Wednesday, December 31, 2008


This is what the New Year’s Eve storm looked at around 2 PM.  From the front of my building to the end of the Jefferson complex is about a quarter mile.  This qualifies as a whiteout.

But it was a short storm;  the snow let up very quickly after this shot was taken and I got just 5” in this storm, versus the 13” storm a few weeks ago.

Salem’s Last Road: How Salem Changed with the Road

Even after only four months, it is very apparent that Salem’s Last Road has changed traffic patterns in Salem.  It has also changed neighborhoods.

The road, centered on the new triangular parkland at St. Peter’s St., has divided the Bridge St. area into three distinct neighborhoods.

The first neighborhood is my own, the section of St. Peter’s St. and Bridge going southeast towards Federal and Church Sts.  It includes Ash St., the steep street between my building and the Unitarian church, and extends out to Washington St.

This has changed the least out of the three.  It’s more or less the same neighborhood I found when I moved into my current apartment in 1995.  Parker Brothers was demolished around the same time I moved in, and the Jail was long closed.

I have the same traffic noise I always have, and the train noise to let me know when I oversleep and miss the 7:05 to Boston.  Bridge St. is no longer the intimate and very congested street it was when I came, but is a full 4-1/2 lane highway.  I have mixed feelings about that. 

The sidewalk along Bridge St. was very dangerous to traverse in 1995, with the steep drop and broken fence at the old Harley-Davidson dealership at 234 Bridge St.  It is much safer now, even if it lacks character.  Despite what I first feared when the road opened, I have no trouble getting to Salem Depot on time for my bus or train with a crosswalk just steps from the door.

The second neighborhood created by the bypass road is really two neighborhoods.  The first one goes from St. Peter St. northeast, away from downtown, out to Winter St. where Route 1A curves south from Bridge St. to Salem Common and Hawthorne Boulevard. 

This area between 1A and 107 is very quiet with the new roadway.  Standing at the Howard St. Cemetery above the Salem Jail, you would hardly know there is a busy road.  The triangular park is a very effective buffer against road noise.  If the Jail is developed, its residents will find it a nice refuge virtually in downtown.

The second part of this neighborhood extends from Winter St. northeastwards to the bridge.  This hasn’t changed a lot, but it has subtly changed as most of the heavy truck traffic is now off Bridge St.  This is for the better.

Of course, all of the neighborhoods I’ve talked about are connected by a very nice bikepath which has gotten rave reviews by most who have walked it, myself included.

The third and last neighborhood, unfortunately, is not really a neighborhood at all.  It is the saddest example of development anywhere in the city.

It is the Jefferson, stretching north from Salem Depot, along the old Parker Brothers property out to Howard St. on the southbound lane of Bridge St.  It is nine apartment buildings cut neatly in half by the bypass road.  For all intents and purposes, the Jefferson is almost completely isolated from the rest of the city by Bridge St. and the bypass road, especially buildings 5 through 9 on the Howard St. side which make a tight triangle isolated from every other neighboring street.

The fault is entirely on former mayor Stan Usovicz’s shoulders.

As much as I opposed the routing of the road, I can forgive that and I can probably even accept it now. 

But the process that led to a fly-by-night developer erecting cheap and probably dangerous buildings was one of the worst things to happen to Salem since the old Depot was demolished.

There were many many possibilities for development, even with the routing of the road that was selected.  It was rumored a hotel chain was interested—the bypass road would have been a boon for them!  There was talk about building the courthouse complex there.  Imagine no over-sensitive neighbors to complain (I certainly wouldn’t have!)  Imagine reusing part of the Parker Brothers complex for offices or even an inn!

But no, Stan did what was cheapest and quickest.  People in the Jefferson are cursing;  I have already had comments in my blog about the noise that Jefferson dwellers experience from the road.  Someday, some child trying to get to his friend’s house across the road will be killed.  One hopes there won’t be a fire as there was at the complex in Peabody.

That poor decision to develop is responsible for all the ills that the road has caused in Salem.   The road could have been better, but it hasn’t turned out to be the nightmare I feared it would be.  The Jefferson, on the other hand, is different.

Stan Usovicz needs to admit to his culpability.  If more retired officials thought about what their decisions meant to Salem, 10, 20 years down the road or longer, they might have made better decisions.  Perhaps we would demand—and have—better officials.

Who knows, the Old Salem Depot and Leslie’s Retreat Bridge might be still with us.  And we might have had a great development on Bridge St. making money for the city.

Instead of crapbox apartments hemmed in by a highway.

Salem’s Last Road: Its Progress, Twenty Weeks Later (Part 2)

Last post, I mentioned the problem MassHighway made for itself with the bikepath on the bypass road.  Now my other peeve:  Audible pedestrian signals

The Commission met with Sue Cranney almost three years ago, and she was receptive to installing the newer Polara talking signals already at other locations in Salem.

MassHighway installed the Polara signals at North St., but not at St. Peter St. as we requested.   Technically, the bell signal that’s there is in compliance, so there’s nothing we can do.

But I and the Commission are still very disappointed.  When we meet with someone and convince them to provide access for people with disabilities, and show them how they can provide access, we don’t expect to have to get every little concession in writing.  We can’t lawyer up on everything.   (Though Jack has written documentation and minutes on all of this.)

We had Ms. Cranney’s word and we gave her the benefit of the doubt.  These talking signals would have been much better for pedestrians and neighbors than bells and buzzers are now. ( Bob Moran wondered if the speakers for the Polara signals are up above the street.  They are not.  They are in the same housing that the pedestrian button is, at street level where pedestrians can hear them.  And they adjust for ambient noise so they are not loud at night.)

In addition, the Polara signal buttons don’t freeze in cold weather, unlike older signals, and I am told, they are cheaper to maintain.

They are more expensive than other signals and no doubt a beancounter at MassHighway was behind this;  in today’s economy, one cannot expect a lot of sympathy to our desires.

However, we could still get our signal.  The Commission is working with Dave Knowlton, our city engineer, and he is receptive to installing the Polara signal.  But the project, pending the MAAB hearing, is still controlled by the state;  the city hasn’t taken over the road and bikepath yet.

If I and the Commission only get this done in 2009, it will be a good thing.

Next installment of Salem’s Last Road:  How Salem changed with the road.

Salem’s Last Road: Its Progress, Twenty Weeks Later

The Salem News recently ran an article on the bypass road, “Life After The Bypass Road, Jury’s Still Out”.  Rather than summarize that article, which doesn’t have any insights I didn’t know already, this post and the next few, have  my observations on the road so far and its impact on Salem over twenty weeks after it opened.

There are two problems with the bypass road that I and the Commission on Disabilities are working on.  The first problem involves the bike path.

Last June, MassHighway notified the Commission about a problem with the bike path.   The entrance to Lemon St. at the path was too steep for wheelchairs and fixing this would have been all but impossible.  The Commission (Jack, Charlie and myself) met with MassHighway and agreed to kick the problem over to the MAAB (Massachusetts Architectural Access Board).

Only problem was, MAAB requested that they stop construction on the bikepath while they reviewed MassHighway’s variance request.  This was in late July.

The road and bikepath opened and everyone was happy. 

