The Continued Deceptions of the Cambridge Residents Alliance

The Continued Deceptions of the Cambridge Residents Alliance

  • Posted on: 8 January 2013
  • By: stannenb

Stung by charges of misleading Cambridge about future development, the Cambridge Residents Alliance has offered a series of of web comments and email to local mailing lists seeking to justify their positions. These responses, though, are curious. By their own words and in the documents they cite, the CRA is warning us about development they say won't happen, cars that they say won't exist, planners who do exactly what the CRA says their bias won't allow them to do, and plans whose existence is proven by documents that say just the opposite.

Richard Krushnic, author of CRA development projections, says:

I never said that all of [18,000,000 square feet] would be developed

and adds

only a small fraction of this 18,000,000 square feet is under construction, permitted or with permits pending.

But CRA literature, shown below, for its Transportation Forum says that Cambridge faces "Over 18,000,000 square feet of new developments [sic]", without any qualification. This CRA literature reached far more people than Krushnic's more conditional analyses did.
Misleading information from the CRA Misleading information from the CRA
Leaflets and publicity materials from the Cambridge Residents Alliance. Their two top talking points are, by their own admissions, discredited
Misleading Information from the CRA
Jonathan King, Chair of the CRA's Steering Committee, in a message to local mailing list acknowledges that the CRA assertion that Cambridge faces "50,000 new cars on its streets" was an error, that the CRA meant, instead car trips, adding:

If Cambridge Residents Alliance literature has sometimes said 50,000 “cars” rather than “car trips,” that was a mistake and we will correct it.

That "if" and "sometimes" are disingenuous. All the publicity material for the CRA's Transportation Forum cited "50,000 new cars" and has reached a far larger audience than anything else produced by the CRA. King's corrections can start with the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association mailing list, move on to the Boston Globe, and then to Slate Magazine.

Steven Kaiser, the CRA's traffic analyst, takes issue with the assertion that the CRA had ignored the fact that development in Kendall Square "resulted" in decreased traffic. That sentence would have been better using the word "coincided", as cause and effect has not been proven. But his larger point is more relevant. Traffic - increased or diminished - isn't the necessary result of development. Rather, it's individual decisions within a larger context that increase or decrease traffic. That is precisely the goal of the "smart growth" advocates, to create an environment and incentives to minimize automobile use.

Both Kaiser and King have acknowledged that, as of the time of the CRA's Transportation Forum, Cambridge's traffic planners re-examined the Mass Ave/Prospect Street intersection and found it bottlenecked. They dismiss this as inadequate. But the charge wasn't about the adequacy of either the City's or the CRA's traffic analysis. Instead, it addressed Kaiser's extraordinary assertion of bias, that the City's traffic engineers would "never" look at bottlenecks. At the time he made that charge, at the CRA's Transportation Forum, it was, as he now acknowledges, untrue.

King, in an email message to a local mailing list, corrects the record. When talking about the CRA's creation myth, that it halted the destruction of Newtowne Court public housing, the evidence of which was a single slide shown once, I erred in saying the slide was shown once. Instead, as King notes, that slide was shown a total of three times. I appreciate King's correction. Then King goes on to say that:

The concern of the residents was so intense that Iram Farooq felt the need to circulate a public statement that this would no longer be included in the Goody, Clancy proposals.

King does not actually include Farooq's public statement for reasons that become immediately obvious as it says:

It is beyond the scope of this study to explore in depth, specific development options for any site in the study area. Any future changes to the Newtowne Court site would be planned by the CHA through a separate process with residents. We understand CHA has no such intentions at this time as there are many CHA properties with more significant needs for modernization and capital improvements than Newtowne Court.

Thus, as alleged proof of a plan to destroy Newtowne Court, King cites a communication that establishes that the plan he says exists was beyond the authority of those he says were doing the planning, and that those who might have that authority had no interest in pursuing any such plan.

It is, at this point, difficult to decide what to make of the CRA. Earnest in their detailed analyses of traffic and development, they can't seem to resist the urge to make Cambridge's future sound as an impending disaster. And, of course, this sense of urgency feeds their policy agenda: downzoning and, when that failed, an upzoning moratorium. For those extraordinary interventions to be justified, they need a sense of emergency, a crisis that needs to be fixed. But there is no development crisis and the normal mechanisms of the City seem perfectly adequate to managing what lies ahead.

