Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Salem Willows Bus Service, is there a will or a won’t?

Someone at the Salem Gazette finally realizes what I’ve been saying all along:  There needs to be public transit to the new senior center, even if it’s at the Willows.

Suddenly, everyone’s asking us why there isn’t a bus or shuttle to the Willows.

One local senior recently recalled for us the golden era of the Willows, when people came from around the North Shore and even Boston and New Hampshire to spend the day in that lovely neighborhood.

This senior wondered why the MBTA doesn’t provide some kind of shuttle route around the north of Boston area, to restore the neighborhood to its former glory. Even within the city, he pointed out, there are still many locals, including seniors, who want to visit the beach and the boardwalk but don’t have easy access.

As I’ve pointed out, and the Gazette points out, it’s very unlikely the T can provide the service.  The city did once have a regular shuttle service, the “Senior Shuttle”.  You can still see its red signs  around town, notably at the old Michaud bus stop at Washington & New Derby Sts.

It’s easy to say that the MBTA, the state or the city should open up the wallet for more transit spending, but we need much more than that.  We need a real sea change in how we see transit.

For decades, those who could get around, drove.  Transit was for the very poor without cars, or for the disabled or elderly, what I’ve called “welfare transit”.

The late British welfare scholar Richard Titmuss had a quote, “Programs for the poor are poor programs!”  Public transit agencies have often  assumed that the only people using bus services are only those too poor or too sick to go anywhere but the grocery store or the doctor’s office.  That’s a bad assumption for disabled people who may otherwise be in good health and who want to go everywhere able-bodied people can go, and it lets politicians cut those programs since only a “few” benefit.

Public transit in Salem needs to be broad-based to be successful.  No one, for example, looks down on the train;  it’s an old—but vital—link for the North Shore and Boston.

However, some Salemmites think the 455 is just a bus route for their domestics to get to work;  a tax increase to, say, run the 455 every 15 minutes during weekdays would be shot down.  (I can hear some Derby Lofts residents, “Can’t they go somewhere else?!”)

I’m encouraged that more people are interested in transit (and trolleys) but it’s not enough.  The T’s funding problems have to be resolved, for even private bus routes (like the old Michaud Peabody route) depend on state funding.

One person in the comments at the Gazette article suggests that Salem Trolley become a transit provider rather than a tourist company.  I like the idea but Salem Trolley probably won’t.

Editorial: Willow or won't we? - Salem, MA - Salem Gazette

New and Old Transportation Corridors

When the bypass road was opened briefly last week to serve as a detour while Bridge St. was being paved, I got to see Salem's newest transportation corridor--the road--next to Salem's oldest transportation corridor--the rails.


The engineer is blowing his horn for work crews putting in sound barriers on March St., which you can see near the end of the clip.

Confusing Bypass Road Signs

I was at MassHighway’s public hearing last week.  This meeting was held to get comments on the planned reconstruction of Bridge St., now at 25% design.

The problem is with the new sign above the bridge heading south.  Salem News:

Bridge Street owners worry that every Salem-bound driver unfamiliar with the area — including tourists — will get confused and follow the Salem sign, even if their intended destination is the Bridge Street area, the Common or the waterfront. Meanwhile, the Swampscott sign could cause drivers to think they're actually leaving Salem, they said.

At a meeting Thursday night, they urged MassHighway, which oversees the bypass road project, to post clearer signs, directing drivers onto Bridge Street if they're destined for Salem Willows, the waterfront or Shetland Park.


But MassHighway has refused, saying that two signs sending drivers to Salem could make matters worse.

"We do not want drivers being confused," said Steve McLaughlin, the MassHighway project manager.

Who decides what destinations are listed on highway (“guide”) signs?  According to the Federal Highway Administration:

A: The selection of destinations shown on [a] guide sign is determined by each State and not by the FHWA or the MUTCD [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the US standard for traffic signs, marks and signals.] There are two types of destinations: 1) major control cities and 2) supplemental destinations. Recommendations for major control cities are submitted to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and approved by AASHTO's Highway Subcommittee on Traffic Engineering. Supplemental destinations are cities other than control cities, or traffic generators. Each State develops selection policies for supplemental destinations. The policy is based on criteria such as interchange spacing, distance of the city or traffic generator from the interchange, population, and annual attendance of a traffic generator. AASHTO has issued guidelines for the selection of control cities and for supplemental guide signs.