Except the MAAB.  As Jack related to me, to the MAAB, MassHighway was behaving like a homeowner who did an addition to his house without pulling a permit.   And then going to the building inspector to say, “CAN HAS OCCUPANCY PERMIT PLEEZ?  KTHX BYE!”

The MAAB wasn’t going to let that go with a handshake and a smile;  they requested MassHighway go to Boston in person to request their variance.  (Normally, this isn’t necessary if the petitioner has collected all the information for the MAAB to make a determination.)

So, two state agencies fight it out.  Great.  This doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is disappointing.  The Commission really doesn’t live to fight;  we like when projects go smoothly without drama.  If  MassHighway had only asked our advice earlier, say in April when we could see the site, this would not have happened.

As a result, the Commission has urged the city to not accept or take control of the bikepath until the MAAB has had its hearing with MassHighway and the issue is settled.  That ripples into the next problem, the audible pedestrian signals, and my next post.

MBTA service changes for Winter 2008-2009

Last fall, the MBTA released its service plan for 2008 and I reported on the changes that the MBTA proposed for bus service to Salem.  The biggest changes were to route 465, where one trip on Saturday was to be eliminated, and to route 450 and 456, which would run less frequently due to traffic congestion.

This week, the Winter 2008 schedule changes were published on the MBTA website.  The only change that affects Salem is on the 465. Weekday trips leaving Salem to Danvers now leave at :45 past the hour, 5 minutes later than usual.  Saturday trips depart at :05 past the hour to Danvers.  Buses to Salem from Danvers leave Liberty Tree Mall a few minutes earlier than previously.  Since buses to Danvers come from Beverly on their way to Salem, I presume that traffic congestion in Beverly is the cause.  (The 451 and 465 are run together as one long metaroute.  I seldom ride the 451 and have not ridden it to North Beverly in years, so no first hand experience here.)  No changes to Beverly service.

The change that was threatened—dropping certain Saturday morning trips on the 465—has not happened so far.  There were also no changes to the 450 for the winter.  Of course, commuter rail is not changed.

MBTA schedules are revised seasonally, and can change.  The last big change to bus service was in the summer schedule of 2002, when virtually every North Shore bus route was revised, rerouted or eliminated.  It was mostly for the good then, and today’s schedule change isn’t a big deal.

But with the T’s budget as it is now, the future is darker.

Church Move on Hold

The church move is stalled.  Soft footing and now, bad weather, have delayed yesterday’s planned move.  The moving crew was out today doing some preparation, but nothing was moved yet when I took this picture around 11:45 AM.  (The snow was getting much heavier so I couldn’t stay to watch.)

Salem News:   Federal Street church going for a ride today,  and Church move postponed.

P.S.  WHDH had a reporter outside Dunkin Donuts outside the post office around noon.  Missed being on TV by that much!  I’ve seen and walked by many news trucks due to living near the courthouse, but have never been on live commercial TV.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Salem Common Playground Stalled

Salem Common Area December 2008 2008-12-23 006 (1024x768)

At the December 2008 meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities, our chairman, Jack Harris, gave us some unpleasant news on the Salem Common playground project.  Parents in the neighborhood have wanted a renovation of the existing playground for about two years. 

According to Steve Dibble, the Salem Common neighborhood association reviewed—and rejected—plans that he presented to the group.  Steve Dibble is formerly of the Salem Parks and Recreation Department, and has his own company, Dibble & Sons Park Equipment, Inc,  selling playground equipment.

We had the pleasure of meeting Steve several years ago when he gave a presentation before the Commission on special playground equipment for kids with disabilities.  Steve was and is very knowledgeable and sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities.  We had hoped the Common group would consult with him on the new playground.

Apparently, the group asked Steve for a design, but they rejected it. 

Last summer, as I blogged A Playground for the Common, the playground project hit a bump when one of the neighbors complained that the planned playground wasn’t historic enough;  this neighbor thought, if I recall correctly, that the playground should have “a ship, or a McIntyre house for kids to climb on."

The rejected design had a ship motif, according to Jack.  So what’s the problem?

The only way the Common association could be happy is for Samuel McIntrye himself to come back from the dead and design a playground!  He literally built just about everything else in Salem.

Steve Dibble said something else too:  According to him, of all the playgrounds in Salem, there are no “tot lots”, play areas designed for children 2 to 5.  Furthermore, the Common area is the best location in Salem for a tot lot;  it’s near two hotels and numerous inns;  it’s active yet very pedestrian-friendly.

I have seen many parents and their young children on the Common over the years, all year round.  When I was on the Common walking my friend’s dog several times a day, young children very often came up to me to want to pat the dog (this dog, a yellow lab and fine Southern lady, considered all children to be her puppies!)

There is another reason to support a playground:

Salem Common Area December 2008 2008-12-23 002 (1024x768)

This is 86 Essex St.  I blogged about it.  It’s on the Common.  It is the only public housing in Salem for people and families with disabilities.  Yes, families.  Children.  Jack Harris himself has two special-needs daughters who use the Common and there are several other families there with special-needs kids.

This building was renovated just last year.  Does this look like a slum?  Does this degrade property values?

I’ll say it again, it’s on the Common.   It has been on Salem Common for 23 years.

23 years.  My foster mother, myself and our immediate family were one of the first tenants there in 1985.

We were there first. 

Some people have complained about the reuse of the building, since it was once the Phillips School (which I attended!), but at the time it became housing my Mom had become disabled and could not be independent in our old apartment on Osgood St.  This was the right use of the building for her and her neighbors.  It still is. 

It belongs there now, and so does a playground.

Is a playground, a playground for children with disabilities, that much a threat to the character of the Common?  To Regina Flynn’s or Michael Coleman’s property values?  If the playground comes, does Sammy McIntyre’s ghost cry?

Jack Harris is going to sit down with Jason Silva to try and get this moving.  I had to bite my tongue when this came up during the meeting (or else we’d be there for hours more.)

But I’m not going to hold back now.

Shame on the Salem Common snobs.  Shame on you.

First Baptist Church Moving Day

As reported, moving day for the former First Baptist Church is underway.  The building is being moved 200 feet to make way for the new courthouse. 

The building is being supported by many dollies—one of which you see here—that will  move it to its new location.

The old church will become the new law library. 

I can now stop wondering if there’ll be a new courthouse.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Salem Commission on Disabilities, December 2008 Meeting

Salem Winter Storm December 19th-21st 2008-12-21 001

These are the unofficial approved minutes of the December 2008 meeting.  Our regular minute-taker wasn’t present this month.  The meeting was called to order at 4:05 PM.  Present were Jack Harris (Chair), David Tracht, David Martel, David Moisan, Charlie Reardon (Vice Chair), Andy LaPointe, Jean Levesque (Assistant ADA coordinator) and Deborah Lobsitz.

