Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas with my “godchildren”

Katie Harris Says Hi

Katie Harris:  “O Hai, I can has an uncle?”

For years now, I’ve known my chairman, Jack Harris, and even lived in his building.  He adopted two special needs girls.  They insist on being my surrogate nieces whenever I visit.  Katie, the younger, paid her regards moments after I took my coat off and sat down!

Emily Harris gets a present

Emily Harris, the older sister, gets a present here.  She’s not as easy to photograph.

I much prefer a quiet Christmas with few gifts, but Jack and Donna gave me one that seems appropriate:

Huge Remote!

Note the size.  OMG.  I don’t even have a TV at the moment since I had to wait for the work in my apartment to be done before shopping.

But time with friends and family is my favorite time.  Even if they’re “surrogate” family.

 Katie Harris with a favorite toy

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowy Sidewalk Survey

Highland Ave North at Market Basket 1 corrected

Commenting on my last post, Rick asks that “they” clear the sidewalks, since he almost got killed walking the dog.

I concur.  Totally.

The problem comes when “they” are defined.  The current Salem ordnance calls for sidewalks to be cleared by the property owner.

In the photo above, Market Basket owns this sidewalk since they own and manage the supermarket and its associated parking lot that also includes Target.  The adjacent strip mall and Shaw’s are owned by someone else.

I give Market Basket credit for digging out a path, though I still had considerable trouble getting on the bus after food shopping this morning.  Last week’s news that Market Basket will work with the MBTA on a bus stop at the store is welcome, but as I had feared all year, it may likely come too late for this winter.

Across the street, the bus shelter has not been plowed:

Highland Ave South at Pep Boys corrected

There are sidewalks that are owned by the city, sidewalks owned by the state (like Salem Depot), and sidewalks owned by all sorts of private homeowners.

Our only recourse now as a city is to beg all the private property owners with public-facing sidewalks (which is nearly everyone) to clear their sidewalks out front.

Property owners, though, can’t only think of their own lots:

Unitarian Church at Ash St 2 corrected

This is the Unitarian church at Ash St., next door to my building.

Its lot has been plowed and there’s a pathway, obscured by the snowbank, from the lot up to Ash St. off the image to the left.

What’s missing?

There is a public sidewalk at Bridge St.  It is completely blocked.  I use this path to get to Salem Depot when I am running late (inevitable on a morning like this) walking through my parking lot to get to Bridge St.

I had to walk in the street for half a block until the Federal St. condos, whose sidewalks were cleared out as usual, where I could re-enter the sidewalk and head for the Washington/Bridge intersection to cross to the station as I usually do.

The contractor who cleared out the church’s lot is on the hook for this.

Now multiply this by all the properties you might cross with your dog, whether it’s Federal St., Chestnut St. or Washington Sq.

The only bright spot, if anything, is that I am regularly in contact with Jason Silva (the mayor’s chief of staff) to monitor “my” block, the St. Peter/Church/Brown St. area that covers two downtown parking lots.  That still leaves the two churches (St. Peter’s and St. John’s) and their rectories, 10 Federal, Museum Place, my building (owned by the state) and the Salem Jail.

Not easy and not fun.  Yet we go through this each and every winter, complain about it, and do the same thing next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

First Big Storm, Winter 2009-2010


A lone car waits for the light at the Veteran’s Riverway.   I measured 7-1/2” outside my apartment at 8 AM this morning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Summary of Salem Commission on Disabilities, December 2009

Curb cut and tactile strip under construction at 10 Federal 

[Due to a technical problem, we lost the audio for the December meeting and cannot air it on SATV this month.   This is a summary of what was discussed at the meeting]

The Commission on Disabilities met December 15th, 2009, 4 PM at SATV.  Present: Jack Harris, Mike Taylor, Debra Lobsitz, Andy LaPointe, David Moisan, Charlie Reardon, Jean Levesque and David Tracht.

  • Jason [the Mayor’s chief-of-staff] met with officials from the MBTA and Market Basket to discuss rerouting the 450 and 456 buses to go through the parking lot.  Market Basket was very supportive and is going to try to make this work.  No timetable was given, but we are optimistic something will happen soon.
  • Project Lifesaver:  Andy LaPointe has good news:  The funding for Project Lifesaver is set and officers of the Salem PD will be getting training in mid-December (21st-22nd).  The public announcement for Project Lifesaver will be given after the first of the year.
  • Congress & Derby:  As noted elsewhere, the traffic signals at Congress & Derby have been approved.
  • “Sober House”/St. Jean’s (Salem & Dow Sts.).  The owner has extended the completion date for his project to July 2010.  The 2nd floor is supposed to be single family residential, with 1st floor retail.  However, according to the city inspector, there are four (unrelated) people living there so the owner is in violation, currently.
  • 4 First St.:  A meeting has been set for Thursday, December 17th, 10 AM with Tom St. Pierre, Jack Harris and the management company at 4 First St. to try to get the access problem in the parking lot (no curbcut to the lot from the building entrance) straightened out.  This has been ongoing for some time.
  • Bypass Road (now Veteran’s Way) bikepath:  Two of four ADA-compliant access paths have been constructed;  Jack will do a site visit with Dave Knowlton to verify this and check on the other two pathways.  The Commission appreciates this and only wishes it were done during original construction, since it was more expensive to fix afterwards.
  • Highland Ave. Audible Signals and crosswalks:  Andy is going to send a registered letter to the state (cc’d to city engineer Dave Knowlton) about two concerns of his (and ours).  Several audible signals on Highland Ave., and one on Loring Ave. (Rt. 1A) @ Omega Pizza, are too soft (low volume) to be heard above traffic.  Also, sidewalk access at Highland Ave @ Ravenna Ave. was very rough and unfinished and not really a sidewalk or curb cut at all.  Andy visited the site with Tom Muxie several months back, and will revisit the area again before sending his letter.
  • The Commission has decided to cancel our January meeting, since it falls on the same day of the state’s special election for the US Senate and several commissioners will be working at the polls.  All business will be deferred to February, but the Commission will keep the public informed of any developments through the city’s web site. 
  • Tentative for February:  Meg Robertson of the State Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired will be our guest, along with Salem  police captain John Jodoin.  Main discussion will be the right turn on red law as it affects blind pedestrians.
  • Next meeting:  February 16th, 2009, 4 PM, Salem Access Television, 285 Derby St.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bypass Road: Now the Veteran’s Riverway

The bypass road at St. Peter St. gets a new name

Finally, Salem’s Last Road has a name.  Last week, the City Council voted to call it “Veteran’s Riverway”.  It’s an appropriate name at that!

Not appropriate though, is the nearly two year delay to decide on a name.  I thought it should be called the “Sosnowski Byway” because my councilor dragged his heels for a very long time before taking action on this.

It seems like a small matter when there are much more important matters facing the city, but naming a road should not take as long as it did.  If the council can’t name it in an hour of discussion in what should be an uncontroversial subject, then I have no respect for that body.

I’ve always known Mike didn’t approve of the road.  This wasn’t a problem;  I didn’t approve either.  And my friend Leo Jodoin is constantly harping on that, “It’s not a bypass road!”

I suspected Mike snubbed the mayor when she dedicated the road and he didn’t show up.  That didn’t reflect well on him. 

Neither does this matter.

At least the courthouse is already named after Mike Ruane.  When I and my colleagues on the Commission attend the opening of the new Salem Depot, I’m not expecting him to be there. 

It’s OK, Mike.  Just don’t blame the mayor.

First Snow of the Season, 2009

Snow on the trees on a Sunday morning, St. Peter's St., Salem

First snow of the season.  I’ve never seen snow on tree branches this early in the season, in the sun no less!  This after a very mild November when we broke the record for first freeze—formerly Dec. 2nd, 1975.

Sidewalks were passable since this wasn’t a big storm.

