Lowell Week in Review: January 25, 2015
From the National Weather Service . . .
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN TAUNTON HAS ISSUED A BLIZZARD WATCH…WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM MONDAY EVENING THROUGH LATE TUESDAY NIGHT.
* LOCATIONS…EASTERN MASSACHUSETTS AND RHODE ISLAND.
* HAZARD TYPES…HEAVY SNOW…STRONG WINDS AND BLIZZARD CONDITIONS. CONSIDERABLE BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW.
* ACCUMULATIONS…SNOW ACCUMULATION OF 18 TO 24 INCHES.
* TIMING…THE WORST OF THE STORM WILL BE MONDAY NIGHT THROUGH TUESDAY AFTERNOON.
* IMPACTS…HEAVY SNOW AND STRONG WINDS WILL RESULT IN THE POTENTIAL FOR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS WITH NEAR ZERO VISIBILITY.
TRAVEL MAY BECOME IMPOSSIBLE AND LIFE THREATENING ACROSS THE ENTIRE REGION. THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE A HISTORIC STORM. * WINDS…NORTH 20 TO 30 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 60 MPH. TEMPERATURES…IN THE LOWER 20S. VISIBILITIES…ONE QUARTER MILE OR LESS AT TIMES.
Sounds like no school and no city council meeting on Tuesday, both for good cause if this forecast holds up.
Lord Overpass Project Update
If we somehow miss the blizzard being forecast for Monday night and all day Tuesday, the City Council’s Transportation Subcommittee will meet at 5:30 pm in the City Council Chambers to discuss pending improvements to the Lord Overpass. The public is invited to attend. I plan to.
This is an issue I’ve written and spoken about repeatedly since November when Governor Patrick delivered $15 million to the city for this project. Improving the ability of pedestrians to get from one side of Dutton-Thorndike Street to the other is a key economic development measure. Otherwise, all of the current and future construction and new-business activity in the Hamilton Canal District and on Jackson Street will be walled off from thousands of residents in the Acre and Lower Highlands who are potentially the best customers of these new businesses.
The photo below was taken from the down ramp from the Lord Overpass onto Dutton Street inbound. The white camper is turning onto Fletcher Street. The American Textile History Museum is in the right background. How is someone coming from Fletcher Street supposed to get across the intersection on foot? And once you get across, where to you go? The downtown side of Dutton Street (as the second photo below shows) is a retaining wall that forces anyone on foot to stay dangerously in the travel lane of the road for most of its length.
I’m not asking that the Lord Overpass be demolished and replaced with something entirely different (even though that’s the most desirable solution). I am asking that we use a little imagination to make this area more accessible. The city and its planning department, I believe, are sympathetic to this cause but I suspect they are hemmed in by Mass Highway Department regulations that are we’ve-always-done-it-this-way relics from the Federal Highway programs of the 1960s which totally focused on letting people who worked in downtown get in their cars and race to their suburban homes as quickly as possible.
Without members of the public forcefully making demands that this project include better sidewalks, bike lanes, narrower travel lanes for cars and perhaps even parking spaces on the Acre-side of Dutton Street, we’ll just get a buffed up version of what we already have now.
The subcommittee meeting Tuesday night is the first opportunity the public has to be heard on this. Please attend the meeting Tuesday night or whenever it might be rescheduled due to the weather.
Last Tuesday’s City Council Meeting
Last Tuesday’s City Council meeting was a quick one, adjourning in less than an hour. I assume councilors were anxious to get home in time to watch the President’s State of the Union address so they were less voluble than they occasionally can be.
In last Sunday’s Week in Review post I discussed the imminent vote to authorize $6.6 million in repairs for two city parking garages and wondered if the city’s Parking Enterprise Fund was sufficiently solvent to repay the necessary bonds. On Tuesday, the council without discussion sent the vote to the Finance Subcommittee for review. Presumably the issue of repaying the bonds from the Parking Fund will be discussed there.
Two other items of note from the meeting (full report here) were Councilor Kennedy’s motion to create a joint city council/school committee subcommittee to monitor this Lowell High renovation process which could get expensive quickly. It seems that to continue pursuing the selection of the new LHS project by the state, the city will have to pay for a feasibility study which will cost in excess of $1 million, an expenditure that would not be reimbursable (the state would reimburse the city for 78% of the cost of the actual construction project).
The final motion of the evening was one by Councilor Belanger to have the city enforce the local parking ordinance as written and to also implement an overnight parking ban in downtown. The entire motion was sent to the City Manager for a report and recommendation but it seemed that a majority of the council was inclined to begin enforcing the ordinance while the idea of the parking ban needed more study.