Old Business

  1. Sidewalks:  The sidewalks discussed in the last meeting have been fixed.  Charter St. has a new crosswalk, as does Essex St. outside of the library.  The crosswalk at 10 Federal is fixed as well.  Washington St. has been repaved so the curb cut at Lynde St. is much improved.  Charlie reports of a problem on Congress St. at the hotel & Eastern Bank;  the driveway is in bad shape for pedestrians.  This has been ongoing.  The sidewalk outside St. Peter's church has been patched.
  2. Sovereign Bank ATM Access:  We have contacted Sovereign Bank (221 Essex, the old Shawmut Bank) about disabled access to the ATM, which is next door to the main entrance and on steps.  During bank hours disabled access is through the rear entrance, which serves the bank and the ATM, but it is not open after hours.  Jack will continue talking with the manager there.
  3. MAAB update:  MassHighway is supposed to appear before the MAAB regarding the bypass road bikepath, which was built without the required variances for disabled access.   The Commission asked Dave Knowlton, city engineer, not to let MassHighway sign off on the project until all the variances are settled.
  4. Variance at 116R Highland Ave:   This was a doctor’s office being renovated;  the builders had wanted some variances (exemptions) having to do with the elevators;  the MAAB declined most of what they requested
  5. 39-1/2 Mason St: This house is to be a group home run by Northeast Health Systems.  NHS  had wanted to not have to make the upper floors (of a 3 story house) accessible to the disabled due to the steep costs of doing so.   The MAAB accepted their request provided that they made the first floor, entrance and parking completely accessible.

New Business

  1. Leggs Hill YMCA:  Jack toured the new YMCA at Leggs Hill Road and was very impressed.  One local Paralympian was there to tour the facility and provided much first-hand expertise.  There was much discussion amongst Andy, Charlie and Jack about access to the facility, which is on an out of the way hill above Loring Ave.  Leggs Hill Road, the main access road, will be widened and a sidewalk built, but Andy was concerned that there was no railing between that road and the marsh below.   The 455 bus runs nearby on Loring Ave., but it’s a steep climb from there.  The Y is taking suggestions from prospective users;  David Martel will check out the new facility.
  2. Outdoor seating downtown:  Jack met with the Licensing Board to go over our concerns with outdoor seating that impairs movement of visually and mobility-impaired people.  The Board asked Jack to do some research on what other communities do about this and get back to them.  (Salem News article)
  3. Disabled Placard Enforcement:  The state has had a problem with people misusing vehicle placards for people with disabilities (Note to readers:  These placards, if you aren’t familiar with them, are a photo ID and a wheelchair symbol that hang on the front window of a car and are intended for use when a disabled person is using the car;  they belong to and are associated with the disabled person, as compared to HP plates.)  The City of Waltham has a program where they pay a police officer to go through parking lots looking for people with placards, and others without placards, parking in HP spots, and then running them through records to make sure the placards are actually being used by the person they’re registered to.  Proceeds from fines go to pay for the officer and any left over go into the budget of the Waltham Commission on Disabilities.  This has been very successful for them.  Both Jason Silva and the city Finance Director really like the idea.  Jack will keep us updated.
  4. Chair for stairs in emergencies:  Jack passed along some literature about a chair designed for public-safety personnel who need to move a disabled person up or down stairs in an emergency.  [the Sirocco Evacuation Chair.]  Charlie suggested that this chair be deployed at Salem’s elderly housing buildings.
  5. Salem Common playground report:  Jack talked with Steve Dibble (formerly with the city Parks and Recreation Dept. and now running his own company, Dibble & Sons Park Equipment, Inc.  (Steve Dibble has appeared before the Commission in the past and we were very impressed with his experience and awareness of the needs of children with disabilities.)  The Salem Common Neighborhood Association had Steve present plans for a new playground, a project the Commission has been working on for some time.  Steve also says there is no tot lot for children 2 to 5 years old at any playground in Salem, and the Common is the best place for the tot lot.  Andy wondered if another location, such as Forest River Park, is more preferable;  however, Jack pointed out that there are already many young families living near the Common and using the hotels and inns nearby.   Dave Moisan wondered what Mike Sosnowski, Commission liaison and Ward 2 councilor, was doing about this.  Jack explained that Mike did work with Steve Dibble to get a replacement swing there recently.    Charlie explained that he had to point out to someone, again, that the public housing complex at 86 Essex, the old Phillips School off the Common, has housed families and children with disabilities for over 20 years.  Jack is going to sit down with Jason once again to move this forward.
  6. Andy’s January Demos:  Andy will bring two devices to demo at the January meeting:  A GPS device for use by the blind, and an MP3 player also designed for use by the visually impaired.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter sets in

Winter has fully set in. It would have been a bitter experience for inmates in the Jail, especially with only kitchen fires to keep warm. The top floor would have been especially brutal; that floor was occupied by women inmates who would have done the cooking, cleaning and other housekeeping tasks around the Jail.

Development of the Jail is still on hold; the developers have asked for yet another extension. Next spring will mark the 4th year since the property was originally to be closed upon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

First big snowstorm for the winter of '08-09

First big snowstorm of December. I am reporting snow totals in downtown Salem for Skywarn, and now also on my Twitter page. (Twitter entries on the storm are on Twemes #snow1219.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sidewalk Help

SCOD Sidewalk Survey 2008-09-17 004

Following my Broken Sidewalks Report for November 2008, one Federal St. reader wanted help getting the brick sidewalks looked after.

Here is my secret:  Take pictures with a digital camera or cameraphone and send them to Jason Silva, and to your councilor;  in Ward 2, Mike Sosnowski, otherwise see the Salem City Council on

Be patient;  neither Jason nor your councilor can fix sidewalks on the spot (we wish!)  The Salem DPW will prioritize and fix.  Unfortunately, the Federal St. neighborhood has had to cope with the lack of maintenance for many years, and with the possible prospect of removing some trees that are overrunning the sidewalk.  It’ll be a big project that can’t be put off for much longer.

But we can still work on the small things one brick at a time.  This is very important as we go into another winter, and to its aftermath in the spring when we will find new potholes and ruts to complain about.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Economy Devastates People with Disabilities

50 Grove St

As I and the Salem Commission on Disabilities have feared, the economy has been disastrous for people with disabilities.

The day program for people with mental illness at 50 Grove St., Branwen, and its associated Employment Resource Network for employment of people with mental illness is being closed by the state:

The state closed both Branwen, the day program, and the Employment Resource Network, which works with clients 16 and older. They were funded by the state Department of Mental Health.

The news hit the clients hard.

"When they told us we were closing, the whole room fell silent and people started crying," said Mary Chadwick, 60, of Peabody, who has been going to Branwen for three years.

Chadwick, who spent five years in a mental hospital, said the Salem-based programs helped get her back on her feet, land a part-time job and feel good about herself for the first time in years.

"It saved my life," she said. "I had no life when I went there, and the two of them (Branwen Director Ron Brown and Assistant Director Sue Guptill) saved my life because I was dead. ... I was dead inside, completely numb, and slowly they brought me back to life."

This is disastrous.  I have been a member of another mental health clubhouse (not Branwen) and a one-time client of Health and Education Services, the state’s only resource for outpatient mental health care.  I can only dimly imagine how bad this must be.  For years from the Weld administration onward to the present, HES has had its resources cut to the point where many people with mental illness and low income are either waiting for help or they are outright denied.

These are the “other people” who talk to themselves, that the rest of us are uncomfortable with.   If they’re not helped here, then what?  They can’t go anywhere.  Pull themselves up by their bootstraps?!  Please.