Continuing from the News:

A MassHighway spokesman said yesterday that including other landmarks isn't feasible because of size restrictions on the signs.

"You can only make signs so large, and they can only include so much stuff," said spokesman Klark Jessen.

The sign says "Swampscott" because it's the next community beyond Salem, he said.

Apparently, MassHighway will go by those guidelines and that is that.

I’m reminded of the sign near Copley Sq. to the Pike westbound, marked "New York".  As if you'd see the towers of Manhattan coming out of the tunnel near Kenmore Square.  Likewise, I don't expect to see Phillips Beach around the corner from the bridge.

Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, on video:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Segregating Our Elderly

Morency Manor Entrance (3)

Continuing my last post on elderly segregation, I found an article in the Arizona Republic by Andrew Blechman on some disturbing trends in retirement housing, Living in a world of exclusion.

According to Blechman, new retirement communities that have sprung up in Arizona and Florida are segregating themselves from life outside their communities and society at large:

In my book Leisureville, I describe the successor to Arizona's once-famed Sun City. The Villages of Florida is now the largest retirement community in the world. Nearly twice the size of Manhattan and with a targeted population of 110,000 people, it has more than three-dozen golf courses (and plans for many more); dozens of pools and state-of-the-art recreation centers; two make-believe downtowns where residents can congregate; and a non-threatening Viagra-fueled nightlife for those on the prowl. (The vast majority of Villagers aren't actually old, but rather middle-aged.)

Aside from the canned environment - golden oldies are pumped out of lampposts and faux downtowns are "themed" by entertainment specialists - it's generally an attractive place to retire and play. And after a partial lifetime of hard work and child-rearing, older Americans deserve a place where they aren't marginalized and forgotten, let alone taxed like younger generations, right?

Although many of the subjects in my book often refer to this word - deserve - I'm left unmoved. I'm more concerned with examining the ramifications of this relatively new cultural phenomenon. Societal secession may be a recently legitimized rite of passage, but that doesn't mean that it is either healthy or desirable.

It has become increasingly clear to me that Sun City, the Villages, and thousands of other "voluntary ghettos" around the nation, are neither sustainable nor accountable. Rather, they are a fantasy, the product of a developer's profit-driven concept of "geritopia."

Sustainable communities aren't based on leisure. Living among a community of aging peers and golf courses may be comforting and a lot of fun, but a complex and functioning society demands cooperation between the generations.

We have an increasing number of retirement communities in Massachusetts.   When Almy’s was redeveloped as condos, it was at first intended as an upscale retirement community (circa 1985);  it didn’t work out and is now an ordinary condo complex.  But other retirement communities have developed.

The most well-known retirement community on the North Shore is Peabody’s Brooksby Village.  Brooksby Village, like many retirement communities, is self-contained, with its own cafe, grocery store, auditorium and TV station.

But as Neil Swidley points out in his 2005 Boston Globe Magazine article, “Village People”, the social dynamics are unexpected:  It’s more like high school.

JOAN CARR, BROOKSBY'S 53-YEAR-OLD executive director, travels one of the enclosed, climate-controlled walkways that connect all of the complex's buildings. She walks past the music room, past the exercise room and pool, past the woodworking shop, where the smell of pine shavings transports you right back to the ninth grade.

Or, in her case, back to her last career. Before running a retirement community, she spent nearly eight years as principal of Peabody's high school.

She finds plenty of similarities between the two jobs. The politics of dining-hall seating. The jockeying of competing activities. […]

"You see a lot of the cliques happening," she says, "the `in' group and the `out' group."

All those familiar archetypes from high school are still around her. The "most popular" and the outcasts, the doers and the complainers.

