Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Do we still need a new courthouse?

Salem Traffic 2008-06-25 034

“It’s too big!”

“It’s too ugly!”

“Isn’t the old courthouse good enough?”

“Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t go there, did he?”

“It’s not historic!”

“It’ll destroy our character!”

“It’ll snarl traffic!”

“Why does the state have to take that poor slip ramp?”

“Why can’t it be a small little courthouse?”

“Why can’t we study it some more?”

“Can’t the neighborhood groups be more involved?”

Just a few hours before I took the picture above, this happened:

SALEM, Mass. -- Police are searching for a prisoner who escaped at Salem Superior Court and is on the run.

Police said Miguel Angel Caraballo, 37, was shackled at the courthouse Wednesday morning. But at about 8:20 a.m. he somehow broke free from custody and ran into a waiting car just outside.

The prisoner escaped from the small parking lot in the rear of the court complex, seen at the top of the image above.  There is no enclosed sally port such as those at modern police stations (including Salem’s).

Still think we don’t need a new facility?  Either build it here, or build it somewhere else, but let’s not go through another ten years of debate.

Reports: Shackled Prisoner Escapes From Mass. Court - Boston News Story - WCVB Boston

Salem Gazette story.

Boston Herald

Monday, June 23, 2008

Joan Lovely Comments on my Senior Center Post

Councilor Lovely sent me an email clarifying and correcting some points in my last post.

Councilor Lovely:

Hi David,

I read your blog regarding a new senior/community life center and I would like to make a couple of corrections.

With regard to my being on the “selection” committee, just a clarification if you will. I was one of twelve members of the senior center committee. I was also a member of the public input sub-committee. Over several months this sub-committee garnered public opinion in the form of a poll and focus groups, as well as public hearings. There was also a site plan committee (of which I did not sit on), who gleaned every potential public and private site in the city and culled the list to the present three sites with affirmation from the committee. And, last but not least, there was a programming committee (I did not sit on this either) who looked at the present and future needs of those who will use the center and what types of programming should be added or subtracted as we go forward.

Additionally, your blog has me supporting the Willows sites, which is not true. I have not publicly or privately picked one site over another. Each site has its positives and negatives, and it will now be up to the Mayor and City Council to determine which site will best suit the community based on those positives and negatives, and most importantly how to pay for it.

Also, as part of the public input process, it was determined that over 70% of seniors now drive to the current center, and as seniors become “younger” every year, I can only surmise that this number may increase. You may remember that one of the big factors with the demise of the senior center at St. Joseph’s was the lack of parking. The public input committee wanted to get a very clear picture of what the parking needs would be for a new center and we were very surprised to learn that most seniors drive to the current center or to other centers in Peabody and Beverly. The site plan committee used this information when they looked at potential sites to make sure that adequate parking will be part of any site that eventually gets selected for the new center.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify this information. I look forward to continuing this process towards a new center.


Joan Lovely

As I explained privately, I don’t think I implied that Councilor Lovely supported any of the options presented, but I’m glad she clarified the other points.

Back to my opinions: I’m very troubled by the number of seniors who are driving in the face of higher gas prices and physical infirmities. We as a city are proposing parking space for a senior center that would be bitterly opposed by the neighborhood groups were it RCG that had the idea. We’re insuring that the senior center will be out of the way because that is most convenient for the automobile. We’re insuring that seniors will choose gas over food and, most importantly, insuring that they will never, ever relinquish their license even when they test 20/200, legal blindness or worse, in their eye exams.

But mostly, we’re confirming what I’ve come to fear from three years of working on Leo’s committee: There is a divide between “affluent” seniors and those less so, which represent much of our constituency. This bothers me very much, and it won’t get better as those “affluent” baby boomers age.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A New Senior Center: Who is it really for?

Salem CoA Building 8-3-2007. (3)

Joan Lovely appeared on Salem Now a few weeks ago, and one topic that took most of the show was the search for a new senior center; Mrs. Lovely was on the selection committee. She and the committee have completed their work, and three sites have been listed in their report: Memorial Drive (next to Camp Naumkeag), Fort Lee (nearby, adjacent to Salem Willows) and Boston & Bridge St. (proposed by Mayor Driscoll.)

