Thursday, August 27, 2009

Salem’s Last Road is 1 Year Old!

I’ve been too busy to recognize a recent anniversary:  The Bypass Road is one year old!  I’ve written about the road, and photographed it too. 

John Keenan considers it a success:

"I think overall the bypass road has been a great success in terms of diluting the traffic on Bridge Street," said state Rep. John Keenan. "There are still issues with noise and motorcycles — I can hear them from my backyard as well. But overall, I think it's been a big success."

But Rob Liani, owner of the Coffee Time Bake Shop is less sure:

Business has remained about the same, but Liani is particularly bothered by what he considers poor signage on the Salem-Beverly bridge that fails to direct drivers to Bridge Street. One of the big green signs simply tells motorists that a left turn will take them to "Swampscott 1A" without mentioning Bridge Street, Salem Willows or Pickering Wharf.

The state has been obstinate on this point.

There haven’t been as many accidents as I’ve feared.  A reckless motorcyclist crashed running away from the cops.  I worried about kids at the Jefferson complex being hit;  no pedestrian accidents have happened that I know of.

At the end of last year, when the road had been open for several months, I noted that it split the Bridge St. neighborhood in three parts.  That hasn’t changed.  The triangular greenspace at St. Peter St. now is the focal point of three distinct neighborhoods.  (Little wonder that I don’t want to see it be a parking lot.)

The one thing we haven’t gotten yet is new talking signals for people with disabilities at St. Peter St. (or, indeed, on all of Bridge St.)

The bell-sounding audible signal at St. Peter, adjusted for being too loud at the Jefferson, is now all but inaudible.  The bell signal at Washington & Bridge is also inaudible;  I can’t remember the last time I really heard it, and I use that intersection several times a week.

The Commission on Disabilities has been waiting for the MAAB and MassHighway to finish feuding over accessibility on the bikeway/walkway before asking the city engineer to purchase and install a new pedestrian signal. 

I wish we hadn’t waited on that.  Originally, our thought was that we wanted this dispute handled by the state,  To protect the city from liability, we advised the city not to take ownership of the road until it was settled.

The city, apparently, has already taken over responsibility for the roadway, and the matter between MAAB and MassHighway is still unresolved.  (Still very much unknown is how the state’s proposed massive reorganization of transportation departments will affect this and the Bridge St. project.)

And we still don’t have our talking pedestrian signals downtown, at a place where we really need them, with the new courthouse going up and Salem Depot with its heavy pedestrian traffic.

The road is still not named:

Mayor Kim Driscoll proposed officially naming it the "North River Greenway" last year, but city councilors opted instead to hold a citywide naming contest.


The naming contest seems to be on hold for now. The council doesn't have the matter scheduled for any of its upcoming meetings.

The council should just hand it over to the Mayor to name.  They can’t do it.  They can’t decide anything.  Perhaps it can be the “Sosnowski Byway” or the “Nathaniel Hawthorne Highway for Historic Property Owners”.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2009 City Elections Quiet: Too Quiet

Kevin Harvey bumper

The Salem News recently reported on this year’s election season.  It’s quiet.  Mayor Driscoll is unopposed.  (Ken Sawicki is running for her seat, plus Ward 6, plus At-large.  Think he’s serious?  Pull the other one.)

I was a Kevin Harvey guy last election.  I respected him as my ward councilor when I was living on the Common, and was very sorry when he moved out of the ward and vacated his seat (bringing 8 years of snobbery and nonexistent leadership under Regina Flynn.)

I’m very disappointed he didn’t get on the horse once again. 

I preferred him over Driscoll 4 years ago because I didn’t like her emphasis on property values during her campaign.  Even then, many people were predicting the recession we’re now experiencing, and I thought the “good times” were unsustainable.  Mayor Driscoll’s gentrification efforts scare me. 

My concerns aren’t all about the mayor:  I have found Mrs. Driscoll to be an energetic presence at every public event she and I have attended.  I respect that.  I have spoken with her off and on with the utmost cordiality, and I expect that to continue.  Mayor Driscoll and I agree on a number of issues, including the senior center (which should have been at St. Josephs) and Salem Depot (which any mayor with a brain would have to support.)

The real WTF, as they say on the Net, is that my own ward councilor, Mike Sosnowski, amongst others, is unopposed.  He has been councilor as long as Regina has.  Towards the end of her term, she brought out a long-simmering backlash, describing Salem Common as “her Common”.

But what has Ward 2 gotten from Mr. Sosnowski in 8 years.  He’s gotten to be a subsidiary and a creature of the neighborhood associations.  He’s complained about a statue.  And a city-sanctioned mural.