Friday, December 4, 2009

2009 Christmas Tree Lighting

Salem’s Christmas tree is back at the fountain at Museum Place this year.  The lighting was delayed a week due to bad weather—and delayed for several seconds more when the tree didn’t light up the first time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 2009 Unofficial Minutes of the Salem Commission on Disabilities

New curb cut outside 10 Federal St.

[New curb cut outside 10 Federal]

The Salem Commission on Disabilities had its November meeting on the 17th, at 4 PM at Salem Access Television.

Present:  Jack Harris, Chair, David Martel, Charlie Reardon, Co-Chair, David Moisan, David Tracht, Debra Lobsitz and Jean Levesque, Assistant ADA Coordinator.

Old Business:  4 First St.  Jack:  I have been in touch with Tom St. Pierre, who has been reminded repeatedly.  He promises to get in touch with the management company.  If anyone wants to email Tom St. Pierre, please do so. 

David Martel:  We have been trying to resolve this for the past 4 months, before the weather gets bad.

Jean L. & Jack:  A new person has taken over Tom Watkins’ job in the mayor’s office:  Her (first) name is Mary.  Jean hasn’t met her yet.  Tom is still taking charge of the website until Mary has completed training.

Market Basket proposed MBTA stop:

Reminder:  MBTA is now part of MassDOT, the huge agency that now does all transportation in MA.  Andy is trying to find out if the same people are in the same places in the new agency.

I have exciting news:  As poeople know, a letter was sent to the MBTA requesting a reroute through Market Basket.  Jason and the mayor’s office will meet with MBTA officials at the site. 

David Moisan:  I had a conversation with Jack earlier. Leo Jodoin forwarded email from the show [Salem Now].  I just met the one guy who’s more upset over the situation than I am.  I have been wound up plenty over this, but I know how the MBTA works:  To make the change, it has to be done in conjunction with their schedule changes which take place four times a year.  The next change is the Winter schedule that takes place around New Year’s day.  If it doesn’t happen then, it will happen in the Spring schedule.  Only three months but our longest three months, unfortunately.

Jean Levesque:  I have a question about Leo Jodoin and Salem Now.  Have any Commission members been on the show?

David Moisan:  Yes, Andy LaPointe has been on Leo’s show a number of times.  Andy is Leo’s godchild.  I know back when the mayor had a ceremony for me before I joined, that Leo got the video and aired it. 

I can bring it up, but I know he’s slotted until at least March.  December is Christmas, January is John Keenan, February is SATV, and March no idea.  Andy is a regular and often on the show for one reason or another.

Jean L.:  I don’t know about the viewership between us and Leo Jodoin’s show but Leo has a bigger audience, I think.

David Moisan:  I know he does a field show, On The Road with Salem Now, but his camerawoman has had health problems.

Jean L.:  We should have more than one person on [Leo’s show].

David Moisan:  All I can do is talk to him.  We probably won’t all be on.

David Tracht:  My wife is at Market Basket a lot and people are parking in HP spaces [illegally] all the time.

Jack:  Back to the stop, there was a committment by the mayor’s office to try to make this happen.  I want to give them applause for staying on top of this.

Commuter Rail station:   Jack:   I got a call from Lieutenant Linehan, in charge of the north section.  He has invited me and Ken to meet Thursday to review the signage that’s been recently installed on the lot.  He will come down and see how that’s going, and pass out tips on how to avoid being ticketed.

Myself and Charlie went to the meeting on the new train station and were concerned with security:  I asked the lieutenant if he had been invited;  he wasn’t.  It would have been very helpful for him to be invited.

The project is on a fast track and scheduled for 2011.  The next public meeting will be around Christmas.

David Martel:  MassDOT’s garages tend to be cookie cutter projects;  problems in one garage tend to be replicated to other garages.  Examples are the garage near Boston City Hall, and at the Museum of Science, which were designed without clearances.

Jean L.:   Great point.  There should be standard plans at the state house for schools and other public buildings, but instead they design from scratch every time.

David Martel:  We have to stay on top of them.

Jean L.:  That’s why it’s so important to get input from people like you who use the facilities.

David Martel:  This past Halloween, there were 100,000 people in Salem.  A lot of people used the train station.

David Moisan:  I can relate.  I did hear back from the mayor.  She wrote me a standard form letter describing the process, which I won’t repeat, but she included a handwritten note that promised she would work with the architects to integrate the garage into the downtown.  The area was never designed for this:  It was industrial and belonged to the B&M.

I wait for a bus—and I feel closer to the Carlton School than to my house.  There has to be a indoor shelter, it must be facing the tracks—and the bus!

You aren’t going to wait outside in 20 degree weather—especially if you’re Jack and have Emily & Katie with you! 

The busway at Wonderland, for example, is really badly designed and there is no shelter near the buses.  The only shelter is relatively far away so you can’t see your bus.  I don’t want that here.

Jack:  There was a lot of discussion on security.  And a lot of discussion on a full-height platform, that we wanted.  The tracks are on a curve so they wanted a half-height platform, but we made it clear we wanted full.

David Martel:  I can’t understand how that guy drove into the tunnel [a year ago].

Haunted Happenings:

Jack:  Haunted Happenings.  It’s over.  There was a real concerted effort to keep the path of travel open.  There were a few things here and there but it was otherwise smooth.  I went to the closing ceremonies and it was smooth.  Not sure how it was from a disability perspective.  We [Salem] made $250K after expenses so that worked out.

Charlie:  A compliment:  The city workers were very good at cleaning up, during and afterwards.  The next morning you would never know there was an event.

David Martel:  The horses came from Plymouth this year.  People argue with cops but not on horses.

MAAB update:

Jack:  St. Jean’s House:  There will be a fine hearing in December.  What we know is that the two businesses over there are still not compliant.  The second floor is still being occupied by too many people.

David Martel:  Was it a sprinkler issue?

Jack:  It would have been if it had been a “sober house”, but the owner promised to make it a single-family.  He hasn’t done this yet.  Fines will start to be levied if this isn’t done soon.  He’s met with his architect, but nothing done.  The city and the MAAB has been lenient with him thus far.

Market Basket parking lot work:

Jack:  The HP spaces at the Market Basket parking lot have been re-graded and the drainage fixed.  Good work by Market Basket and their contractor.

New Business:

Tavern in the Square

Jack:  We were invited to a special City Council meeting about the sidewalk seating at Tavern in the Square.  I advised the committee that the Tavern’s seating blocks the direct path of travel.  I have seen the area;  it appears to be compliant but we won’t know until the tables are in place.  The city can’t backpedal on this.

David Martel:  Who’s responsible for the property [sidewalk seating area]?  Snow removal?   Is it property in lieu of taxes?

Jean L.:  Salem owns the property.

Jean L.:  Same issue with Rockafellas and snow removal.

David Martel:  What about off hours and off season? 

Charlie:  They’re putting up heat lamps in the area; propane heat lamps.  It could be open all year round.

Jack:  My two contentions were  a) not to block the sidewalk and b) if there is outside seating it has to be compliant, 36” around tables and chairs.  That’s the only things we care about.  But the other part that I said loudly and clearly, had the Commission been brought in on any part of this early on, as we have said, we may not be where we are today.  I think the councilors heard that loud and clear that the Commission was not brought in.

I’m now starting to hear the design review board agendas and the planning board agendas.

David Martel:  I have been looking at the new Riverwalk.  It looks nice.  But was there any review of the project on accessibility before it started?

Jack:  It is accessible.

David Martel:  But was it planned beforehand?  I hadn’t seen its design.

Jack:  Is there a problem?

David Martel:  No, but I wanted to see the design.  I still do.

Jean L.:  The planning board has it.

Jean L.:  I was working for Michaud Bus Lines years ago.  I went to Quebec and there was a riverwalk.  Every hundred feet, there was an emergency phone—and a lifesaver.  It was a safety measure.

David Moisan:  One other comment before we move on.  I hope the guy who commented on the Salem News website is listening to the broadcast.

My comments were along the same lines as Jack:  I’m not so  concerned with what the restaurant is doing, but I am very upset that the SRA had just decided to do this and it was a done deal already.

