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.