Monday, October 17, 2011

My years of futility in Salem transit, part 2

Route 459-Derby St

Following up on my last post, I’m wondering why we just can’t get things done to improve our public transit and make our streets safer for pedestrians and people with disabilities.

I’m signed up with the MBTA to get service alerts for bus routes I regularly use, which would be the 450, 451, 455, 456, 459 and 465.  I just got an alert now:

Routes 455 & 459 are experiencing 15-20 minute delays due to traffic.

10/17/2011 4:07 PM

This has been a regular occurrence.  Normally, I’m not concerned about delays here and there because buses run in traffic and are susceptible to the same delays that affect motorists trying to go down 1A and 107 on their way to and from Salem.

But there’s been a disturbing increase in traffic congestion that has happened in all months at most times of the day in the North Shore.

The MBTA schedules have been severely affected;  looking at Route 456, the frequency of service is now 80 minutes.  That means 1 hour and 20 minutes between buses.  This route once ran hourly when it was established in 2002.  (The 456 is a busy route that serves Central Square by way of Highland Ave., and the many Lynn residents who shop and use the medical offices in Salem.)

The 450 has been affected as well.  In fact, during weekdays, none of the MBTA routes out of Salem Depot run hourly.  The 465 that serves the Peabody-Danvers shopping area runs about every 1 hour and 10 minutes (70 minutes).

Even on weekends, the 455W, Salem to Wonderland, no longer runs hourly, but also slips 5 minutes here and there throughout the day.

This single bus route is the most frequent, and busiest, of all of the MBTA’s Salem routes.  Before the 455 was split into the 455 and 459 routes (the latter going to Logan Airport and South Station on weekdays), it ran every 30 minutes, as does the 455W weekend service to Wonderland.

I have taken that route many times and I can tell you it is crowded.  If you come home from Boston and elect to get off the Blue Line at Revere Beach (one stop short of Wonderland), you will not get a seat on the bus.  (The bus shelter at Revere Beach is much nicer than the one at Wonderland so I board there any time I can.)

Remember also that the MBTA runs many, many other routes to and through Lynn, and to Swampscott and Marblehead.

Here is an exercise for those who doubt this:  Drive down either Route 1A (the Lynnway) or Route 107 (Western Ave.) and pull into a lot somewhere before Revere.  There are a number of Dunks around so pull in with a medium regular and your choice of donut.  Normal business hours are fine, day or evening.

Find an MBTA bus that is marked for service on its LED sign (other than “NOT IN SERVICE” or “NO STOPS”).  Count how many people are onboard;  you don’t need to be exact.

Count the buses and count the people.

You’ll probably find a lot more buses and a lot more riders than you think.  These people are heading to and from work, to and from doctor appointments, daycare, shopping and even church.

Critics of transit spending like to say that you can’t make demand by spending on big capital projects like, say, the Blue Line extension to Lynn.

But the people are already here!  They’ve been here for a long time.  They come whenever the latest condos get built on Highland Ave.

And those who don’t take the bus, drive.  Yes, I know I am in the minority of people who do not drive and yes I am lazy, didn’t overcome my disabilities, and so forth.  I know all that.

But I know, too, that in any urban area, when the density of people gets above a certain point, it’s time to consider investing in public transit, simply because the road networks will strangle the very communities that depend on them.

That time’s now.  It’s been “now” for years.

No public official will say this, because the scariest thing they could imagine is to have Barbara Anderson and the Tea Party at their door screaming “NO NEW TAXES!”  I’ve heard that before, I’ve heard it for years and years and years.

And, certainly, Salem is wealthy enough in the short term that the Tea Party platforms could “work”.

For a short while, anyway.

Will the shiny, happy, good, new (and rich) residents of Salem tolerate not being able to leave their driveway, not only in October, but year-round?  The traffic jams of Halloween in Salem are legendary, but the dirty truth is that they happen just as readily on a cold twilight afternoon in January.

I fear something even worse:  The Massachusetts Senate has approved a casino gaming bill.   In the bill, which still has to go to a conference committee to be finalized, there would be three destination casinos in the state.  One of them would be near Suffolk Downs.