I never liked nor participated in the high school clique game, having been a stereotypical “nerd” and handicapped by hearing and visual impairments that delayed me socially for a long time.   I have, in many ways, the eyes and ears of a 70-year old;  how do real 70-year olds half deaf and with macular degeneration cope?

It seems like such an insular world.  I’ve said before I don’t like elderly vans because they remind me of the special ed vans of my school days, and loss of independence.  Why would I want to go back to that?  Why would anyone in my shoes want to go back to high school?

There is isolation, as well:

Still, death is omnipresent. On any suburban street, word of an elderly neighbor's passing is often buffered by news that another neighbor has just given birth or sent a daughter off to college. At Brooksby, all the life-cycle announcements involve death. Obituaries with photos are posted on the bulletin boards in the main gathering spots. Many residents confess to squinting as they walk by them every morning, hoping not to see a familiar face.

That gets to the heart of one of the most unfortunate aspects to retirement-community living: their isolation. Gerontologists have found that intergenerational contact is important to staying young. But aside from visits from their grandchildren, the main intergenerational contact that Brooksby residents have is with the high-school kids who work as waiters in the restaurants.

I’ve said before that in my building, a public housing complex that serves the poor to the lower middle class, the most intergenerational interaction that anyone will see here is a visit from their son or daughter or perhaps the kids, once or twice a year.  Some people visit their parents more often—bless them!—but sadly, I can tell it’s a holiday weekend by the number of younger adults and kids in my building.

That’s not what I want in our senior center.  It’s not healthy.

Last word from Blechman:

No one can live in a bubble, regardless of how pleasant the initial experience may be. As Arizonans may remember, even Biosphere 2 eventually needed oxygen pumped in. Similarly, without new generations and reinvestment, and the constant renewal they bring, it is hard to imagine how these communities will survive, much less prosper over time.

Hat tip to Beyond Red and Blue.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bypass Road Opens for One Day

Bypass Road Diary 2008-07-23 041, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

The bypass road wasn't only open to detoured traffic but also to this jogger!

Yesterday, the bypass road was temporarily opened so that Bridge St. could be repaved, as mentioned in my last post. Unsurprisingly, the traffic signals caused a jam well past Salem Depot.

The road has been closed and will remain so while the work remains to be completed. There's still a hole on the Howard St. traffic island, and still people from National Grid milling around.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Salem Jail Update, July 2008

The Salem Jail, jailer’s house.

Old Salem Ventures LLC was at the Salem Planning Board meeting with an amendment to their earlier plans.  The original plans called for a renovation of the historic buildings (the Jail and the jailer’s house) and a new condo and parking structure next to St. John’s church.

Due to market conditions (naw, really?), they have requested that the project be split into two phases.  Phase one would involved the historical buildings.  Phase two would be the new construction previously discussed.

Parking for phase one will be entirely on-site;  there were earlier plans for the new condo building to have spaces at Museum Place.  Presumably, if phase two goes forward, this will still be in effect.

The rep for Old Salem Ventures was very concerned about the configuration of the traffic island at Howard St.  They wanted a driveway into the vehicle entrance of the old jail, and presently there isn’t one.  There is a curb cut for a small driveway on the old Bridge St. side of the island, but it was obviously designed for service access as in a park, and not for heavy vehicles.  (You can see the plans at Most Salemmites are uninformed on the bypass road.)

MassHighway was “scared of making changes” as the rep put it.  No surprise there, as close to the end of the project as it is. 

As several board members pointed out, the island is going to be turned over to the city as soon as the project is complete and the city has accepted it, so why not wait until that’s done?

Some on Salemweb have been complaining about the unfinished traffic island; they may be waiting a bit longer for relief.

The Planning Board was trying to pin down Old Salem Ventures on some details pertaining to Phase two;  however, if these details were firmed up, it probably wouldn’t have been necessary for the developers to phase it in the first place!

Old Salem Ventures is “closing the project right now”.  It’s been a long three years since I got the letter from the Salem Housing Authority (they are abutters) notifying us they would start construction.