Do people still think Deval would undo the cuts once Question One was defeated?  I didn’t think so.  [Update:  The Boston Globe wrote an editorial.]

It isn’t only people in Massachusetts with disabilities who are affected by the economy;  it is nationwide.  US News and World Report says (via Patricia E.  Bauer):

The recession's crunch on jobs, wallets, and egos is hitting one group of Americans—those with disabilities—particularly hard.

"People with disabilities tend to be the last hired and the first fired," says Rick Diamond, director of employment services at Disability Network/Lakeshore, a disability rights nonprofit based in Holland, Mich.


The disparity in employment between people with and without disabilities has already been growing. In 2007, according to last month's Disability Status Report, only 36.9 percent of working-age individuals with disabilities were employed. The year before, it was 37.7 percent. But the employment rate of people without disabilities, at 79.7 percent, didn't change.

37 percent!  63% of people with disabilities are unemployed!

It can only get worse.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First snow of the season, December 2008

First snow of the season, right on schedule for December 7th. Just a flurry, though we did get two inches.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Santa in Salem, 2008

Santa comes down from the roof of the Hawthorne once again this year.

2008-11-28 Salem Santa 2008 Museum Place Visit.

And holds court at Museum Place.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Salem Commission on Disabilities November 2008


The minutes of the November meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities are up on  Some highlights:

  • Sidewalks are first last and always important to us.  I already blogged about several sidewalks around downtown. The moon crater at 10 Federal is still there.  [UPDATE:   10 Federal is fixed.  Thanks to Jason for the update.]
  • The ATM at Sovereign Bank on Essex St. is not accessible to the handicapped.  It used to be accessed via a hallway to the rear of the building, which is accessible, but that hallway is now closed off.  We’ve been after this for a few months.
  • Health and Education Services is proposing a group home at 39-1/2 Mason St.  They’re looking for a variance so they don’t have to put an elevator in the building;  this would be cost-prohibitive.  The variance application is on file with the MAAB.
  • In other MAAB news, we’re still waiting to hear about MassHighway’s variance request on the Bypass Road bike path, blogged about back in June.  I wish MassHighway had taken care of this sooner.
  • The word from David Tracht, recently retired from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, is grimThe state cuts aren’t close to over, indeed they are likely just beginning.  He’s worried that the various state commissions for the disabled may get rolled into, say, the Massachusetts Rehabiliation Commission,  losing a lot of specialized knowledge in the process.  Already low vision resources have been cut.  This blogger wishes he had used such resources before that happened.

I wish a good Thanksgiving to all disabled people and their friends and relations, and may they have a quiet uneventful day with their loved ones.

Mayor, Commuters Support New Salem Depot

The Salem News follows up on yesterday’s petition drive at Salem Depot.  Mayor Driscoll expands on one detail of the project I found interesting:

The mayor has formed a committee to explore a possible public-private partnership and to try to push Salem to the head of the long line of communities hoping for more train parking.

Plans for a new station have changed slightly, the mayor said late yesterday. Officials are now looking at a smaller building that would cost less to build but still provide close to the 1,000 spaces Salem officials want. [emphasis added]  It would be built on a site that would not include city property, the mayor said.

I don’t much care about the specific number of parking spaces, indeed I don’t drive at all so I would not care, except for the great need that the courthouse already poses (for the past 20 years, not just the new facility.)

But I want to see a sheltered platform.  And food service and convenience stores as you find at North Station and Government Center.  Handicapped access that isn’t a rotting ramp.  And the end of those f---ing stairs! 

I want our train station something that’s done right, a rare government project that makes Salem better than it was before it.  A facility that commuters and visitors to our city can be proud of.

We may have budget concerns but we must not compromise on that idea.  We’ve done that too often in the past.

From the comments in the Salem News, it’s apparent that in our cynical state, we can’t or don’t dare to even see that little distance ahead.  To borrow from Deval Patrick, “Together We Can’t.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Salem Depot Gets Signatures

Salem Depot, long written and complained about in this blog, continues to get attention.  The Salem Partnership had petitioners out to get signatures in support of a new garage at Salem Depot.

Once again, the Salem News comes out to support the project:

If you read this while waiting for the train in Salem Monday morning, you likely encountered the mayor or others bearing petitions seeking support for a new waiting area and garage.

If you read this while waiting for the train, you were also likely freezing. With the wind whipping off the North River, Rep. John Keenan describes the train platform at the Salem depot as "probably the coldest place in North America."

That's a slight exaggeration, of course. But there's no question commuters deserve a more comfortable place in which to wait the arrival of the MBTA's commuter trains than the concrete slab and Plexiglas shelters which serve that purpose now.

Mayor Kim Driscoll, says it's either now or a long time from now for construction of a new parking facility and waiting area at the train station.

We’ve had the current Salem Depot for 21 years.  Early on, there was a very obvious parking shortage.  A few years after, the stairs started coming apart.  I’ve said before, I hate them.

I fully expect, if not for the courthouse project—which has already put demand on parking downtown—that we could wait another 20 years, if ever, for a new station.

I wonder if the NIMBYs will still be here at that time?

The lot’s almost full and it was just 7:30.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Broken Sidewalks Report for November 2008

Part, I meant all, of our work for the Salem Commission on Disabilities involves sidewalks.  Broken sidewalks are at very best annoying.  At worst, they can hurt.

Outside St. Peter’s Church, St. Peter’s St:

St Peters Church Sidewalk The DPW cone implies that Salem DPW knows about this one already.  Charlie Reardon brought it up at the disability meeting the day before.  [UPDATE:  This is fixed with hot-top.  Presumably it’ll be fixed permanently in the spring.]

100 feet up St. Peter St., in front of St. John’s Rectory:

 St Peter St at St John Rectory

The bump in the sidewalk perhaps caused by the tree root, has dislodged these bricks.

At the Salem District Court parking lot outside Federal St.:

Curbcut at Salem District Court Driveway.

Loose bricks are very dangerous, particularly in the winter.   They can be dislodged by shovels or worse, “eaten” by snowblowers that can hurl them out of their chutes to hit a car or a person.  And in late November, we are on borrowed time for winter.

I’ve sent these pix to Jason Silva.  [Update.  The brickwork outside St. Peter’s Church is in the process of being fixed.]

Courthouse Moves Forward, and Gets A Pounding

Pile Driving Courthouse Site

My colleague Ken Bonacci is mentioned in the News again:  Pile-driving to start on new courthouse.  He’s understandably worried:

One resident complained that he was informed of the planned work only last Wednesday, which was after the deadline for scheduling a property survey.

"There was no reason for a last-minute notification on how this was going to impact the neighborhood," said Ken Bonacci, a resident of Lynde Street. "I'm not impressed with the way this was handled."

Bonacci said he and his wife spent the weekend "taking everything down off the wall" in the event of heavy vibrations from the construction work. He said a survey eventually was done on his condominium.

"It may sound like last minute," Keenan said, "but I think they notified (neighbors) as soon as they had a plan and were ready to get going."

That’s more notice than I got nearly six years ago.  At that time, the Parker Brothers site was redeveloped by JPI for their Jefferson project.  Construction involved pile driving;  I’m not sure how many piles were driven, but it sure sounded like a lot when they were working.

