Wednesday, December 31, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of crapbox apartments hemmed in by a highway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The road and bikepath opened and everyone was happy. 

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

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

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

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

MBTA service changes for Winter 2008-2009

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

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

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

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

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

Church Move on Hold

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Salem Common Playground Stalled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is another reason to support a playground:

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

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

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

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

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

We were there first. 

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

It belongs there now, and so does a playground.

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

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

But I’m not going to hold back now.

Shame on the Salem Common snobs.  Shame on you.

First Baptist Church Moving Day

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

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

The old church will become the new law library. 

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Salem Commission on Disabilities, December 2008 Meeting

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

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

Old Business

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

New Business

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter sets in

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

First big snowstorm for the winter of '08-09

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sidewalk Help

SCOD Sidewalk Survey 2008-09-17 004

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

Economy Devastates People with Disabilities

50 Grove St

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

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

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

The news hit the clients hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It can only get worse.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First snow of the season, December 2008

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