Tensions run high between Porter Square businesses, bikers over bike lane project

A Cambridge project to install bike lanes this April along a small strip of one of the city’s main thoroughfares, eliminating most metered parking spaces in the process, has sparked tensions between the city’s business owners, bikers, local officials and concerned citizens around Porter Square who all have a stake in the game.

The business community has banded together, forming a group to sign petitions, disperse flyers around the neighborhood and generally rally against the project.

“We’ve been here for 34 years, I have probably been told more than 1,000 times, ‘I found a parking spot, so we stopped in,’” said Seth Lamoreaux, who owns Cambridge Clogs, a specialty sock and clog store. He added that some customers come from other parts of New England to his shop and definitely need parking.

Lamoreaux said that, the day before, a customer told him they refused to shop at his store because he had a sign supporting the small business movement against the bike lanes in his window.

“Many people are dug in in their position, and I’d like to see a compromise,” he said.

“A lot of the community in Cambridge we all do kind of band together, because one neighborhood or one stretch of the street does affect the other,” said Amy Driscoll, owner of Susanna, a boutique just outside the bike lane area. “This bike lane project feels very threatening.”

“We came out from a pandemic and having the bike lane taken away from the business produce is our lifeline,” said Faron Fares, owner of Faron Salon. “Everybody’s very nervous and very scared, so this is going to be the second pandemic for us.”

But the tension cuts both ways, one resident said, with activists adding that the bike lanes could create crucial change for the area and help business.

“I’ve had a business owner yell at me just because I came in with a bicycle helmet,” said a local resident who identified herself as Katherine B. “It’s so hurtful and painful that I just have to step back from (organizing) for my own sanity.”

Year-round, Katherine bikes the streets near that area regularly with her three children in tow, to drop them off at day care and get herself to and from work. She was previously more deeply involved with an organized bike group to rally around the project, but also cited the instance of a man sustaining $700 worth of damage when someone placed thumb tacks and bricks in a newly installed North Cambridge stretch of bike lane.

She continues to engage with the issue by emailing with City Council members because she feels the commute along Mass. Ave. near Porter Square is too dangerous for her to ride with her kids, especially as her 6-year-old son bikes alongside her.

“It’s unfortunate, as he gets old enough going to high school, he can’t take himself there by bicycle because there’s no safe routes,” she said. “It’s just really a shame for children in an urban environment to not have that kind of infrastructure to allow them to have the independence and the freedom to go to their soccer game or go visit their friends.”

The biking community feels that the project, which, for now, only pertains to a quarter-mile stretch of Mass. Ave. immediately adjacent to the Porter Square T stop, has been blown out of proportion by the business community, which has rallied to stop the project and save their parking. The project will eventually encompass building protected bike lanes on many of the main streets in Cambridge, and all of Mass. Ave.

“We’re hearing from business owners that are freaking out about losing their parking, but their business is not in the study area,” said Nate Fillmore, the founder of Cambridge Bike Safety. “If parking is lost in front of the business, that is certainly not happening imminently. There will be lots of discussion about where exactly parking goes and what are the options,” he said.

He added that advocates like him have been asking for more bike lanes in Cambridge for years, especially in the wake of at least two fatal bike accidents in the city, one in the intersection of interest.

Still, though, he does not want to antagonize the business owners.

“The bicyclists depend on the small business community more than anybody,” he said. “We want to find solutions that work for everybody, and would like to bring down the whole tenor of the conversation, and most of all, just have a fact-based conversation about what’s actually happening, and how can we address impacts that may arise?”

Kristiana Lachiusa, director of Transit + Outreach for LivableStreets Alliance and a resident of the Porter area, noted that the issue is broader than businesses versus bikes, because the corridor “isn’t really working well for anybody,” she said.

“There’s traffic, buses are slow, it’s unsafe and uncomfortable to bike, it’s hard to cross the street,” she said. “We know that today isn’t the situation that we want it to be.”