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Truck Traffic Advisory Committee

Report from six of the eleven citizen members of the City Manager's Truck Traffic Advisory Committee


To: Robert W. Healy, City Manager

From: Six of the eleven citizen members of the City Manager's Truck Traffic Advisory Committee, namely: Thomas Bracken, Vici Casana, Susan Miller-Havens, Robert Johnson, Douglass Lee, and Robert Travers.

Re: Report of the above members

Date: January 1, 1998

Attached is the Report written by six of the eleven appointed citizen members of the City Manager's Truck Traffic Advisory Committee who live in East Cambridge, Riverside, Mid-Cambridge, and West Cambridge. A second report is being submitted by the other five citizen members and the City staff who participated in the Truck Advisory Committee's meetings, which they call the "City's report".

The principal difference between the two reports is that the City's report tends toward inaction and preservation of the status quo with respect to truck restrictions whereas our report offers new thinking and recommends action to effect change. The City report recommends only that there be more enforcement of the current limited truck restrictions on a few streets, more traffic calming measures, and the resuscitation of the floundering regional study of the origins and destinations of trucks traveling within the route 128 beltway. Enforcement of the current restrictions will provide relief for only a comparatively small number of residents. Traffic calming measures would be expensive and Mr. Rossi has told us that sufficient funding to effectively implement such a program is unlikely. Moreover, the effectiveness of such measures is limited because most trucks still would be able to maneuver around any physical barriers or other impediments, perhaps creating greater safety hazards. The regional study of traffic issues by the MAPC, begun several years ago, has produced no results and currently is under-funded with a staff in transition. The underlying assumption of the study that all 102 municipalities within the Route 128 beltway could agree on a plan to restrict trucks throughout the region seems unrealistic.

The alternative philosophy underlying our report is that the City has the legal authority to take action to achieve the goal of mitigating noises, vibrations, air pollution, congestion and safety problems caused by large trucks. Based on two recent cases decided by federal courts in this jurisdiction, such measures legally can be adopted under the zoning authority and the police powers, which does not require MHD approval. The City's report questions the legal authority of a municipality to enact effective mitigation measures and therefore recommends only protection of the status quo. ~

A brief history of how we got to this point follows::

As you know, the Advisory Committee was established by you in November, 1995 at the direction of the City Council after a hearing in response to protests from numerous residents who live throughout the City whose health, welfare, safety and property are being damaged daily by the noise, vibration, air pollution, and safety hazards caused by large commercial trucks. Many of these trucks are traveling through Cambridge at high speeds as a shortcut from origins and to destinations outside the City rather than taking the highways designed for them.

In your November 1, 1995 letter to the City Council reporting on measures the City is taking to mitigate the adverse truck traffic impacts, you advised that "in order to facilitate progress and public participation, I have appointed an advisory committee to work with the city staff in addressing truck traffic concerns (emphasis added). Initially, you appointed nine residents from across the City and subsequently added two more residents to the Committee. The six of us believed that we would be serving on a Committee of citizens and would be assisted in our work by the City staff as needed.

However, from the beginning the City staff took over the Committee and directed its proceedings, the purpose of which soon became clear - to recommend no meaningful truck regulations and to preserve the status quo. At the first meeting, Richard Rossi sat at the head of the table and announced, without discussion or comment, that he would serve as the Committee Chair and that Venita Mathias of the Community Development Department would serve as Secretary. Various members of the City's staff attended the monthly meetings from time to time, including - Susan Clippinger and Lauren Preston, Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, Elizabeth Epstein, Community Development Department, Sergeant Steven Ahern, Special Enforcement Unit of the Police Department and Donald Drisdell, Law Department, all of whom (with the exception of Sgt. Ahern), have been labeled as voting members. The purpose of this seems to be to shift the weight of the Committee's conclusions to the City's pre-determined outcome.

As Chair, Mr. Rossi tightly controlled the agenda. We were not able to place matters of concern to us on the agenda or select people to make presentations. The first several meetings were dominated by Scott Lewis, a resident member of the Committee who also serves as paid special outside litigation counsel to the City on issues related to truck restrictions, and Mr. Drisdell. They presented extensive lectures on federal and state laws as they pertain to regulating trucks, concluding incorrectly that the City has very limited authority to enact any meaningful measures to regulate large commercial trucks. Mr. Rossi then filled the agenda of the next several meetings with presentations by regional and local planners, city police and fire officials and City staff of neighborhood efforts to improve their communities, most of which was irrelevant to the Committee's assigned duties. Several meetings focused on presentations by the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, which included numerous confusing maps of City's streets labeled as "preferred" truck routes. When pressed to explain the maps and the labeling, Ms. Clippinger admitted that these streets are routes which truckers now prefer to use as short-cuts through the City.

