The Transportation and Public Utilities Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 3:03 PM in the basement conference room at 831 Massachusetts Avenue.
The purpose of the hearing was to examine the potential for deploying truck side guards across all city-owned trucks as part of a proposed "Safe Truck" program for testing innovative tools that will enhance protections for cyclists and pedestrians.
Present at the hearing were Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Chair of the Committee, Councillor Leland Cheung, Councillor Craig Kelley, Councillor Nadeem Mazen, Richard Rossi, City Manager, Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager, Alanna Mallon, Mayor's Office, Mike Connolly, Aide to Councillor Carlone, Susanne Rasmussen, Director, Transportation and Environment Planning Division, Community Development Department (CDD), Cara Seiderman, CCD, Owen O'Riordan, Commissioner of Public Works, John Nardone, John Fitzgerald and Sydney J. Cox, Public Works Department Matt Nelson, Police Department and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.
Also present were Steven Miller, 92 Henry Street, Steven Bercu, 132 Fayerweather Street, John Sanzone, 540 Memorial Drive and Alex Epstein.
Councillor Carlone convened the hearing and explained the purpose.
Councillor Carlone thanked everyone for attending and also noted that two City-owned trucks were parked outside of 831 Massachusetts Avenue for display showing the side guards on the vehicles. Councillor Carlone thanked Public Works for arranging to display these trucks with different versions of the side guards. He outlined the initial steps that have been taken by the City. He stated that the Committee will hear from the Commissioner of Public Works, Mr. O'Riordan, then three experts and advocates: Alex Epstein, Engineer at the US DOT Volpe Center, Steven Miller, Board of Directors of the LivableStreets Alliance, and Stephen Bercu, Board President of the Boston Cyclists' Union. Councillor Carlone invited staff and officials to comment throughout the meeting; to think of it as a "working session." He also stated that next steps would be discussed at the end of the meeting.
Councillor Carlone then provided a brief overview of the background on this issue, noting that in the summer of 2013, Councillor Cheung asked the City Manager to consider truck side guards on City vehicles. Then last fall, the City announced a small pilot program to install side guards on four vehicles. This year, it was further announced that the pilot program would be expanding.
Councillor Carlone further stated that last month, he learned that the City of Boston was advancing an ordinance to deploy truck side guards more broadly across all city-owned and city-contracted trucks, and, on the very same day, he also received news of a serious accident involving a Cambridge resident and a garbage truck, resulting in serious injuries, including a broken leg. Councillor Carlone stated that this confluence of events inspired him to ask the City to consider this issue more broadly, and Councillor Kelley suggested that a committee meeting would be an appropriate venue. Councillor Carlone further stated that he has since held meetings with Mr. Epstein, Mr. Miller and Mr. Bercu and that a dialog has started with the Mayor's office and the City Administration on this topic.
Councillor Carlone then invited Mr. O'Riordan and others to report the City's efforts to date.
Mr. O'Riordan stated that the City Administration committed to testing side guards on City vehicles last winter. Four vehicles were fitted with side guards. There were no problems at the end of the snow season. Currently there are eight City vehicles that have side guards installed. He stated that installation has stopped to find out what is the best design. The City is entering a contractual arrangement with Volpe. Eight vehicles have side guards installed of varying types and height. The standard will be 14 feet from the ground. The cost for the side guards is in the range of $1,500 - $2.000 per vehicle.
Mr. O'Riordan further stated that talks with the Volpe Center have revealed that there are other technologies available, such as cameras that can be installed. But one concern is the risk of overwhelming drivers with too much technology while driving, especially in the snow. Messaging in the vehicles and signage to inform cyclists that they are in a blind spot of the driver is also being considered. He spoke of educational videos used in UK. Boston's ordinance will also require city-contracted trucks to use side. Cambridge has contracts for paving work and there are subcontractors and this may have a cost implication to the City if required to install side guards. He would prefer state requirement to install side guards.