The owners of Suffolk Downs have long looked to slot machines to provide the revenue they need to keep the horse track running;  horse racing as a sport has been on a long slow decline for decades and the track was once known as “Sufferin’ Downs” for good reason.

The owners recently bought Wonderland, the defunct dog track near the Blue Line that was closed after Mass. voters approved a referenda to ban greyhound racing.  Wonderland is where most people think a slot parlor may go on the North Shore.

It’s the northern end of the Blue Line.  And it is the worst migraine headache for me and all of us on the North Shore.  And it will happen.   There’s too much money being tossed around in executive suites and the State House to think otherwise.

Both my mayor and my rep, Driscoll and Keenan, are supporting casinos.  They’re doing so, I suspect, because of the hope of increased state revenue for cities and towns, the selling point most used by our state lottery, and they are hoping for infrastructure (roads & transit) improvements.

I’m not going to guess on the revenue, but I will guess that the casino operators won’t invest as much in the infrastructure as we would like.  They don’t need to.

They don’t need a Blue Line extension;  most of their customers will drive, and the few who don’t can be served by leasing a few dozen shuttle buses.  We’ll see them everywhere once the casino opens.  (They will also become the default recreational option for senior centers, but that is another matter.)

They won’t need to invest in anything else;  the casinos of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are, like most, self-contained so the visitor doesn’t need to go anywhere else.  Nowhere else but there to spend money!

Mayor Driscoll is deluding herself if she thinks this won’t ripple into Salem’s tourist revenue.

What casinos will surely do is clog up the roads and make it impossible for anyone in buses or cars to get around.

Unless, of course, you are going to the casino yourself.  That will be easy.

Otherwise, not so much.  The decay of the T will continue and no one will care.  What have I been doing for 4 years, again?  Will it matter?

My years of futility in Salem transit, part 1

Highland Ave at Pep Boys

In my last post, I updated the status of Salem Depot and its endless revisions and delays.  A little further south of downtown, there’s another situation that I am reminded of again and again.

I’ve long wrote about the Market Basket bus stop and the problems navigating to it in the winter.  Around this time of year, most of us are shopping for new winter boots and hoping against hope that the upcoming winter will be mild, or at least with little snow.

This picture outside Pep Boys showed that this was not to be, early in 2011.  In 2010, the Commission hoped that the MBTA would route buses through Market Basket to eliminate the problem.

That was also not to be;  the MBTA declined the idea.  The Market Basket plaza was never designed for buses, the routes would be delayed going through there, but most importantly, the abutter to Market Basket—the adjacent shopping complex with Shaws and TJ Maxx, objected.

There will be no new bus stop in the winter of 2011-2012 and, I fear, there may never be.

Since I’ve started this blog, I have heard regularly from a gentleman, a former city councilor, who’s been upset over the bus stop and its snowbanks.

Like clockwork, I’ll hear from him when Mayor Driscoll announces funding for some new project (“She can spend $XXXXX for something but not on the bus stop!”)


He’s made me even more cynical than I am already.  I have seen and known enough about government to know that the fact of Mayor Driscoll seeking to start some project or another is totally orthogonal and unrelated to that bus stop.  I didn’t even vote for her but I have expressed my thoughts on transit to her and other elected officials regularly.

Most people who’ve been outraged over this issue have cars and don’t need to wait in the snow for the bus!

I use that bus stop regularly. If I get run over standing next to a snowbank one gray chilly day, isn’t that poetic justice?  Given what the Tea Parties say about government and those who work for it, I wouldn’t expect an ounce of sympathy from anyone if that happened!  I don’t know the politics of my correspondent, but I do know a lot of people his age who parrot  the “hard work and personal responsibility” trope of the Tea Parties so often that it is just screaming noise.  (Obviously, I didn’t work hard enough to overcome my vision problems so I could drive!)

And my correspondent is an ex-city councilor!  I feel that if you are a current city official or even a former city official, you have an obligation to answer when someone asks, “What did you do to make Salem better when you served?”

I’d like to ask my correspondent what he did when he had the reins.

I know that in 4 years and 1-1/3rd terms into my service on the Commission on Disabilities, I have to ask myself that question every time I get up in the morning and every time I sit in our conference room at SATV every third Tuesday.

