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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

St. Peter’s St.

St. Peter Park 2008-09-23 002

Robert Moran writes another column on my neighborhood .  He has a comment on the small (unnamed) park outside my building:

In front of the old jail, on the corner, a park was born this month. With wild flowers, shade trees and a couple of benches, it is already a stroll-through for Salemites. It provides excellent vantage to enjoy pigeon games and watch Bridge Street traffic integrate with the new bypass.

To prevent lingering, road builders installed a god-awful pedestrian crossing bell at St. Peter and Bridge. If annoyed park sitters find the bell irritating, they might pity the tormented residents of Morency Manor and Jefferson Apartments. A stone’s throw from their windows, builders installed additional (deci) bells.

It is indeed annoying and frustrating but not deliberate.  I have a long history with that particular pedestrian signal.

Over two years ago, I and the Salem Commission on Disabilities (myself, Jack Harris, Charlie Reardon, Andy LaPointe and the mayor’s chief of staff Jason Silva) met with the bypass road’s project director, Sue Cranney of MassHighway.

We wanted “talking” pedestrian signals, made by Polara Engineering, at St. Peter’s St.  We had wanted these also at Bridge and Washington St. at the train station, but we were told (in 2006) that the signals were already ordered, so we focused our attention on St. Peter’s St., which would not be completed until the end of the project two years later.

Ms. Cranney agreed to our request and told us the extra cost upfront would not be an issue to her budget.  We had every reason to believe that

Fast forward to now.  As soon as I saw the ringing signal—which was not what we asked for—my chairman, Jack, contacted Ms. Cranney.  She told him the signal was in compliance.  This is technically correct.

But the Polara signal has already been used in MassHighway projects in Salem!  You can find these talking signals at Marlborough Rd., Vinnin Square, and most notably at Salem State College’s Central Campus opposite Jefferson Ave.

I have been left to wonder why MassHighway would use the Polara signals in some locations but not others.  None of the locations of these signals are anywhere near hospitals or other “places for the disabled” (which is usually how accommodations take place when someone feels sorry for the disabled).   Marlborough Rd. is a residential area even more so than St. Peter’s St., Vinnin Sq. is a commercial area with few pedestrians.  The Polara signal at Jefferson and Loring services busy Salem State College, but the area was merely a residential DMZ between North and South Campus (Central Campus did not yet exist) when the signal was installed.

MassHighway recently rebuilt the busy Coolidge Corner intersection in Brookline with Polara signals.  Here’s what they look and sound like:

These signals adjust their volume to overcome ambient noise and to be quiet at night.  They wouldn’t disturb people on my corner.

More importantly, they are more vandal-proof than other pedestrian controls and are cheaper to maintain.

MassHighway is trading off their cheap acquisition price for the extra expense that the city will have, once the project is turned over to them.

It is an understatement that I am disappointed in Ms. Cranney.

Many might wonder, why do we need these signals in Salem?  We’re not Brookline.   

Or are we?

Coolidge Corner is a busy place for pedestrians going to and from businesses and the trolley down the middle of Beacon.

Washington St. and Bridge St. is busy with pedestrians.  They go from place to place at the intersection.  They also go to the train station.  Lots of people do.

Since the city and the state have both decided to move forward with the courthouse project, there is and will be much pedestrian traffic, not only at Washington and Bridge but also at North and Federal.

Since the city wants to keep pedestrians moving through downtown Salem, I suggest that Kim Driscoll might make some calls to MassHighway before the project is transferred over. 

Oh, and Robert, people live in the neighborhoods you write about.  Just saying.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MBTA Service Plan 2008 and Its Implications for Salem

451 at Walgreens, Salem (1) - Copy (640x480)

The MBTA has released its 2008 Service Plan.  This is an analysis of current bus and rapid transit ridership with recommendations for each route.

