Saturday, January 24, 2009

Salem Commission on Disabilities, January 2009 Unofficial Minutes

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The Commission on Disabilities meeting was called to order at 4 PM.  Present:  Jean Levesque, Jean Harrison, Jack Harris, David Martel,  Mike Taylor, David Tracht, Charles Reardon and David Moisan.

As Jack noted, it is Inauguration Day.  Hopefully some of the members took it in.  

Snow Removal:  Charlie notes after the snow that the streets are in better shape this year.  Jack:  The Council on Aging is looking for volunteers to shovel for the elderly and disabled.

Jack also notes Boston is pushing harder with enforcement of snow removal and has equipped their officers with PDAs and cameras. 

At Hawthorne Boulevard, the corner outside the Phillips House across from the Hotel has not been shoveled.  The Hotel, of course, is meticulously shoveled.  [Having once lived in the neighborhood, I can confirm this—DCM]  Jack notes that this has been going on for several years, several years too long.  Jean Levesque asked us to change the subject for now. 

Bypass Road Bikepath and the MAAB:  There has been a hearing in Boston on this;  the details will be mailed in a packet to the commissioners.  [I will blog this as soon as I get the information.  There were some interesting developments.—DCM]

Emergency Planning:   There will be a meeting on emergency preparedness (specifically, earthquake preparedness) at the Peabody Essex Museum on February 12th.  Jack will try to go.  There was a big push on emergency preparedness for the disabled last year, on the part of the city, but nothing has been done yet.  Jack has sent a letter to the Mayor’s office to try to fill this hole.

Sailing Program:  Maureen MacKinnon-Tucker, Paralympic gold-medalist sailor is working with the sailing program at Winter Island.  Maureen is a member of the Marblehead Commission on Disabilities herself and Jack wants to invite her to a future meeting, perhaps in March or April.  No objections were raised.  Maureen is a very strong advocate of accessibility.  Additionally, the Commission is sending our condolences (and a card, via Lisa Cammaratta) on the loss of Maureen’s sailing partner, Nick Scandone, who passed away from ALS recently.

Proposed shoveling law and MBTA Bus stop law:  David Moisan mentioned the state’s proposed shoveling law (House Bill 4883), which would allow municipalities to set fines for failure to shovel sidewalks; more importantly, it would not hold home owners liable for injuries if they removed the snow in good faith.   [Update:  The bill has been vetoed by the governor.--DCM] 

The governor signed a bill raising fines on illegal parking in MBTA bus stops.  The fine is now $100.  David Moisan noted the law is appreciated but will be difficult to enforce.

GPS Bracelets:  Andy LaPointe and Charlie Reardon have been trying to interest the city into purchasing a GPS bracelet system.  This system would be used for people with disabilities who may wander off;  such as elderly with dementia or developmentally disabled children.

The bracelets would be $300 each and they would work with a  system that would cost $10,000.  Charlie makes the point that this cost would be made back if it prevented an unnecessary search.  Jack learned of this a few years ago from a Mass. Office on Disabilities meeting;  Peabody has this in place and Danvers is starting the program.

Dave Martel wondered if there was insurance to cover the cost.  Jean Levesque reminded the Commission of the many elderly and disabled in Salem who could benefit.   Charlie made a joke that perhaps Andy’s service dog Elliot could benefit from the system.  Jean Harrison compared this to the chips to recover lost pets, but it’s a different, active, locator system.  Charlie reiterates the numerous hospitals and health-care facilities in and around Salem that would benefit.  Jean Harrison will contact Andy and do some research.  Charlie will talk up the idea some more.

Jack notes today’s Inauguration Day festivities, and Obama’s outreach to America, and hopes the Commission, and Salem, will look out for our neighbors.

Leggs Hill Road YMCA and bus stop:  David Martel did a site survey on Leggs Hill Road, site of the new YMCA, to investigate placing a new bus stop at the corner of Leggs Hill Road and Loring Ave.  (about the middle of the curve between Harrison Rd. and Linden Ave.)  Jean L.’s concern is that there is no sidewalk on the southbound side of Loring Ave.  past Harrison Ave. (the college’s side) and that he has seen many people walking in the street in that area. 

Dave reports the roadway at Leggs Hill has not been widened, as was scheduled to be done, but there are jersey barriers between the road and the water.  The bridge from Loring Ave. will not be widened.   Jean L. and Jack compared the barriers at Leggs Hill to past history at Marlborough Road when MassHighway fixed the road.  [This was a turning point for our relationship with MassHighway regarding wheelchair access on sidewalks.]

Jack reminds us that MassHighway will be working on Bridge St. this year and to keep an eye on it.  [I’m already on it—DCM]

David Moisan mentioned his concern over the proposed Leggs Hill busstop not having a crosswalk to the southbound side of Loring Ave. and compared it to WalMart at Highland Ave. where shoppers have to jaywalk against traffic to go to or from the store.

[According to Windows Live Maps, there is a crosswalk near Leggs Hill Rd. but I’m not sure if it’s still there.]

Jack reports that there will be new pedestrian signals at WalMart.  The possible upgrade to a Super WalMart/Lowes would not affect this (the permitting process is still going on as this is being written.)

Disabled American Veterans Post:  Dave Martel has been appointed as a trustee to the Disabled Americans Veterans Post in Salem.  Dave explains that many returning veterans will need help getting back into society and he plans to work on that.  Dave will work with the city’s Veterans Agent (Jean-Guy Martineau), but the DAV is ready to help.  Dave is working on having Senator Kerry appear in Salem on Memorial Day.  [Congratulations to Dave—Many veterans with disabling injuries will need help, even when the cameras are off and everybody’s forgotten about them.]