I’m beginning to wonder if I can really answer that.  Thoughts in my next post. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Salem Depot Update

Message board at Salem Depot HP parking area

Two updates on Salem Depot:  Several of us from the Salem Commission on Disabilities met here at Salem Depot with representatives from the Salem and MBTA Police to discuss handicapped parking problems at the station.  The Salem News wrote about this in some detail.

There wasn’t much that the police could do at the moment, since there is no continual monitoring of the area, by video or otherwise, but the T placed a message board, seen in in the image, for the interim.  October and Halloween represent the biggest month that this station sees in car and foot traffic, so this sign is not or should not be an unexpected expense for the T.

I never read the Salem News comment section, but there was one comment to that article I want to address:  The commenter believes that, instead of enforcing HP parking, that people with disabilities should use the T’s paratransit service, The Ride.

Um, they could.  But as I’ve written before, that service is very expensive to provide.   Using The Ride for direct service from, say, North Salem to Boston is just nuts if one can make the commuter rail.  And using The Ride as a shuttle to the station itself is practically a non-starter with Salem’s downtown traffic as bad as it is.

It turns out to be much cheaper, in the long run, for the MBTA to make their regular service accessible to people with disabilities.  The current management at the T seems to realize this, only after decades of neglect—and lawsuits.

My second update is more disturbing.  There was a robbery at the station one night last month.  A student was robbed of his laptop and iPod to the tune of $1,400, while waiting for a ride around 9 PM.

On reading this in the News, I can imagine the good people of Federal Street locking their doors in unison.  It’s not safe at 9 PM, after all.

I have been at the Depot late at night getting off a train.  It’s not at all unusual to call for a ride or a taxi.  9 PM is not a “wrong” time to be on the T.

My Mom told me stories of the old Salem Depot, not the famous headhouse that was demolished 50 years ago, but the two that sat under the south end of Riley Plaza.

A platform that was virtually invisible from the street. 

There were crimes and assaults on that platform up until it was closed in 1987 when the current station opened.

It is not acceptable to have someone minding their business at the station, waiting for their ride home, and being robbed. 

It’s intolerable that we should be taking these events  for granted, but many do.  I know, we’re in a recession, government is ineffective, and can’t we just wait for better days?  We’ll build a better Salem Depot to the shrine of Sammy McIntyre someday soon!

I’m coming to think that nobody in Salem wants a new train station, not the politicians, not the Salem News 101st Keyboard Brigade, not the neighborhood groups, or the “government-is-bad” people, nobody.

More on my next post.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Salem’s ADA Day, 2011

Monday marked the 21st anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Seen here are David Tracht, Salem Commission on Disabilities co-chair, Mayor Kim Driscoll, David Martel, Salem Commission on Disabilities and Mary Margaret Moor, Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Salem Schools Looking For a Home—and Accessibility

Salem Community Charter School

As reported by the Salem News, the new charter school, Salem Community Charter School is looking for space.  Museum Place is one possibility they’re looking at;  the former Saint Joseph’s Rectory is another.

As well, the Saltonstall School is being renovated and Salem is scrambling to find space for their students, and for a special-needs program at the Collins.

The rectory will need a year’s worth of work before it is useable as a school.  The Boston diocese did not offer their other properties such as St. John’s School and one official has speculated it is due to ADA issues.

A regular member of the commentariat at the Salem News weighed in on both stories with a refrain I am too familiar with as a member of the disability community in Salem.  To paraphrase:  “Why do we have to serve a small minority of students.  Forget that touchy-feely stuff of [disabled kids].  It’s an emergency—use the parochial schools!”

(It’s an emergency;  does that mean emergency no-bid contracting?  The member of the commentariat is a Tea Partier and I presume for less government and taxation and against the charming “emergency” measures that have often concealed thefts of the public purse.  I’m getting off the point here.)

Here’s a scenario the hardest-bitten conservative can relate to:

John Jones is a decorated veteran.  A wounded veteran who came home from Afghanistan or perhaps Iraq.  There’s no way he’s gonna get up and down stairs unless he rolls.  Downhill, possibly not under his own control.

He has kids.  He has a daughter, a true daddy’s girl that goes to the Saltonstall, or perhaps the new charter school or the Academy charter school.