Someone on the Salem News site accused me of being “reactive” instead of “proactive” and gave me a big list of sidewalk problems.  They weren’t new to us!  We’d been working on these problems.  I’ll say it again:  We’ve gotten blindsided again and again, “oh it’s already a done deal”.   The SRA is very protective of the information they have and I am very upset.  I took it very personally.

David Tracht:  If it was a done deal, why were we asked by the Council?

Jack:  The SRA approved the plans in February, but a few months ago there was a lot of discussion developing on this.  People were wondering what was going on, and then we went in and said, “you can’t block the sidewalk”.  Now, whether they can do anything about that is another question.

I had a comment:  When the city gives out permits for sidewalk seating, there is no followup, the establishments have these permits in perpetuity.  The council is missing an opportunity to look at these permits from time to time to see if there’s a problem.

Jean L.:  The sidewalk at New Derby bothers me.  It is a curb-stepped sidewalk with horses on it.  It’s a hazard.

Jack:  There is a plan in the works to eliminate the step.  I hope this is done before the snow flies.  I will ocntinue to revisit this.

Jean L.:  It’s way out of line.

Jack:  The building inspector wants this done now.

Jean L.:  The Commission has never ever knowingly done anything to hurt business in Salem.

Charlie:  We need to write a letter.  Explain our position in this letter, what works and what doesn’t.

Jack:  The city is, now, well aware, that the steps at New Derby were a mistake.  We’re like the little mosquito that won’t go away.

David Martel:  Or the squeaky wheel.


Jack:  As some of you may or may not know, there is construction on their side entrance.  They are renovating the front of the restaurant.  Tom St. Pierre will let us see the plans as soon as he gets them.

No word on the timeframe but it will look new.

Traffic Signals at Congress & Derby:

Jack:  If some of you don’t know, there’ll be a meeting at the Seven Gables settlement house tonight on traffic signals.  A consultant has recommended traffic signals at Congress & Derby.

Most of the wiring for the signals has already been placed in an earlier renovation of the intersection and the money seems to be there.  It does seem like this will happen.

This is an issue we have been dealing with for a long while.

Charlie:  Our city electrician put the conduit down years ago already.  He saved the city $50K.

Jack:  The other part of the support for this is that some of you know, the charter school is in the Shetland Properties, and there is another charter school starting in the same place.  And the Boys and Girls club is there.  And the hotel and the parking garage.

David Moisan:  If the neighborhood let us.  The head of the Derby St. Neighborhood association complained about an earlier traffic signal proposal:  “Why can’t we have a flashing light?”.  There’s much more traffic there nowadays.

There could be intersections, like at the Hawthorne Hotel that could have their signals removed, but others like Derby St., that are busier.

The Salem News will probably have an article in tomorrow’s paper, “Derby St. Controversy Bla Bla Bla”.  Just to warn you.

Charlie:  There is a hotel there frequented by visitors not familiar with the area.

Jean L.:  Did the city get accident figures?

Jack:  I imagine so.

Charlie:  My grandaughter goes to the charter school there.  It’s miserable to drive there.  I get “salutes” every day.

Jack:  Traffic signals, if you push a cross walk button and get the light, you cross.  If there’s no light there, and you cross, you might get hit.  But if you’re hit in a cross walk and have the light, the driver is liable.   So that’s something in favor of the lights.

Winter Island

Jack: Dave Knowlton told me of a new sidewalk at Winter Island, from the Plummer Home to the gates.  He asked me to look at it for access.  It’s a wide sidewalk.  It hasn’t been graded yet and it’s still a little steep.

The only problem I had:  Nice sidewalk but it jumps back into the street.  They need to have a plan to continue the sidewalk into Winter Island itself.

Jean L.:  It ends 50 feet from the main gate?

Jack:  Yes

Jean L.:  People aren’t going too fast at the main gate.

Jack:  On the other hand, the driveway has been repaved and not as bumpy—so people may go faster!

Charlie:  A brick barricade?

Jack:  I was waiting for Dave and watching.  Most people weren’t going only 10 miles an hour.  Not even those with trailers.

Jean L.:  It’s an improvement though.

Jack:  I’m thrilled there’s a section of sidewalk, but they asked for our position and I was not thrilled to have a section go back into the street.

Jack:  Hope they get it before the weather is bad.

David Martel:  But we won’t see much before spring?

Jack:  That’s so;  I don’t go there over the winter.  We’ll see.

David Martel:  Consider it one big curb cut.

Jack:  There was some quesiton on whether this path would happen.  But people can check it out.  A woman from Cape Cod was watching this and asking Dave:  “Is this a new sidewalk?”  Dave said yes.  The woman said “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time!”

National Grid Work:

David Moisan:  One item of new business:  National Grid has been digging a new conduit along Bridge St.  I didn’t think this would pertain to us, but they’re doing more work.  They’re redoing the curb cuts on my block:  One in front of my house, which is inconvenient, but the other is very interesting:  10 Federal.

We have been talking about the curb cut at 10 Federal for a long time.  That is now dug up.  As most of us know, there is a problem with wheelchair users of the parking lot as they can’t get to 10 Federal and we have been working on this.

I have three construction projects in my neighborhood—the Salem Jail, the new elevator in Morency Manor and National Grid.  It wasn’t the Jail—they’re done with sidewalk work for the moment.  It wasn’t my elevator work;  they have no sidewalk work planned.  So it must be National Grid.

Jack:  I’ve been looking at this.  National Grid is on Bridge St. working up to Webb St.  Perhaps the city got them to do this?  Maybe a tradeoff for something.  But it is being done.  The city, so far as we know, is on the hook for the access work at the parking lots.

Charlie:  They are doing the sidewalks.  It’s a big safety problem outside my house [at Williams & Bridge].

Jean L.:  They’re working at Town House Square too.

Jack:  I’ll say it loudly:  We have been wanting our curb cuts to be improved and more compliant.  The city’s doing it!  It’s great.

David Martel:  They should continue to make curb cuts in the same style with concrete.

Jack:  It doesn’t look like brick and I respect historic brickwork, but I much prefer this and that should be the way to go.

H1N1  Update:

Jack:  I can give you an update:  My family’s all had it.  And we’re done with it.  I’ll give you what I’ve discovered.

My youngest daughter had it and was in the hospital for four days.  It’s the flu.

If you’re medically compromised, or you are in certain age brackets we won’t mention around the table, you have to be very careful.   If you’re healthy, you’ll just get the flu.

This is just H1N1, the seasonal virus hasn’t come around yet.  There’s no testing going on.  They won’t test you unless you’re medically compromised;  too many people and too costly.  Doctors are making the diagnosis of H1N1.

And another thing:  They won’t tell you specifically.  My wife  got it and she had to ask, “Was it H1N1?”  They tell her:  “Probably”

David Martel:  My sister, Diane, is working for a company that will do a home test for H1N1.

Debra:  The rapid test has a really bad accuracy rate with a huge number of false positives.

David Martel:  I was given a seasonal vaccine.  It’s somewhat like H1N1.

Jack:  We were exposed to a strain of the swine flu once.  I never got it, but my whole family did.  I found people in my age bracket were exposed to swine flu in childhood so we were immune.

Don’t panic.  If you’re medically compromised or someone in your family is, go to the emergency room.  Get the shot.

My daughter Katie got a shot the day before she got sick so she couldn’t get tested anyway.

Debra:  I participate in a weekly phone conference with the Department of Public Health, so if you want information I can send it.  The interesting thing is that even if you contract H1N1, they still want you to get the vaccine when it becomes available in December.

Jean L.:  There are two kinds of vaccines, I heard?

Debra:  There’s an injected form and an aerosol form;  the aerosol you have to have two doses.

Jack:  Younger age brackets need two shots.  I asked my pediatrician about Katie.  He told me she should get the shot.

Jack:  Keep up with it, but most important thing, wash your hands.  If you get it, stay away from people.  We live in an apartment building with other compromised people.