Rather than a natural disaster - the CRA likes to call it a tsunami - development is both a sign and an engine of prosperity. The challenge to Cambridge is how to harness that prosperity and use it as a force to build a Cambridge we want. Many of us - this writer, as well as some in CRA leadership - have had the good fortune to watch the values of our homes grow as Cambridge becomes increasingly desirable. Are we content to enjoy our comfort while a significant number of Cambridge residents remain impoverished and the middle class gets forced out? Or are we eager for development that provides more affordable housing, creates options for the middle class, continues to fund the high level of services to which we're all accustomed, and, by building clusters of density around mass transit, creates a more sustainable city?

These are the debates Cambridge should be having. The CRA can choose to join in these discussions or it can continue to offer the misleading, shopworn arguments of anti-development activists who value their own comfort over the well-being of a larger community. The arguments are those one expects in conservative, suburban communities seeking to protect their homogeneous enclaves from the supposed threats of racial, ethnic and economic diversity. Cambridge, most assuredly, is better than that.

Disclaimer: The author is a member of the Leadership Committee of A Better Cambridge, an organization dedicated to t to preserve and expand the diversity of our community by supporting sustainable growth and appropriate density. The views expressed are his own.

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The Continuing Deceptions of the Cambridge Residents Alliance by Saul Tannenbaum, NeighborMedia, CCTV is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Comments

I'm sure Mr. Tannenbaum feels he is doing a great service to the City of Cambridge and its residents pointing out the Cambridge Residents Alliance erred in some of the facts we presented in our materials and our forums. Those facts were, for the most part, extrapolated from the meager information made available by the Community Development Department (CDD) and, if anything, were most likely understated.

Funny that Mr. Tannenbaum would focus so strongly on our facts when the most important facts are the ones that came out of the Cambridge Square Advisory Committee's CDD-penned recommendations. Not surprisingly, Mr. Tannenbaum makes no mention that his committee has recommended changes in zoning that would bring 14- to 18-story towers to the Central Square area, on streets that are now populated by mostly two-and three-story buildings.

Forgive me if I get some of this wrong, but the recommendations are highly complex; easily obfuscating the bald facts. But Mr.Tannenbaum is so skilled at correcting erroneous information I will gladly rely on him to correct me where I stray off the path.

The Cambridge Square Advisory Committee (CSAC), whose 21-person membership featured 9 non-Cambridge residents (number changed by the author to reflect a mistaken resident count in the original version), is recommending a new overlay district for the Central Square area that would dramatically raise height restrictions to 140 feet and 160 feet. Ordinarily that could result in 14- and 16-story buildings, but the CSAC and CDD added a little more gravy to the developer's pot by facilitating transferable development rights. This little twist confuses me, I admit, but essentially it allows developers to add an additional 20 feet to their 140- or 160-foot tower if they own property elsewhere. Simple math says we are now looking at the potential for 16- and 18-story towers, each of which would have 15-20-foot structures on top to accommodate heating, cooling and elevator systems.

That is the most important set of facts Mr. Tannenbaum should address, if he is truly concerned about the future of Cambridge. Unable to resist an easy pun, I would have to say the significance of those facts towers over the misstatements or incorrect facts that fostered Mr. Tannenbaum's fit of pique.

The Cambridge Residents Alliance stands by its concern about the pending Tsunami of mindless and planning-less citywide development, and we still call for a one-year citywide moratorium on all up zoning. We also invite anyone who cares about the future of our city and the quality of life it affords us to join the CRA in resisting the lure of easy money and the CDD's flawed arguments about inclusionary zoning offsetting the loss of families and low-income households driven out by the rising rents these Towers For The Affluent historically breed. The Alliance of Cambridge Tenants (ACT) has joined us in this effort precisely because it knows this kind of towering development is detrimental to low- and middle-income tenants and families, and has seen no future for those parties in the recommendations Mr. Tannenbaum and his committee are making.

I would only add there is little in those recommendations that brings anything but congestion and long shadows to the future of Central Square and Cambridge.