His girl isn’t one of these special-needs snowflakes;  she’s a normal active girl.  Except that she’s an athlete and a ball player and there was that unseen posthole in the outfield one day when she was running out a grounder.

She’ll be hopping around for some time.

Now, Dad is deciding on schools, perhaps his family’s moved to Salem or his girl is making a change.  Remember choice?  That’s what the charter schools were supposed to be about.  Choice, choice, choice!

You will tell Dad the vet, wounded for our sins (“freedom isn’t free”, mind?), that he and his daughter cannot participate as parent and child in their own school system?

Good luck with that.

While many people use patriotism to worship respect our soldiers, few of them realize something I’ve thought of.

If you count all the veterans still living from all wars, and those that are wounded and disabled, I suspect they don’t make up a large number.

In Salem, I have heard estimates that 20% of Salemmites have a disability.  Not all of them are of school age, of course.

I am certain that the 20% is not all made up of veterans.

Yet if I suggested that  veterans should not get help because their numbers are so few, I’m certain I would be assaulted in an alleyway.  (Freedom isn’t free…)

I have no animosity towards veterans—I’m too young to have ever spat upon a Vietnam veteran, and have never said a word of disrespect to them (perhaps, I have done this to the politicians who task them, but…)   Salem’s veteran groups are natural allies of the Commission on Disabilities and always will be.

I have to wonder why the diocese of Boston is not aggressive with its surplus properties.  Despite what Rand Paul would have you believe, in Massachusetts, any given building does not have to be made ADA accessible to current codes merely as if the authorities waved a pixie wand and made it so.

The requirement to make a building ADA compliant per current code very much depends on the use of the building, the age of the building and the intended use of the building.  There were several revisions to Massachusetts building codes for handicapped access and by the current law, a building constructed say, in 1978, only has to meet accessibility requirements for 1978.  I have several large (and large-print) binders with all the laws to date.

If a building is used for general business purposes, it may or may not need to be brought up to ADA access.  Often in Salem, buildings have been repurposed and have never been made accessible because there were very few if any renovations performed.

A benchmark the Commission often discusses is the “one-third rule” or “30% rule” or “hitting 30%”.  That refers  to the current value of the building.  If any proposed renovations exceed 30% of this value, the building must be brought fully up to ADA and Massachusetts code.

Even then, developers and architects have considerable wiggle room.  The law does not say absolute accommodations, merely reasonable accommodations.  The Mass. Architectural Access Board (MAAB) will grant variances if the regulations are burdensome or do not benefit.

A few years ago, the state renovated a home in North Salem to use as a group home.  By the letter of the law it would have needed an expensive elevator.  The developer convinced the MAAB that the only space that the public would access was the ground floor.  The ground floor of the building was brought up to code with HP parking and no steps, but there didn’t need to be an elevator.  

I’ve been in St. John’s School before, and is not so much a charming old fashioned parochial school as it is a dump, no disrespect to Catholics meant.  There are stairs everywhere.  It could be impossible to get variances for this or any of the other school buildings involved.

Don’t forget, too, that the staff and teachers have to use the space as well.  People get old and infirm, or have a negative encounter with an icy front step.  If you think there’s controversy over accommodating students, just wait until it’s a teacher with a grievance!

I have to wonder if the diocese fears that the values of their properties have fallen so much that any renovations at all to them would require them to be fully up to code.  After all, it isn’t only handicapped access at stake but also electrical, plumbing, fire safety and communications cabling that need to be upgraded as well.

Whatever the case, this is something you can’t blame on the special-needs snowflakes, “those people” or the ADA activists.  Salem schools are indeed in a pickle.  But they would be anyway even if you deported all the disabled to Lynn.

Four Years Blogging

Pauline and Monique, age 2, 1981

As is my tradition, I pay tribute to my late Mom and mark the anniversary of my blog.  As is also my tradition, I am tardy with it.  By at least two weeks!

Before I explain the picture, I want to give my belated welcome to Keep It Klassy, Salem, a relatively new blog that has been around for several years.  I don’t agree with the blogger on many things but I am delighted that someone is following Salem politics after the demise of the old Salem Politics blog.  His blog is in my blogroll now, as is the new Salem Patch, which has flashes of excellence and could be the future of news media on the North Shore, at least if AOL lets it.