I’ve written about this before when people were buzzing about using the St. John’s School property at St. Peter St. St. John’s did not make the list; no reasons were given in the report.

Since two of the three sites are very close to one another, this is really a choice between Boston St. and the Willows.

The loudest voices appear to be for the Willows sites. Teazie Goggin wants the Memorial Drive site as does Leo Jodoin, the host of Salem Now.

The Boston St. site is seen as a “quick fix” on the part of the mayor.

I’m very uncomfortable with the Willows sites and here’s why.

First, remember that the senior center is being used year round. A few years ago, I attended an emergency preparedness seminar held by the Salem Department of Health, at the function center on Winter Island.

In February.

The building was heated, and it is a beautiful place for a function. But you could not look at the waves outside and not feel the bitter cold go through you. Imagine the feeling of isolation at 3 PM in January.

The committee is imagining the center on a beautiful summer day like the one we are having as I write this. That is not even the reality for much of the year.

Second, transportation. Juniper Point, where the Willows sits, is one of the more isolated parts of Salem. There is no public transit in that neighborhood, except for the tourist trolleys that run during the summer. MBTA service ceased in the early 70’s.

The Council on Aging has vans, one thinks, why not those?

The COA runs a good van service. They, like other paratransit providers, use their vans for on-demand trips to doctor’s appointments, and for scheduled trips to supermarkets and the malls.

But one can’t just decide to go to the senior center; one has to call, wait for a ride, and go. I went through this myself when I was in school and considered “special ed”, so therefore I also had to have “special” transportation. I remember spending too many hours waiting for the special van or taxi to take me to school. I didn’t feel too independent. I’m horrified to imagine that as an elder, I may be taken back to those days.

In the 80’s and 90’s, and to a certain extent still today, the MBTA did not really want to make their main transit services accessible to people with disabilities. They preferred people use “The RIDE”, their paratransit service for the disabled. A dear neighbor of ours, the late Jane Gallant, fought with her life to get the MBTA to bring accessible buses to the Salem area, and then to build a wheelchair ramp at Salem Depot. The disability community in Salem will not accept van services in lieu of regular public transit that's accessible to all.

Van services, by their nature, are "separate but equal". Except, of course, when you want to go to the senior center on your schedule, the kind of privilege that seniors who drive can take for granted.

A factor that Lovely cited that favored the Willows sites: 70 percent of seniors would drive to the center. They, presumably, have a choice and have the voice in this debate.

30 percent of seniors--and future seniors like myself, do not.

Compare that with the Boston St. site. The 465 bus runs by there. That bus serves the North Shore Mall and Liberty Tree Mall, as well as downtown Peabody, and a good part of Boston & Essex Sts.

That route has been around for decades under different operators (Eastern Mass. Street Railway, MBTA, Michaud, ABC Bus, and now back to the MBTA) and is a well-established route for seniors and non-drivers like myself.

It's been suggested that the MBTA be petitioned to restore Salem Willows service. I don't see it. There would not be enough ridership from seniors by themselves, so it would have to serve the Willows park as well, and even then there might only be summer service. We might have to trade off one bus route for it.

The mills and factories, destinations for the buses, that once lined Webb St. and Fort Ave. haven't existed in decades and were already well in decline when the MBTA discontinued service to that neighborhood.

As well, the neighbors will stop any attempt at reestablishing buses. Every few years, someone from the city decides they want the T to restart service between Marblehead and Salem, which was also lost in the early '70s. And every time, the idea is quietly dropped, no doubt due to the state rep in Marblehead quietly telling Salem to stuff the idea. [Update below]

I don't expect any different from the Willows.

Leo and others talk about the traffic problems and inadequate pedestrian access on Boston St. The level of traffic is indeed legendary; I lived in that area for 8 years from '74 to '82, and not much has changed.

But the state has been talking about redoing Boston St for years. Why not redo the Boston/Bridge St. intersection? If that is done, and the signals at Pope St., Grove St. and Nichols St. are upgraded to audible signals for the disabled, that will satisfy any concerns.

It's probably easier to get the state to do that and pay for that once, than it would be to get the T to establish a new bus route. And it has to be done anyway, senior center or not.

