploration I prefer my bike and don’t need Mass Ave changed in limited sections to continue enjoying that (the bike lanes on Mass Ave North Cambridge are as treacherous as before there were token painted lanes).

        • dr2chase on

          I don’t think there’s any particular link between (town) excise taxes and roads; here in Belmont, we once passed a property tax override to get more money for road maintenance. Furthermore, the tax I pay on our cars, is not indexed to their weight, or to the miles driven, but to their value — it’s a form of property tax on a (allegedly) valuable hunk of property, never mind that my bicycle is certainly worth more than my car (the frame alone is worth more).

          As to commuting distance, that’s a tradeoff that people make. The median commute is (last I checked) around 11 miles, which is also around the distance of my bicycle commute (2-4x per week). Doesn’t work for everyone, sure, but it could work for a lot more than it does — an awful lot of people in Arlington, Belmont, and Watertown commute inbound, and you can’t go further than the Atlantic Ocean.

        • Mark Kaepplein on

          Consider user fees and paying for transportation. There are gasoline taxes (which have not kept up with inflation), tolls, bus fare, subway fare, plane fare, train fare, and boat fare. Bicyclist fund their infrastructure only through lobbying for government handouts! People are willing to pay for things of value, and I suspect nobody is willing to pay tolls to ride on bike paths or lanes. While most roadways and subways were built with some public funds, railroads were not, nor much of the Manhattan subway system. Even part of Mass Ave in the heights used to be a toll road.

          Much of the American economy is heavily dependent on transportation. While I think gas taxes should be higher, economists are against it for the loss of jobs and business it will cause. I think much of the reason the electric car was killed previously is because they need less repair work and parts than hybrid or gas/diesel only vehicles. That puts many people out of work. So too does any reduction in auto sales. Realistically, its much more likely a motorcycle or scooter can replace a car than a bicycle, and then, not likely.

          Allowing cyclists to ignore traffic laws and no longer register their vehicles has made riding more appealing, but should change back.

  8. Bob Sprague on

    Note that the request for a permit to protest has been withdrawn. See A fuller story will be published Tuesday.

    Bob Sprague

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      Saw it live on ACMI! Dr. Berger wasn’t informed until too late of the public safety planning info (crowd control, traffic control, sanitary facilities, EMS coverage etc. as if it was going to be Woodstock!) required. There was no point in having a parade after the DOT hearing, so he withdrew the request. This is my take on what I saw.

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