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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day in the life of the T

Good video on many of the modes of the T. I've taken them all except for the Mattapan trolley and the commuter boat, though I have taken the Salem Ferry a few times.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Comments on the Salem Depot Project

Model of proposed Salem Depot garage

These are comments I’ve sent to Thomas Rovero of the MBTA, and the mayor’s office on the proposed Salem Depot garage. There will be another public meeting sometime in December.

From: David Moisan, Salem Commission on Disabilities

To Thomas Rovero, MBTA, Mayor Kim Driscoll, chief-of-staff Jason Silva:

Dear Mr. Rovero, Mrs. Driscoll, Mr. Silva:

I’ve attended the public design meeting on the new Salem Depot garage and have read the report posted on the MBTA web site. I believe it is a good starting point and a very welcome development.

There are, though, some concerns I have with the design. The word that comes most to mind is isolation. There are elements of the design that serve to cut off train and bus riders from downtown.

First, I’ll grant that a good part of the isolation comes from the original design of the traffic rotary on Bridge St., and the original use of the Salem Depot area as a maintenance area, interlocking tower and track junction by the old Boston and Maine railroad. It had been occupied for this purpose by the B&M for many, many years.

At one point in the past, the pedestrian passage to Salem Depot (when it moved to Bridge St.) was fenced off from traffic. But it was still a very dangerous place to walk, and very unfriendly in any event. Not what we want to represent Salem to train travelers.

Any design would have to work hard to overcome these problems.

But some things that were proposed at the meeting just accentuate this isolation.

The existing train platform, and the proposed half-full height platform is one example. Wheelchair or cane users, and on the weekends, all users, must go to the very end of the platform.

From the end of that platform looking north, you can see the Carlton School on Bridge St., a full mile away.

It actually seems closer to the platform than downtown!

I remember when the depot moved to Bridge St., trains stopped much closer to the tunnel portal. A few years later due to ADA requirements, the mini-high was built and trains moved further up north.

I support the ADA. The ADA is not the problem. But I didn’t like and still don’t like going what seems like miles from the Bridge St. entrance to get a train.

I’ve read the report on the train platform. I understand the great difficulties involved in making a high-level curved platform accessible. But I must agree with my chairman on the Commission on Disabilities, Jack Harris, and push as hard as I can for a full height platform that can be reached a short distance from the garage.

My second point is the bus berths. I ride buses from Salem Depot frequently. For I and many other people downtown, Salem Depot is the closest place to get a departing bus, since most of the bus routes skirt downtown when they leave the station and there are no closer stops.

The preferred design alternative has the bus berths on the north side of the station, with the garage between the buses and the Bridge St. entrance.

As with the train platforms, this is almost as far as Carlton School! Perhaps when I need to take the 456 I should just walk up Bridge St. to the school.

I much prefer having the bus berths along one side of the garage, or even two, as it is in one alternative presented in the report.

And they must be sheltered or at least have canopies like the current bus shelters. Some bus routes run at 80 minute or even 90 minute headways so riders will want to use the train’s waiting room; in dead of winter with kids in tow they’ll need to.

On the waiting area, I want to see it on the platform side of the station, in sight of both the train tracks and the bus berths. People will have an eye out for their train or their bus.

There must be digital signage, and automated announcements. I’m aware the T is phasing in a new generation system; Salem must have it. We must be able to sit in the waiting area and hear , and see “The next train to…Newburyport…is now approaching”, similar to rapid transit announcements. Within the lifespan of the garage, there’ll be a similar technology for bus passengers so they’ll know how long until the next 455 comes. The design of the station must allow for these improvements.

My last comment is for the City of Salem.

As all of us know, the Courthouse project, and many other projects, are changing downtown.

The city is starting at a disadvantage; as noted in my opening paragraphs, the area of Bridge and Washington Sts. has never been made for pedestrians. Visitors, jurors and court personnel alike will use that intersection constantly.

The City must do what MassHighway has done for the recent Highland Ave. crossing reconstruction and put modern audible talking pedestrian signals at Bridge and Washington.

There’ll probably never be a footbridge or a tunnel in that area in my lifetime; neither are practical.