Or just ask: How many seniors walk to functions at the AOH Hall, or attend Bingo at St. James' Church? If they walk, that puts the lie to the traffic argument right there! If it's safe enough to walk to the AOH (and more importantly, back at night after their revelries!), it can't be that dangerous to walk to the COA in the daytime.

The report of the Senior Center Committee mentions focus groups for three different groups of seniors, "young" seniors around 60, "middle-aged" 70-year olds, and "old seniors" around 80.

I'm 45. In 15 years I will be eligible to use the senior center, indeed, I may be among the first cohort of seniors to do so. In talking to seniors, I have been told countless times that "the kids of today only live for now", that "they don't think for tomorrow." and etcetera.

I'm more than a little bitter that I have been ignored and not considered as part of the group that is planning for seniors, when I do nothing but think of the long term. The current senior center was established in 1976, so it's been around for 32 years; the new center will be around for at least that long and I don't like what I see that far out.

Getting back to the 70% of seniors with cars: Our generation has been very fortunate to enjoy the immense inherited wealth of our society post WWII, and to enjoy the power that lets us drive cars wherever we want and not worry about the future. Today's seniors have had it much better than past generations.

That period may be over for good.

We can't guarantee that future seniors will be able to afford to drive, even if they're still in shape to do so. Even now with $4 gas, seniors with cars are being squeezed.

I have come to think that the committee knows these things, but that many seniors have another motivation for having the center at the Willows.

"Those people" won't show up there.

I had wanted to say this ever since the controversy happened over Mayor Driscoll's original proposal to build the senior center at St Joseph's Church. Most seniors aren't racist, but I fear that many of the loudest opponents of her plan, many of whom screamed about safety and traffic, didn't have good motives during that debate.

Many people in support of the Willows locations, including some of the committee members, have expressed and gushed over the desire to have a "special place for seniors".

Special for whom? Will this be an asset in trust and for use by future generations of young and old?

Or is it just a clubhouse for the few, paid for by public funds?

It doesn't look like the senior center may be for me. Or for anyone not of the right color, language or economic standing.

The new senior center: Who's it really for?

Salem Senior Center Committee Report [PDF]

UPDATE: Joan Lovely responds with some clarifications.

UPDATE: This time, Marblehead floated the idea of bus service to Salem, but as their liaison to the MBTA points out, “[the] T would likely look more favorably on such a request if the town were willing to simultaneously “trade off” other service. He asked board members and residents to think about routes that may have low ridership, which could potentially be eliminated.” The liaison has to know there are only the 441 and 442 routes into Marblehead which are both very active, so good luck with that one. It only reinforces my point that a Salem Willows T bus just won’t happen, at least without a bigger sea change—and budget—than we have seen so far.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June 2008 Transportation Update

First, the Courthouse project.  Quote from the city’s email this morning:


Be aware that on or about JULY 7, 2008 the new traffic signals will be operational, traffic patterns will change, and the East Ramp between Bridge Street and North Street will be permanently closed.

How will it go?  We’ll find out!

The buildings at Federal and North haven’t come down yet as of Monday.  Asbestos removal was continuing.

MBTA:  Beverly will get its parking garage for the train station downtown.  I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the city of Beverly, its administration and city council. I also want to congratulate our administration and city council and most of all, our Federal St. Neighborhood Association for making sure that there are no good changes in Salem, indeed for insuring that nothing changes at all.  As I’ve said before, Mayor Scanlon should make a bid for the courthouse complex;  even though preliminary construction is already under way, we can always use more vacant lots and buildings to turn into condos named after Bertram, Bowditch and Hawthorne.

Money has been earmarked for a new depot in Salem, however, the timing is very uncertain, which I take to mean won’t happen.  As John Keenan explains:

"I don't think the state can afford the project by itself," he said. "I think we have to try to partner with somebody

This is the situation in Beverly as well.  I’m worried about that aspect;  whenever there is a public-private partnership, there are no end to the problems one hears about.

When DCAM made its presentation on the Courthouse project this past spring, an MBTA representative discussed the plans for the garage.  Among other features of the project, a restaurant was proposed.

A friend of mine watched the DCAM meeting on SATV and was livid.  A restaurant?  At the courthouse!?

