Lowell Week in Review: October 16, 2016

Concord River looking east from Lawrence St.

Lowell Walks wraps up 2016 season

Yesterday’s beautiful weather drew 105 people to the final Lowell Walk of 2016. Jane Calvin of Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust led us along the Lawrence Street portion of the Concord River Greenway and then onto Centennial Island, the home of the West End Gym, a hydroelectric plant, and layer upon layer of Lowell history.

Lowell Walk on Centennial Island yesterday

Here’s a list of this year’s tours, showing the date, topic, tour guide, and attendance:

  • April 7 – First Thursday/Hamilton Canal with Richard Howe – 16
  • April 23 – Urban Renewal/Little Canada with Bob Forrant – 40
  • April 23 – Cambodia Town with Vesna Nuon & R. Howe – 24
  • May 20 – Lowell Cemetery with Richard Howe – 80
  • May 21 – Lowell Cemetery with Richard Howe – 70
  • May 21 – Tyler Park with Jay Mason & R. Howe – 40
  • Jun 1 – Jambraree District with R. Howe – 10
  • Jun 2 – 1st Thurs/Lowell Monuments with R. Howe – 42
  • Jun 11 – Preservation Success Stories with Fred Faust – 110
  • Jun 18 – Hamilton Canal District with Craig Thomas – 105
  • Jun 18 – Lowell Cemetery with R. Howe – 152
  • Jun 25 – Irish in the Acre with Dave McKean – 115
  • July 7 – Literary Lowell with Sean Thibodeau – 105
  • July 16 – Upper Merrimack St with Yun-Ju Choi – 88
  • July 23 – Fires in Downtown with Jason Strunk – 98
  • July 23 – Kittredge Park with R. Howe – 20
  • Aug 6 – Public Art with Paul Marion & Rosemary Noon – 70
  • Aug 13 – Greeks in the Acre with Steve Panagiotakos – 109
  • Aug 20 – East Merrimack St with R. Howe – 90
  • Aug 27 – History of Lowell Natl Hist Park w/Celeste Bernardo – 135
  • Sept 1 – 1st Thursday/Canal Walk with R. Howe – 70
  • Sept 17 – Entrepreneurs with Franky Descoteaux/Lianna Kushi – 55
  • Sept 24 – Back Central ST with R. Howe – 24
  • Sept 30 – Lowell Cemetery with R. Howe – 48
  • Oct 1 – Lowell Cemetery with R. Howe – 25
  • Oct 15 – Concord River Greenway w/Jane Calvin – 105

That’s 26 events with a total attendance of 1846. Thanks to all the tour guides who volunteered their time and expertise, and thanks to everyone who came on the tours. You can’t have a great tour without a great audience.

We’re already planning Lowell Walks 2017. If you haven’t already done so, please use the box in the upper right corner of this website to join our email list for updates on Lowell Walks and other history-related events in Lowell.

Thorndike St from South Common to Gallagher Terminal

“We have to think of people who are walking” – Rita Mercier

The “walks” in Lowell Walks is both a noun and a verb, because the tours also promote walking. Walking is great exercise. More walking means less driving which could help reduce the traffic problems so many complain about. And the best way to appreciate the good things about Lowell is on foot.

Unfortunately, Lowell is not a city friendly to walkers. True, there have been some sidewalks added and some crossing lights adjusted, but for a half century or more our roads and intersections have been designed with the car as the dominant consideration. The best way to change that mindset is for people to demand equal rights for walkers (and bicyclists) when it comes to future street design. The coming redesign of the Lord Overpass is a big part of this transformational quest: will it be truly be reborn as an intersection friendly to all, or will it just be a prettied-up version of the highway interchange it was designed to be?

This past Tuesday night, the pro-walking lobby gained a powerful voice, temporarily at least, in Councilor Rita Mercier. The week before, Rita walked from her office at the Sheriff’s Department on Summer Street (next to the Eliot Church) to the Gallagher Terminal for a public event. She followed the sidewalk along the South Common to the pedestrian light from the Common to the entrance of the terminal. When the light turned white, signaling it was safe to cross, she set out across Thorndike Street. She barely made it across before the light changed and the traffic rolled. In calling for the length of time the crossing light stays lit to be extended, Rita, who said she moved briskly and almost didn’t make it across safely, was concerned that people with limited mobility would be unable to make it all the way across before the traffic resumed.