The city, and the MBTA will have to work very hard in the coming months to make this version of Salem Depot welcoming to commuters and visitors. They need to make Salem Depot part of Salem’s downtown once again, as it hasn’t been for over 50 years.

The design is a very good start. I’m looking forward to future meetings to make this the best it can be. I’ll probably be one of the first to go down the ramp into the new station when it opens.

Make me proud of it, and proud of my city.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sign of the (Halloween) Season

Halloween Carnival 2009 setup (1)

The carnival next door to SATV started going up this morning.

Sidewalk Meeting Set

Tavern in the Square, outdoor seating area under construction

The City Council Committee of the Whole will review the sidewalk ordinances tomorrow (Thursday, October 15th) at 7 PM, Council chambers.  Several of us of the Commission on Disabilities will be there.

Not coincidentally, Tavern in the Square has started construction of their outdoor seating area.  That would be a done deal.  But the Commission will work to make sure it doesn’t affect sidewalk access elsewhere downtown.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not Thinking Pink: Sentimentalizing Illness

Pink Salem Gazette This week’s Salem Gazette was printed on pink paper to promote breast cancer research.  In October, everything is pink, as corporations sprout pink ribbons, pledging money to breast cancer research.

Not everyone likes pink.  Quoting from “Sick of Pink”:

When Kim Zielinski was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 33, well-meaning friends inundated her with products bearing a little pink ribbon. Each product’s maker promised a cut of the sales price to a breast cancer charity, and these friends felt they were supporting the cause and, by association, Zielinski. A petite brunette who’s now 35, she was enormously grateful for the millions of dollars that these pink-ribbon products direct each year to charities that fund breast cancer research and education.

But it wasn’t long before she got a little sick of the pink. “I felt kind of hateful,” says the insurance company sales manager who lives in Charlestown. “I was like, ‘What makes you think I like pink now?’

“I think that the pink ribbon, as a symbol, tends to pretty up what is a pretty crappy disease. But a pink ribbon is easier to look at than the disease itself.”

The marketing of breast cancer disturbs me.  We’ve been marketing illness and disabilities for a long time.  The cycle usually goes something like the following.

  1. Someone has a disease, a disability or an illness.
  2. They’re at least cute, photogenic, or articulate.  They’re probably Caucasian, too.
  3. A disease-of-the-week movie gets made (remember those?), or an article in People, or the morning entertainment shows do a feature.
  4. A charity is formed to get money for research or “awareness”, the latter is often just a celebrity showing up at a fundraiser or on TV.
  5. Rinse and repeat

There have been many such cycles for many illnesses and conditions, some more “successful” than others.  The Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation is amongst the most visible for any disease.

The foundation’s website doesn’t really tell us much about Ms. Komen:

Susan G. Komen fought breast cancer with her heart, body and soul. Throughout her diagnosis, treatments, and endless days in the hospital, she spent her time thinking of ways to make life better for other women battling breast cancer instead of worrying about her own situation. That concern for others continued even as Susan neared the end of her fight. Moved by Susan’s compassion for others and committed to making a difference, Nancy G. Brinker promised her sister that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.

So, Ms. Komen got breast cancer and died.  So do many other women (and sometimes men).  Did Komen die so she could have a foundation, to be elevated to Heaven, to have a cruel disease and a hard ending?  Did she die to be sentimentalized?

Here’s a conversation in the near future that I immediately imagined:

A patient waits, alone, in her doctor’s office.  She’s terrified.  She got The Call or The Letter and is waiting for news.  News she doesn’t want to hear but can’t avoid.

The doctor enters.  “Good morning, Ms. Jones.  I’m sorry to tell you that your breast biopsy tested positive.”

“I have cancer?”

“Yes, but it’s not bad news.  I’m working with a foundation to fund your treatment and they agree you’re an excellent candidate.”

“You mean remission?”

“No.  You might not make it.  But it’ll be a good story and a great PR campaign.  We might be able to get money for your family, but you’ll need to work with us.”

Or this office visit elsewhere on the same day.  A patient, man or woman, has also gotten their same bad news.   The doctor is more blunt:

“I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.  I wish I could but the PR on your condition isn’t favorable.  Face it, Mr. Jones, most people think your colon cancer is your own fault.  Don’t be mad at me, it’s what my funding sources say.