He had obviously conflated the courthouse—which does not feature food service so far as I’m aware—with the proposed MBTA station.

As I explained to my friend, it’s very common to have restaurants and small convenience stores at transit facilities like Salem Depot.  You need only go to the newly expanded North Station and buy a coffee or a hamburger.  Beverly Depot has or had a restaurant near the tracks.  The old Salem Depot (at the south end of Riley Plaza) once had a newsstand until it floated away during a big water main break that flooded the whole downtown and its train tunnel in the late 70’s.

Indeed, during every morning rush, a catering van parks at the platform at Salem, serving passengers running for the train.

That will cut no slack with Federal St.  I can already hear the complaints, “It destroys the character of the area”, “It takes business away!”, “It’s Salem, not Boston!”

A scenario I fear is that either there’ll be no commercial partner—they’ll be scared away towards opportunities that don’t have NIMBYs with them—or the only commercial partner we find will be somebody not in the best interests of Salem or its transit users:  Think condos, and more of them.  We know how well that worked out.

I don’t think my friend was much convinced by my explanation.  The neighbors won’t be, either.

That $17 million the state has spent for Salem’s Last Road looms very large.  It could have paid for the train station by itself in 2005.

Salem Commission on Disabilities, June 2008: Road Problems

Mark Dempsey, of the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB) and Jack Harris of the Commission look at the transition between the bike path at the bypass road to Lemon St., seen in the background.

A few weeks ago, MassHighway asked us to look at the bike path they’re building next to the bypass road.  The bike path has “transitions”, places at the end of each adjoining street that meet the path.  This is one of them at Lemon St.

MassHighway wanted a variance to state accessibility requirements.  The state can grant a variance if it is too expensive or impractical to give full access.  In this case, the slope of the street would be too steep for wheelchair users to navigate.

Fixing this would probably require blowing up Lemon St., and the other streets affected, in other words, it can’t happen.  The ends of the bike path are still accessible:  Howard St. at the south, and Skerry St. (Carlton School) at the north of the path are flat and there are no problems that we can see with the pathway itself.

The MAAB is meeting June 22nd to discuss this matter;  I only wish MassHighway had let us know this problem earlier.

We also ran into a pole problem on Lemon St., a problem bothering Mike Sosnowski and others:  Verizon and National Grid are putting new poles down, in spots that make sidewalks inaccessible to wheelchair users and virtually everyone else.   The offending pole is in the right of the background, at the corner of Lemon and Smith.  There are poles like this all over Salem.

This was a big problem in Beverly a few years back when Route 1A was rebuilt;  it resulted in a royal catfight between the Beverly Commission on Disabilities and MassHighway.  MassHighway would not return calls from Art Daignault, Beverly’s chairman.

Beth Rennard, our solicitor, has a set of guidelines for pole placement that we want to get our hands on so we can see what poles are out of compliance and what necks we need to wring.

We also got a request to look at the curb cuts and wheelchair access at North St. downtown.  This end of the road is being torn up for the courthouse project.  We’ll go down and look at it, and blog it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Misconceptions at Congress and Derby

Congress and Derby Intersection 015

[The Congress and Derby intersection, photo by the author.]

There was a letter in today’s News I just had to respond to.  I really don’t want to name the writer, but this is the fuzzy thinking I associate with denizens of  Federal St. or the Common.

Before the city jumps blindly into installing lights at the intersection of Derby and Congress streets in Salem, I hope cooler heads will prevail.

If this intersection becomes fully signaled with accompanying walk lights, I predict several consequences:

“Jumps blindly”.  Right.  That’s ironic in more ways than one;  read on.

First, traffic backups will likely increase. By impeding what is currently a relatively safe flow through a four-way stop, vehicles heading toward the intersection will increasingly back up from Congress to Lafayette Street (and probably to Washington Street), and even north to Essex Street, thus worsening congestion, escalating driver tension, and adding to greenhouse gas emissions from engines idling.

Relatively safe”, emphasis added

However, safety is the real victim here. When green lights are installed, the average speed of vehicles approaching the intersection will increase. Besides presenting a greater danger to pedestrians and bicyclists, collisions at these higher speeds are more likely to cause injuries or worse

“When green lights are installed”


There is no signal there now.   There’s nothing stopping cars from going as fast as they dare, but for the occasional truck, MBTA bus or motor coach.