To the Readers of Saul Tannenbaum's Blogs and his Allegations Regarding the Cambridge Residents Alliance

From : Stephen H. Kaiser, PhD

The real problem linked to any allegations by Mr. Tannenbaum is that he has been waging his war based on leaflets he has seen. The proper approach would have been to contact the City of Cambridge for their figures and calculations. or best of all to quote from their planning and traffic reports. He did none of this, and for good reason. The City's work as publicly released so far consists only of PowerPoint slide presentations. There is no planning report and no traffic report from the City.

That is not the only problem. There is no traffic report from Forest City on its latest plans. There is no traffic report from MIT. There is no traffic analysis from A Better Cambridge or the Chamber of Commerce. None of them have done anything by way of a traffic report.

So what traffic report has been prepared and is available for public review? There is one. You can read it on your computer screen and print it out on your printer. It is composed of a main text plus four appendices. You can go to http://www.cambridgeresidentsalliance.org/street-traffic-congestion.html
to read the report and download a copy. Yes, the ONLY traffic report that has been released to the public was commissioned by and circulated by the Cambridge Residents Alliance. It is entitled "Traffic and Transit Implications of Development at at Central and Kendall Squares," and I am the author.

Now comes another problem. In all of his criticism of the Residents Alliance, Mr. Tannenbaum has not made a single reference to my report, nor has he provided any evidence that he has read it or is even aware of its existence. He definitely must be aware of its existence, because at the November 17 Transportation Forum I placed a signup sheet for anyone interested in receiving a copy of the report and its appendices. Mr. Tannenbaum signed it, and I sent him a copy of the materials. He's got it. But he doesn't use it.

Why not? He does not need to be a traffic engineer to respond. He can go to his friends at City agencies, at Forest City or MIT and ask them what is wrong with my report. He can print what they say in his blog. Very simple. I suspect that he has gone to others to help prepare his past blog comments.

But he didn't do it.

Either he is lazy, unimaginative, or can't find anything wrong with the report. Possibly he can't find anyone who knows anything that could be wrong with my traffic and transit report.

So let me explain the errors or omissions I have found so far. These are necessary fixes that I have recognized myself or by talking with knowledgeable transit enthusiasts. One of the appendices is a collection of photographs showing traffic congestion, blockage and conflicts with pedestrians. The file is too large (30 MB) to be handled by our meat-and-potatoes Alliance website, so it will take some time to make the necessary adjustments and get the photos posted. Secondly, I found numerical errors in the estimates for available equipment on the Red Line. Those errors will be corrected in an Update version of my report I hope to release later this month. It will be a full report, posted on the web, and will be the only traffic and transit report prepared by anyone, including Mr. Tannenbaum's development allies.

So there is a very legitimate reason why Mr. Tannenbaum cannot cite official sources to refute any claims by the Alliance -- because there are no reports to support his side of the argument. No wonder his claims are so trivial and shallow : his support team has failed him completely.

My report contains a discussion of the history of the City's past traffic studies showing the consistent efforts to avoid discussing traffic bottlenecks (see page 10-13). This history extends from 1979 to the present. In all that time, the City has assessed only one bottleneck and that is Central Square at Mass Avenue and Prospect. Yet initially the City analysis said that in traffic terms the intersection at peak hour was only half full. The Residents Alliance had a meeting with City officials in early November, and we told them this conclusion was unrealistic and utterly lacking in credibility. We told them that pedestrians had been completely ignored at Central Square in the analysis. City officials indicated that they were taking another look at the intersection and would include a consideration of pedestrians. We said this is encouraging, so please send us the results of their new analysis.

About a week later they completed an analysis that said Central Square was at capacity or Level-of-Service E. They did not send a copy to me or the Alliance, and I heard about it only second-hand. I still have not had a chance to check their calculations. The observations I made of Central Square and the proof -- demonstrated in the photos taken by a professional photographer for the Alliance -- show an intersection fully congested at Level-of-Service F. This discrepancy has not been resolved, nor even discussed.

My traffic report includes a consideration of twenty-seven locations, compared with a computer analysis of twelve locations by the City. The City looked at one bottleneck and my report considered ten. Does the City do traffic studies that NEVER look at bottlenecks? No, the more accurate term is "almost never." Over the past quarter century, one might say 99.44% never.

I do not criticize city staff for this problem. Their job is defined to be pro-development, and as a staffer told me "If we had to look at traffic bottlenecks, we could not be able to allow any new development." Unlike Mr. Tannebaum, I do not make rash charges about distortion and misrepresentation. I simply say that the City in almost all cases is intentionally avoiding the bottleneck issue, and that is wrong. Forest City is too. In all the traffic studies they have done since 1985 Forest City has not analyzed Central Square. I have never seen an MIT traffic report that considered a bottleneck.