Could this be moving forward? 

Bypass Road Opens—Kinda-Sorta!

Traffic on Bridge St. six weeks before the bypass road opens

Traffic on Bridge St. some six weeks before the bypass road is scheduled to open up.

An update to my last update:  I noted the electronic sign outside my house telling me Bridge St. would be paved;  no surprise there.  But they’re detouring through the bypass road, according to the News today.

This is going to be fun to watch.  As of last night, the lighting was still not completed;  the lights on the pedestrian path were not lit and only half of the lights on the road are lit, from Saunders west to St. Peter.  National Grid still had their hole in the ground at the Howard St. traffic island and it just has to be related.

I’m going to have fun standing on March St. watching our first traffic jam on the new road!

Bypass Road Diary 2008-07-16 007 Sign 2

Monday, July 14, 2008

July 2008 Transportation Update

Salem Traffic 2008-06-25 080

Cars and bikes aren’t the only way to get around on Bridge St.  [All photos are by the blogger unless otherwise mentioned.]

The bypass road is one month away from completion, assuming they stay on schedule.   The pedestrian path next to the road is paved and opened.  The landscaping at Howard St. is nowhere near done, with two big piles of dirt and a hole belonging to National Grid still there.   It may not be finished until the Jail project gets going later in the summer.

The half of the road nearest St. Peter St. was lit relatively early in the project last year, but the other half near March St., and the pedestrian path, has not been lit.

The closing of the east ramp at the North Street overpass didn’t happen yet;  not surprised here as the demolition of the three houses on site was delayed by several weeks.  Traffic signals need to go up on the west ramp first;  phone poles are up for temporary signals but no wire has been hung. 

I’ve asked Jason Silva, the mayor’s chief of staff, if there’ll be a ceremony marking the opening of the road.  The city hasn’t planned one, but Mr. Silva was interested in the idea and would try to interest MassHighway in the idea.

Despite my mixed feelings on the road, there has to be a ceremony.  Many people advocated for it and yet live nowhere near the road and may never drive it themselves.  They need to see this road and ponder for themselves whether it was a good use of their money, energy and time.  It would give John Keenan, our state rep, a pair of scissors to use.  Who knows if he’ll get to use them on the courthouse project?

A loud constituency on Salemweb wants to see a road party, based on the very successful bridge party that was held on the opening of the new Salem-Beverly bridge.  I don’t see much hope of this;  I can’t think the original party was paid for with municipal monies from either Salem or Beverly.  If the Salem Chamber of Commerce is putting on a party they’re being very quiet, so I guess the answer is no.

Senior Center Debate Goes to Council

Leslie's Retreat Park 2008-07-14 026

Seniors outside their building at 45 St. Peter

The City Council will now debate the siting of the new senior center.  This has been the topic du jour at Salem Politics recently.

A quote from the article citing “some concerns:”

The Memorial Drive site is too far removed from the city center, some argue, an impractical choice in times of rising gas prices when many seniors depend on transportation by the Council on Aging shuttle which takes them on daily errands.

I’m the only one I know arguing this point and the only one in Salem talking about transportation issues like this, so draw your own conclusions on who is “some”.

Moving on, Mike Sosnowski is quoted:

Not everyone feels the Bridge Street location is the best choice. City Council President Michael Sosnowski has said the commercial area is not appropriate for seniors.

“They could watch the 18-wheelers stack up at the stop lights or they could look at the North River in all of its stinking glory,” he said. “What happens when they want to go outside? That’s key. A healthy lifestyle means a lot of fresh air as well. Seniors are like everyone else — they don’t want to be shut in a room.”

I’m not aware that the North River has smelled that bad since most of the industries in Blubber Hollow ceased operations some years back.  It certainly has been no obstacle to the users, human and canine, of Leslie’s Retreat Park.

The current Broad Street location doesn’t have a lot of outside amenities either, nor does it have a view.  When I’m there to videotape the Salem Senior Recognition Days opening ceremonies, there’s no view outside but parking lots and shrubbery.  There are benches in the parking lot to wait for your ride.