One question I had:  My kids are transported in a handicapped van.  Are there guidelines for sanitizing or washing the van as they go back and forth to schools?

There is none.

The H1N1 virus only lasts 8 hours so it’s not a problem overnight, but I was concerned about what happened during the day.

There is no program for sanitizing or cleaning for any school busses so far as I know.

David Tracht:  What should people know?

Jack:  I would remind people it’s just like any other flu season.  They should keep in touch with their elderly neighbors or others who are medically compromised.  Common sense, like any other year.  Handwashing.

I’ve never seen so many hand sanitizers lately!  Supermarkets, banks, everywhere!

Debra:  On  the other hand, if you can avoid touching eyes, and ears and nose, those are the places the virus likes to live.

Debra:  Go to

David Martel:  What about antibiotic overuse?

David Moisan:  I buy liquid soap.  I don’t get antbacterial soap because I ‘ve never needed it.  But you cannot find soap without antibacterials anymore!  I’m concerned.

Jack:  If your immune system is healthy, why compromise it with a flu shot?  We may have overly compromised ourselves by getting these shots.  I’m not saying it’s bad, but it could be a problem.

Debra:  The vaccinations are available in the state but are only available to limited people.

Jack:  No other business?  Our next meeting is December 15th.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Halloween in Salem, from the outside

After the Festival

A few weeks ago, I had a nice chat with April Rueber, a country-crossing PR lady who visited Salem for Halloween.

Her impressions were mostly positive:

Being in Salem for Halloween is something I always wanted to experience. It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime festivals you need to see before you die similar to throwing beads for Mardi Gras in New Orleans and throwing back steins for Oktoberfest in Germany. This is as close as I have got to Germany. (Fun Fact: Going to Mardi Gras with some girlfriends next year; need to start planning!)

But there were some other things she didn’t like:

Sadly, Salem was more touristy than I imagined. I thought there was going to be more history, more historic buildings, more charm. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I still had a wicked good time.

There are several reasons, April, why you found Salem as you did:

The Great Salem Fire of 1914 took a lot of historic buildings away from us.  Urban renewal took the rest.  I am still grieving over the loss of the old Salem Depot—the same train station Hawthorne visited—that was demolished before I was born.

Another reason for the lack of historicity on Halloween:  Haunted Happenings, just by being, has taken all of the energy in October.  Most visitors are day trippers and with all the people we get, it really compresses the experience for the worse.  I have taken day trips to Manhattan and I know the feeling.

Visit Salem on a summer week or even early fall and it is a different, slower experience.  You can spend time at the Peabody Essex Museum.  You can sip coffee at the lighthouse at the end of Derby Wharf.  You can enjoy popcorn at Hobbs at Salem Willows.  You have time to just soak in the architecture of Chestnut St.

Salem is not to be experienced in a hurry, yet for our Halloween festivities, that’s exactly what we get.  Come in on the 31st with 100,000 people and your experience will be very compressed, just as it is for me when I go to Manhattan on a motorcoach and just have time to visit Rockefeller Center and FAO Schwartz.

As well, “history”, as I have written before in my blog, is not a simple concept to be venerated.  We have visitors to Salem who thought we were all a historical reenactment.  (Our true recreation of the Puritans, Pioneer Village, has been trying to reopen for years.)

History in Massachusetts and Salem in particular has become synonymous with “property values”, such that we have the reputation of being a historic theme park that no one can afford to live in.

Salem, ourselves, has been trying to reboot itself from its history as a prosperous seaport, a small mill town and former retail center into a prosperous city once again.  Small wonder we’re all conflicted.  I’ve had mixed feelings plenty and often about our progress, and it’s all been written here.

Nevertheless, I loved the Halloween night festivities as a downtown resident.

And Elizabeth Montgomery, long may she remain.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Morency Manor Elevator Work Goes On

The elevator shaft (lower left) and its machine room.

Construction of a new elevator continues on.  This view from my window isn’t the greatest, but it’s probably the last time I’ll get such a good view.

Scaffolding is outside my window again, this time to set forms for the elevator shaft

The scaffolding is going up outside my window again, this time I presume to set forms for the elevator wall.

Once this goes up, I’m probably not going to get to see much else of the construction.  I’ve always wondered how they install the elevator cab into a building.  Perhaps I’ll get to see, or not.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Voting at St. John’s

Ward 2, Pct. 2 sign at St. John's

As I mentioned in my last post, I voted at St. John’s today.   The handicapped entrance is around the corner at the old Pioneer House entrance:


The entrance to the hall is a newly installed door inside the entrance to the left.  It doesn’t have an automatic door opener and no one was at the door, as they often were at the Salem Heights polling place.

Once inside, I checked in, but had trouble with the Automark machine for people with disabilities.  The machine was in the dead center of the room, which was split off by precinct, one side (closest to the handicapped entrance) for Pct. 1, and the other for Pct. 2 (mine).

The area in front of the Automark was blocked by a table, I presumed it was there to divide the two halves of the room.

After looking stumped for a moment, one of the poll workers asked me if I wanted to use the machine.  Affirmative.  She and two other poll workers had to get the key to activate the machine and it was a few minutes before I could use it.

I did get to use the machine and eventually cast my ballot.

I know the poll workers are mostly inexperienced;  the clerk has had to aggressively seek workers in recent years.  Worse yet, there’s still the preliminary and final special elections for the US Senate coming up. 

But those in charge of setup should put the Automark on their checklist.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Double Decker Rail Cars Visit Salem

Courtesy John Arico, this is a video of double-decker K cars that ran on the north side (us) to Salem this year.  They can indeed run through the tunnel, check it out around 3 minutes into the video.

Check out this thread on

Now, if we can have these for the 7:25…

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Election 2009 Thoughts

Ward 2 Polling Place Change

As we prepare for another municipal election,  I’ve never made endorsements as such on the blog, but here are my thoughts.

First of all, I and the rest of Ward 2 have a new polling place, or really, an old place being used again:  The social hall at St. John’s Church, just next door to me.  It was used in 1995, but later polling was done at Salem Heights.

Ward 2's polling place for 2009

I hated and resented that for years.  Now it’s back to St. John’s.  I can’t blame people in Salem Heights or in Precinct 1 for hating this, too.  I wouldn’t begrudge them for the hate one bit.  The polling places have been consolidated this year so most wards go to one place for both precincts except for Wards 5 and 6.

I’m obliged to investigate handicapped access;  this lack of access was why St. John’s was dropped in the first place.  I asked around and was told there would be a ramp.  There’ll need to be three;  there’s one up to the entrance, one down to the foyer, and one into the hall itself if I recall correctly.

We’ll see how it goes Tuesday.

On to the candidates. Wards 3 and 5 are the only contested ward races, so for most voters, the at-large candidates are the only ones they’ll focus on. 

That brings me to Teasie Goggin, the highest-profile candidate in all the city, running for at-large.

I respect Teasie.  I’ve talked with her about one of her campaign goals, increased transparency in government.  It is something I’ve talked about, and lived.  If she is elected she will learn what I have learned firsthand!

Unfortunately, Teasie and I have never talked about the big issue that divides us, the senior center.  I fear that if I elect her, she will seek to delay the project such that we’ll be arguing it when I’m 60.  She and my ward councilor are opinionated to a fault with this.

What of other issues?  Boston St.?  I can cite another example of the transparency she is asking for in the Salem Redevelopment Authority controversy over Tavern in the Square.

Respect Teasie as I may, I can’t give her my vote.

I also feel unable (or unwilling) to vote for Tom Furey.  I don’t believe for a moment that he was deliberately malicious when he wanted to ban smoking in public housing, but that is an issue he could have dealt with differently if only he had some forethought.  I’ve learned not to expect that from many councilors, but that is no excuse.

I will vote for Joan Lovely in the at-large.  I almost always disagree with her, but respect her professionalism.  (I appreciate the hand written note on your election mailing, Mrs. Lovely.  Thanks.  But I had decided my position before getting it.)