From the introduction:

The MBTA Board of Directors adopted the Service Delivery Policy in September 1996. This policy defined service standards and outlined a process to evaluate and modify service. Standards relate to:

  • span of service
  • frequency of service
  • vehicle loading
  • schedule adherence
  • net cost per passenger

The first Service Plan was implemented in phases in 1998. This resulted in expansion of service and was the first attempt to apply Service Delivery Policy standards. A comprehensive data collection effort preceded the analysis. Recommendations were developed using both public comment and quantitative analysis.
Development of the second Service Plan began with public outreach in spring 1999 and concluded with implementation of service changes in summer 2002.
This plan brought many changes to routes on the
North Shore, and was the first time that these routes had been significantly altered in many years.

The 2002 Service Plan reshuffled virtually all of the North Shore bus routes.  It was a big change, though mostly for the better.

There are four bus routes that serve Salem, and they are covered in this year’s service plan.  I’ll quote the MBTA on each route and explain the impact to Salem T riders.  Note that the service plan does not cover commuter rail.

Route 450:  Salem Depot – Haymarket/Wonderland via Western Ave.

Route 450 links Salem with Boston via Western Ave. in Lynn. Weekday service operates to Haymarket, weekend service operates to Wonderland as Route 450W. Route 456 links Salem with Central Square in Lynn during weekday middays only.
These routes have been experiencing severe
problems with schedule adherence. New run times have been designed that should allow the buses to maintain a reliable schedule on both routes. In both cases, the new run times exceed the capacity of the current number of buses serving these routes. In light of the steady but moderate ridership on this route, adding more resources is not possible at this time.
It is proposed that the frequency of Route 450 and 456 in the midday be decreased, so that alternating trips operate every 40 minutes instead of every 30 minutes. Route 456 would operate later into the afternoon, with the last inbound trip arriving in Central Square just before 5:00 PM instead of the current 4:16 PM.

I regularly take both the 450 and the 456 and they fall behind schedule regularly.  Like most riders, I much prefer schedules that run every 30 minutes or 1 hour as that’s easier to remember, but it’s hard to argue with traffic realities.

Impact:  the 450 and 456 will run a bit less frequently on weekdays (when I travel) but no trips will be dropped.  No changes to weekend service were recommended.

Route 451: North Beverly - Salem Depot

Route 451 links North Beverly with Salem on
weekdays. On Saturdays a short route operates between Ellis Square in Beverly and Salem Depot.
This route is coordinated with Routes 465 and 468 at Salem Depot to allow for traveling through between Beverly and Danvers.
Route 451 fails the Cost Standard on Saturdays.
Since ridership is especially light on Saturday
mornings, it is proposed that the first round trip be eliminated. The first trip would depart from Salem Depot at 9:30 AM rather than 8:30 AM. It is expected that 2 customers would be affected by this change.
Departure times on Route 451 may need to be
adjusted to allow for planned run time changes and schedule adjustments on Routes 465 and 468.

Impact:  One trip on early Saturday mornings will be dropped.   No changes to weekday service.

Route 465: Salem Depot - Liberty Tree Mall

Route 468:  Salem Depot – Danvers via Water St.

I’ve listed these route after the 451 since the 451 and 465 run through-service for each other and the 468 is an alternate route for the 465.

Route 465 links Danvers with Salem via Peabody, and Route 468 provides limited Danvers-Salem service via Water/Margin/North Streets.
Both of these routes fail the Cost Standard on all
days of operation, and ridership data collected early in 2008 indicates that ridership on both routes has declined in recent years. On Saturday morning, the 9:00 AM trip from Salem and the 9:50 AM trip from Danvers are proposed for elimination due to low ridership. This change is projected to affect 7 passengers, who could take service an hour earlier or later. Route 468 already provides very limited service and is interlined with other routes in the area. Because of this, significant cost savings could
not be realized by eliminating Route 468, and this elimination is not recommended at this time.
There have also been requests to better coordinate arrival times at Salem Depot with connections to the commuter rail. This will be done, along with run time adjustments for a more accurate schedule. These changes can be made without additional costs.

