Sunday, December 20, 2009
STARTS & STOPS
By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff | December 20, 2009
Free parking good for the short term, but costs down the road
Merchants and shoppers cheered when Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced last month that he was giving away free parking during the holiday season for the 16th year in a row.
It’s become a holiday tradition - two hours at meters on Saturdays - gratis.
Who could possibly be against that, some kind of parking Grinch?
“I would rather think of myself as a parking Santa Claus,’’ said Mark Chase, a parking consultant who can explain why free parking is a really dumb idea. “You can put that as your title: ‘Parking Grinch or Santa Claus?’ You decide.’’
Chase thinks about parking all the time, mostly helping businesses and universities figure out how to avoid building more spots. Earlier this decade, when he worked for Zipcar, he designed the scheme that reserved spaces all over the city for the company cars, making the rest of us scared that the renters’ club was gearing up for some sort of military takeover of Boston and Cambridge. He is among a group of advocates and professionals who share the view, popularized in the 2005 book “The High Cost of Free Parking,’’ that parking costs need to be managed more intelligently to improve city life.
Chase says that when there is a parking shortage, giving it away free is about the worst thing you can do, for everybody. The lure of free parking draws more drivers who may have otherwise carpooled, walked, or taken public transportation. They all compete for fewer spots, driving in circles and spewing pollution in hopes of snagging one, and getting progressively angrier at the world when they don’t.
Eventually, they stop coming downtown, hurting the merchants as well.
Instead of giving it away free, charge enough for the good spots so there is always one or two of them available, he said. Charge less for the bad spots, so people will be willing to walk a little farther.
Employees usually take the free spots before shoppers, and then keep them all day anyway, he said. They got there first and many make only $7 an hour, he added.
“You can’t blame them,’’ he said.
But if you push the cheap or the free spots farther away, the employees will walk a few blocks, emptying spaces for customers.
Thomas J. Tinlin, Boston’s transportation commissioner, said the parking promotion is a gesture designed to persuade people who commute through the city to come back and shop. If they come for the promotion, maybe they’ll return the rest of the year.
It only lasts a few weeks, from late November through December 26 this year. Sundays are free year-round. Merchants have asked for more free Saturdays but the city has balked, in part because the meters raise $40,000 on average Saturdays the rest of the year.
“It’s all about balance,’’ Tinlin said.
Tinlin said parking officials are usually the ones called Grinches. Maybe with the free parking, he said, people will think of them as “good-intended elves.’’
So why does Chase one-up Tinlin, calling himself a Santa Claus? He suggests pooling all that money and then holding a holiday parking lottery.
“Give the money to one lucky customer,’’ he said.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The Return of the Two-Way Street
Why the double-yellow stripe is making a comeback in downtowns.
Over the past couple of decades, Vancouver, Washington, has spent millions of dollars trying to revitalize its downtown, and especially the area around Main Street that used to be the primary commercial center. Just how much the city has spent isn’t easy to determine. But it’s been an ambitious program. Vancouver has totally refurbished a downtown park, subsidized condos and apartment buildings overlooking it and built a new downtown Hilton hotel.
Some of these investments have been successful, but they did next to nothing for Main Street itself. Through most of this decade, the street remained about as dreary as ever. Then, a year ago, the city council tried a new strategy. Rather than wait for the $14 million more in state and federal money it was planning to spend on projects on and around Main Street, it opted for something much simpler. It painted yellow lines in the middle of the road, took down some signs and put up others, and installed some new traffic lights. In other words, it took a one-way street and opened it up to two-way traffic.
The merchants on Main Street had high hopes for this change. But none of them were prepared for what actually happened following the changeover on November 16, 2008. In the midst of a severe recession, Main Street in Vancouver seemed to come back to life almost overnight.
Within a few weeks, the entire business community was celebrating. “We have twice as many people going by as they did before,” one of the employees at an antique store told a local reporter. The chairman of the Vancouver Downtown Association, Lee Coulthard, sounded more excited than almost anyone else. “It’s like, wow,” he exclaimed, “why did it take us so long to figure this out?”
A year later, the success of the project is even more apparent. Twice as many cars drive down Main Street every day, without traffic jams or serious congestion. The merchants are still happy. “One-way streets should not be allowed in prime downtown retail areas,” says Rebecca Ocken, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “We’ve proven that.”
The debate over one-way versus two-way streets has been going on for more than half a century now in American cities, and it is far from resolved even yet. But the evidence seems to suggest that the two-way side is winning. A growing number of cities, including big ones such as Minneapolis, Louisville and Oklahoma City, have converted the traffic flow of major streets to two-way or laid out plans to do so. There has been virtually no movement in the other direction.