I like Steve Pinto but don’t feel connected to him, nor to Arthur Sargent, nor to the “new” candidate, Mike Allen (ex-School Committee).

I will not cast a vote for my ward councilor, nor for Mayor Driscoll, for reasons I’ve already explained earlier in the yearI’m also concerned about her support for casinos, a issue that has been virtually undiscussed.  Mayor Driscoll, like too many in Salem, want to think our recession is a bad dream and soon over.  On the other hand, it’s very much real and may never be over soon, as long as we depend on the quick fix of gentrification.

(Aside:  I’ve thought Shirley Walker’s very public shit fight with Murphy’s restaurant was done out of frustration;  I think she wanted to flip her condo at Derby Lofts like she did in Quincy and wasn’t able to do so.)

By my account, Mayor Driscoll is still depending on gentrification to make her and Salem go.   Not for me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

It’s Halloween Today!

Crossing the street in front of the Bewitched Statue

It’s begun!

At this time of day, this is a family event, and the crowd’s reflecting that so far.  I didn’t see the LaRouchites today, which I’m glad for, nor have I seen some of the more edgier people one sees at night.  Then again, I haven’t walked through many areas today such as Salem Common and the “Haunted Village”.

I’m concentrating on the concert and fireworks tonight.  The stage was being set up when I walked by:

The concert stage for tonight.

I’m going to set up near District Court, crowd permitting.  My personal camera and tripod are much smaller than SATV’s so I won’t be noticed.  I did get appropriate attire:

T-Shirt:  "Bewitched in Salem"

See you tonight!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Not only ghosts around in Salem

Larouchites at Salem Visitors Center

Witches, ghosts and demons aren’t the only inhabitants of Salem today.  These LaRouchites are holding court just two blocks from my house at the Visitor’s Center.  They’ve usually set up at the Post Office a few times a year, without the offensive signs.  Wish I had given them a “helpful gesture” but it’s not in my character.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Scanner Audio

My radio providing police scanner stream

Once again, I expect a very busy Halloween downtown in the next few nights.  If you can’t be downtown, or if you want to know what you’re getting into, listen to my police scanner feed.  It has Salem, Beverly, Lynn and Peabody PD and FD, MBTA police, NEMLEC (I’m assuming the command truck will be out there again this year.) and the Eastern Route commuter rail.

Direct link if you can't see the player

Have a good time!  I’ll be at the concert and fireworks downtown on Saturday night, filming for YouTube.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Unofficial Minutes of Salem Commission on Disabilities, October 2009

 Audible Signal at WalMart

[New audible signal at the self-storage facility opposite WalMart]

The Salem Commission on Disabilities met October 20th, 2009 at 4 PM.  This month’s meeting was co-posted with the city’s 5 Year Consolidated Plan review with Jane Guy and Beverly .

Presiding, Charlie Reardon, co-commissioner  Present:   David Martel, Beverly Estes-Smargiassi, Community Opportunities Group, Jane Guy, Community Development Director, Andy LaPointe, David Moisan, Jean Harrison, Michael Taylor, Jean Levesque, Kimberly Jones, North Shore Career Center, David Tracht.

Jack Harris was at a seminar today.

Charlie:    As you all know, we were in the paper this week.  Jack was on the front page Monday talking about Ken Bonacci’s parking enforcement, and there was a Salem News editorial telling us to leave it to the police.

10 years ago, Jack and I and Ken met with the MBTA and tried to work out a solution with them.  Many people without plates or placards were parking in the spaces and going off to Boston.  One person told a handicapped motorist “I’m waiting for my wife to get off the train”.  “I’m waiting to  get on the train!”  He missed two trains.

Someone made a complaint to the MBTA about “some guy” harassing parkers.  But we had the right to point that out to people.  He made an issue of it, and the MBTA police came in, and talked to Ken and told him to leave it to the police.

You know, we [the Commission] don’t harass people, we just asked them to leave.  And they made a stink about it that’s in the paper.  We’ll find out what this is about.

Jean L.:  Let’s get to the main meeting with Jane Guy.

David Moisan:  [to Jane]  Let’s get started with the special meeting, you did come here so we can ask questions.

Jane Guy:  I’m Jane Guy and I’m responsible for the draft oversight forthe  Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds.  We’re responsible for planning the grant process every five years and we are getting feedback from the community.  Some of you may have been here five years ago the last time.

We’re hoping to get your input over the next month with various target groups, on housing and community   The Community Opportunities Group has been doing this work since 1979.  I’m turning this over to Beverly;  there is a sign-in sheet circulating.

Beverly:  It’s a nice crowd today, and great to be here.  Nice to be back.  I’m going to fill out the background:  The city is obligated to do this planning.  It’s an opportunity to explain the needs of the community now and for the next five years.  That’s what this process is for.  I’m going to run through the slides very quickly because I want to start discussion right away.

The five year plan is required by law, sets priorities and measurable goals and strategies for the city.  Every year, there’s an annual action plan for the next year, and this meeting is the basis for those yearly plans.  Those action plans will happen for the next four years.

It does create the opportunity to let us know what’s most important.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development handles the CDBG.  Also involved are Federal Home Investment Partnership funds and the North Shore Home Consortium in Peabody which provided $970,000.  In FY2010 we get $1.1 million  From 2010 to 2015, we get a total of $5.9 million, so it’s a significant amount.

The CDBG was established by Congress in 1974;  it is a large source of federal aid to the communities.  It includes housing, infrastructure,  economic development, seniors, facilities, homeless, anti-crime programs, planning and administrations.  It’s flexible.

Any project must be approved through HUD and meet one of three national objectives:  Low or moderate-income, prevent blighted conditions, or address critical community needs.  People around this table know about low and moderate-income people.  The details are in the pamphlet I’ve handed out.

Who decides how funds will be used?  This is the first part of the process, the decision-making process.  And after this step, the plan will be reviewed by the citizens advisory committee, Mayor and City Council.  There will be additional public comments.   It’s approved by them, and then goes to the feds for final approval.

Community development programs are homeless services, housing, public services.  These are the sort of things already happening in Salem.  There’s a listing of some examples of recent and ongoing projects, including Palmer St., Salem Mission, Salem Harbor CDC housing renovation, rental subsidies, and park and playground improvements [such as Harbor St.]

The programs are run through the Salem Planning and Community Development, but are sometimes administered by others, like the Salem Harbor CDC and Salem Main Streets.

Your participation does make a difference.  As Jane says, there’ll be ten consultation meetings, then meetings with city staff.  There’ll be interviews with social service, training, and healthcare officials.  Interviews with historical commissions. 

What happens now:  I’ll send Jane the outcome of this meeting and she’ll make it available.

Now, what do people see as assets?  We concentrate on problems so much, we want to see what’s positive about Salem.

Dave Martel:  Historical preservation, Pioneer Village, Old Town Hall

David Moisan:  Two points all by myself, Andy will confirm:  We have a train station.  And a considerable amount of public transit.  Not as much as we want, but we have them.  More importantly, we have the sidewalks and access for people with disabilities.  We have contentiousness, but only because we are farther ahead than most other communities.

Jane Guy:  That’s the kind of projects this funding has been used for.

David Martel:  That’s just common sense.  We had a situation with the elderly housing on Charter St. and the public library

Kimberely:  Is the process limited to this list? 


Andy:  As far as curb cuts, there’s still some need.  How about snow removal?  Is it separate?

Jane:  That is separate.

David Martel:  Charter St.:  Elderly have to hop over a snowbank to reach the curb cut.

Andy:  There are people out there walking with canes that can’t get to the pedestrian signals through the snow.  It’s a blessing I have GPS, actually.  I’d like to see us work on snow removal and everything else, of handicapped spots and curb cuts.

David Martel:  YMCA parking lot.  They piled snow in the HP spot on Essex St.   You’re paying $1200 for a contractor to dump snow on a $2 parking spot.