I never got a letter from them.  Of course, I would have gotten the letter from the Salem Housing Authority, whom they would have notified.  But no letter either way.

The pile driving went on for several months.

I had had a five-year old 27” TV I had expected to keep for 10-15 years.  Five years after the construction it was dead.   I’m sure the pile driving had everything to do with it.

Of course I have no recourse, the construction firm and indeed the original owners of the Jefferson are long gone.

So I’m out $20 for a CRT sticker so it can finally go on the curb.  (I had tried to find the problem and fix it, but had no success finding the source, let alone repairing it.)  The TV is arguably obsolete now due to the impending shutoff of analog TV, but it still rankles.

I hope Ken has better luck than I. 

Salem’s Transportation Needs

MBTA Buses  2008-11-01 009

The Salem News had an editorial on North Shore transit, long overdue:

Patrick's got a long list of important roads and bridges that need fixing, as well as an ambitious plan to extend commuter rail to the South Coast area. But the North Shore has some very immediate and legitimate needs of its own, and it will be up to Congressman Tierney, along with the region's municipal officials and legislative delegation, to press the case for these.

Here's a few we can think of right off the bat:

Public transportation: The region enjoys good commuter rail service with the lines running up to Rockport and Newburyport.

Tierney has long been a supporter of the extension of the MBTA's Blue Line from Wonderland in Revere to Central Square in Lynn. But it's time to finally decide whether that's a viable project or simply a pipe dream, given the property takings that would be required and the opposition of officials in Revere.


That would be a bitter blow for Lynn, and for Salem, if that dream was abandoned.  It’s well known, for example, that the Salem-Beverly bridge replacement had been wanted for fifty years before it actually happened in the late ‘90’s.

Lynn politicians have pointed out that the Blue Line to Lynn has been a dream for just as long, predating the MBTA itself.

I don’t expect the Blue Line to ever come to Salem, as many have dreamed about, but even if it came to Lynn, it would be a ripple effect that would benefit Salem.  It might, for one, improve headways on the very very busy route 455 bus, which is jam-packed for much of its service day with travel to and between downtown Salem, Central Square and the various campuses of Salem State.

Continuing from the News:

For there are alternatives if it's determined an extension of the Blue Line is simply not a realistic goal. These include the purchase of additional trains to provide more frequent service on the commuter rail lines and construction of a surface Silver Line connection to bring commuters from the Chelsea train stop over to the airline terminals and Blue Line stop at Logan Airport.

The Chelsea idea doesn’t appear much more realistic, with Silver Line buses stuck in that warren of roads between Chelsea and 1A, but the idea of extra commuter rail service has a better chance.  We lost something when the old B&M went out of business with their Budd cars, self-contained passenger railcars that were much more flexible to operate than the trainsets the MBTA is using now.

It would be great to see new RDC cars such as you find on other rail lines like Metro-North, and make the Eastern Branch more like rapid transit.  But unsurprisingly, there’s no money for that either.  Salem needs more than just a few extra trains here and there.

We need a lot more.  Including the garage.

Our view Region has major transportation needs of its own -, Salem, MA

Jail project gets extension

Salem Jail

Summer and fall came and went without the promised close on financing and start of the Jail project.  Now it’s delayed again:

SALEM — The Boston developer chosen three years ago to transform the old Salem Jail into residences, a restaurant and a jail exhibit has been given another extension by the Salem Redevelopment Authority.

The deadline for New Boston Ventures to close on the sale of the St. Peter Street site has been moved from this month to the end of February, with construction scheduled to start by the end of March.

It’s been over three years since the Salem Housing Authority sent letters to us on the projected closing of the project, and the end of parking in the small lot next to the Jail.  People still park there, and the old Jail continues to rot away.

If the project dies for good, as is likely in this state, we’ll never know if there was a better developer out there.

Credit crunch hangs up revamp of jail -,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Polling Place Criticized For Lack of Access

Salem Heights Silouette

My old colleague Ken Bonacchi has a letter in the Salem News today, “Polling Place Not Disabled Friendly”.  He and I vote at the same precinct.  He doesn’t like our polling place.  Partial quote:

I live in Ward 2, Precinct 2, in Salem. My assigned polling place is Salem Heights on Pope Street.

It may have been appropriate for this purpose at one time, but that time has long since transpired. Allow me to share with you my experience at this vexing voting venue:

1.) Access: The building as currently configured is not in compliance with the ADA rules for access to persons with a disability. It may work as a building to provide housing, but it fails the test as a polling place.


Finally, I am at the doorway to the area set aside for voting. This is a small room, made smaller by the artifacts and the presence of poll workers.

2.) Accommodation: Tables to the right, tables to the left, voting booths ahead, poll workers, law enforcement and assistants on the loose; add to this mix the voters and their children, and there is barely room enough to enter, cast my vote and leave while trying to make way for those who are entering the same doorway.

How a wheelchair would have run this gauntlet is anyone's guess. I question the presence of children in the ballot area. This area should be restricted to those who are either poll workers, law enforcement or individuals who are voting. This is not the time for children to be present. [Blogger’s note—Ken’s opinion, not mine.]

The machine available for use by persons with impaired vision was not on and ready to use. I am forced to ponder the question: "Do they not expect participation from a person with a disability?" Are they trained in its use when it is time to do so? Who holds the key to initiate the machine?

The room is small, but in fairness it is probably the biggest turnout ever held there since it  became a polling place in 1996.

I do agree with Ken;  I don’t like our polling place.  But for a different reason:  It’s too far away.  It’s a long walk to the polls from my location;  this year, I just hopped the #456 to Proctor St., and got a ride on the way back.

Unlike other election years, there were no volunteer drivers to take people in my building to vote.  I assume the Obama drive in the “other Salem” (NH) sucked out all the volunteers who would have otherwise stayed in Massachusetts, and the McCain campaign had no one on the ground to speak of.  My colleague Jack Harris called for a ride on primary day six weeks ago from the Kerry campaign.  Never showed up, and it appears Kerry, like too many Massachusetts pols, takes his consituents for granted.  I wasn’t going to take that chance myself, hence the bus ride.

It’s less than a year to Salem’s municipal—and Mayoral—elections.  Obama may change our lives in DC, but the real control for Salemmites happens on Washington St.  I’d like to see change—starting with a new polling place for Ward 2 Precinct 2!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween 2008 Closing Fireworks

Salem Halloween 2008-10-31 038 resized

Another Halloween in the books!  I had videoed the multimedia closing ceremony, but sadly, my camera wasn’t up to doing it.  Here are the closing fireworks, though:

See you next Halloween!

Election Day 2008

Election Day Ward 2 Pct 2

I’m back from voting.  Turnout at my polling place was heavy;  for the first time since we had the Votemark machines for the visually impaired, I had to wait in line to use that machine.  This is good!

I met two of my colleagues at the polls, Charlie Reardon, who has been a poll worker at my precinct for five years, and my chairman Jack Harris.  I talked with them about today’s election and what it was like for people with disabilities to vote:

Get out and vote if you haven’t already done so!  If you’re visually impaired, ask to use the new Votemark machines.