Now, the picture.  As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I came from a foster home, and Jeannette Moisan was my foster mom and for all purposes my defacto Mom.  On the left is Pauline, Jeannette’s biological daughter.  If we were related by blood we would be brother and sister.  But she wasn’t my foster sister;  we had many girl foster children but none of them was ever, or ever could be, a “sister”.  So Pauline was also my defacto sister.

The cute little toddler with her is Monique.  Mom looked after many kids like her, but she was one of the sweetest.  She would turn on the charm and be manipulative as only a toddler could.  We had a dozen Monique stories, such as when she learned to say my sister’s name—and then kept her up all night saying “PAU-LYLINE!”  Or the time Pauline was in a fruit stand in Peabody and Monique yelled “DA-DA” (her name for me.)  Pauline tells her, “Da-da’s not here!”  Unknown to her I had, for whatever reason, walked down from Varney St. to find Pauline and walk into that same fruit stand…

What a sweet kid she was.  It was hard to see her go back to her Mom.  I hope she’s doing well today.

One last picture with Jeannette:

Monique and Jeannette eating Fudge 1981

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back after an absence

Essex Street Mall 2011-05-26 007, originally uploaded by dmoisan.

Via Flickr:
Nature finally turned a switch to "Summer" today, as these folks are realizing.

And I've turned a switch, too.

I haven’t posted in almost six months.  I’m dispirited.

Last winter, my building had the bedbug hysteria that has affected many households in recent years.  Dealing with bedbugs has combined the worst aspects of moving and losing your house to fire or flood.  The Salem News covered the story in my building and it brought out the worst aspect of pest infestations—the moral opprobrium that comes when your betters can look down on you for being “dirty” and “unclean”, even though bedbugs, roaches and mice are blissfully unaware of class distinctions.  

In a building with a shared laundry space, like I have, I’ll never know how I got bedbugs and I just don’t care who or what “gave” them to me.  I just know that pest infestations don’t make me or my neighbors “immoral” or “unclean” or “lazy”, but that was on the minds of many of the Salem News commentariat.

There’s more, too.  Last spring I had quite a screaming match with my ward councilor Mike Sosnowski over a parking proposal at the Jail.

What I learned from that affair is that it doesn’t matter what neighborhood I live in, or what stake I have in anything, if someone more important than me thinks different.  At that meeting, a person from the Northfields neighborhood association asserted that me and my neighbors did not want commercial use at the Jail no matter what.

It doesn’t matter that that Northfields guy probably doesn’t even have a view of the Jail from his house.  And he never cared before about the apartment complex I live in.

As far as I can see, Mike Sosnowski has more or less aided and abetted groups like Northfields.  If you live in cheap rental housing, you will not get representation in Salem.

You will not get it.

Better that you show Mike your mortgage statement—or proof of McIntyre architecture—before coming to him with a problem.

I was at a meeting this past Saturday of the Alliance of Salem Neighborhood Associations.  It was held at the function room of Beverly Cooperative Bank, which is where the Downtown group meets.

I had my own problems with that group, and didn’t want to attend this meeting, except that I made a verbal commitment on recorded video and had to go. 

(I know the camera is on during our Commission meetings.  If I make a gaffe or a curse, then I do.  I don’t try to walk back what I said.  I said it and it’s on tape and that is that.)

Several people in the Alliance complained about being “outsiders”.  I wanted to say to them:  “Where’s Lucy [Corchado, head of  the Point association]?  Where are they?  The Point is a neighborhood, isn’t it?”

Those people have their own advisory board at the highest level of city government.  They have Jason Silva’s [Mayor Driscoll’s chief-of-staff] private number on speed-dial.  I have no doubt that someone like Michael Coleman can have Mike Sosnowski swing into action at 3 AM on a Sunday if he so commands it.  If Teasie Goggin wanted to repeat Mike Bencal’s Al Haig moment (“I’m in control here”, after the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981) when he tried to take charge of City Hall when the mayor was away a few years ago, she has more than enough social capital to do so!

They have that advisory commission in addition to the Alliance!  Tell me they are outsiders again?