Andy:  We have fifty million in the US with a disability.  One in 10 are visually impaired. or mobility impaired.  Salem is a major attraction for people around the state and is regarded as a disabled-friendly city.  We have twice the spending power of teenagers.  So, here in Salem a lot of disabled people are coming here as we speak.  It’d be good in the wintertime to work something out.

Charlie:  If we have a handicapped curbcut to be done in Salem, who would be contacted?

Jane:  []Giardi would be the one to handle it.  He has a certain amount of money each year for curb cuts.

Charlie:  Social Security Office doesn’t have a curb cut between the parking lot and the office across Federal St.

Kimberly:  It’s a wonderful asset to the city to have an accessible downtown area, an economic downtown, the volumes of people that come.  People are coming in.  We have emergency resources, our services are free.  There’s a big push for certification training.  People are having to retrain.  Again, I think it’s a wonderful thing for people to travel from different areas to here to get services.

Andy [to Kimberly]:  What about accessible computers?

Kimberly:  That’s a question I have to ask Sandra since she coordinates all the accommodations in the center.

Asking about JAWS, Open Book, etc.  After a while, the way websites are reformatted, and needs an update.

Kimberly:  We need an upgrade.  I wish Sandra were here to answer that;  I’m not equipped to answer the specific questions.  Thank god there’s a disability coordinator to link people to community resources.

We have til November 20th to submit a better organized proposal?

Jane and Beverly:  Yes

Beverly:  Thank you very much.  We learned a lot.  I want to talk about our findings for 2005, and see what ones may be more important.  Some may be less important.  I want to see what issues are percolating up.

2005 plan:  1) Rental affordability, 2) Affordable housing preservation, a lot of them were aging out of their mortgages and could become market-rate housing.   3) Condominimum development was a bit of a concern five years ago;  that may be shifting a bit at this point.  At that time there was a conversion issue and a lot of rental units being done, and a desire to protect the rental market.

4) Public services are on the list.  Social services are on the list, and have become a bit more integrated with community development in  general.

Jean L.:  Before you go too far, housing.  The situation on Crombie St. for the past 15 years, and now the situation now.  What’s the status of that project now?

Jane:  I got a email from them that some units are being rented and others being worked on and they’ve gotten approval from the state.  It was a long process needing to go to the Board of Appeals, but it is underway.

Jean L.:  How do you apply?  Restricted income?

Jane:  The information is on their website.  I haven’t looked at.  Michael Weyland at the Salem Harbor CDC is running this.  I’ll put you in touch with him.

Jean L.:  The Commission on Disabilities is an asset to the City.  We’ve been fortunate to have these people offer their services at no charge;  these are volunteers who go to great lengths to make the city of Salem aware of the needs of disabled people in Salem.  The problem with the MBTA, we’ve been fighting that for 5 years.

Jean L:  The city hasn’t been giving us any help.  We’ve been looking for someone to do the minutes for us.  We have volunteers, but need support.

David Martel:  An office.  We have an office but no items.

David Moisan:  No office supplies, nor desks nor computers.

Jean L:  Any help?

Jane Guy: Certain things are eligible, certain things are not.

Jane:  The minute-taking is not eligible for our assistance.  Office space?  No other board or commission has space.

Beverly:  The CDBG is funding new initiatives, such as the computers at the library.  If you think in those terms…

Jean L.:  We have office space in the South Harbor Garage that requires certain equipment.

David Martel:  If we have an office but not the personnel to support it, are we in violation?

Jane G.:  Yes. You have a budget? 

Jean L.:  Yes, but very small.

Beverly:  I want to continue, and get people to tell us what’s still pertinent, what are the big-picture items.  Elderly housing is also on the list.  Last time, we had lots of housing but it was a bit faded and not up to snuff and we needed coordinated services [home care] that went with it but wasn’t always present.  Finally, there was a need to be strategic and coordinated and to look at items that couldn’t be funded another way.

That was ‘05.  It’s now 2009 going on 2010.  Do some of these findings or all of these findings remain relevant?

Andy:   Social services, what does that entail from 05 to the present?

Jane:  The outcome;  each year we issue an RFP to social services organizations to get CDBG funding.  That could be youth groups, community orgs, SATV, and 30 groups we regularly fund.  Before 2005, we were responsive to public services and what they needed.  After, we identified priority programs that we would fund, like housing programs that helped a family become self-sufficient;  if they needed childcare, and prescriptions, that would fulfill the requirements.  We wanted programs that would help people afford their day-to-day lives. Medium priority programs were health and youth programs;  Low priority was everything else.

Organizations should have explicit programs and justification.  We won’t just “fund something for cats” because we say so, there has to be a documented need.

Andy:  You mentioned SATV.  We have a problem there.  They have a bulletin board.  We used to have an audible bulletin board for visually impaired.  Dave M. could elaborate.  How would that fit in the realm of things?  IF they needed a program to update things? 

Jane:  Certain things could be funded.  It sounds like an eligible expense.  It could be considered.

Andy:  They have volunteers, but upgraded their system and can’t do this anymore;  it’s too difficult.  It would be [a] voice-over.  A good amount of people in Salem could use this program.

Dave Moisan:  I’m authorized to speak for SATV;  I am the liaision for SATV and their IT person.  Besides the thing Andy has asked about, which is something Andy and I have been around for quite a while, the other thing we’re trying to do is to get some kind of support to take our city meetings, our public meetings like this one.  Right now, I’m recording the meeting today, I am taking the minutes and transcribing them.  I’m doing that all out of pocket because I was never able to come to an agreement with the city to help.   There are more public meetings than we can tape and we want to put the meetings online on a website.

That’s not strictly disability-related, but that’s one thing that almost always comes up when the bulletin board issue comes up.

Beverly:  Is that happening and are you overwhelmed?

Dave M.:  We don’t have the money to pay to put it on the web, or the staff.  We have only three full time people [at SATV].  People and Money.  The bulletin board is another can of worms.

Charlie:  How much?

Dave M.:  I have to get that info the next time I talk with Sal.  We go online and have to pay for it.  We talked about putting it on the city’s website and using the company’s video services.  We’ve looked at putting meeting audio on our website.  We don’t pay [extra] to put it on our website but there’s still labor.  I don’t know the details;  between some labor and some money to all the way up for lots of labor and a web host.

Charlie:  Can you give a figure?

Dave Moisan:  Off the top of my head, somewhere in the hundreds, and somewhere in the thousands.  I am aware of some legislative bodies who’s states have had to get $10,000 grants to put their meetings up on the webs.   This is the range I have heard the last time I investigated [a few months ago].

Charlie:  Quite a bit

Dave M.:  The way we do with audio costs less, but more work on our part.  The labor won’t be any less and I won’t depend on volunteers, it’s too involved, without knowing exactly what I could ask from them.  I was going to do a test with our meetings, which are already in audio;  that labor is done.  I have no specific [proposals], that’s still up in the air and not discussable today.

Beverly:  I want to move on and ot take up the whole meeting.  If I can also go back to a few things.  The 2005 things are relevant;  I had SATV and public access issues down;  are there other things you want to put down?

Kimberly:  There’s a group of folks who can’t get their records [CORI] sealed, and need to move on with their lives, and can’t.

Dave Moisan:  Charlie, Jack has been talking about doing parking enforcement with the police.  Like in Waltham, if we don’t want to do it ourselves, the Commission gets some money to pay for a detail officer who does.

Jane Guy:  Generally, let me stop you a bit, it’s not used for salaries.  You should not talk about salary-related items, this isn’t the program for it.

Beverly:  Disabled housing.  Last time we met, that was raised.

[person in background]  We had difficulty finding affordable housing for people in wheelchairs;  there’s difficulty finding housing that is advertised, but not for people in wheelchairs.  One unit offered a roll-in shower but that was really impractical.  

Jane Guy:  I don’t know the unit number off hand but I can get that for you.

[person in background]:  Bookmobile?  That could come in for people unable to get around.