Monday, November 3, 2008

More on Question One

Day After Halloween 2008-11-01 027 - Copy (640x480)

I’d thought I had all to say about Question One last week, but a few more tropes have popped up in the news.

We have Prop. 2-1/2!  Property taxes won’t go up if Question One is passed!”

Nelson Benton has expressed this one last Friday.  To which I say:  Naw, Really!?

Cities and towns will see their local aid go down the toilet.  To say nothing will happen is to assume that Kim and her colleagues on the Council will say, “Oh well, we’ll shut down the city!”  It is to assume that citizens will, say, “Yup!  We gotta go without, just like New Hampshire!” when they have to do without elder services or snow removal or the public library.

No, there’ll be override votes.  Often.  In nearly every city and town in Massachusetts.  The rage and discontent will just shift from Beacon Hill to Washington St.  The T will still be broke, if it even runs at all.  Maintenance on state roads?  Bring your own rake and shovel!

A vote for Question One is a vote against the Legislature!  Fire them all!”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t share the cynicism, what with one state senator who’s been using Maidenform Mutual recently.

But where is there the provision in the bill to abolish The Great and General Court?  To convert the State House to condominiums?  Usually, when that kind of bill is written, it’s for a Latin American caudillo, or Emperor Palpatine.

People have to learn they can’t solve all their problems with government!”

And I say in turn:  Yes.  But admit that when government needs to solve problems for you the citizen, that they cannot do it for nothing.  Question One is just asking the impossible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Police Scanner Audio for Halloween

Line of police bikes at Salem Depo

For this year’s Halloween, I have streaming audio of my scanner radio online.  Salem PD, fire, Peabody, Beverly, Danvers, Lynn, NEMLEC, commuter rail and T police are all in the mix.

I’ve had it running for the past several years, not just during Halloween, but year round for the benefit of Salem expats and others who follow things here.  For the past year, I had everything go wrong with my web stream that could go wrong, from computer problems and software problems to radio problems.

Finally resolved.   Direct link to Salemscanner MMS stream for your media player. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Salem Depot Developments

The Salem News has an article and two editorials about Salem Depot.

Salem pushing for T garage:

SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll has shifted into overdrive in a campaign to build a parking garage at the commuter rail station, the busiest depot in the MBTA system.
“It’s now or never,” Driscoll said after a meeting of the Salem Partnership on Friday. The business lobby’s executive committee voted this month to make a new garage a top priority following successful efforts to help secure state funds for a new courthouse and a new waterfront pier.
The mayor has formed a committee of federal, state and local officials to explore development and funding options for the garage at the 5.7-acre site along Bridge Street.

But the T has no money, as usual:

[Joseph] Cosgrove, the MBTA official, made it clear
that his agency does not have the funds to build this or any other garage. The MBTA, he said, is “broke.” And building garages, he said, is not its top concern. It’s No. 1 priority, he said, is maintaining the rail system, tracks and cars.

So the committee is floating other ideas:

However, it appears the key piece will have to come from a private developer for a project that could include retail space and housing.“The challenge is trying to get the development community interested,” Driscoll said.

We need more condos yes! Earlier this year, there were tentative plans for food service (Dunks or McD's, for example) proposed for the new Depot.

It does need to be enclosed, as the News points out in "Salem facility should include passenger waiting area":

But city officials and business leaders are right to demand that when a new parking facility is finally constructed on the site of the existing depot off Bridge Street, it include an enclosed waiting area for passengers. As lawyer Joseph Correnti, chairman of The Salem Partnership, told an MBTA representative last week, the current station consists of “a platform on the river.”This makes for an extremely uncomfortable wait for passengers in the middle of winter when the wind is whipping off the North River."

Not to mention the other problems I have with the station, such as the Steps of Doom.

The comments thread in the News, as is often the case, is more interesting than the article itself. Most of the commenters bemoan the thought of a garage, citing safety concerns, and the magnet that a garage poses to traffic.

I don't drive, so I don't care so much for a garage as such. I just want to see something other than that scar on the river that is our present station. I want something I can be proud of when I catch a bus, and something that tells our visitors from the train what a proud, great community we are.

But realistically, there hasn't been enough parking from the day it opened in 1987, so parking it is. The traffic's already here. It's already here. I'd like to see fewer people compelled to drive because we improved our public transit, but we can't improve our transit without taking steps like this first.

One good idea--a flag stop at South Salem near Salem State College--got shot down because of parking concerns, despite the fact that this was not going to be a full station, but just a stop to service the college. Now the college shuttle bus takes up space downtown and students fill the 455 bus to bursting. Great.

Until we can respect our public transit enough to pay for it (and from the furor over Question One, we don't trust our government to do anything let alone spend money) I will be writing this again in ten years time.

(see also "Time running out for Salem, Beverly garages".)

UPDATE:  The station was on the list of matters discussed with Governor Patrick at a closed-door meeting at City Hall

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Question One

Salem Senior Dance 2008 2008-08-07 033

Most readers know there is a initiative question one on our ballot this November.  Question One, if passed, would abolish the Massachusetts income tax, putting us in the company of states like New Hampshire and Florida, which have no income tax.

Supporters of Question One want to “send a message to legislators”.  Opponents predict Armageddon.  That’s simplified but not by much.  The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation points out that of  the $32 billion dollar state budget, $12.5 billion comes from the income tax.

That’s not an small drop, nor is it “cutting the fat” as the libertarians might put it. 

This week, we got a taste of what the consequences would be like:  Governor Patrick announced his Fiscal Action Plan to close a $1.7 billion gap in the state budget.

$1.7 billion.  Not $12.5 billion.

Notably, these cuts are hitting programs for people with disablities and the elderly.  People are already screaming.  The state’s  audio service for the visually impaired, TIC Network, is getting its budget cut.

In the past week, I’ve read this and other articles on Patrick’s budget cuts and have been drawn to the comments before reading the articles themselves.   There are several tropes—commonly expressed ideas—I’ve seen in those comment threads that I just have to respond to.

On cuts to elder services:  One commenter on talked about her elderly mom and the problems arranging care for her.  The retort was:  “Well, you should be responsible for looking after your parents!”

Well, yes.  But who can do it alone?

I helped care for my mom in the last three years of her life.  It’s been over 14 years since she died.  I do not regret looking after her for even an instant.  Never did I think of running away.

But I didn’t do it alone.  Mom had an array of care workers to look after her.  She had elder services to look after ordinary things like transportation.  She had visiting nurses.  She had a homemaking service.

Caregiving is very hard work with no small amount of stress.  Even after I admit I loved my mom so much I’d do the three years with her over and over, I say also that it changed me for the worse, just from the emotional stress that all caregivers experience at one time or another.   

A caregiver is more often than not an adult daughter, maybe the youngest or oldest in her family.  Maybe she has the “least” amount of obligations to look after Mom (or Dad).  Does she give up her job to look after her?  Can she? 

This applies no less to people with disabilities and those who care for them.  A child who becomes disabled can upend a family.

What happens when no one is there for the caregiver?  Elder abuse is already worrisome.   A few years ago in Nevada, an elderly man was dropped off in the street in his chair and a pack of diapers;  his relatives were too stressed to look after him any longer.  Will we see elderly and disabled left in the streets of Salem?

