Wednesday in Downtown

After our weekend deep freeze and yesterday’s tropical rain, the bright sunshine and 40-something temperatures today convinced me to take a lunchtime walk downtown. My first stop was 200 Central Street which had put on an unauthorized pre-Winterfest light show last night when water infiltrated an underground electrical fixture and caused a series of electrical explosions that needed National Grid and a multi-hour power outage for downtown to fix. Today at noon there were no signs of damage above ground.

Merrimack Canal at Lucy Larcom Park

The next stop was Lucy Larcom Park, the prime venue for this weekend’s Winterfest. Other than a dozen green-colored 55-gallon trash cans and two piles of steel crowd-control fencing that were piled in a corner, there was not much evidence of festival preparations. The light fixtures are clearly evident, mounted at ground level on the canal-side of every other support post for the fence that runs the length of either side of the canal. The surface of the water was frozen which, if it persists until Friday night’s kickoff, will enhance the lightshow.

Walking down Merrimack Street, I grabbed a slice of pizza at what used to be Eileen’s Pizzeria & Grill but is now Fabiano’s Pizzeria & Café. All pizza tastes good to me, so their thin-crust cheese slice fell into that category. Fabiano’s has a fairly elaborate menu, aspiring more to the café than the pizzeria side of its name. It is also open at 8 a.m. for breakfast.

Reaching to corner of John Street, I was disappointed that the long-awaited Hyper-Text Bookstore Café has not yet opened. There is hope, though. Bookshelves filled with books were visible from the sidewalk as were eight or ten café tables on the John Street side. Two people were working inside, too. I’m guessing there’s a push to open in time for this weekend’s Winterfest.

Union National Bank Building on Merrimack St

Further along, the long-vacant Union National Bank building now has a sign that announces “Asian Restaurant Coming Soon.” As someone who made many trips into that building when it was a bank, I recall that it has the upscale ambiance suitable for a fine restaurant, so hopefully its future occupant hits that level and achieves some success.

Throughout my circuit of downtown, people I encountered all asked me if I knew why traffic was so bad this morning. By noontime, it seemed more like a busy day in a vibrant downtown than a major traffic jam, but the cars really seemed to back up a few times because of Prescott Street. I’m not sure if that was because of the construction on Bridge Street across the river or from some other cause, but people certainly were annoyed (“It took me 30 minutes to get from Andover Street to Central Street!” was one complaint I heard).

Reading recently that the LRTA’s cell phone app that allows riders to track the whereabouts of buses got me thinking about a similar kind of app that might have some use in the city. I’m thinking something like a traffic congestion app that allows someone who is about to make a trip to or through downtown to log-in and see the state of traffic congestion. Maybe this would cause some people to avoid the trip, but maybe others would find alternate means of transportation (i.e., park on the outskirts of downtown and then walk the rest of the way) and thereby reduce car congestion in that way.

One final comment: many of the downtown intersections that I’ve previously labeled as hazardous to pedestrians – Middlesex and Central and Market/Central/Prescott are two – seemed safer and more rational when crossing today. The attention that the city’s traffic people have paid to pedestrian crossing lights seems to have paid off. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but maybe now they can focus on Dutton Street and the Lord Overpass.

4 Responses to Wednesday in Downtown

  1. Kevin Fahy says:

    I was attending a Board of Directors meeting at the Open Pantry last night. We were forced to evacuate the building.

  2. Jack A says:

    There is an amazing app that does exactly what you said. It’s called waze. It is a real time crowd sourced platform that shares your current drive with all of its users and vise versa. Since using it I almost never sit in traffic and consistently shave minutes off my drive. As a side note, if the city is investing in cameras through out the city they should put a portion of those funds into analytics. Essentially what that entails is setting aside some computers or tapping into the processing power of cloud computing to analyze each video feed available. With some 50 feeds being captured it is too much for an officer to monitor that much data. Some of the current capabilities being performed by this technology include management of traffic lights, facial recognition, license plate identification, object counting (cars and people), speed tracking and idle time of both people and or objects. All that data can actually notify authorities preemptively to troubles that may turn up. Examples are traffic congestion or even capturing gatherings of opposing groups idling in areas (street fights). If the city does get all these cameras they should make them publicly available and not closed circuit.

  3. Brian says:

    The Waze gps app tells you how long it should take to get to a destination by car.

    In my mind downtown congestion is chronicaly bad, so we should be looking at which neighborhood entry points to upgrade for pedestrians and bikers so NOT driving becomes the better option.

    After that works—repeat.

    People on foot or bike tend to spend money. People driving through DTL don’t. Why does it seem every decision is foremost made with drivers in mind?