Constituent Services: A Salem resident called Jean Levesque to ask for a chairlift;  her cousin is newly disabled and cannot get to his bedroom.  The Commission has no money to fulfill this, but we are referring them to the Independent Living Center.  The Knights of Columbus may have donated wheelchairs available.

Jack reports the chairlift at City Hall is broken.  City Hall will repair or replace it depending on what the maintainer finds.  This could encourage City Hall to put in an elevator, a project long planned and partially funded—full funding is said to be on the city’s stimulus list (Obama’s “shovel-ready” projects.)

David Moisan is working on the minutes for this month.  We are looking for a permanent person to take our minutes.     

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Most Dangerous Bus Stop in Salem

The winter of 2008-2009 is well underway.  Winter brings me another problem I encounter every week.  Monday morning is for grocery shopping, and I usually do that at one of the stores on Highland Ave.  This is the view I have every winter day I shop there.  Here is the most dangerous bus stop in Salem.

This is Highland Ave. northbound at Market Basket.  It’s not shoveled.  The snowbanks completely cover the sidewalk and extend several feet into the street.  These snowbanks are either too soft to climb, or too hard, almost mountainous.  If you were to climb these snowbanks, as I have done, you would be several feet off the ground.  If you can jump onto the bus without falling, you’re good!

The alternate is to stand in the street, or as I most often do, stand in the street and shuffle backwards into the snowbank as far as possible to give vehicles, and the bus, plenty of room.

The sidewalk is owned by the same entity that owns the Market Basket lot (which may be Market Basket themselves) and I have never seen it dug out in all the years I have shopped in this area.

The southbound side of this intersection does have a bus shelter:

Jerry Ryan, the Ward 4 councilor, is trying to get a bus shelter on the Market Basket side (where I stood to take this picture). 

So far, no one in the area has been hit, but in North Carolina, a woman in a motorized chair was killed on the side of the road on the way back from food shopping.  The bus stop she normally used had been eliminated and she wasn’t eligible for van service.

There is a bill on Governor Patrick’s desk that would allow municipalities, including Salem, to increase fines for failure to remove snow and to not hold property-owners liable for slips and falls if they cleaned the walk in good faith.  No word on this.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

People with disabilities are prominent at the inauguration

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People with disabilities are getting attention at the upcoming inauguration.  A New Hampshire couple is on Obama’s whistle-stop tour.  They’ve had their trials:

Kevin Meehan, 42, recently lost his job as a nurse. Kirsten Meehan, 41, home-schools their children, Harper, 7, and Seamus, 6, and is disabled. With rods and fused vertebrae in her back due to scoliosis, Kirsten Meehan can walk but tires easily. The inaugural committee has offered to get her a ticket with a seat. "That would be great," Kirsten Meehan said in a telephone interview. "But I'd probably stand barefoot on a bed of nails through the whole thing. That's how much I want to be there."

On the Cape, some developmentally disabled people are going to the ceremonies.

The inaugural committee is trying to make the ceremonies as accessible as possible, but disability groups are concerned.  I suspect organizers are doing the best they can with a very crowded and very sensitive event.

Many people with disabilities will watch.  Described video for the visually impaired will be available from the inauguration committee site.

Unfortunately, when I read about the Meehans, my first thought was of Graeme Frost, the 12-year old who was on the Democrat’s radio speech.  For sticking his head out on behalf of children’s health insurance, he and his family were virtually threatened by vicious demagogues commentators like Michelle Malkin.

It only took a moment for the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, Boston Globe Battalion to open up on Kirsten Meehan.   Here’s a hint for them:  a 41-year old woman who can’t walk for more than 10 feet isn’t going to get or keep a “McDonald’s job”.

The Frost experience has convinced me never to stick my head out for any political party.  I wonder how the Meehans will do after the ceremonies.  In a conservative state like New Hampshire, I’m surprised any liberal there would stick their heads out.

The mood in Massachusetts itself (let alone NH) is so ugly that I’ll never get involved in a political campaign.  Not one that would encourage abuse of a 12-year old, or a disabled housewife.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

State Wants Fines for Parking in MBTA Stops

451 at Walgreens, Salem (2) resized

According to Neighborhood Access Group and Starts and Stops, there is a bill on the Governor’s desk that would fine motorists who park at T bus stops.  The fine is $100, about in line with fines assessed for parking in HP spots.

Quoting the Globe article:

[Grabauskas] hopes a higher fine - coupled with enforcement by Transit Police and local forces - will help drivers remember. "We wanted to make sure people knew it was a serious matter, that was impacting the safety of all passengers," he said.

The inability to get to the curb is a top complaint of both passengers and bus drivers, Grabauskas said. The T has been training drivers to do a better job in that effort as part of the $310 million class-action settlement with disabled passengers in 2006, he said.

Still, members of the T Riders Union have continued to complain publicly about obstacles for disabled riders, including rude behavior from drivers and long distances to the curb. A spokesman for the riders' union could not be reached Friday.

Unlike parking at HP spots, parking at T stops tends to be short-term by drivers “just stopping for a minute”.  By the time the cops come to direct traffic, the cars are gone.  So I’m not the most optimistic.

In some ways, the courtesy of T drivers, or lack of, worries me more than the parking issues;  it is also something the T can do something about from management level downwards.  Good luck with that.

UPDATE:  Governor Patrick has signed the bill.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Church Almost There!

Yesterday afternoon, the First Baptist Church was finally moved into place.  It was nearly in its final resting spot Saturday morning when this picture was taken.

This large fragile brick box made the move thus far without any problems.  It was braced with beams and cables as you can see above and below:

And this is where the new courthouse will go:

The old Superior Court building seems to sense a change.

Salem News: Move That Church!