The problem remains. City officials refuse to publicly use the word bottleneck. They have not and would not describe Central Square as "bottlenecked."

With the MIT rezoning of Kendall Square coming up, the most important bottleneck issue is the failure of the K2C2 study to consider the number one bottleneck in East Cambridge : O'Brien Highway and Land Boulevard. My traffic report at page Appendix B, page 14 illustrates the trends in traffic flows in the past decade, and how traffic is still congested at this bottleneck -- even though traffic counts have dropped by 15 percent in seven years. The reason? The Big Dig had produced tremendous congestion on the Boston side of the River. The traffic is backing up from Boston into Cambridge and is blocking the O'Brien and Land intersection. Is traffic going down at some locations? Sure it is. At Land and O'Brien the trouble is the traffic can't move. Can anyone claim our traffic problems are going away and that this will allow more room for new traffic from developments? No. The room is not there.

In my report on page 18 I describe the origins of the 50,000 new vehicle trips per day. The City admits to only 30,000 but only for the immediate Kendall Square area. They did not include another 18,500 new trips estimated at North Point. They did not consider possible new trips in East Cambridge from a renovated Court House and other projects. No new trips from Alewife, North Cambridge, or other areas in the city were included. I said that the total trip number was a minimum of 50,000 new trips a day (from publicly accepted sources) and was probably higher. I do not have the total numbers for city-wide growth from our City planners. But they could have released their planning estimates for the whole city, and not limited the numbers to Kendall Square only. If the planners would do their end of the job and release the information, then Mr. Tannenbaum and I would have at least the City's numbers on which to base the estimated number of new vehicle trips for the whole city. He should inquire at City Hall and obtain this information for his next blog.

My traffic report was prepared for and submitted to the Cambridge Residents Alliance. It is public domain and accessible to anyone. The contents of the report are my professional responsibility, and if I make an error, it is my professional responsibility to correct them, as I shall be doing this month. If the city makes a mistake in their analysis of Central Square and makes a significant improvement, I must congratulate them and indicate my appreciation. Their analysis of Central Square is much better, in part due to stimulation from the Alliance. Their analysis of Red Line capacity at Kendall Square has also improved. It is a significant improvement over the original analysis which said in the peak hours the Red Line trains are almost HALF EMPTY. Again, stimulation from the Alliance has resulted in a better transit analysis by the City.

Furthermore, my report supports efforts by the City to urge the MBTA to plan and invest in Red Line infrastructure, simply to maintain the service which we have today (at pages 26-30). The City could have proposed action and funding to increase Red Line service and capacity to handle new development, but they did not. There is no reason why City planners and the Residents Alliance cannot continue to work for better transit service for Cambridge. Mr. Tannenbaum so far has said nothing about transit.

I will leave to others the need to respond to allegations about housing and total development plans. Residents of Newtowne Court continue to feel threatened by political pressure to generate "higher income uses" than public housing can offer. One issue ignored to date is that any intense new development at Newtowne Court would generate more traffic than the site does today.

These political pressures threatening Newtowne Court are coming from City Counselors and not planning staff. No one seems to be coordinating transportation, housing, and preservation planning for the City, even through there are many possibilities for residents, developers and city officials to work together.

Finally I would add a reminder that the City and the developers must legally comply with the state Constitution. Article 7 of the Declaration of Rights states that "Government is instituted for the Common good, for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people and not for the profit, honor or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men." The issue of profit, conflict of interest and greed at the expense of preservation appears to have been inadequately considered by City officials, ABC, and many members of the Advisory Committee.

Stephen Kaiser

============

The CRA campaign - embodied in the leaflets I'm shown - reached far more people than the CRA's more detailed analyses. But, Stephen Kaiser is right. I'm using the CRA's own words to discredit their own leaflets. I certainly would have consulted City experts, the CRA's reports, and other sources, if it was necessary. But it wasn't. And I'm sorry that Kaiser feels stung by this. It can't be easy to have your detailed professional work overshadowed by the CRA's sophomoric mistakes. But his quarrel is with those who created those leaflets that undermined his work, not with those holding them accountable.