Minneapolis opened its First Street and Hennepin Street commercial areas to two-way traffic on October 11, hoping to pump some life into a stagnant corridor. It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions, but the early responses were mixed. First Street is home to several nightclubs, and some of them complained that bringing in two-way traffic made it difficult for bands with large trucks to park. “The city has royally screwed us,” one club manager declared. The city basically shrugged those complaints off. Its planners claimed the clubowners were making self-interested arguments that ignored the common benefits of a healthier street life.
Before World War II, one-way commercial streets were pretty rare in the United States. People frequented downtowns in which buses and streetcars negotiated two-way traffic, and they got off to shop at the stores that lined both sides of the street. Those who drove could park right along the sidewalk.
After the war, a couple of things happened. Civil defense planners, taking seriously the threat of nuclear attack, worried that residents trying to escape would create gridlock on the crowded two-way streets, imprisoning themselves in smoldering cities and causing many more casualties. The arterial streets were the only escape routes they had. Making them one-way, on an alternating basis, would speed things up and save lives. Or so it was thought.
But atomic bombs were only one factor that made civic leaders and transportation planners partial to one-way streets in the postwar years. They were worried about congestion, period. Some thought that the frustrations of moving through downtown the old-fashioned way were driving people to do their shopping in the suburbs. More mobility might mean more customers. Others, in those pre-Interstate days, cared mainly about the satisfaction of the suburbanites themselves. These people were using the arterial roads to commute in and out of the city, and there was little dispute that one-way streets could get them back and forth more quickly.
By the 1970s, though, there were new urban realities. Large portions of the Interstate Highway System were built, so nobody would have to flee the Soviets on gridlocked city streets. More important, downtown retail customers were shopping at suburban malls no matter what the local chamber of commerce did to try and stop them. Downtown had begun its long, familiar decline. The one-way streets fashioned in the 1950s and 1960s were still pretty good at whisking people out of central cities, but far fewer area residents wanted to enter the cities in the first place. Many downtown one-way streets became miniature speedways that served largely to frighten anyone who had the eccentric idea of strolling down the sidewalk.
Anyone who travels a lot to the center of big cities has had an experience like this: You arrive at night, and start looking for your hotel. You find it, but you can’t drive to the entrance because the street is one-way the other way. Finally you come to a street that goes the way you want, but once you get close again, the signs won’t allow you to make the turn you need to make. You can waste 20 minutes this way. And as you keep driving, you notice that the streets are empty anyway. Any reason that might have existed for turning them into single-purpose speedways simply did not apply anymore.
Meanwhile, local governments were slowly learning that the old two-way streets, whatever the occasional frustration, had real advantages in fostering urban life. Traffic moved at a more modest pace, and there was usually a row of cars parked by the curb to serve as a buffer between pedestrians and moving vehicles. If you have trouble perceiving the difference, try asking yourself this question: How many successful sidewalk cafés have you ever encountered on a four-lane, one-way street with cars rushing by at 50 miles per hour? My guess is, very few indeed.
So over the past 10 years, dozens of cities have reconfigured one-way streets into two-way streets as a means of bringing their downtowns to life. The political leadership and the local business community usually join forces in favor of doing this. There are always arguments against it. Some of them are worth stopping to consider.
Among the critics are traffic engineers and academics who were taught some fixed principles of transportation in school decades ago and have never bothered to reconsider them. Joseph Dumas, a professor at the University of Tennessee, argued a few years ago that “the primary purpose of roads is to move traffic efficiently and safely, not to encourage or discourage business or rebuild parts of town . . . . Streets are tools for traffic engineering.”
If you agree that streets serve no other purpose than to move automobiles, you are unlikely to see much problem with making them one-way. On the other hand, if you think that streets possess the capacity to enhance the quality of urban life, you will probably consider the Dumas Doctrine to be nonsense. That is the way more and more cities are coming to feel.
There are other arguments. It’s sometimes said that more accidents occur on two-way streets than one-way streets. The research that supports this claim is decades old, and to my knowledge, has not been replicated. Even if you accept this argument, though, you might want to consider that, at slower speeds, the accidents on two-way streets are much more likely to be fender-benders at left-turn intersections, not harrowing high-speed crashes involving cars and pedestrians.
Finally, there are complaints from fire departments that it takes them longer to reach the scene of trouble when they have to thread their way around oncoming traffic, rather than taking a straight shot down a one-way speedway. I can’t refute this, and in any case, I don’t like arguing with fire departments. But I have to wonder how many people have died in burning buildings in recent years because a fire truck wasn’t allowed to use a one-way street.
I wouldn’t argue that two-way streets are any sort of panacea for urban revival, Vancouver’s experience notwithstanding. And I understand that they are not always practical. Some streets simply are too narrow to have traffic moving in both directions; others have to be designated one-way because their purpose is to feed traffic onto expressways.
