Sunday, August 31, 2008

Salem’s Last Road: Moving on

Bypass road south looking towards St. Peter St.

I’ve gotten a flurry of comments on the bypass road, all of them critical of the road and its impact.  I don’t usually respond to comments in the comments, figuring it’s a place for the readers  (and also that it’s hard to have a good dialogue in the comments, the way most blogs are set up.)

But one person (anonymous) assured me I had “no idea” of the traffic noise of the new bypass road at their residence.

Try me.

I took this video at the corner of St. Peter and Bridge, outside my apartment.  You can see it in the image that starts this post;  it is the pinkish-red building in the foreground.

I definitely hear traffic.  I hear trains.   I hear the “jake brakes” of large trucks as they go up and down the incline over the train tunnel.

I’ve said before I don’t like having a five lane road between me and the train station.  The Howard St. side of the Jefferson apartment complex is a cruel joke, locked in by roads on three sides.   The $16 million spent on the road looms large considering that the new train station will cost $30 million which could have paid for completely by the state, instead of having to seek private investment.

There’s a reason I called it Salem’s Last Road, because the cost (financial, municipal and emotional) of any more new roadways is far beyond any benefit we can get from them now. 

The bypass road is Salem’s counterpart to Boston’s Inner Belt Project, the proposed Rt. 695 spur off 95 that would have taken 7,000 homes and irreparably changed huge parts of Boston and Cambridge.

The difference is that the Inner Belt was stopped.  It turned out to be the beginning of the end for highways in Boston (heralding the Big Dig’s last hurrah.)

The Bypass Road wasn’t.

We can argue over which Bypass Road resident is most deserving of pity. 

That won’t change what happened.

Remember, too, that the northern side of Bridge St. was never “waterfront property”.  The Boston and Maine railroad property was there even before current residents of Bridge St. were born.

It was a transportation corridor to begin with.  No surprise that the state wanted to do something more with that right-of-way, and in those days that meant car traffic.

All of those years that politicians lobbied for new roads to solve our problems have come back to bite us.  I hope the next time I advocate for better pedestrian access and public transportation, that the bypass road critics will take note.

In the meantime, don’t blame me.  I only documented the project.  It’s not like the News or the Gazette would have spent time on letting citizens know what was being paid for in their name.  Talk to some of the dear old cronies out there sitting on their butts, the old Representative or Councilor or Mayor Whoosis’ who let this happen.

I’m not interested in tallying bypass road pity points.  I’m moving on.

P.S.  I’ve forwarded the comment about the motorcycle races to Mike Sosnowski.

Salem’s Last Road: John Keenan

John Keenan speaks at the Bypass Road’s opening ceremonies

Salem’s Last Road: Remarks of Luisa Paiewonsky, MassHighway

MassHighway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky speaks.

Salem’s Last Road: Kim Driscoll’s Remarks

Kim Driscoll speaks on August 18th, 2008 at the opening of the bypass road.

It was a windy day, and a little dangerous to get to the ceremony on the south end of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, as others have pointed out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Past and Future of Traffic in Salem

The bypass road is open.  The complaints about traffic aren’t about to stop.  Now, the next round of screaming continues as the east ramp from North to Bridge Sts. is permanently closed to accommodate the courthouse project.

After following the bypass road project, the courthouse project and reading (and blogging) Jim McAllister’s article in the News several weeks ago, I ask: 

Why are we defending a highway ramp?  Why do we cry over “that poor slip ramp”, star of Harry Potter and the Magical Slip Ramp, that so many on Federal St. mourned?

Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t drive on the ramp!  (He did use the old Salem Depot!)

I’ll say it again:  Hawthorne didn’t drive on the ramp.  OK, Federal St.?  OK?!

If we had truly valued history 50 years ago, we would have never built the overpass in the first place!  Yes, the railroad tunnel was desperately needed, but the road, not so much.

As McAllister points out, we lost so much of our history when we built that overpass:  Salem Arena, Leslie’s Retreat Bridge, Salem Depot.  Where’s the screaming?  Couldn’t be that the Federal St. gang wasn’t around then.  Nah.

The bypass road should have been canceled, too, when it was clear that it would be severely truncated from what was planned originally.  MassHighway took half of the proposed alignment in Salem and turned it into what is now a dog park.

The generation that built that overpass and demolished Salem Depot have a lot to answer for.  They remind me of the panelists on a local political show I used to crew for.

This show featured (and still features) current and former politicians in Salem who manage the political narrative for Salem, just as the late Tim Russert managed our country’s narrative for the elites he worked for.

One panelist, a former city councilor, was always complaining about Salem “these days”.  He complained about the loss of the old downtown and the loss of the front “castle” half of the armory after it was burned in an arson fire in 1982 and the city and the state dithered about its ultimate disposition, ultimately losing it a few years ago.