Councilor Mercier went on to say, “It probably doesn’t affect us because we usually drive, but we have to think of people who are walking, especially the elderly and disabled.”

The best way to gain an appreciation of what it’s like to walk around this city is to get out of your car and walk. When Councilor Mercier did that, her perspective changed. Others should do the same.

Western Avenue Island

Paul Marion had a great post yesterday in which he revisits Lowell’s missed opportunity in not finding a way to create a reasonable walking route from Western Avenue Studios to Dutton Street and downtown Lowell. Paul writes about a visit to WAS this week with some UMass Lowell students who were fascinated by the place.

View from end of Western Ave, across train tracks, to rear of Dutton St Dunkin Donuts. Mill No. 5 is to the right.

It’s wonderful that the students had such a positive response, because UMass Lowell’s South Campus is only a couple of blocks west of Western Avenue Studios and they might return with their friends. Downtown Lowell lies to the east of WAS and is much closer, only you can’t get there from here, at least not legally. This is something I’ve written about before: coming from downtown, just cross the train tracks behind the Dutton Street Dunkin Donuts and you’re at Western Ave Studios. But it is neither legal nor safe, to cross those tracks now.

Months ago at the urging of Councilor Bill Samaras, the city investigated what it would take to connect Western Ave to Dutton Street as was once the case. Unfortunately, the city’s response bore a strong resemblance to the efforts of Red Sox hitters when they faced Cleveland Indians pitching last week, which is to say, there wasn’t much success. That’s why I refer to Western Avenue as an island isolated from downtown Lowell. In his post, Paul described the consequences of that, so I’ll repeat his words here:

Transportation planners, traffic engineers, and public officials will have to come together to find a way to bridge the gap between downtown and WAS. The city is missing opportunities every day, whether in the sense of quality of life experience through people’s exposure to this arts hub or simple economic development. Is it overland by the train tracks, on the water via canal like the national park boats, in the air with a distinctive pedestrian bridge? People with more experience in these matters than me are needed. All I am saying is, “Give WAS a (better) chance.”

Charter School Funding

The council received a report Tuesday night from the City Auditor on the financial cost of charter schools to the city. I wrote about the report last Sunday. It explained that nearly $17 million in state aid to Lowell goes directly to several charter schools which educate more than 1600 students from Lowell.

Councilors were strong in their criticism of the charter school funding formula and were quite direct in their opposition to the Question 2 referendum that will be on the ballot this November. Here’s a sampling of what was said at the council meeting:

Councilor Samaras says whatever benefit charter schools have, if this imbalance continues, it will have a negative impact on our ability to hire teachers and other personnel. Councilor Milinazzo says “to be blunt, the proponents of Question 2 are lying to the people of Massachusetts” about the financial impact of charter schools. Councilor Leary agrees with Councilor Milinazzo, says it is inaccurate to say it will not harm the public schools, it will harm the city budget, as well. Because it comes off the top of state aid to the city, it adversely affects the city more than the school department. Councilor Mercier says she believes in choice, but we have to look out for the best interests of the city. We already have three charter schools in the city. I think that’s enough. She says if Question 2 passes and more charter schools come to Lowell, the financial impact will be more severe. She says people already have a choice and she thinks it’s adequate. Says we should keep the cap on charter schools.

After my post last Sunday, there was some pushback from charter school supporters who said that the monetary loss to the city was offset by not having to educate the charter school students. While that’s a logical argument, it doesn’t reflect reality. If, as a result of the departure of the charter school students, the city could close three existing schools (Lowell averages 500 students per school) and lay off everyone who worked in them, the transfer of money to the charter schools might be considered a wash. But that’s not how it works. The charter school students come from all over the city, from every grade, so their departure simply reduces existing classes from 25 students to 24 or 23 students per class. You still need a teacher for the students who remain, and you need all the support staff required for all the students who remain. Unless the Lowell schools were at maximum capacity, which they are not, the loss of students to charter schools does not reduce the cost of educating those who remain, there’s just less money to do the job.

School Committee Meeting Report

Amy Bisson has a full report on the Lowell School Committee meeting of October 5, 2016 on her blog, An Educator’s Journey. Please read the report, which I regret not mentioning last Sunday.

Congressional Debate

Democratic incumbent Congresswoman Niki Tsongas and her Republican rival Ann Wofford will debate this coming Wednesday, October 19, 2016, at 1 p.m. at Lowell High School’s Irish Auditorium. The 90-minute debate is sponsored by Lowell High School, Lowell Votes, and the Concord-Carlisle League of Women Voters. It is open to the public. Parking for the debate will be available in the Ayotte Garage which is across the street from LHS.