People who have needed transplants or experimental treatments have often had to play the PR game to get money for treatment.  Bake sales, raffles, and telethons.

Increasingly, ordinary people with “ordinary” medical conditions have had to play the same game.  They have to hold raffles and bake sales for their care, too.  They will be judged.  They will have to air their complete medical histories to the world, hoping that they and their loved ones will be worthy of charity, hoping against hope that some celebrity gets their condition so they’ll get noticed.

But even this can backfire.  Over the summer, Farrah Fawcett died of cancer.  When a celebrity gets sick, many people idealize what happens.  Slate quotes a fan:

When Fawcett announced her apparent cure in 2007, one writer wished that her mother, who had died of cancer, "had half of the courage and fight that Farrah has." These war metaphors, which pervade the coverage of celebrity cancer cases, perpetuate the false notion that survival is directly related to how hard the patient tries to live.

That’s a terrible remark.  I sincerely hope that person hated her mother, because that is not something said or meant out of affection.

My own mom died of complications from colon cancer and diabetes, and fought to live for the last three years of her life.  She was finally taken down by a hip infection that left her in agony for three weeks.

She just wasn’t sentimentalized like Farrah was.  Ryan O’Neal, a longtime friend of hers, has been quoted a few times after her death.  He hasn’t said much, but reading between the lines, her death was a hard one, as are most cancer deaths.

But we were too busy watching her ascend to Heaven to notice.  I’m not sure if my mom ever made it there.  Colon cancer and diabetes are, after all, our just deserts for not being personally responsible.

At least, they could have a better PR agent.

UPDATE:  Barbara Ehrenreich thinks the same, and doesn’t like pink ribbons either.  (I like Ehrenreich and have read most of her books, and her blog.)

Salem’s Steps of Doom to Disappear?

Salem Depot's "Steps of Doom"

According to the Salem News, these steps of doom may go away in a few years:  The state is funding the reconstruction of Salem Depot.

I won’t consider this one in the bag until the construction crews show up.  There’s still the meeting tomorrow night, and if it’s anything like the courthouse meeting, we could be at this a while longer.

In the meantime, I’m going to redouble my efforts, with the Commission, to improve pedestrian access on Bridge St. and place talking audible signals at every signaled crossing downtown. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

First Thoughts on the MBTA Garage Proposal

Conceptual rendering of Salem Depot

As I mentioned in my last post, the MBTA has released design plans for the new Salem Depot.

Quoting the executive summary, these are the goals and highlights:

The intermodal center design will include 750-900 garage parking spaces, five bus
berths for MBTA buses, drop-off / pick-up parking spaces, taxi parking spaces, covered
storage, enclosed waiting, elevators, and an accessible ramp. The height and massing
of proposed structure will respect the historic context of Salem downtown. Exterior
building materials are anticipated to include masonry and brick in keeping with site
context and existing municipal buildings. All facilities will be designed to meet code
requirements and accessibility guidelines.
Four design options were developed to address the functional needs of Salem Station.

All options include the following features:
Six total parking levels (includes ground and roof levels)
Lower building height on Bridge Street side (4 stories at 44 feet tall)
Median building height on North River side (6 stories at 66 feet tall)
Clear pedestrian connection from Bridge Street to train platform via raised plaza
Additional vehicle ingress/egress from Washington/Bridge Street intersection
Higher grade level floor-to-ceiling height for buses and more natural light
Improved and direct handicapped access to train platform via covered ramp
Safer pedestrian access via dedicated sidewalks on city and river sides
Straight façade on Bridge Street side respects urban character of street
Scalloped façade on North River side breaks up building mass
Express ramps at center of building allow for safe and fast vertical circulation.

I believe the design is a good start.  We have not yet seen any drawings or conceptual views in the context of the existing parking lot, but it appears that the garage won’t impact on the North River vista, at least not any more than the other projects in the area, such as the court complex.

Many people, myself included, had the idea that the garage structure would be built right up to the ramp fronting Bridge St.  In fact, the Commission on Disabilities had debated this point a few years ago, during the first abortive attempt at a new depot design during the Usovicz administration.