[person in background]:  We’re sending out applications to everywhere.  The stories we get are phenomenal and we get them every day.

Jane:  We will be doing more meetings [in the coming month] on that.

Andy:  Audible traffic signals.   Some on the corner of Lafayette and Derby are the old types that honk with a buzzer.  There’s no way to get funding for those to get locators?  A person who comes to Salem [from Boston] approaches a light that pings when they get up close to it—a locator—audible traffic signals.

Beverly:  When you press the button…?  It makes a ping?

Andy:  Reason I mention it, the signals are the old technology.  They work, but often break down.   These new ones are state of the art and work better.  Down over the overpass [North St.], Salem State, Marlborough Road.  I have no idea why Salem State hasn’t called for help on those.

I have a seeing-eye dog and it’s his job, but those students with a cane have to depend on the parallel traffic and whatever else is going on.

Dave Martel:  Salem Hospital.  The audible never works.  I see elderly people who are waiting.   They stand until you help them cross.

Andy:  John Giardi has been up on this.  Has it been going on for a few weeks.

David Moisan:  The signal [by St. Peter] is a ringing (old-style) signal.  MassHighway came to turn them down because of the neighbors [at the Jefferson];  for all intents and purposes they’re not audible signals anymore.  MassHighway promised the new audible signals Andy is talking about but they didn’t deliver.  I’ve got to pursue every possible avenue as the new train station is coming in and I want all intersections downtown and the new courthouse, to have audible signals for the disabled.  I will pursue every avenue for this.

Dave Martel:  The accessibility of First St., which my friend was involved in.  The management was supposed to be contacted?

Charlie:  I don’t know yet.

Beverly:  I would like to go on and wrap up.  If people could tell me what the most important items to pursue in the next two or three years for the CDBG.

David Martel:  Handicapped housing unit compliance.  I have heard things, even small things like counter height, which makes quite a difference for someone in a chair.  It’s a thing they often don’t realize til they get there.

Charlie:  The City of Salem should know what units and places are not handicapped accessible.  Example downtown:  The information booth has haybales in front of it—you can’t get to the booth in a wheelchair.  The city of Salem should be able to police themselves!  [The chamber of commerce is manning and responsible for the booth, in front of the fountain.]

Andy:  Curb cuts.  Not all curb cuts have the tactile pad.  That’s important.  When you go down Lafayette St. you can’t tell whether you’re at a curb cut or just a [driveway] slope.  All new curb cuts have a tactile slope.

David Martel:  The city has a paper map, but I’ve proposed a blue line connecting accessible businesses and accessible routes.  I’ve volunteered to draw this so people can see the blue handicapped line and know where to go.

Jane:  That would be an easy thing to do.

Beverly:  Teriffic!

David Martel:  This way, they know how to get to the Witch House.

Jane:  I’m going to contact some people and see if we can get this going.

David Martel:  They’re not from this area.   They’re from Winthrop.  She told me, “I don’t know how to get to the Witch House”.  We don’t need to paint a blue line on the street;  just a paper line on a map at no cost to the city.

Beverly:  Any one add anything?

David Moisan:  Traffic signals?  On the list? 

Beverly:  I can add it in.

David Moisan:  Add in what Andy and I were talking about.

Andy:  As far as the locators, it’s important that they’re there on both sides, as when they cross they’ll be listening to the ping on the other side.  They tend to veer off, especially if they don’t know the area.  Someone coming from gods know where will be looking for the other side.

David Martel:  They’re used to crossing with that type of signals.

Andy:  A lot of people who cross, their minds are focused on trying to keep a straight line.  Can we get back to you?  How much time do we have?

Beverly & Jane:  November 20th is the last meeting.

Jane: [in response to an inaudible question from Kimberly]  Housing is the main priority.  If you have a hundred items someone deems important, if you only had money for ten, what would be the most important priorities?

Kimberly:  I’d say we needed to address affordability.

Andy:  Next month I bring in ice cleats.  That’s the only way to survive walkways [in winter.]

David Martel:  A lot of sidewalks are clear and safe, but like on Charter St., the curb cuts are not plowed.  The maintainance people don’t know they’re there.

Jane:  Has this board sent a letter?

David Martel:  Yes.  Those are the only crosswalks in that area.

Jane:  I think it’s important to know this, you can put all the curb cuts you want, if it’s not maintained.  They go hand in hand.

Beverly and Jane:  Thank you for your time.  There are, in the book, a list of other meetings you can attend if there’s something you think of later on.

Andy:  I noticed you gave me the paperwork.  If you have a need for anything in Braille, I can do that.  I have a Braille printer.  Just be sure you email the information in a text file and I’ll get the information.

Jane:  We haven’t had a request for it.

Andy:  The National Braille Press can do this in a month, but I can do it quicker.

Jane:  All of this information will be available online.

[The commissioners thank Beverly and Jane for their time.]

[End of the Consolidated Five-Year Plan meeting]

Andy:  Jean gave me this talking calculator.  It comes from the National Foundation for the Blind.  He asked me to give it to someone who needed it.  It’s a really nice one.

I know this is taped so there may be someone listening who could use it?

If I have a lot of requests, I’ll put their name in a hat and pick one.  As long as they’re physically impaired, visually impaired or blind.

Jean L.;  Show this to David Tracht and see if he could use it.

Andy:  Money identifiers:  The one that I have costs $200.  Another came from Orbit Research and costs $99.  Number for Orbit Research is 1-888-60-ORBIT.  []

Andy:  The calculator’s a really good one.  If anyone needs it, the calculator, they can call me at 978-745-4289.  If I get more than one request I’d have to be fair about it.

David Tracht:  I’m interested if no one else is.  If someone else is interested…

Andy:  [to Dave Moisan]  When is this meeting first aired?

Dave Moisan:  I think this coming Thursday.

Andy [to Jane]:  Thanks for coming

Andy [to Dave Moisan]:  How about next week?  Is that fair?

Dave Moisan:  It will air more than once next week.

Andy:  I want to find out what brand that is.  Mine is nice, but that one is nicer.

Dave Moisan:  Want to talk about the side walk meeting past Thursday?

Andy:  Can we table it?  I have to go,  Elliot wants to stay.  David Tracht, want to hold on to the calculator?

David Tracht:  Charlie has it.

Andy:  I’ll call up the National Federation for the Blind and find out who made it for them.  If there are no takers it goes to Mr. Tracht.

Charlie:  I have a copy of the Bridge St. plans right here if someone wants to look at them.  They cover everything.  Jack has them if anyone’s interested.

David Martel:  They cover, what exactly?

Charlie:  Bridge St. from the bypass road to the old bridge.

David Moisan:  One last item:  SATV is replacing its furniture.  This table will be gone by next meeting.  We have recipients lined up for a lot of items;  Doug Bollen is getting this table.

We are looking for nonprofits who need filing cabinets and such.  My understanding is that every item of furniture not nailed down is being replaced.  We also have a copy machine a few years ago that we haven’t been able to get rid of.  I had hoped to get it for our office but we’re delayed.  I don’t know when or even if we will have a staffed office, so I want to throw the offer to any nonprofit in the sound of my voice.  We really, really are trying to get our executive director to do some winter cleaning.  We have too much stuff, we need to clean.

Charlie:  Who to call?

David Moisan:  Call Sal, 978-740-9432.  Any of us will get you in touch with him.   We want to move on this very quickly.  I was just told of this today;  let’s do some cleaning.

David Moisan:  OK, I think that’s it!

Charlie:  It is, Happy Halloween!

[Adjourned, 5:25 PM]

Friday, October 23, 2009

Salem Jail Video (replay)

This is an old video of mine, but I like to promote it every now and then.  It’s a shortened version of a 60-minute video I produced on the Salem Jail, shortly before it was sold to developers.

There are other videos from people who’ve broken into the Jail, but I feel mine is the only one with any respect for the building and what it really was.  They didn’t hang witches here.  And it wasn’t a place for “psychic experiments”, either.