He was not a regular citizen, complaining about things he or she could not change.  He was a politician as inside as one can get, back in the days of smoke-filled rooms.

He was in office when the armory burned and afterwards.  He was around when our downtown decayed.  And he was most certainly in politics when decisions were being made about the train tunnel, the depot and the overpass after WWII.

There are still those like him around.  Saying how great it was in the good old days, complaining all the while about things and people of today.  They could have spoken out (if for no one else but for future residents of Federal St.) but didn’t.

I say to them:  Look in the mirror before complaining about those “kids of today”.  You made the decisions 50 years ago and we are poorer for it today. 

SATV Cablecast renovation progress

We are moving along on our latest renovation project at SATV. You can follow our progress so far on my other blog. We should be back to normal programming by the end of this week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Salem’s Last Road: It’s Open!

Two and a half years—and almost 1100 pictures and videos—later, Salem’s Last Road is open!  It didn’t take long after the ceremony, opening around 3:45 PM today.

It has been a long process to record this road in pictures, but a fun one.  It was a great pleasure and I felt a great sense of purpose to document the road.  After all this, the bypass road feels like “my road”.  (If Regina Flynn can have “her” Common…)  It was the inspiration for this blog and one of my spurs towards being more involved in my community.

I only regret not thinking about this sooner, and even more regret not being involved in the public meetings for the road.  There’s a lot I still don’t know about the history of the project, and still much I have to learn about the road, and transportation in Salem in general.  I had hoped to produce a video documentary on the road, but I couldn’t put aside the time to make it work.  Salem’s Last Road would be a great subject for a  history project that I would love to make happen.  Perhaps I will “down the road”.

I’m going to make another post in a few days on what I think the road means for Salem, but this is the end of my regular posts on the road.  Of course, it’s near my house and I love taking photos there, so there’ll be more occasional shots to come.

One last photo for now. 

See a slideshow of "Salem’s Last Road” on Flickr.

Salem's Last Road: Ribbon-cutting

Bypass Road Diary 2008-08-18 046, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

Dignitaries cut the ribbon for the new bypass road. I took video and hope to have this online in a few days. The road didn't open immediately afterwards, but it may open around the time you read this.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Remembering the original Bridge St. Overpass and Salem Station

Bridge St. Overpass dedication plaque, 1952 [Old plaque commemorating the original overpass project.  It’s gone now, removed when the Bridge @ Washington St. intersection was renovated in 2006.]

Whenever a new construction project is proposed or underway, such as the bypass road and the courthouse project, many Salemmites recoil.  We think, why change things like “The Overpass”?  We look at things downtown and assume they were there forever.

Jim McAllister, local historian, reminds us otherwise in a recent Salem News column,  Jim McAllister- Road and bridge work a constant in Salem.  The overpass project of 1948-1952, and the new rail tunnel and demolition of the old Salem Station in 1958 were both more momentous—and traumatic—than any road project in the past few years, including the bypass road.


The overpass was the second part of a three-stage project to eliminate dangerous and congestion-causing railroad grade crossings in downtown Salem. The first stage saw the Washington Street railroad tunnel extended all the way to Bridge Street. That project got underway in November 1949 and took 29 months to complete.

The second piece of the project set out to rid the city of one of its worst traffic bottlenecks — the grade crossing at the intersection of Bridge and North streets. Traffic routinely backed up a half mile on North Street during heavy travel times or when a train was crossing the intersection on the Bridge Street tracks. On more than one occasion, congestion was so bad at the intersection that fire trucks heading for North Salem from downtown were rerouted through Beverly.

“The more things change,” etc.

It was traumatic for downtown, too:

The building of the North Street overpass necessitated the razing of the historic bridge that was the site of Leslie's Retreat in 1775 and the taking of 43 buildings located on North, Federal, Franklin, and Bridge Streets, and on Odell Square. Approximately 125 people were displaced.


Of all the buildings that were demolished for the overpass, none would be missed more than the North Street Arena. The rambling wooden structure sat in the middle of a block on the western side of North Street between Federal and Bridge streets, and had been an important venue for sports and civic events for 65 years.


No buildings were taken for the bypass road project.    A dozen homes were taken for the bypass road.  Three houses were taken for the courthouse project.  People are complaining bitterly, Bridge St. residents with good reason, but this seems to pale next to what the overpass project involved, and to what happened next.

A few years later, Salem would go forth with what many say was its most traumatic demolition, the destruction of the old Salem Depot:

SALEM — Fifty years ago today, 10,000 onlookers gathered near Washington and Bridge streets to watch the first train roll through the new Salem train tunnel.