Last part:

Signalizing intersections is not always the best solution. Currently, traffic entering the intersection from any direction should stop. If vehicles don't stop, it's an enforcement issue — not an engineering one.

A low-cost, low-tech fix, such as adding or enlarging one or two traffic islands or installing flashing red lights, should be considered first. At the very least, a public hearing to review other alternatives should be held before another full set of traffic signals adds to our collective road rage.

Duh.  Look at the photo at the top of the page.  There are traffic islands splitting Derby St. at the travel lanes on both the east (towards Pickering Wharf) and the west (towards New Derby St.)  They’re already there!

And what are flashing red lights but traffic signals themselves?  What, the vendor will tell the city engineer, “oh, those are only flashing red.  50% off!”

Alternatives?  Overpasses?  Rebuild the old Congress Street drawbridge?  (Yes, it was once a drawbridge, until it failed open once too many times and was replaced in the 80’s.)  After hearing what people on Federal St. proposed as “alternatives” for the court complex, I’m not enthusiastic.

Let’s go back to the lede:  “Before the city jumps blindly into installing lights at the intersection of Derby and Congress streets in Salem”

Salemmites, like urbanites and town dwellers everywhere, have a cute misconception of how projects happen.  Mayor Driscoll did not wake up a few days ago and decide she wanted lights at Congress and Derby just because.  The city—and more importantly, visitors, residents and users of the intersection—have wanted to have it signalized for the past five years, if not even longer.  Several years ago, the intersection got new sidewalks and tactile surfaces at the corners for the visually impaired (they’re the brown studded surfaces at curb cuts;  you can just see one at the extreme right of the picture.)

Interesting that the writer talks about “jumping blindly”, because my chairman on the Commission on Disabilities is legally blind and he uses that intersection nearly daily, including to and from our monthly meetings.

The city’s desire to manage traffic at that intersection owes as much to the disabled people who use it, as it does to visitors to Pickering Wharf, the hotel and points all around the intersection.

Where was the writer five years ago?

Source:  Letter: Traffic lights can cause more problems than they solve -, Salem, MA

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday, June 9, 2008

Disability Access at Political Conventions

I've been remiss lately in writing about disability issues.   It's hard for me to write about, say, what happened in Commission meetings, since I have bad hearing and worse concentration.  We're working on getting regular minutes, which should help.  There have been developments in Salem I want to bring up.

But first, this article from Blue Mass Group.  The state Democratic party had its convention at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell.  The only problem:  A disabled delegate could not be seated with the other members of her delegation.  David Eisenhal:

I attended the convention as one of three delegates from the Town of West Brookfield. One of the other members of the West Brookfield delegation is disabled and uses a wheelchair. While this delegate could get to many places within the Tsongas Arena, one of the places where she could not go was the area where our delegation was seated. Delegates from the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin senate district (Sen. Steve Brewer) were placed in the stadium seating above the floor. There is simply no way for a wheelchair to navigate into this area. (And the DSC had been informed previously of the West Brookfield delegate's disability.

In political campaigning, accessibility is almost never considered.  A few years ago, John Donahue ran for mayor in Salem.  He held several of his major functions at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Salem Common, the same hall that hosts the Salem Senior Recognition Days dance.

At that time, it was not accessible to wheelchairs.

Our group held our dance in the K of C Hall because they offered us the space, but I was secretly ashamed for a few years until they finally got a ramp in 2007, after the Commission nagged them incessantly (and properly!)

Although I'm nominally a registered Democrat--since the Republicans are too small in number and in ideology to appeal to me--I'm not convinced that people with disabilities are anything more to a Democrat than another identity group to take for granted.

We do vote.  I'm not sure it matters a lot, but I am politically active and at the polls.

That delegate is owed an apology.

hat tip: Blue Mass. Group:: Disability Access at the Democratic State Convention

Friday, June 6, 2008

With the Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council, why do we need city councilors?

[Derby Lofts, home of the Downtown Neighborhood Association]

This is an old item from the Salem News, but it's always bothered me:  Salem: Neighborhood council is reactivated.  Quoting:

Mayor Kim Driscoll has announced the re-creation of the Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council, made up of leaders from all of the city's neighborhood groups. The council was first created by Mayor Neil Harrington in the 1990s but eventually disbanded after he left office.