I cannot think of anything he’s done for my ward that wasn’t orchestrated by Washington Sq. or Federal St.  My little special-needs friends, Emily and Katie Harris,, daughters of my chairman Jack Harris, need their playground.  Where is it?  Why isn’t Jack involved in the project?

If he had an opponent, he would have to stand for his achievements and disappointments both.  But, he doesn’t.   I have no idea what he’s done until it hits the papers.

Unfortunately, many incumbents like Mike see their seat as a boon, given to them by the “right” neighbors.

(By the way, don’t tell me about term limits.  Politicians may have term limits.  Bureaucrats, lobbyists and lawyers do not, even in Libertarianville.  Take a guess at who has the true power with a politician who needs a whole term to be effective and then is gone.)

I wish I could run for Ward 2 myself—every citizen should be appointed or elected once in their life in their town—but I have another year to go with the Commission on Disabilities, and every reason to think I can continue;  we’re not very politicized, and I love my job there.

As well, I wish I had the personal resources, but I don’t.  I remember my college history professor, John Fox, and how he wanted to run for selectman in Danvers.  His campaign would have required, if I remember him correctly, just about as much as he made teaching at Salem State.

Those out there who criticize the Mayor for her management style, who call her “Queen Driscoll” behind her back, I would ask:  Where were you with alternatives?  None of you could go to Kevin and say, “come on, up on the horse!  It’s a lot better than working for the state!”  Or, put your names in?  There are people with resources I’ll never have who could run for Mayor, or at least Councilor.

I know Mike is no fan of Mayor Driscoll.  What will it be, Mike?  Will you snipe at her for another four years?  Fighting for…what?  So the seniors of my generation can fight over the senior center—again?    Does Michael Coleman (Common) or Meg Touhey (Federal St.) have to feed you talking points?

And to those on Salemweb:  Couldn’t the spirit of Nathaniel Hawthorne explain to you that the administration has much better things to do than to plant people (“Tad”, “Ann”, “Eddie”) on a message board?  (Trust Nathaniel!  He’ll come out like the Great Pumpkin come Halloween, bringing historic cheer and property values to all!  And you thought he only wrote “The Scarlet Letter” to make a living.)

P.S.  Robert Moran has a good essay on his ambivalence towards Mayor Driscoll.

Morency Manor: Apartment work starts for me

My daylight's gone! Waaaaaaaaaahhhh!

Downtown Salem Parking Insanity

Morency Manor Parking 2009-08-23 001

The Salem News is reporting on something I have known ever since I’ve lived downtown:  Parking Bleeps.

The owner of Marketplace Quilts on Front St. has complained:

Clark blamed the city for allowing a restaurant that big to open without planning for parking. In a letter, she said her nighttime business has declined "because parking is nowhere to be found."

While sympathetic, city officials disagree. Halloween aside, they contend there is plenty of parking within a short walking distance of stores and restaurants.

The two city garages have not filled up once this whole tourist season, according to Parking Director Jim Hacker.

"We are busy, but we have not had an overflow crowd," he said last week.

In my building, we have our own frustrations about parking.  In a meeting with several of my neighbors to discuss building renovations, there were several wacky ideas proposed for parking.

One idea was to build a deck, or two, above the existing parking lot.  The other was to pave over the small triangular park that was formed when Bridge St. was realigned to the new bypass road.

Unfortunately, the deck idea isn’t the most practical:  There’s too little space on the site to accommodate the ramps to each level, which take up space below as well as above.

And paving the small park…not so much.  The Jail developers would have a fit.  That park is our compensation for tolerating the new road.  It’s a necessary—and welcome—buffer, particularly for  Howard St. residents. 

The article goes on:

Last fall, the Urban Land Institute, a research and educational group, came to Salem to consider the long-discussed prospect of building a parking garage on the Church Street lot behind District Court to handle future growth.

It rejected the idea.

"Residential development of the site would better promote the vibrant, sustainable growth of downtown Salem," the Institute concluded.

It also pointed to the paradox of downtown Salem: "Though the city appears to have adequate parking supply, parking in downtown is a real issue."

At the time, I had understood that the group did not want to have a 2nd parking structure so close to the existing Museum Place garage. 

I’m not so sure about residential development.

People living downtown, particularly newer residents, have expectations that are very difficult to fulfill here.

A few months ago, our executive director, Carol MacGown, came to a tenant’s meeting.  For the better part of two hours, the only subject on the agenda was parking.

My neighbors were screaming at her!