It marked the end of a years-long construction project, referred to as the Big Dig of its time. The project involved the demolition of the Salem Depot, through which trains would roll down Washington Street and through the massive granite archway framed by two medieval-looking towers.

A half-century later, the memories of the project and the old Salem Depot are still fresh in many longtime residents' minds.

"Part of Salem died when they did that," said Tony Salvo, 80, a former mayor who remembers the old train station fondly. "It was a big mistake tearing that building down. The old train station was like a castle. It was a landmark."

As with the overpass, the project was needed to accommodate increasing road traffic;  the train tunnel was extended completely under downtown, from Bridge St. to Margin St.  People on Washington St. (and City Hall!) are well familiar with the rumble of underground trains.

The tunnel project had three phases that were carried out over the better part of a decade. It cost more than $8 million, and more than 40 landowners were forced to move their homes and businesses to make way for new overpasses, the tunnel, parking lots and the new train station, according to Salem Evening News articles from the time.


The prolonged construction throughout the 1950s dealt a heavy blow to downtown businesses, and the upheaval also frustrated residents.

"This was in the works for years and years and years. It was kind of like the Big Dig," McAllister said, "and people got so fed up with going to Salem that they just didn't."

The merchants never fully bounced back, but the completion of the tunnel coincided with the construction of the North Shore Shopping Center (the present-day Northshore Mall), McAllister said, which changed the way people shopped.

This can’t be understated:  The tunnel project doomed Salem’s downtown.  When I mourned the loss of Almy’s 25 years later, little did I realize that this had been set in motion even before I’d been born.

We are dealing with the decisions made 50 years ago, when the car was ascendant, the roads seemed to keep going forever, and trains were old fashioned and outmoded.

I hate loss.  I would have mourned the Salem Depot, the old North St. Arena, the Flatiron Building and all the other buildings no less deeply than others had I been around at the time.

But part of me is glad the Salem Depot is gone, as much as the rest of me misses it.  Had the Depot still been there (the tunnel project would have had to happen anyway), we would have seen no end of opportunistic developers, exploiting the Depot for condos, to make a quick cheap buck on History!

A few years ago, Mike Sosnowski had suggested building a parking garage on one of the old Riley Plaza lots.  No problem there.  But he suggested making it in the style of the old Depot.

I ripped him one.  On live TV too.

I have the deepest resentment for manufactured history, such as we see too much of in Salem.  I have even more resentment to making a fake train depot out of a parking garage, which would have been a bitter insult to people remembering the original structure.

Still want to complain about the courthouse?  Or the bypass road?  Remember, whatever I may think of the project, no houses were taken for it.  And those that could have taken the three houses off the state, would not or could not.

August Transportation Update

Bridge Street from the train station

Lots of transportation developments for August!  Besides the bypass road, there’s news all over, and out of, Salem in the past few weeks.

The North Shore is getting new MBTA buses.  Historically, Lynn Garage (the center of MBTA bus activity here) has been one of the last garages to get new equipment. In 2004, we still had the old broken-down RTS buses, most of which were 16 years old, with the old flip-dot electronic signs I could never read.

The sting is not so bad this time, since the Neoplan buses that are currently in service are less than five years old and in good shape, if somewhat dirty.  Most importantly, they have new LED signs I can read! 

But I look forward to the new buses;  I’ve seen them running the 455 today, so I’ll be on one soon.

Here's a hat tip to Beyond Red and Blue:  Robert Sullivan wrote a post on Walk Score, applying that site’s walking score to various T stops.  Responding to my post on Walk Score, Mr Sullivan says:

I found the walkability scores for all the stops on the Newburyport/Rockport line (see below), and Salem actually gets a 94 (out of 100), which is better than all of the Red Line stops in Dorchester and all of the Blue Line stops in East Boston. Salem gets a near-perfect score thanks to such nearby amenities as a movie theater, a "bookstore" (Harrison's Comics), and a "fitness" establishment (Body & Soul Massage).

The Walk Score data is, as they say themselves, incomplete;  there are two full-service bookstores nearby (Cornerstone Books and Derby Square Book Store) and of course, the Y.

The worst score I've come across so far is Rowley Station, which gets a single-digit 6. Chelsea and Lynn each get a 75, which says something about how underserved those areas are despite having very dense populations.

I had thought Newburyport would be the worst score since it’s so far from downtown, but Rowley is truly a bedroom-community stop.  In Lynn, Central Square has been rundown for decades, and a sad story of decline and city mismanagement.

Salem is paying attention to pedestrians at long last.  A Globe North article from a few weeks ago, “Salem joins effort to steer commuters away from cars” explains:

Salem is a great walking city, and residents and people who work there have traditional transportation options: commuter rail, bus line, Salem State shuttle, and a ferry to Boston.