The site at Bridge and Boston is a large one that stretches nearly to Flint St. at one end and Federal St. at the other;  one would think there could be some green space in there.

Mike continues:

Some say building the center on Memorial Drive near the ocean could potentially earn the city just as much money as a private-public partnership.

“There could be hall rentals,” said Sosnowski. “Who wouldn’t want to have a wedding where they could walk out and have a nice picturesque view of the harbor? We could rent it once or twice a month … It would bring in lots of money.”

As I said on Salem Politics, this is a good “back-door” way to insure that only the right sort of people can take advantage of the center.  Youth functions would not see the sort of money nor use that function-hall proponents would cite.

As well, hall rentals for the current senior center and Winter Island are available now and anyone can rent Camp Naumkeag for a summer wedding.  What does that net us now?  What has been our function business been in the past?

The city has to compete with other private concerns, such as the Hawthorne Hotel, the Salem Waterfront Hotel, and the Knights of Columbus, so their revenue from senior center functions would be subject to the function market in Salem and on the North Shore in general.  Without knowing exactly how much “lots of money” this would be, as Mike puts it, I’m not sure I would want to count on that revenue.

“Given the fact that overwhelmingly [seniors] said they want the Willows, why can’t we do it,” Sosnowski added. “It would cost more money, maybe, but aren’t our seniors worth it?”

Our seniors are indeed worth our respect, but I’m much more alarmed by the segregation of our seniors  that has been emphasized ever more strongly and ever more vocally in the past several years.  (If one substituted for “seniors” the name of any other ethnic group, would one talk about this out loud?)

Any proposal that segregates our seniors will never  get my support no matter how many diamonds are draped on it.  

Article:   City Council sets date for report on new senior center - Salem, MA - Salem Gazette

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Playground for the Common

Salem Spring 2008 005

Back view of 86 Essex St.  It has been home to low-income families with disabilities since 1985.

[Originally published in the letters column of the Gazette]

To the Editor:

I’ve been following the efforts towards a new playground on the Common very closely;  I’m a former resident of the Common neighborhood and current member of the Salem Commission on Disabilities.  I noted Sarah Gaddipati, a founder of Parents United, talking about “a local mother of a special-needs child who requested the playground be handicapped-accessible.”

I’ve been part of the disability community in Salem for a very long time.  When we have tried to get accommodations for members of our community, we have often been told, “Why do this for only one person?”  Ms. Gaddipati may have given the impression that only one parent requested accessibility.  This is not so.

Overlooking Salem Common, the apartment complex at 86 Essex St., and its neighbors at 84 and 88 Essex, site of the old Phillips School, is Salem’s first and only public housing for families with disabilities.  It has been housing for 23 years and it predates the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, and gentrification.

There are several families of special needs children at 86 Essex, and because of the building’s role, there will always be children with disabilities there.  That building has been a haven for people who face numerous health problems that would leave them institutionalized without the stable environment that lets its residents live stable, meaningful and independent lives. People in that building are economically worse off than the affluent neighbors that inhabit the Common. 

For that reason, the people of 86 Essex have been virtually ignored by the neighborhood association, administrations current and past and even by ward councilors.  Hannah Diozzi is right to point out that the Common is for everyone in Salem, but the current neighborhood association, not to mention a few politicians, gladly treat the Common as their own private historic theme park.

Presently, the only playground where children with disabilities and children without disabilities can play together is in Peabody. 

This is intolerable.

I have fought to get people with disabilities the same rights and privileges as people without disabilities, and one of these privileges we take for granted is the ability to take one’s children to the playground.  Close by.  People with disabilities, parents, children and others, have the right to participate in society just as people without disabilities do. 

Even on the Common.

Especially on the Common.

David Moisan

Former resident of 86 Essex

Salem Commission on Disabilities

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Huntington Ave. Sidewalk in Boston—A Final Resolution?

