The Secret Sauce of Kendall Square

“We’ve been able to lower the parking ratios. It’s been completely confirmed by the market that it’s the right thing to do,” explained Brooke McKenna, Cambridge’s assistant director of street management, noting the cost of building underground parking is as much as $50,000 per space. “Some of the developers lobby to go even lower. They want to maximize the square footage of commercial space.”

The result?  

“The bike parking is full; car parking is not full,” said Patrick Baxter, engineering manager for Cambridge.  

With all of the development under way, city officials worked with the developers and the Department of Public Works to include protected bike lanes and even narrow travel lanes along Binney Street west of Third Street. With much of this done without any public outrage, fanfare or even reaction. This writer discovered this during a morning ride along Binney Street, which also hosts considerable truck traffic. Everything moved calmly.

“Honestly I don’t think people noticed anything had changed,” said Baxter, who worked with DPW to shrink the travel lanes and expand the bike lanes. “We’re talking paint...If it doesn’t work you can move it back.”

He noted the DPW was set to re-stripe regardless. The cost of this re-striping came in at about $4,000.  

Baxter notes that the latest research shows 10-foot travel lanes create the safest situation for local streets.  

He pointed to the Federal Highway Administration’s latest guidelines for achieving multi-modal networks  that stress the efficacy of 10-foot travel lanes. The link to that report is here, with pages 14 and 15 showcasing that research: FHWA Achieving Multi-modal Networks 

The lesson learned? Like a bridge, the construction of a commercial building is a once-in-a-50-year opportunity for communities to work with the developers according to their long term vision for their streetscape vision.

From casinos to colleges to hospitals, development in a city provides cities an opportunity for a long term overhaul. But it depends on that community’s cultural values. But those values - which may have been shaped in 1965 - have to be in line with such change. 

“We don’t value vehicular speed,” said McKenna. “A city or town has to decide that vehicular movement at high speed is not the end game.”