But its roads still overflow with traffic, particularly at peak periods.

So it's not surprising that the city became the first municipal partner for the North Shore Transportation Management Association, a new group that is trying to reduce gridlock and the region's carbon footprint through alternative commuting methods.

"It seems like it's a perfect time to be looking at those things," Mayor Kim Driscoll said. "We don't have anything in our region that asks, 'How do we get to employment sectors? How do we get to places where students are going? Is there a better way to get people to where they want to be, that's good for them, saves them money, and also helps the environment?' I think there are a lot more options for us to think about."

I’m glad the Driscoll administration is making this shift away from car-centrism;  it’s been delayed for too long, but it seems to be finally coming after years and years of lip service and inaction.

According to a press release I got from the mayor’s office, the city is fixing some curb cuts in and around downtown:

City Works to Improve Accessibility in the Downtown

SALEM, MA This week, the City of Salem’s Department of Public Services is working to improve the accessibility in and around the downtown for disabled individuals who live or visit the City.

The Department of Public Services has hired Marchese and Sons Construction to make sidewalk and ramp improvements in several areas within the City’s extended downtown area. Close to 20 curb cuts that have been identified as problematic for individuals with disabilities are being completely reconstructed to make it easier for people to traverse.

“While many improvements still remain, this round of construction is a great start to ensure that all individuals feel welcome in our City and can navigate in our downtown safely,” stated Mayor Driscoll. “I am pleased that the Department of Public Services has made this work a priority.”

New ramp curb cuts are being installed at the Public Library crosswalk where no curb cut had existed before; Essex Street at Hamilton, Beckford, Cambridge and Barton Square; Washington Street at Church and Lynde Streets; the crosswalk at 27 Charter Street (Salem Housing Authority senior housing complex); and at 60 Washington Square.

I’ve seen them working at North & Essex Sts., a known problem area, and had assumed it was related to courthouse work.  It’s excellent news!

But the city shouldn’t stop there. 

One of Andy LaPointe’s pet causes, and now my pet cause, was to get the new-style talking audible signals in Salem.  I’ve talked about this too many times to mention.  We have these at Salem State College Central Campus, Vinnin Square, and Marlborough Road.

But not on Bridge St. at the train station.  Nor at St. Peter St. (this last one was promised by Sue Cranney, project manager for the bypass road, in my presence.)

I suggest a project for the new association:  Get new audible signals—not the buzzer or the chirping models—throughout downtown Salem, and other pedestrian-heavy areas on the North Shore.

Finally, a trolley story in the Times:  Downtowns Across the U.S. See Streetcars in Their Future -  Cities like Cincinnati are trying to get new trolleys.  When I was in Cincinnati on a business trip 10 years ago, people were just beginning to kick the idea around.  At that time, they had a “Big Dig” project of their own underway, Fort Washington Way.  There seems to be a sense there, as there has long been in Boston, that there’s no more room for new road projects.

I just wonder what planet the Times is on.  How can people embrace the great cost and disruption of construction for trolleys, when, as I’ve wrote before, any such project in Massachusetts would die of learned helplessness (“It costs too much!”  “It destroys the character of the city!”  “It lowers my property values!”  “It brings those people here!”)

Next up:  Bypass road opens Monday and the courthouse traffic project reaches an important milestone as the old east ramp off Bridge St. is permanently closed, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday the 21st.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Opening Date for Salem's Last Road

Bypass Road Diary 2008-08-13 027, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the bypass road has been set. It'll be on August 18th, 1 PM at the northern end of Bridge St.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Salem’s Last Road Almost Complete

Bypass road looking south to downtown

The Bypass Road, Salem’s Last Road, is all but complete.  City Engineer David Knowlton performed a walkthrough with MassHighway officials;  I had hoped to be there myself (in my capacity on the Commission on Disabilities) but it was very, very short notice and we missed each other.

My fellow Commission member had some concerns over the paving on the cross streets along the bike path.  I had wanted to ask about audible voice crossing signals, which were promised for St. Peter St. but no sign of them as yet.

The ugliest part of the road right now is still the dirt pile at Howard St.  No word on that, though the National Grid trucks have gone away so the electrical work might be complete.

The traffic signals are still being adjusted:

Traffic backed up at St. Peter St.

This is an unfortunate traffic backup at St. Peter.  Technicians were adjusting the signal timing at the moment;  I didn’t see how far back it went, but it probably had to go back to Church St. or even Brown St.

And here is the sound barrier at March St:

From the appearance—and the stacks of panels off the frame to the left—this wall is half-done.

An opening ceremony has been set, according to a source of mine.  Details to follow.