Ms. MacGown has very little control over the overall situation downtown;  she inherited a building that was not designed to have all its residents parking at once. 

Over at Derby Lofts, people there are asking the city to pay for their parking at South Harbor Garage.

Meanwhile, whenever people like myself advocate  public transit, the response is always “I’m not subsidizing your transit!  Get a car! Let the Free Market work!”

But the city is subsidizing parking, to an extent that’s virtually unrealized by most Salemmites.  Public transit may not come for free but neither do roads and parking spaces! 

If we promise every downtown resident two parking spaces, we are screwed.  Salem can’t do it.  We can’t.

We need every bit of our roads and parking spaces for the many that pass through via 1A and 114, and for those who deliver, shop and visit here.

I shouldn’t hold out hope for this belief, but if new downtown residents are to have a good life in Salem, they have to live without a car.  Or at most one car.  Or a bike, or a moped or a scooter (why I don’t see more of those around is beyond me.) 

They can’t have the suburban life here.  They’re better off screaming at the MBTA, than at Mayor Driscoll or our own MacGown. 

Seniors have changed from my mom’s generation, the one that was more used to trolleys, streetcars, or even horses.  The baby boomers grew up around cars and they’re determined to head for their sunset with their cars.

They just can’t do it in downtown Salem.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Morency Manor work continues

The work continues on my building.  I’ve been told to expect work on my apartment to begin in a week or two.  I’m guessing the week of the 30th or the week after, at the latest. 

After taking this picture, I now know why it was so loud in my unit this week.  How loud?

This loud!  Measured from my living room.  I hope the masons were wearing hearing protection.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

MBTA Hearing in Salem Cancelled

455W at North St

Next Monday’s “public workshop” in Salem has been cancelled by the governor, following the dismissal of MBTA GM, Dan Grabauskas.   Quote from John Keenan’s email yesterday:

Today Secretary of Transportation James Aloisi suspended the remaining hearings on the proposed MBTA fare increase, including the August 17th hearing scheduled in Salem. 
The Patrick Administration has indicated that there are no plans to move forward on the proposed fare increase until a review of the MBTA's finances is completed.  The review is due by November 1st.

The first “workshop” was already held in Boston, and it was contentious, as I expected.  Some interesting excerpts:

Representative Carl Sciortino, a Somerville Democrat who said he takes the T every day, said the inner politics over Grabauskas’s removal has diverted from the more far-reaching impacts of the proposed fare increase.

“We think the finger-pointing is actually a distraction from the real issue facing the MBTA and its financial health,’’ he said. “We’re looking to move beyond the finger-pointing and get back to the MBTA riders.’’

Hats off to Mr. Sciortino.  He’s one of the few pols who takes the T regularly.  Our own rep, John Keenan, takes the commuter rail, but not sure if he does it every day.

At the start of the meeting, interim MBTA General Manager William Mitchell sat at the front of the auditorium, though after a barrage of critical comments from lawmakers, he moved to the wings of the building. [my emphasis]

Granted, Mr. Mitchell doesn’t go to public meetings every day, but it’s his job in the interim to handle difficult things, including questions.

I agree the fighting over MBTA management and the fare hike is a serious distraction to the future of the agency and public transit in Boston, but Mitchell, and Grabauskas have demonstrated why they were both unsuitable managers.

Dan had an easier time at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  He was a driver, as is the vast majority of citizens in Massachusetts.  All of them (including myself at one point) have been in an RMV office at some point, at multiple points, in their lives.

Dan didn’t take the T.  He lived in Ipswich, but far away from the rail stop.  From what I’ve heard, many of his managers didn’t.

If a T manager had to, for example, go through Kenmore station for years at a time while it endured years of construction.  If he or she had to answer questions from people on the platform as to why it was in the state it was in for years, why it was never finished, and had to do that every day, there would be action and speed.

Closer to home, Dan had never, so far as I know, stood waiting for a train at Salem Depot.

The editorial board of the Salem News is not happy with Dan’s dismissal.  He’s a Republican, he’s in Ipswich, and he’s a Nice Guy (the all-purpose compliment to cronies.)

Not good enough.  I expected better.

No word yet on the service cuts.  This isn’t over.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Scenes from the Salem Senior Recognition Days opening ceremonies

Pols have a chat.  John Keenan, Kim Driscoll, John Tierney and Dan Brinsky, representing Senator Berry.

Mayor Driscoll and Vice Chair Sosnowski wait for their turn to speak.

Pat Sosnowski greets Congressman Tierney.  Also looking on, Pat Reed and Teasie Riley-Goggin.

Pat spends time with a new friend from Northeast Animal Shelter.