And the council:

  • Lucy Corchado, Point Neighborhood Association
  • Stan Franzeen, Historic Derby Street Neighborhood Association
  • Mickey Northcutt, Downtown Neighborhood Association
  • Michael Coleman, Salem Common Neighborhood Association
  • Patricia Zaido, Chestnut Street Neighborhood Associates
  • Jim Moskovis, Gallows Hill/Ward 4 Neighborhood Group
  • Leslie Limon, Northfields Neighborhood Group
  • Polly Wilbert, South Salem Neighborhood Association/Neighborhood Alliance
  • Meg Twohey, Federal Street Neighborhood Association

I notice some of my "favorite" people are on that board.  I had an indirect experience with Mickey Northcutt:  Mr. Northcutt runs the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

When Northcutt first established the Downtown neighborhood association, I was interested, and suspended my cynicism long enough to go to their first meeting about a year ago.   They'd made a splash in the Salem Gazette and their first meeting was well publicized.  The association expressed a desire to reach out to the Jefferson complex, which is in my corner of downtown.

Meeting day came, a Saturday.  I'd been running late as I was walking a friend's dog, but not late enough to miss the meeting or even be more than 10 minutes late.  In a volunteer meeting, especially the first volunteer meeting, it's not uncommon to take 20 minutes just to get the preliminaries done.

I went to the meeting place.  No one there.  Waited for a while, perhaps I was early?  Nothing.  No signage, no "someone's sick, we had to cancel" sign.

Two possibilities:  Someone screwed up.  I've seen enough screwups in volunteer work.  Some people talk the talk but can't deliver, or won't because, well, as they say, "I'm not being paid for this!"  Fair enough, that happens everywhere.

The other is that the Downtown group already has all the members they need, so there was no need to reach out to people like myself;  this is certainly how the Salem Common Neighborhood Group operates--they need not reach out to my friend Jack at the old Phillips School apartments, or to me when I lived there.

I'm inclined towards this interpretation.  When Mr. Northcutt's condo building, Derby Lofts, was opened up, Mayor Driscoll presided over an opening-day party.  For as long as condos have been going up in Salem, city officials are always ready to praise new residents as being "new, dynamic, up-and-coming people" that will change Salem for the better.

If I were Mickey I might think I was the center of the universe, just as Michael Coleman, Meg Twohey and, Polly Wilbert  do.  He has a "new, hip, downtown" residence and great property values.  Mayor Driscoll and the council need only listen to him.

Too bad others live downtown too, renters and others never considered dynamic, hip or up-and-coming.

Now with this council established, and most Salemmites permanently out of it (most do not belong to neighborhood associations), why do we need councilors?

Why waste my breath talking to my ward councilor?  He might take my call because I'm on the same commission where he is the Council liaison, but all I can do is yell.  If you're Mike Coleman or Regina Flynn or Meg Twohey, you can get Mike Sosnowski and the mayor to do what you want!  You're important!  You have Historic Property (Values!!)

All I can hope for is another cycle that happens with gentrification.  Derby Lofts was the hip, up-and-coming development for politicans to fawn over.  Now it's the Latitude condos at the old C.F. Tompkins furniture store.  Someday soon it may be the Salem Jail.

If the Salem Jail goes forward, the gentrification cycle will continue:   Pols will come to the open house.  They will proclaim the development to be the place for new dynamic hip up-and-coming residents of Salem.  In the meantime, one of the white-collar residents of the Jail becomes politically active and makes his association the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

What of Northcutt?  Forgotten.  He might get a call back from the mayor's office.  "Sorry, Mr. Northcutt.  You live in an old building.  It's not hip.  You're not hip.  You're just an old, static, unhip Salemmite.  You're off the advisory council.  Have a nice day."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Public Transit: We finally realize we need it!

[An evening train to Newburyport going north over the drawbridge.]