What I would say is this: When it comes to designing or retrofitting streets, the burden of proof shouldn’t fall on those who want to use them the old-fashioned way. It should be on those who think the speedway ideology of the 1950s serves much of a purpose half a century later.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
In the little bio space that you get when you have a blog, I mention my family members. Many people have met my wife and daughters. Many people have met our dog through our twice a day walks in the neighborhood.
However not many people have met cat Theo, named after the Red Sox GM. Here he is, a Merrimack Valley Feline Rescue Society alum, enjoying the good life in Newburyport.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Capuano best choice
December 04, 2009 Published in Newburyport Daily News To the editor: I am writing to express my support for Congressman Mike Capuano in the race for U.S. Senate. While there are other good candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination, I feel strongly that his personal qualities of passion and pragmatism would make Congressman Capuano a great senator for Massachusetts. I had an opportunity to get to know the congressman from 2002 to 2005 while I worked as an advocate for homeless children. When it would have been easy for him to show us the door, the congressman was helpful to our cause. He gave us an honest assessment about the difficulties we faced, combined with a determination that something could be done. On the most important votes of the last decade, Capuano voted for what was right, not what was politically expedient. He was one of only 41 House members to vote against the No Child Left Behind Act because he was convinced that school districts would not have enough money to implement the mandates of the legislation. He pushed for a response to the genocide in Darfur. He stood up for our civil liberties by voting against the Patriot Act. He voted against going to war in Iraq because it was a diversion of our struggle against al-Qaida. Capuano has been endorsed by the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters, which said "beginning with his time as mayor of Somerville, Capuano has been a passionate and early defender of the environment where he hired the state's first municipal environmental officer and was at the forefront of curbside recycling in Massachusetts." His broad experience as an alderman, mayor and member of Congress speaks to his ability to make the connections between our lives and how local, state and federal government can either help us or hurt us. The diverse group of local Mike Capuano supporters includes state Rep. Mike Costello, Mayor-elect Donna Holaday, Councilor Tom Jones, Councilor Barry Connell and Hailey Klein from Newburyport; Mayor Thatcher Kezer, Rebecca Jordan, and Tom Iacobucci from Amesbury; LuAnn Kuder and Nancy Weinberg from Newbury; Lou and Dianne Masiello, Walter and Lucille Sidley from Salisbury; and Democratic State Committeewoman Kathy Pasquina from West Newbury. This group may not agree on every local and state issue, but we agree on Mike Capuano. I hope Democratic and Independent/unenrolled voters will join me in voting for Mike Capuano on Tuesday, Dec. 8. Ed Cameron Newburyport City Councilor
To the editor:
I am writing to express my support for Congressman Mike Capuano in the race for U.S. Senate.
While there are other good candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination, I feel strongly that his personal qualities of passion and pragmatism would make Congressman Capuano a great senator for Massachusetts.
I had an opportunity to get to know the congressman from 2002 to 2005 while I worked as an advocate for homeless children. When it would have been easy for him to show us the door, the congressman was helpful to our cause. He gave us an honest assessment about the difficulties we faced, combined with a determination that something could be done.
On the most important votes of the last decade, Capuano voted for what was right, not what was politically expedient. He was one of only 41 House members to vote against the No Child Left Behind Act because he was convinced that school districts would not have enough money to implement the mandates of the legislation. He pushed for a response to the genocide in Darfur. He stood up for our civil liberties by voting against the Patriot Act. He voted against going to war in Iraq because it was a diversion of our struggle against al-Qaida.
Capuano has been endorsed by the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters, which said "beginning with his time as mayor of Somerville, Capuano has been a passionate and early defender of the environment where he hired the state's first municipal environmental officer and was at the forefront of curbside recycling in Massachusetts."
His broad experience as an alderman, mayor and member of Congress speaks to his ability to make the connections between our lives and how local, state and federal government can either help us or hurt us.
The diverse group of local Mike Capuano supporters includes state Rep. Mike Costello, Mayor-elect Donna Holaday, Councilor Tom Jones, Councilor Barry Connell and Hailey Klein from Newburyport; Mayor Thatcher Kezer, Rebecca Jordan, and Tom Iacobucci from Amesbury; LuAnn Kuder and Nancy Weinberg from Newbury; Lou and Dianne Masiello, Walter and Lucille Sidley from Salisbury; and Democratic State Committeewoman Kathy Pasquina from West Newbury.
This group may not agree on every local and state issue, but we agree on Mike Capuano.
I hope Democratic and Independent/unenrolled voters will join me in voting for Mike Capuano on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
Newburyport City Councilor
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I'm supporting Mike Capuano's run for Senate. If you're with Mike, let me know (if I already don't know), so I can bug you to help out;-).