The existing ordinance says that curbside parking must be paid for between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm on all days but Sunday (and holidays, I assume). For many years, the city has not enforced that ordinance after 4 pm on weekdays and not at all on Saturdays. In fact just a year ago, the same Councilor Belanger was chastising then City Manager Lynch for hiring a new parking enforcement officer. Belanger was of the understanding that the new officer was specifically intended to ticket cars after 4pm on weekdays and also on Saturdays, something he at the time said “will be devastating to businesses.”
I didn’t agree with Councilor Belanger back then but I do agree with him now. Businesses aren’t helped when curbside spaces are clogged up by employees and residents who park there for extended periods of time. It’s all about turnover of spaces. Enforcing the ordinance as written and the overnight ban are two things that will help downtown businesses. Hopefully the report that comes back from the City Manager’s office will concur.
Learning Lowell asks “What Lives Matter?”
Aurora, on the Learning Lowell blog, has a great post examining both sides of the police-community debate that’s taking place across the country. This is a topic in need of rational dialog and she certainly provides a starting point for that. Unfortunately, the media, both old and new, has allowed extremists on both sides of this issue to frame the debate to the detriment of all of us. Please read Aurora’s full post.
Additional rational discussion on this issue can be found in yesterday’s Washington Post in an Op-Ed by New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Here is some of what Bratton wrote:
There is a divide in America, and in New York City. It is racial, but it is also about poverty and failed social systems and unequal access to the American Dream. . . .
Rebuilding trust also means working at the local level. Local policing is policing with a friendly, human face, one that encourages people to feel as subjectively safe as two decades of successful crime control have objectively made them. . . .
Locally, a great opportunity to enhance police-community relations arises this coming Wednesday evening at one of the recurring “Coffee with a Cop” events at which police officers from the Lowell, UMass Lowell, and National Park Police casually interact with local residents. This week’s Coffee with a Cop will take place at the Starbucks that’s located on the Wilder Street side of UMass Lowell’s South Campus. This event will be a good place to continue the rational dialog.
Saturday’s Globe reported that the MBTA has fined the private company that provides service on its commuter rail lines (including the one to Lowell) $1.6 million for poor performance, primarily late or cancelled trains. I’m not a daily commuter but I do go into Boston at least twice each month and I always take the train. It’s not so much the cost although a round-trip train ticket of $18.75 plus $5 parking at the Gallagher Terminal is still cheaper than parking anywhere in Boston. I mostly enjoy gaining 50 minutes in each direction to read, write or just relax. True, if the person in the seat behind you spends most of the trip in a loud, animated cell phone conversation, the relaxation meter can tilt a bit, but that’s life.
In the past couple of years I have experienced delays during my infrequent trips but nothing too bad. However, I do subscribe to the MBTA’s electronic alert system that notifies you of delays on the subway or commuter rail lines that you specify. There is no lack of such alerts for the Lowell Line. Here’s a sampling of alerts from the past week:
Jan 21 – Lowell Line Train 355 cancelled
Jan 20 – Lowell Line Train 318 cancelled
Jan 16 – Lowell Line Train 338 cancelled
Jan 16 – Lowell Line Train 335 delayed 30 minutes
I have also noticed a correlation between the air temperature and disruptions in service – the colder it gets, the more frequent the delays and cancellations. I understand that the performance of mechanical equipment as well as people degrades in the cold, but it should not come as a shock to anyone, particularly an international company like Keolis, that it can get pretty cold in New England. The poor performance in cold weather just amplifies the poor service.
Many of us embrace and advocate public transportation but when the providers give us spotty service, it makes prevailing in that advocacy much more difficult. Hopefully the T and its contractors will get things squared away soon.
Gallagher Terminal Garage To Open Feb 1st
Perhaps the MBTA and Keolis should study the LRTA. The garage renovation project at the Gallagher Terminal, scheduled to be completed April 1st, has been finished two months ahead of schedule. The garage will reopen on February 1st which is next Sunday. The LRTA has handled the temporary loss of those spaces pretty well, at least from my experience, although trying to find a free space in the adjacent Rourke Garage late in the morning has been tricky on some days.
While parking for commuter rail and the local/regional bus service provided by the LRTA have both been excellent – I’ve even heard a rumor the LRTA may be adding Sunday bus service – more could be done to make the Gallagher Terminal more relevant to the lives of local residents. In other places I’ve been both in Europe and the United States, the local train station is the hub of local activity with restaurants, bars, stores and other services. I recognize that the Gallagher Terminal is limited in size and that it does offer an ATM and a satellite Dunkin Donuts, but providing more would be a great service to the surrounding neighborhood and for those wishing to use the South Common as the relaxing outdoor space for which it was intended.
Maybe the Comfort Furniture rehab project, once it gets started, will fulfill that need. Perhaps someone on the city council should make a motion requesting an update on that development as has been done with so many other projects that councilors conclude are lagging in their progress.