Mr. Nardone stated that the side guards are installed on some trucks and there are 8 mirrors on the vehicles. The city has tried to make sure that visibility is clear. There are back up cameras on the newer trucks.
Councillor Carlone asked what number of trucks would ultimately need to have side guards installed on them. Mr. O'Riordan responded between 40-50 trucks.
Councillor Kelley asked where the recent accident occurred. Mr. O'Riordan stated on the corner of Harvard Street and the side guards would not have helped in this particular case. These accidents happen because cyclists are in the way of trucks turning. Councillor Carlone stated that this is a complicated issue.
Councillor Carlone asked whether there could be signage to inform cyclists and pedestrians that "you are in my blind spot." Mr. O'Riordan responded in the affirmative. Councillor Carlone asked if the City is evaluating different types of side guards. Mr. Nardone noted that it is too early to evaluate the side guards. Mr. O'Riordan stated that there is efficiency with the different designs. He stated that there is Bluetooth technology where a puck will light up to signal to a cyclist that they are too close, but not everyone has Bluetooth technology.
Councillor Cheung asked about the timeline for the evaluation. Mr. O'Riordan stated that he wanted to install side guards on rubbish packers by end of the year. The City has 13 packers. The cost of the install of side guards is $1500 - $2000. Councillor Cheung stated that he wanted the City to move forward with items that can be done soon.
At this time Alex Epstein presented from his Safe Truck presentation (ATTACHMENT A). He stated that the last line of defense for pedestrians and cyclists is crash mitigation. A side guard is meant to prevent someone falling under the wheel guard. He stated that there are solutions which are not always deployed. He felt all should be evaluated and prioritized. Mirrors, cameras, Fresnel lenses, and turn alarms are examples of crash preventative measures.
Councillor Kelley stated that the overtaking vehicles enter the cyclists' lane. He further stated that the City of London has a program called "exchanging places" where drivers and cyclists change positions with each other.
Councillor Mazen commented some measures are cost effective such as getting the right lenses and proper installation. There are opportunities when cost is a concern. Councillor Kelley stated that cyclist ride around MBTA buses. He spoke about fleet safety issues.
Ms. Rasmussen stated that Community Development Department would send out a letter to private companies and institutions, fleet operators, and fuel trucks, etc. once the City determines what the best practices are. The City would encourage the installation of side guards.
Councillor Carlone then invited Steven Miller to make his presentation (ATTACHMENT B). Mr. Miller stated that there is no relicensing requirement for truck drivers in this state, despite the fact that rules and streets are changing. He stated that the time loading and unloading trucks is not counted as time "in the truck" for drivers. Bike classes are offered in Cambridge in the fifth grade. He feels his mirror is the best safety measure. He highlighted the best helmet to use. He spoke about the public education campaigns and the impact that can be had for safety. He quoted that road diets reduce all crashes by 29%. There is technology when trucks turn; there are lights and sounds to let both driver and cyclists know that the truck is turning, but too many mirrors may actually be overwhelming for the driver.
If all of the preventative measures and best practices fail, then the side guard is the last resort. Mr. Miller felt that mesh side guards should be lower. He felt that Boston side guards are too high. He suggested that with technology changing rapidly, there is a chance for Cambridge to be a leader in this matter. He felt the City should study this and get the best technology and deals possible.
Councillor Kelley stated that sometimes Cambridge cannot do things because of the commerce clause. Mr. Epstein stated that loading zone regulations could be controlled by the City and the Health Department. The City Manager could provide explanation of the legal criteria that impacts the City for trucks, buses and loading zones and regulations on vehicular traffic.
Councillor Cheung asked about constraints on speed limits. Mr. Rossi stated that many regulations are controlled by the state. The City Council does not have the power to regulate speeds. What actions could the City take on regulating loading zones? Councillor Kelley stated that he wanted another review of what the City Council can do and what it cannot do. Mr. Rossi stated that this is education for all.
Councillor Carlone stated that Winchester has a speed limit of 20 miles per hour, but it is not enforceable. Nevertheless, it does slow traffic down. Mr. Rossi wanted to set targets, like where most accidents and most speeding takes place and take this information and prepare different signage.
