Business owners concerned about plans for Cambridge

By P. Ryan Anthony, Dorchester Banner
Posted 7/20/22

When three dozen business owners and other Cambridge citizens met by the new Dorchester Women’s Mural on Poplar Street last Wednesday, they were armed with objections to the city’s plan …

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Business owners concerned about plans for Cambridge

Posted

When three dozen business owners and other Cambridge citizens met by the new Dorchester Women’s Mural on Poplar Street last Wednesday, they were armed with objections to the city’s plan to make Poplar temporarily one way.

But City Manager Tom Carroll disarmed them with the announcement that the pilot project had been canceled because of negative feedback.

The meeting wasn’t wasted, however, as the congregants took time to express their concerns about other aspects of Cambridge.

The trouble started June 21, when city staff proposed to the City Council the “Poplar Street One Way Pilot” that was based on a prior plan to address complaints about parking, street closures and safety, and the lack of sufficient, wheelchair-accessible sidewalks. The commissioners approved the plan and provided funding for removable barriers to test the efficacy of the idea.

“From the feedback so far,” said Ward 1 Commissioner Brian Roche in a recent open letter in the Dorchester Banner, “it seems extraordinarily unlikely that anyone even wants to try that.”

Despite that statement, Carroll sent a letter July 5 inviting “all property owners on Poplar Street, the 400 and 500 blocks of Race Street, and the 300 and 400 blocks of High Street” to a stakeholder meeting to discuss the project.

“Others who consider themselves stakeholders are free to join the meeting as well,” the letter stated, but some citizens who do consider themselves stakeholders — such as members of Cambridge Association of Neighborhoods — were not even informed of the gathering.

Carroll, who has been in his job for 12 weeks, told the attendees that he, the staff,and the council had not intended for the plan to be controversial. He apologized for the poor manner in which the process was handled — including sending some invitations to property owners rather than merchants — and took the blame upon himself. Then he turned the meeting over for comments.

The people got right to it, complaining about trash in Sailwinds Park and the fact that there seems to be no maintenance schedule. Carroll replied that the city is taking bids for contracting out different public services, looking to get out of the commercial trash business, and possibly having curbside recycling. The attendees applauded.

“Don’t clap unless we implement it,” warned Carroll.

Another issue that came up was unannounced street closures that are not provided with signage.

“We need information and we’re not getting it,” said one person.

The city manager agreed there needs to be better communication with the public. Currently there is a Facebook page and a website that are not well maintained. He suggested that an electronic newsletter might help.

A major concern at the meeting was obstructions on downtown sidewalks — caused by such things as parked trucks and bar patrons — that force pedestrians into the street, where they are at the mercy of speeding cars because there are insufficient clearly marked crosswalks. One man commented that people visiting St. Michaels have no problems using the crosswalks on the main thoroughfare, where the businesses thrive.

Another safety issue related to crime and violence, which affect tourism in Cambridge. Carroll assured his audience that the police department is taking steps to change how it interacts with the community and builds relationships.

“While we’re very concerned about violent crime, particularly murder and gun violence,” he went on to say, “the actual crime rate is falling.”

But someone else said that statistic should not be used to deflect attention from the major crime problems.

Roche stepped in to promise that the city government is investing in the police and fire departments and public works. He said that the problems downtown will never change unless money and brainpower are put toward the effort. “I hope we all agree that keeping it the way it is is not an option in any way.”

Jermaine Anderson of Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation spoke up to say that real change will not come unless everyone is involved. He pointed out that five African Americans had attended the meeting.

“We don’t feel welcome to the process,” Anderson said.

Carroll, who has worked with downtown business owners for 25 years, said, “I learned a lot about Cambridge through this process. I learned about your passions and your commitments, and I appreciate that.”

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