Huntington Ave 2008-07-12 046

UPDATE:  North sidewalk of Huntington Ave. past Symphony Hall.  The sidewalk has settled, as seen on the left and the lower right, and the broken tree grate is downright dangerous to anyone who walks there, disabled or not.

The absurd, but sad and expensive story in Boston over a sidewalk in the Back Bay may be almost over.  Last winter, I wrote about sidewalks and wheelchairs (“More icy sidewalks, hazardous for those in wheelchairs”,  “Brick Sidewalk Problems”), and of Boston’s Neighborhood Access Group

For years, the Neighborhood Access Group has been fighting the city of Boston over the sidewalk at Huntington Ave. near Mass Ave.  It was built with a 4% cross-slope (side slope), making it nearly impassable for wheelchairs.  The limit is 2%.

Boston has been fined $500 a day by the state Architectural Access Board since last year, now topping $479K.

Last fall, Boston had a solution.  Or so they thought.  To quote John Kelly from his blog post:

A little more than one year after taking over as chief of public works and transportation for the city of Boston, Dennis Royer finally made a proposal to the Architectural Access Board on how to bring the brick sidewalks on Huntington Avenue into compliance.
The plan is so bizarre, so discriminatory, and so insulting that it has to be read to be believed.
Basically, what the city proposes is to create a "special" 4 foot wide path of travel for people with disabilities, which would be marked off from the rest of the sidewalk by markers driven into the bricks. The city would make this 4 foot wide path of travel -- and only this narrow path of travel -- technically compliant by grinding down and resetting the bricks. The rest of the sidewalk would be left in the condition it is now, meaning inaccessible.
This path of travel would be a lot like a flat terrace on a hillside. And just like on that hillside, there would be an abrupt change of level between the higher elevation still at an angle and the flat path itself. This would mean any attempt to leave the path of travel to head towards a restaurant, store, or theater would encounter an immediately higher and tilted surface.
People who are blind or visually impaired would be at an extreme disadvantage, because there would be no way to know where the path of travel is. And if the markers were raised off the bricks, then we would have an incredible tripping hazard for every pedestrian. What were they thinking?

WTF?  WTF??  WTF??!?!  This was mindboggling!  As one with a visual impairment, I hate, hate, HATE, sidewalks that have big bumps and discontinuities that I can’t really see.  (Yes, this is really why I hate Federal St. amongst other reasons…)  I have been pitched forward on my face more times than I want to count.  That the city of Boston would push this piece of garbage on its citizens, visitors and employers is remarkable.

The story moves on.  In the Herald yesterday, it’s written “Shoddy sidewalk grate$ on nerves -”.

Yesterday, after calls from the Herald, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said the city will finally rebuild the sidewalk after the mayor meets with the Neighborhood Access Group and other advocates July 15.

The city hopes the state Architectural Access Board will allow it to use the fines toward the $2.5 million cost of the project, Joyce said. But although the city owns the sidewalk, Menino maintains that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority oversaw its construction and should reimburse the city for the cost of redoing it.

“If that means litigation, it means litigation,” Joyce said.

One government division (Boston) is going to sue another government division (the T) over who pays for it.  And the city wants to use its fine towards the cost of the project!    The T says:

MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera yesterday said only: “This is a priority, and we’re working with the contractor to determine the best solution.

Sure they are.

Though I’ve been in the Back Bay any number of times, I’ve never seen that stretch of sidewalk.  I think it’s time I did, with my camera.

UPDATE:  I’ve seen it, and in some ways it’s worse than they say.  Here’s another picture:

Huntington Ave 2008-07-12 014

South side of Huntington Ave. opposite the Prudential Center and the T stop.    Mixed brick and concrete sidewalk.

You may notice the concrete appears to have a slope, while the brick is level.  I didn’t have a level to measure this, but on foot, you can feel the slope pulling you out to the curb.  It has to be noticeable by people with canes or walkers, never mind chair users.  It’s a cramped part of Huntington with trees and sidewalk cafes that seems to present problems for the mobility impaired.

Hat tip, as always, to Boston’s Neighborhood Access Group.