As it happened, the meeting was a waste of time for me and and my colleagues on the Commission on Disabilities, since it was supposed to pertain to the MBTA parking garage, but was instead an unfocused rambling about pedestrian access and getting traffic usage stats, only to find out the state had already done that but nobody from the Alliance even read the report.  The Commission probably could have used that, but the person presenting that report didn’t bother to tell us where we could find the data from the state website.

(I’d filmed video of the meeting.  It would have been nice of them to tell us when the MBTA part of the meeting would get under way so I wouldn’t have to guess how long the batteries in my camera would last.  Not long enough as it turned out.)

If I can’t be involved in the workings of my own city, the one that I have spent 47 years in, I think, why am I bothering to blog?

I’ve asked myself that question over and over during the past six months.

The only thing keeping me going is the Commission—whose purpose I believe in with all my heart and soul—and Salem Access Television, where I have been applying my IT talents for 11 years.

I’m very proud, in fact, that SATV now has much of its local programming available over the Net.  Public meetings—including the Commission’s—are now available through our Government page.

I worked very hard with Sal Russo and the staff over the past year to make this possible and I am inordinately prideful.  I’ve been delighted to flip the figurative “bird” to a few former board members who thought this was a “fad” or “something for Dave and Sal to spend money on”.  (In fact, video-on-demand has been a roaring success at SATV.)

There are many other thoughts, ideas and initiatives at SATV and the Commission to make fodder for many more years of blog posts, which is why I’m continuing to blog.

But I will never, ever, let myself believe that I have a stake and a say with what happens in Salem.

I don’t.  And I won’t.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Political Violence Should Be Scary

Sign:  If Brown can't do the job, a Browning can...

[Creative Commons photo by cjbrenchly]

Nelson Benton, editor of the Salem News, is scared of the Second Amendment advocates of violence:

One of the more disturbing aspects of all the back-and-forth about the tragedy in Tucson is that there exists an element | and it may be growing | that views the right to bear arms as an essential adjunct to their right to overthrow the government by violent means.

Nelson, you’re right to be scared.  The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords of Arizona, and the deaths of a federal judge, and a nine-year old girl, is intended to scare us all.  It was an act of terrorism no less in its emotional impact than Oklahoma City or 9/11.

You’d be wrong to assume that this has happened out of nowhere.  And you’d be wrong to assume your own paper didn’t have at least a small role in the violent rhetoric.

This goes back at least 30 years. 

When I was in college in the early 1980’s, Massachusetts government was in bad shape.  We had, and still have, a legacy of corruption, patronage and just plain incompetence.  Our state buildings were constructed, and fell down, on the take, while numerous connected contractors had their hands out.

It was, and is, shameful.  The anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson made her bones during that era. 

So too did talk radio.  I, and numerous other Salemmites and Bostonians, listened to the triumvirate:  Jerry Williams, Gene Burns and David Brudnoy.  They were all libertarians.

And they all preached that government was bad, private sector was good and the best government was the least government.  That philosophy influenced me almost to this day.

We’ve heard the narrative against public employees, politicians and government for so long we take it for granted, and take it as truth.  We’ve taken these beliefs as faith for 30 years.

Second Amendment advocates have been promoting the right to bear arms for just as long;  indeed, libertarians have often been natural allies in their fight.

Now, Nelson, you’re surprised and alarmed by the violence? 

In recent years, your newspaper has been an unpleasant one to read.  Barbara Anderson has written op-eds for the News for years, and they are not of the mild-mannered housewife I often heard with Jerry Williams, but of a harder, almost insane tenor.  She started going off the rails with her 9/11 column, but her most recent column on the Tucson shooting is just nuts.

Another of your op-ed writers, Taylor Armerding, was once a fiscal conservative, though a hard one.  Nowadays I’m afraid that he has a carry permit and will make headlines like Jared Loughner did.

And that says nothing of the cesspool that is the comments section of the Salem News web site. 

I fear, Nelson, that your paper has done its part to further today’s political violence and that your paper’s owners are OK with this just as Roger Ailes and Fox News are fine with Glenn Beck.

Nelson, don’t look to Tucson for the Second Amendment Brigade.  Look to Arlington, and perhaps, even Salem.