Lowell Real Estate

I’ve started posting Lowell real estate sales for the week on the Lowell Deeds blog. Sales for the week of October 10, 2016 are now available online.

EforAll Lowell-Lawrence entrepreneur awards

Congratulations to the six entrepreneurs of the 2016 Summer Accelerator Program of EforAll Lowell-Lawrence, who were recently awarded $15,000 in grants. Here is a list of the recipients and a description of their businesses:

(1)  Assemble Lab – $5,000 – provides small batch manufacturing and other services for designers and smaller fashion houses.

(2) Mini-Mole LLC -a robotic floor sweeper to automatically clean all of the hard floors in your home – even under low-clearance furniture.

(3) Bilingual Accounting Services – $3,000 offers accounting and bookkeeping services in Khmer and English to service the Cambodian business community.

(4) Take-In – $2,000 A weekly meal delivery service with aspiring/semi-professional chefs working to bring healthier, high-quality, and exclusive dishes to busy people who want to expand their palates starting up in Somerville.

(5) Mi Casita – $2,000 An organization with a mission: to make homeownership accessible to all. They will develop modular homes or “tiny houses” in the Lawrence area and beyond.

(6) The Grown Up Project – The Christina Hamilton Award – $500 – TGP, works on the pursuit of happiness by assisting adults with career change by providing a network of coaches and professional support.

If you want to learn more about EforAll (Entrepreneurship for All), consider stopping by the Fall Pitch Contest which will take place at Middlesex Community College’s Federal Building on October 27, 2016 from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Baystate Marathon

If you’re reading this early Sunday morning, remember to stay away from the Merrimack River today unless you want to be a spectator to a great road race. That’s right, it’s Baystate Marathon day. A year or two ago, there was a post-marathon uproar driven by people who weren’t able to drive that morning – across our river bridges, along Pawtucket Street, and anywhere else related to the Marathon. Opposition to the road race was gathering some momentum until a couple of dozen runners showed up at a council meeting and the revolt fizzled. So runners are welcome in Lowell, as long as they publicize road closures in advance, which they seem to have done pretty well this year.

Book Festivals

Yesterday my social media stream was alive with tweets, posts, and comments from the Boston Book Festival which celebrates “the power of words to stimulate, agitate, unite, delight, and inspire,” and which “promotes a culture of reading and ideas and enhances the vibrancy of our city.”

Lowell has a literary heritage. Lowell is supposed to be a city of festivals. Why don’t we have a Lowell Book Festival? Now that Lowell Walks is in the offseason, maybe I’ll explore that possibility in the coming weeks and months. Email me your ideas and suggestions at DickHoweJr@gmail.com.

4 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: October 16, 2016

  1. Marty Lorrey says:

    Congratulations on a great year. Between your blog and the success of Lowell Walks you have certainly added an energy a vibe that has certainly hade a positive effect in the city. Between yourself And Paul Marion the city has certainly been led in a new direction as far a civic engagement and information sharing is concerned. The people of the city have certainly benefited from your actions. Best of luck as you move forward

  2. Brian says:

    Isn’t Rita Mercier also in favor widening Thorndike St so drivers exiting Sal’s property will be able to take a left on Thorndike? That will only make crossing Thorndike by foot worse for the “market rate” rent payers he hopes to attract. And let’s not forget about children that cross that speedway.

    Love that people keep pushing for downtown access to Western Ave. In my mind an at-grade crossing would be appropriate and most beneficial for the city. A pedestrian bridge would mean no accommodation by the railroad and would most likely be unsafe at night.

    A book festival is an awesome idea. I’m surprised we don’t have a good used book store downtown. Jane Jacobs once said “Supermarkets and shoe stores often go into new buildings, good bookstores and antique dealers seldom do.” Thankfully we have lots of good old buildings in Lowell. Hope to see one open some day.

  3. Jack Thompson (@thompsonize) says:

    An at-grade crossing won’t work unfortunately – freight trains continue north, then west from the Lowell train station. The commuter rail stops at Lowell. Freight trains are miles long and slow, stop frequently, and run all hours.

  4. Brian says:


    Four trains pass by Western Ave on a daily basis. Once every 7-10 days six trains pass through. Maybe vehicle throughput isn’t practical but at-grade pedestrian and bike access is attainable.