Responsibility is nothing without support.  The state service agencies, however maligned, are for many the first, last and best source of support.

“Just fire the managers!”

We all love Indians and hate chiefs.  Management has a role, though;  do we want all our caseworkers to do all their own management tasks?  How about closing offices?  Would that be a good idea?  If you’re in Springfield and your caseworker has to work out of Worcester, maybe that’s not so good.

“Vote for One and send a message!  Those no-good hacks will never let it pass anyway!”

Then what’s the point?

We hate our legislators.  They are hacks.  I distrust them all, from Washington St. to Beacon Hill to the Capitol.  I have never known a government that was not ineffective or corrupt, I have never looked at a politician with anything but cynicism.  My earliest memories of being politically interested is in reading “All The President’s Men” in grammar school.

That’s all true.

So why are people saying they’ll depend on the legislature to set things right?

As someone at pointed out, taxation is equivalent to legitimacy in our government.  Ever since Proposition 2-1/2 was passed in 1980, we have not believed in our government, and we have not trusted it.

That’s the real problem.

One final meme to address:

Well, Deval will just undo the changes after Question One goes down!”

I don’t think so.  From the Globe:

State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill said yesterday that the state must take dramatic steps - borrowing at a higher interest rate than usual and tapping the state's rainy day fund for $310 million - to make sure it has enough cash to make local aid payments due next week to cities and towns.

The extraordinary moves are a direct result of the troubled credit markets roiling Wall Street, and they portend more dire decisions looming for state lawmakers, Cahill said. The turmoil arises as state revenues are decreasing, making access to credit even more important.

"This is no longer a Wall Street issue, this is a Main Street issue," Cahill said. "I don't want to be constantly beating a dead horse. But it's a crisis. A full-blown crisis. We have to slow down or cut spending."

Whatever happens with Question One, this is not over.

UPDATE:  Excellent suggestions from Steven Crosby via CommonweathUnbound, but of course this isn’t as “fun” as watching people yell at each other.

UPDATE 2:  Vic DeGravio reminds us that mental health programs are already seriously affected by the cutbacks.  I know from personal experience that mental health programs have been the unwanted stepchildren of health spending in the state.  Small wonder it is going to get worse.  Another trope in the comments:  “Well, just cut the waste!”  

Sure.  Not.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Downtown Salem named A Top Ten Neighborhood: Last Gasp of Gentrification?

As has been widely reported in the News, and the Gazette, the American Planning Association has named Downtown Salem as one of its Top Ten Neighborhoods:

One of colonial America's most storied towns, downtown Salem, Massachusetts, blends 17th century history and architecture with a 21st century pace and liveliness. The neighborhood's picturesque Common, eccentric street grid, and profusion of archetypal old houses belie a humming, mixed-use district with dozens of retail stores, more than 50 restaurants, and 400 newly built residences.

Given the neighborhood's success in retaining its historic character while incorporating modern-day changes to make the area economically vibrant, compact, and sustainable, downtown Salem has been named one of 10 APA Great Neighborhoods in America for 2008.

To be fair, this is a great victory for Kim Driscoll.  Three years ago, Mrs. Driscoll was the assistant city manager in Chelsea, the once-troubled small city just north of downtown Boston.  In the 1980’s, Chelsea was in state receivership, but starting in the 90’s, the city gentrified at a fierce pace.

Driscoll had to have wanted that for her city of Salem. 

Indeed, during one mayoral debate, Driscoll bragged about the steep rise in property values in Chelsea, at the time the city was listed as the 2nd highest increase in values for a town in the Commonwealth.  Her opponent, Kevin Harvey, was less positive about this fact, saying that it was a list he didn’t want Salem to be on.

And now Kim has it.  She has the steep rise in property values in downtown.  She has, in her city, $300K condos named after Hawthorne.   Even my ward councilor is caught up in the gentrification wave with his support of the Salem Jail redevelopment.

We make our money downtown from “history”, tourists and ever elevating property values, rather than the industry and business of years past.

Salem celebrated this honor in a ceremony this past Wednesday with our state rep Keenan, state senator Berry and Congressman Tierney.

I wasn’t invited.

I’ve lived downtown for 13 years.

People at the ceremony were given T-shirts (“Downtown Salem/I Live Here!”)

I don’t have one.

I’m slighted.  Snubbed.

This Top Ten Neighborhood honor is not for the long-time citizens who have quietly worked for Salem’s benefit, but more for the up-and-coming dynamic individuals who can pull down $500K mortgages for tiny condos. 

Kim, the Council and the administration got their wish.  So too did the condo owners.

But what will happen to them in an economic collapse?  What will happen to us, when we can’t make money out of churning property values and Halloween visitors?

If your condo is foreclosed upon, will the same city officials who feted you, return your calls?

One last quote:

Other signs that downtown Salem no longer is just a draw for tourists, says former city planning director Bill Luster, who has lived downtown for several years, are the neighbors he sees when walking his dog, going to the drugstore, or doing other everyday errands. "There's definitely a neighborhood feel to downtown now," he said.

I’ve been around, Mr. Luster. 

Where were you?

More on Audible Pedestrian Signals

North and Bridge Sts 2008-10-13 021 - Copy

There are more verbal pedestrian signals in Salem.  These new signals are on North St.

Now, why again aren't these downtown at the train station, or at St. Peter St.?

If MassHighway thinks these signals are so precious and too expensive to put downtown at the bypass road, then why are they here?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First Accident on the Bypass Road

Bypass Road 2008-10-08 003, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

The aftermath of the first accident on the bypass road, as a MedFlight helicopter leaves the scene. I didn't see the accident itself, but judging by the scanner traffic, it involved a motorcyclist and was near the bend in the road where it meets Bridge St.

Update: Salem News has the details. It was a motorcyclist with "non-life-threatening" injuries. (Then why the Medflight?) According to several commenters on the Salem News, the motorcyclist was going 80 southbound from Beverly. He hit the bend and went flying. We are supposed to be surprised?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

For Randy Moisan, 20 years on the bus are over

Salem Schools Bus (1)

I’m doing something different on this blog.  I have a foster brother who drove school buses for the city for 21 years.  He wrote a great letter to the Gazette last spring, reflecting on his years with the city.  Since the Gazette doesn’t post letters online, I want Randy to have his moment on my blog so I have “volunteered” him to guest post:

To the editor:
Where do I start? Oh yeah, how about at the beginning. On March 21, 1988 I was hired by Jim Parisian to drive the field trip/athletic bus for the city of Salem’s School Department. Little did I know at that time how long and how much I would enjoy this job. This was supposed to be a temporary job until I found a “real one.

The first week on the job started with a literal bang. The leased bus I was assigned to drive was torched overnight and damaged the rear of the high school. I couldn’t believe when I was shown what remained of the bus: The front end was completely gone and the tires were burnt so much that there were only rims left. What a way to start off a job, but I stuck with it.

I learned how to get to the sporting fields by Salem’s greatest coaches, Ken Perrone and Al Giardi, and even got lost taking Charlie Maihos’ softball team over to Lynn Classical. I started out being the driver that followed everyone to eventually being the driver everyone looked to for directions.