Councillor Cheung stated that on one lane streets the speed is relative. He stated that there is push back on traffic calming measures, chicanes and cycle tracks. Mr. Epstein stated that there should be a separate lane. He is not a fan of chicanes. A bump out at an intersection slows traffic and shows the driver what is ahead.
Mr. Rossi stated that these are great ideas, but he suggested that all have to stick together for the policy when there are complaints.
Councillor Carlone stated that the Dutch intersection is an urban design tool; pedestrians and traffic both move faster with these intersections.
Councillor Kelley stated that his is not a fan of cycle tracks or raised crossings.
Councillor Mazen stated that he disagrees with Councillor Kelley. Cyclists can go fast if the design is done correctly. Councillor Kelley commented that this is about sight lines and mismatch of curves.
Councillor Cheung questioned the education piece. He spoke of all the students that come to Cambridge each year and said there is a need for more education because what is done in Cambridge is different than what is done in other places. Councillor Cheung asked what happened with bike registration? Ms. Rasmussen stated that bike registration is a challenge because there are so many cyclists from outside the City. There is no requirement to take bike safety education classes. In a response from surveys, it was noted that protected or separate facilities add to a feeling of safety.
Steven Bercu, Boston Cyclist Union, offered the final presentation of the meeting (ATTACHMENT C).
Mr. Bercu stated that Cambridge has done a great job for cyclists. He stated that protected bike facilities are the next level that Cambridge needs to pursue and this will invite more people to cycle. He further stated that there are 3 situations where truck side guards can help protect people. Of the 41% of the bike collisions, the side guards would be beneficial. He stated that 8 out of 9 recent fatalities in the metro area were involving heavy vehicle accidents. In 1995, the European Union implemented side guard legislation. Portland, Oregon may be a good comparison for the City of Cambridge. In certain cases, side guards can be designed to add fuel economy.
Councillor Kelley stated that this is data driven and it is difficult to discuss without data. He is in favor of the lights on the trucks as a cyclist, and he favored the machinery rather than the driver signal light. He asked how to make accident-prone intersections more of a concern to cyclists?
Councillor Mazen spoke about the importance of having a city policy and being able to find compromise. Mr. Rossi stated that Staff does put in the time to address and resolve issues. If the city does adopt a policy, then the administration is working toward the policy. Councillor Mazen stated that there are opportunities for improvements, and there is a need for a faster turnaround by the City. Mr. O'Riordan stated that the City makes every opportunity to include the input of the public, but sometimes the implementation is not what is expected. Councillor Mazen stated that there is room for improvement on outreach.
Ms. Seiderman stated that there are few places that have done more outreach than Cambridge. She feels there are better projects in the City because of the public participation. Ms. Peterson stated that the City is always interested in doing more outreach.
Councillor Carlone opened public comment at 4:40 PM.
John Sanzone, 540 Memorial Drive, spoke about the impacts around side guards, documenting the data around cycling. He spoke about the infrastructure being designed for the 99% who are afraid to cycle. He suggested announcing that Cambridge is a "Safe Truck City."
Councillor Kelley stated that cycling is dangerous and requires a massive set of skills.
Councillor Carlone submitted the following motion:
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to work with all relevant City Staff, safety experts, and bicycle and pedestrian advocates to consider the possibility of deploying truck side guards across all city-owned and city-leased trucks as part of a "Safer Truck" initiative and to report back to the City Council on this matter.
The motion carried on a voice vote.
Councillor Kelley submitted the following motion:
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with City Staff and report back to the City Council on the legal limitation of the City of Cambridge to regulate all manner of vehicular traffic within Cambridge borders, including loading and unloading zones, truck and bus timing regulation.
The motion carried on a voice vote.
Councillor Carlone thanked all attendees for their participation.
The hearing adjourned at 4:50 PM
For the Committee,
Councillor Dennis J. Carlone Chair
Transportation and Public Facilities Committee