Finally, after years and years of dismissal, the Press/powers-that-be/official narrative generator finally seem to get public transit.  The Boston Globe picks up on this story;  Beyond Red & Blue has a post, Subways pick up speed in Boston, trolleys are faster nationally.  And so does Robert Reich in, With Gas at $4 a Gallon, We Need Public Transportation, But Why We Can't Get It.

Quote from the Globe:

Commuters continued flocking to the MBTA at a record-setting pace in April, taking 5.5 percent more trips on public transit than they did a year ago, according to T officials.

The agency also said there was a 6.1 percent increase in ridership over the first four months of this year, compared with same period last year. The numbers, which are also reflected nationally, confirm the move from cars to public transit as average gasoline prices jump to nearly $4 per gallon in Boston.

The figures weren't broken out by mode of transport in the Globe article but according to Beyond Red and Blue:

The American Public Transportation Association posted more good news for itself yesterday, reporting that mass transit use went up by 3.3 percent nationwide during the first three months of 2008 compared to the same time in 2007. Boston's MBTA also posted gains, though in a different pattern than found elsewhere.


Commuter rail ridership nationwide was up by 5.7 percent, thanks in part to double-digit increases in Seattle and Philadelphia, but it was up by only 1.3 percent in the Boston area.

There would be more people taking commuter rail out of Salem but for inadequate parking at Salem Depot.   In general,  commuter rail is operating at or below capacity on the north side due to lack of equipment, though according to Train Stopping, Newburyport and Rockport have an on-time percentage of 75.1% and 75.8%, remarkable considering the drawbridge problems in Beverly.  We badly need double-decker coaches, but don't have them.

Commuter rail is important--Salem has a long, and rich, rail history--but it's not the only mode of transit.  Salem has not had trolleys for 70 years, so there are "only" buses for regular everyday transit to the food stores, the doctors and the malls.

As I've written about before (The Car Culture's Limit in Salem), in order for buses to become viable transit for most people, they have to run more often.  The 455 is frequently overcrowded during most weekday afternoons;  it doesn't help when the T drops trips without notice to save money.   The 455 should be running at 15 minute intervals.  Or it should be electrified like the trackless trolleys in North CambridgeI've long wanted to restore real trolleys along the route of the 450.

But there's no money anywhere to improve transit.  Robert Reich:

For years, policymakers have wondered just how high gas prices would have to go before drivers switch to public transportation. The answer has been assumed to be very high because Americans supposedly are in love with our cars. Yet now we know there's a tipping point, and it's not quite as high as policymakers have guessed. It's around $4 a gallon. We know that's the tipping point because suddenly millions of Americans are switching to buses, trains and subways to go to work.
Rather than bemoaning this remarkable turnaround we should be celebrating it because public transit not only reduces congestion but also reduces the nation’s energy needs and cuts carbon emissions that bring on global warming.
Problem is, the nation doesn't have nearly enough public transportation to handle the new demand. Even more absurdly, right now when it's needed the most, public transportation across the land is being cut back. This is because transit costs are soaring by the same skyrocketing fuel prices that are forcing people out of their cars, at the same time transit revenues are shrinking because most transit systems depend largely on sales taxes, now dwindling as consumer purchases decline in this recession. A survey of the nation's public transit agencies released last Friday showed 21 percent of rail operators now cutting back and 19 percent of bus operators.
Even though it’s a hundred times more efficient for each of us to stop driving and use trains and buses, there’s not enough money in the public kitty for us to do so.
Public transit has always been the poor stepchild of infrastructure development. America's usual answer to traffic congestion has been to add more lanes on highways, or more highways, or more bridges and tunnels for more cars. America hasn’t been really serious about public transit for almost a century. Most of New York City’s subway system was built over a hundred years ago. Los Angeles ripped out its trams long ago. Boston's Big Dig, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in modern American history, was designed entirely for cars. In recent years, only a few farsighted and ambitious cities, like Portland, Oregon, have invested in light rail.

Instead of public transit improvements on the North Shore, we get a decrepit train station in Salem and a road that is obsolete before it's even opened:  Salem's Last Road.   It cost $17 million.  How much could that have gotten us for transit?  At least a new train station. 

I've talked and talked with elected and appointed officials, candidates for office and other important persons about public transit.  I've always been patronized, patted on my head and sent on my way.  Transit has never been that important to Salem politicians.

Will that change now?