I drove in and out of Boston all the time and loved it. I watched the Big Dig happen all around me and only regretted coming back in September every year because so many changes happened over the summer months and I had to learn the new routes around Boston.

I really loved driving the kids of Salem and was considered the cool bus driver because I never stayed on the bus — I would join them on field trips, helping teachers chaperone or watching the games. I even got to sit on the parquet floor at the old Boston Garden with. our basketball team during a championship game. I was there when Jeff Juden was being scouted and I remember the Saugus game, watching the radar gun, seeing him throw over 90 mph. I still have the bail he signed for me after he got recruited to the Houston Astros.

There was only one school year that was really
tough on me. That was when Salem High’s class of
2000 were seniors. They were in kindergarten when
I started driving a bus and I watched them grow up,
even though I hadn’t changed a bit, or so I thought.

I loved saying “good morning” to every kid on my bus as they got on and “have a good day” when they were leaving. I even let them know they were missed when they were out sick. I still have many of the gifts given to me over the years by the children and their parents.

I will miss being seen in a store and being run up to or pointed at and hearing the kids say, “that’s my bus driver.” How many looks did I get when some of those special angels would run up to me and give me a hug to say hi in a store and I would never return it, but say “I don’t do hugs,” showing that it was the child and not me initiating it. Those were the tough parts of the job, because I knew that some of those kids really needed a hug back.

These are just some of the things I remember fondly about being a bus driver. I could go on and on about the kids I drove, but sadly all things must come to an end. For personal reasons I resigned my position on April 11, 2008 so for the first time in 20 years and 21 days, the city of Salem does not have everyone’s favorite bus driver at the wheel of a bus. I will cherish all of those years driving Salem’s children.

To the Salem School Department and all of my bus driver friends, thanks for all of the great memories. To the parents of all of the children I drove over these 20 years, I thank you, for the greatest gift: getting to drive your children.
Randy Moisan
Dunlap Street
, Salem

Ironically, the year Randy was hired, I got a temp job as a bus monitor for a week where I got to ride around in one of our special-ed vans with Jan, one of Randy’s fellow drivers.  Even though it really wasn’t my kind of work, it was an interesting job and I really enjoyed working with Jan.  Sadly, Jan succumbed to cancer shortly after my time on the bus, so I never got to tell her personally.

The past nine months have been very difficult for Randy and I as we deal with some very personal and emotional issues.  But one thing is clear from his letter:  He loved Salem.  My deep cynicism makes it impossible for me to appreciate this fact, but there it is.

This school year is different without Randy, no doubt.

Politics for People With Disabilities

Salem Jail Visit 016

[My friend, Rob Park]

With less than six weeks to the presidential election, it’s almost too late to make a decision on the race;  around this time, most people are firming up their opinions.  One always forgets about people with disabilities, some may consider them “special interests”, but the issues that face people with disabilities can, do and will affect all of us.

Poynter Online, the online journalism website, and Susan LoTiempo have “Disability Related Questions for Politicians”:

Health care. A shaky economy. Unemployment.

Those are the hot-button issues being debated during this presidential race, and as usual, the candidates take such broad stands that even the most complicated issue becomes a one-size-fits-all sound bite.

But citizens with disabilities (there are 54 million of them) would like some specifics before they cast their votes. It's not just that the devil is in the details, but that their futures may very well depend on those details.

Since our job as journalists is to ask the questions, it's also our job to get the specifics on the record. Unfortunately, it's rare that a reporter asks a disability-related question, but it's time to start.

It has been long past time.  For years, journalists had the same time-worn tropes for people with disabilities.  We were “heroic”, “poor”, “crippled”, “elderly” or “veterans”.  Put on a pedestal to be pitied.  It has taken people a long time to realize that people with disabilities are a very diverse group.  Most of us are not single-issue voters,  yet the decisions that made can even affect our ability to function and even live in our society.

The Ohio Legal Rights Service has prepared a comparison of McCain’s and Obama’s positions on various disability issues.

Disability awareness in our politicians doesn’t end, nor even start, with the Presidency.   We may contact our congressman for action for laws like the ADA, but the action is all with the state reps, state senator, mayor and councilors.  Disability politics, like other politics, is local, to borrow Tip O’Neill. 

And, of course, with my Commission.  In 2009, we have a city council and mayoral election, as Kim Driscoll runs for re-election.

It’s hard to figure out where candidates stand on disability issues.  Nobody will say they’re against people with disabilities, of course.   I and the Commission have been criticized before, but that’s not common.

I and my colleagues  have several months to figure out what Salemmites with disabilities should be looking for in our elected and appointed officials.

In the meantime, Patricia Bauer has an excellent blog on disability news (no RSS feed, though).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Salem’s Downtown Now More Accessible

SCOD Sidewalk Survey 2008-09-17 013

[Sidewalk curb cut outside the Knights of Columbus Hall.  This was scheduled to be repaired around Sept. 20th, due to the steep dropoff and gap between the sidewalk and the street.]

The Salem Gazette writes about an initiative by the city to improve sidewalks for people with disabilities.  I’ve blogged this before, but it’s in the media now.

There’s no denying that Salem’s rippling brick sidewalks and bumpy cobblestone streets are quaint, but how accommodating are they for people with physical handicaps?

Not very, says Salem’s Commission on Disabilities (SCD). At the commission’s request the city has begun constructing several downtown streets to carve out small sidewalk ramps, called curb cuts, that enable people to more easily reach street level.

The majority of the curb cuts are being installed along Essex and Washington streets at about eight different locations including in front of the Salem Public Library. More will be constructed in coming months along Lafayette Street near Salem State College. According to city officials, construction will be complete in time for Halloween to greet incoming tourists.

The Commission has long had mixed feelings about brick sidewalks.  When they’re new, they’re as easy to navigate as concrete sidewalks.  When they’re old, not as much. 

Worst, as usual, are the cobblestones on Essex St. downtown:

Charlie Reardon, 73, is happy to see these changes but say that downtown streets still remain a problem. Walking with a cane, Reardon has trouble navigating the cobblestone areas of the Essex Street pedestrian mall, especially during events when merchants set up tents along the brick sidelines.

“I try to stay to the right or left … but pedestrians often occupy this and it makes it hard to get around,” he says. “And God help the poor soul in a wheelchair. Those cobblestones jar your insides out.”

I’ll spell this out so people can understand.  The downtown you see today is not the one in McIntyre’s day.  It is a simulation.  It was built in 1976 in an downtown revival fad that attempted to revitalize areas by making them pedestrian-only areas.  The cobblestones were there to make it appear historic. 

They’re not authentic.

They’ve caused more problems with pedestrian traffic flow downtown than any other architectural element.  The Commission regularly has to monitor pedestrian flow and wheelchair access during Haunted Happenings, and our work would be much easier without those stones.

Before you post the inevitable comments telling me to move, consider:

“This is a large tourist city,” Andrew LaPointe, a member of the SCD, points out. “There are 50,000 people in the nation who are disabled … A lot of them come to Salem … We are trying to make the city more comfortable for them.”

The ankle not sprained by a cobblestone may be your own.

In other good news, the Witch House is being made accessible.  The entrance and several important passages are being widened for chairs.  It won’t be done in time for this Halloween, but it should be ready by tourist season next spring.