I’d love to have the whole video online someday.  For now it airs on SATV occasionally.

Salem Jail Renovation Continues

Welder in gutted building looking out at the camera from an empty window opening

The Salem Jail renovation is moving along.  The whole interior of the main building is now completely gutted, in what appears to be the busiest week for the project since it started.

More photos on my Salem Jail Renovation Flickr stream.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Frustrations with HP Parking Enforcement


Last post I mentioned one of the hot buttons of the Salem Commission on Disabilities, sidewalk access.  Recently, Ken Bonacci, a colleague and former member of the Commission, brought up another frustrating situation for us over the years:  Handicapped parking violations at Salem Depot, and elsewhere around the city.

Ken has been very forward in dealing with the situation, more than most people would contemplate.  The MBTA police have directed him to stop:

Lenehan [Lt. Robert Lenehan, MBTA Police] said the T asked Ken Bonacci, a former Disabilities Commission officer, to stop approaching cars that are illegally parked in handicapped spaces and asking drivers to move, in part, out of concern for Bonacci's safety.

The MBTA recently received a two-page letter, apparently written by a commuter, complaining about the enforcement actions. As a result, Lenehan sent an officer to the Salem train station to speak with Bonacci.

The transit police want to make sure the well-intentioned enforcement actions of Bonacci and other volunteers working with the local commission don't result in a confrontation with an angry motorist, the T official said.

The article goes on to explain what the Commission has done:

Disability Commission members were trained several years ago by the Salem police in volunteer enforcement of handicapped parking violations, Harris said. They used to take photos of cars, write down license plate numbers and turn the information over to police, who would then issue parking tickets.

They were also given identification badges, which Bonacci said he places against the driver's window to identify himself before speaking to a motorist or asking a driver to move.

"He was doing exactly what ... the commission was trained to do," Harris said. "He just knocks on a window and politely explains that they're in a handicapped spot and they don't have a placard or plate and need to leave."

As part of the training, Salem police emphasized the need to avoid any kind of confrontations, Harris said.

The Commission has had a long history of frustration with HP parking enforcement and we have experimented with some different approaches, including the one mentioned in the article.

At one point a few years the Salem PD gave us "informational" ticket booklets which were to be forwarded to the Parking Department. Originally, the informational citations were to be a kind of green stamp; if a driver collected several, there would be points on the insurance and a real citation.

When we asked about the disposition of the tickets, we were told they would be thrown away. We gave up on that one.

The Salem PD tried volunteering us to go around with digital cameras, when the technology was newer, to monitor HP parking spaces, but there weren't enough volunteers, nor was there the money to have the PD do it.

Our latest idea, so far, isto get funds to pay a detail to monitor parking, again at key spaces like the train station and downtown. This would relieve us from the situation that Ken was in.

I would not have done what he did in that situation. I use the train station regularly; I don't drive but I can easily walk to the handicapped spaces and see who's in them. I wouldn't have confronted anyone. But Ken is a very forward person. He did this on his own initiative. That's why we respect him.

Ken was a very respected member of the Commission, and we consider him a dear friend. Ken has been my ideal as a commissioner for the 2 years I have held the position. 

With the turmoil surrounding the MBTA, we're not certain how the MBTA police will be able to enforce the spaces until the new station is built. I understand that on weekends the T police is so thinly staffed there is only one officer to serve an area from Boston to New Hampshire.

Nevertheless, we do hope to leave this to the police. We really do. But Ken did not act out of thin air, but out of the many years of frustration that drivers with disabilities have experienced.

Many of whom, by the way, will complain to us.  That’s OK, it’s our job to hear them, but as with our sidewalk issues, we are dependent on the police and the rest of the government to help us out.

No doubt, in the near future, we’ll be meeting with Chief Tucker to get some ideas on dealing with parking scofflaws without being cops ourselves.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Salem Commission on Disabilities hosts City’s five year plan public meeting

New courthouse under construction, from Salem Depot, also to be under construction

At tomorrow’s meeting of the Salem Commission on Disabilities, Jane Guy will be presenting the city’s 5 Year Consolidated Plan.

The meeting starts at 4 PM at Salem Access Television, 285 Derby St.

For anyone interested, we have a copy of the 100% design plan for the Bridge St. Reconstruction Project (from Howard St. to the Salem-Beverly Bridge) and will have it for inspection at 3 PM at the meeting.

Sidewalk Access Flares Up

Tavern on The Square Outdoor Seating Construction (6)

For a number of years now, the Commission on Disabilities has been frustrated with the obstacles often present on downtown sidewalks. Many restaurants have established outdoor seating; Tavern in the Square is constructing its outdoor seating in the photo above.

Many other businesses have sandwich signs. Many sidewalks, particularly the Essex St. pedestrian mall between Liberty & Washington Sts., are cobblestoned.

These are frustrating obstacles for people with mobility and visual impairments. Last Thursday night at the Council chambers, our frustration finally boiled over.

Jack Harris, Charlie Reardon, Andy LaPointe and myself were there. Only Jack was quoted in the Salem News article, but he said everything that was on the back of all our minds.

As best as I can paraphrase, this is what I said:

To me, it isn't about Tavern in the Square in particular. They have the right to want and try for outdoor seating. I understand and accept the reasoning behind roping off the dining area [to fullfill state liquor laws.]

It's the fact that the SRA did not let us know this was coming down the pike. We at the Commission on Disabilities only found out about it in September, and I posted the blueprint and sidewalk closings diagram on my blog just a few weeks ago.

If only we saw this in July!

We on the Commission would have said our piece and come to an understanding before earth was ever turned on the site.

We knew the Courthouse and Salem Depot projects were coming down the pike, as were the North St. and Bridge St projects. We could engage with their project managers and at least know what was coming.

The SRA? Absolutely nothing from them before the fact.

If this meeting were only about Tavern in the Square, I think we were invited here in bad faith for a matter that we can't advise on until after the fact.

Why did they start building now? Why didn't they line up the permitting over the fall and winter? They could have done that, started construction after the spring thaw and have been done very quickly without any animosity.

By itself, Tavern in the Square’s outdoor seating doesn’t bother me, but when you have it and the multitudes of other restaurants and shopowners that put out chairs and tables and sandwich signs all around Washington, Front and Essex Sts, the totality of this is that even able bodied people won't be able to move around on a moderately busy Saturday, never mind October.

[End of remarks to the Council.]

The News article got a good number of comments; I’m going to address “youasked”. He or she was somewhat critical:

DMoisan....Are you kidding? Picking on one of TWO sidewalks being blocked in one small sectin of Salem when there are entire areas without sidewalks or usable access at all? You of all people should know better.
Just want to get your Commissions mission statement out there? Great, more power to you.
But come on, be a little more proactive instead of reactive grand standing.

How about a sidewalk along Loring Ave around dead mans curve? South campus area, make the state pay for it.

Route 107 Highland Ave....
15-20 years ago when Washington Street Rotary was there it was SO safe and accessible...
Do I need to go on?

The sad part of this is that all of those items he or she listed have been on our agenda recently. I was hoping for some new items in that post that we could work on. We do have to work with other city departments and elected officials (in the case of Loring Ave. where’s Joe O’Keefe again?!) not to mention the state.

And I am all too aware of the problems on Bridge and Washington and have been for fifteen years. At least we have one small victory: the pedestrian signals at WalMart were done over last month, in case that’s what the commenter was referring to.

It’s like saying if we can’t fix all the sidewalks around town, we can’t fix any of them!

And what is this business of being “proactive”? If we don’t find out about things like Tavern in the Square until after everything else is permitted, then we are reactive and what’s the point? We get complaints from constituents about access problems and we are expected to help get these to the right people to be resolved. So we’re reactive. What was the point again?

Unless and until the Planning Department and the SRA gives the Commission, and the public, access (via the city’s web site) to the same exhibits they use to make decisions on outdoor seating or anything else, we’re just going to do this over and over again.

And we’ll be “reactive”. Sorry.