Thus, the Traffic Department's entire presentation tended to reflect a preoccupation towards inaction.

When the six of us attempted to persuade Mr. Rossi and his staff to allow the citizen Committee members to address mitigation measures, and for another lawyer on the Committee to present views in addition to those expressed by Messrs. Lewis and Drisdell, they deflected our efforts on the grounds that (a) there was not sufficient time, ((b)) other matters extraneous to our purpose needed to be addressed first or (c) if Messrs. Lewis and Drisdell were not present, as often was the case, legal issues could not be discussed, because the City's lawyers would not have an opportunity to respond. Other examples of the ways Mr. Rossi and his staff sought to thwart our input in the Committee proceedings and maintain the status quo of truck restrictions are set forth in a list attached hereto.

After more than a year of these unfocused meetings, dominated by the City's staff, it became apparent that there was a sharp philosophical difference between two factions of the citizen committee members. Accordingly, the six citizen members submitting this report began meeting to develop our own strategy for preparing a report which would recommend measures to provide relief from the problems caused by heavy trucks throughout the City. Several months later a draft report was submitted to the whole Committee and was discussed extensively at the next full Committee meeting, at the end of which it was agreed that a representative of our group and a representative of the group supporting the City staff's position would meet in an attempt to reconcile the differences. After several lengthy meetings between the representatives of each group, we made substantial revisions to our draft in an attempt to accommodate the differences so that one report could be submitted to the City Council. Our revised draft report dated 8/13/97 was circulated in mid-August to all members of the Committee. The written responses of two members of the other faction, however, showed that, despite our good faith efforts, the differences were irreconcilable. Therefore, we finalized the draft report which is submitted herewith. The City staff's report says that it has been endorsed by five citizen members, including Mr. Lewis, the City's outside special litigation counsel, and five City staff members. Our report is submitted by six citizen members.

Because of the sharp differences between the two groups over the City's authority to adopt meaningful mitigation measures, we recommend that the City retain outside counsel who has experience in this field of law and is not doing other legal work for the City to assist the Council in studying our recommendations and assessing the legal authority on which they are based. We look forward to working with the Council in this effort.

Examples of the City's Preference for Inaction and Maintenance of the Status Quo

A) Committee Selection

Types of Members chosen -

  1. Those with ties to the city which make it undesirable for them to disagree with the city's point of view
  2. Those who have a history of not making trouble
  3. Those with little knowledge about trucking issues in Cambridge

B) Conduct of Meetings

  1. Agenda items were pre-set by the City staff, then manipulated if the meeting didn't go in the City's direction. Filibusters were used if necessary. The meetings lacked focus, there was no process towards identification of issues and resolution of them. Requests for voting were denied.

C) Data Collection

  1. The City staff was resistant to collecting basic data, such as information as to what other cities have done to confront trucking problems and to gather basic truck counts in Cambridge. We repeatedly requested such information and after several months information from some cities was provided. Our persistence and several Council orders, including the Mayor's, never yielded any data collection on the unrestricted routes currently used by through trucks.

E) Public notices

  1. Public meetings were not published in the newspaper until we insisted and then it happened only one or two times in 18 months.

F) Tape recordings

  1. The head of The North Cambridge Stabilization Committee requested us to tape one of the meetings. When we attempted to do so, the Chair said to turn off the machine, unless all members of the Committee consented, which they did not. The Deputy City Manager and the Deputy City Solicitor violated the open meeting law and then claimed they didn't know what it provides with regard to taping.

G) Minutes

  1. There was resistance to having them taken, reviewed and adopted as corrected. Often the minutes were delivered the day before the meeting, giving members very little time to review them, something the majority of us felt was essential to understanding what actually was transpiring in the meetings.

H) Verbal Reprimands

  1. After the first meeting, we complained in writing to the Council about the process, we sought advise from neighborhood groups and Councillors, and we openly complained about procedures during meetings. We were severely reprimanded by the Deputy City Manager either in person at Committee meetings, by phone, or in front of the City Council.