Impact:  As with the 451, one Saturday morning trip will be eliminated.  Unlike the 451, this is a trip I actually take, since I like to get my errands done early to avoid being in a noisy mall around lunchtime.  (North Shore Mall, toxic noise, we has it!  Do not want!)

Mayor Driscoll once expressed a desire to have the bus schedules better coordinated with commuter rail, and the T cites this, though this should affect all of Salem’s T service, not just the 465.

Route 455: Salem Depot - Haymarket or Wonderland Station

Three morning trips and four afternoon trips on
Route 459 between Downtown Crossing and West Lynn were designed to provide reverse-peak connections between Terminal C at Logan Airport and Downtown Crossing. At the time, there was no Silver Line service to Logan Airport. Since Silver Line connections from downtown to the airport have become available, ridership on these trips has dropped almost entirely. It is proposed that these trips be eliminated due to low ridership. Schedule adherence is low on these two routes, and
running times will be examined and changed if
necessary to ensure reliable service.

Impact:  Virtually no changes for Salem riders on this route.  If you’re already in Boston and need to get to the airport or South Station, you know what to do already.

The MBTA is accepting comments on the service plan at serviceplan08@mbta.com through September 30th.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bypass Road Dragway

 Bypass road north from under March St.

As many of us predicted, the bypass road’s straight track is very attractive to racers.  A commenter on one of my bypass road posts complained about motorcycle races.  The Salem News was finally made to notice it:

SALEM — Since it opened outside her home last month, Carol Brunaccini says the bypass road has become a racetrack — and she means that literally.

"One weekend, we had a group of 20-something kids hanging out at the Carlton School," Brunaccini said. "I assume they were drinking because they had containers with them."

They were standing near the school parking lot cheering on about five motorcyclists who were drag racing up, then down the bypass road, Brunaccini said.


More quotes from a cop:

Even before the one-mile, $15 million straightaway to downtown Salem opened last month, police knew the road might tempt lead-footed drivers.

It's a speed demon's dream — flat, wide and straight.

"It presents an attractive opportunity for people to see how fast you can go," said Salem police Capt. Brian Gilligan.

Brunaccini said she's seen motorcycles doing wheelies on the straightaway.

One night while working a detail on foot near Bridge Street, Gilligan saw a motorcycle fly over the Salem-Beverly bridge and onto the bypass road.

"I'd characterize him as somewhere in the 80 to 90 to 95 mph range," Gilligan said. "You were crossing your fingers hoping the kid would make it."

I wanted to see that!

I’d love to be on the road with my camera just to see one of these guys sail over the March St. bridge.  Perhaps I can see someone attempt a Darwin Award!

Going south, the only things that would stop you are the side of the Jefferson complex and the Salem Depot platform, which is in a dip relative to the bypass road, so it’s easy to hop the fence to the tracks.  (I see people on foot hop the fence by the Jefferson all the time.)  

That’s one way to meet the 1 AM train to Rockport!

Going north, you can end up on top of Stromberg’s!

If I were to see any of these things with my camera, you’d see it on TV and YouTube as fast as I could get it there!

Brunaccini has a solution:

One partial solution, she said, is forcing commercial traffic, including trucks, onto Bridge Street, which she says has seen a dramatic drop in traffic since the bypass road opened.


Um, no.  That would not be such a good idea.   The very reason traffic is light on Bridge St. is precisely that the new road is open. 

Further south on Howard St., traffic heading for Bridge St. has to take a sharp right at the light.  The routing and intersection was designed to divert most traffic to the bypass.

If I lived on Howard St., I’d much rather see truck traffic go straight down the bypass than turning virtually in front of my house.  I can foresee a jackknifed trailer piled up on Bridge St. at Howard if this restriction were put in place.

I was and am dead set against the new road.  However, it is built and it is here.  It makes no sense to block it to trucks, especially as most truckers will not blow through the road at 100 MPH and they have federal regulations that your drunk maniac motorist doesn’t have to cope with.

Article:  Bedlam on the bypass - SalemNews.com, Salem, MA