If you haven't made up your mind, I hope you'll consider giving him your vote.
If you're going with another candidate, good luck to you and yours.
Cheers, Ed Cameron
Below you’ll find a list of publications and bloggers who have offered their endorsement of Mike’s campaign.
It’s U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano who stands out as the best qualified of the Democratic candidates to fill that [Senate] seat at a critical juncture in this nation’s history. He is ready to do the job, because he has done the job. These aren’t theoretical issues to Capuano. [He] has also demonstrated throughout his decade of service in the House that he — and his staff — can deal with the nitty-gritty of constituent services the way Kennedy and his office were so good at. Read the editorial
In his 11 years as a US congressman, Capuano has been a stalwart voice for liberal values, including a woman's right to choose and opposition to the death penalty. More important, he has stood firm for principles when others did not — notably, by voting against the Iraq War authorization and against the liberty-infringing PATRIOT Act. Read the editorial
The Somerville News
At the end of the day, standing shoulder to shoulder with the other candidates in this race, it is clear that they all have good intentions, but none of them can match up with Mike Capuano when it comes to proven experience in dealing with national and international issues - experience you can only get by serving in Congress. That is an inarguable fact and possibly the most advantageous attribute of anyone seeking to be elected to the Senate, period. Read the editorial
South End News
His knowledge and commitment to urban issues, including environmental challenges, health care, jobs, civil liberties, and education-as well as his on-the-ground experience as an urban mayor in Somerville, have earned him the endorsement of South End News. Read the editorial
Newton TAB and Daily News Tribune
Capuano’s 11 years in Congress can’t be underestimated at this time in our country’s history. His understanding of the give-and-take of compromise while passing legislation is essential... And his votes on key issues — No Child Left Behind, the Iraq war, the Patriot Act — show he is a man of conviction. Read the editorial
Kate — BlueMassGroup
I am supporting Capuano because I think he is the best person for the position. I believe that Mike Capuano's years as a member of Congress have given him the experience he needs to get things done in Washington from day one. Congressman Jim McGovern was influential in my endorsement and I trust his assessment of who will be effective in Washington, D.C. Read the post
Blue News Tribune
If Capuano is one thing, he is WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get). Read the post
For us, this was a pretty simple choice: U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano should be the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Capuano has an impressive, unabashedly progressive voting record in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the big issues of today, he is not only already engaged in working on them and ready to hit the ground running in the upper chamber, but he has the right positions. Finally, he is the best candidate to take up the banner of Ted Kennedy's vision for America. Read the post
Marry in Massachusetts
It is a much surer projection that Capuano will go from a solid Representative to a solid Senator. As others have said endorsing him, this is not the time for on-the-job training. Ted Kennedy may have started out green 47 years ago, but we don't have to take that chance in replacing him. Michael Capuano is by far the best choice to replace U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. Read the post
Blah Blah Ginger
He is the man best qualified to take on the imposing mantle of Ted Kennedy’s legacy, and is the one candidate who will need no ramp-up time to be an outstanding U.S. Senator from day one. Read the post
Lynne — LeftinLowell
Why should you vote for Mike Capuano? For me, it’s about the combination of practical attitude and steady principles. Read the post
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
From this morning....
Pepperell picks Newburyport mayor for administrator postBy Don Eriksson, CorrespondentUpdated: 12/01/2009 07:01:45 AM EST
PEPPERELL -- Selectmen have unanimously voted to offer the job of town administrator to Newburyport Mayor John Moak. They plan to enter closed-door negotiations with Moak later this week.
Last night's vote considered both Moak and Jason Hoch, former administrator for the New Hampshire towns of Littleton and Plaistow.
Both men were at the top of a pool of candidates developed by a Search Committee. They were interviewed last week, after negotiations with Shirley Town Administrator Kyle Keady collapsed earlier this fall.
According to private comments from several Search Committee members, Pepperell would be well-served by either candidate.
Administrative Assistant Peggy Mazola has been acting as interim administrator while continuing to perform her duties as administrative assistant.
Selectmen Joseph Hallisey, Patrick McNabb and Joseph Sergi complimented Police Chief Alan Davis for conducting extensive background checks on both candidates, which were received yesterdays.
"For myself, it comes down to John (Moak) as a better fit for Pepperell," Hallisey said. "Both are extremely qualified. (Moak's) experience in Newburyport fits Pepperell issues -- a school was closed and revitalizing Town Hall."
McNabb lauded the qualifications of both candidates, saying "It boils down to who is best for Pepperell right now. Based on experience and positive feedback from the Newburyport City Council (regarding) strong fiscal budgeting and (having) a lot of drive ... (Moak) is someone who could step in right now."