Several commissioners had hoped that there would be direct access to the street from the parking garage.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) this isn’t going to be:  Salem owns and will continue to own the crescent of parking spaces just inside the entrance to the station.

Salem Depot Sections of Ownership

So, there will be a pedestrian ramp from Bridge St. to the 2nd level of the new garage, which will pass over the traffic lanes at ground level.  The ramp can be seen in the opening illustration, in several variations;  some open, some enclosed.

Salem has very few enclosed ramps, and those all connect buildings:  The Salem State College Library to Meier Hall (soon to be demolished), the ramp that connects the Davenport building at North Shore Medical Center to Shaugnessy Rehab, and the newest ramp that connects One Salem Green (now owned by Salem Five) to Salem Five’s main building.

This will be the longest ramp of its kind in Salem and the first to pass over a roadway.  Visitors to Boston’s Back Bay may recall the walkway that connects the Prudential to Copley Place over Huntington Ave.  That walkway is not a favorite of many architectural critics.  Unfortunately, the siting of the garage doesn’t leave many options.

There will be a car entrance next to the current pedestrian entrance on Bridge St.  I’m not certain how well that’s going to work out, particularly for courthouse-bound walkers.

I’m particularly concerned about access to the bus terminal portion, since I use that mode very frequently.  This is Option 1:

Salem Depot Ground level option 1

The bus platform is quite a long ways from the street.  In general I’d like not to have to walk so far to the bus.  On those days that I’ve taken the train in to Boston, I’ve stood on the platform at the very end of the station and wondered out loud if it would be quicker to walk to the Carlton School (visible from the platform!!) to get the train.

I like Option 2A just a bit better:

salem depot ground level option 2A

The bus bays appear a little closer to Bridge St.  Keep in mind, though, that only five of the bays are “live” and take passengers;  the other two are layover berths.

The differences in the other options pertain to where the taxi stand and the kiss-and-ride areas are located;  I have no opinion on those.

On the train platform itself, three options have been presented.  Currently, it is a low-level platform with a mini-high platform at the very end of the track (within sight of Carlton School!)  That is one option.  Another option would be to make the entire platform high-level (as at Newburyport and Central Square) but there is a curve in the track that makes it difficult to get ADA compliance.  The last and preferred option is to make the northern half of the platform high-level and the southern half near Bridge St. low-level as it is now.

There are more considerations that will probably be addressed at the meeting.  Another quote from the executive summary:

The design team will provide precedents for proposed parking facility to further the
development of exterior treatments, planning, operational efficiencies, and architectural
design. Please see Review Draft Memorandum dated 16 August 2009 attached in
Appendix 10.6 for further design discussion from the City of Salem. Planning items to be
further reviewed and developed include:
Security for underside of bridge entering second level of proposed parking facility
Pedestrian access from Federal Street and North Salem neighborhoods
Lobby area for waiting with amenities such as coffee and newspaper vendors
Covered bus loading area
Operational efficiencies to be resolved include:
Pedestrian circulation within garage
Decision for entry/exit to be attended or automated
Determining appropriate number of entry and exit lanes
Improve efficiency in parking layout
On site vehicular, bus, and “kiss and ride” circulation

The City (or at least the mayor) wants an enclosed, heated waiting area.  I’d suggest security for the ramp itself be considered, particularly if it is enclosed.

Construction would be completed in December 2011, two years from now, assuming it takes eight to ten months to complete the environmental permitting. 

This also very much assumes the City and state can go forward without any delays.  

We’ll see this Tuesday.

Morency Manor: Apartment work is over for me

Five weeks later, the work in my apartment is finally completed. It involved moving a window from one wall facing 10 Federal, to the other wall facing 205 Bridge St. This is done so that a 2nd elevator can be built next to my unit.

It took more time than we were told it would (almost always the way) and the contractors could have communicated with me a little better (name a job with too much communication!) but it was done without much stress.

I'm hoping to document the rest of the project but I'm not sure how much I'll be able to see; the construction site is at an inaccessible corner of the property and foliage is everywhere.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

2009 Salem Haunted Happenings Parade

Another great Haunted Happenings parade this year!

SATV will broadcast it live on Channel 3 and on the web; go to their website for a link.