Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Boston Dudley Do-Nothing

June 13th, 2012

Growing up in houses filled with cops and with relatives who were staties, I am predisposed to liking police officers. They make it hard.

In my childhood, my mother ran Red Cross chapters, which involved training police and such in first aid and water safety, coordinating with and training ambulance and fire folk and co-hosting disaster preparedness weekends. We knew a lot of cops.

The other side of my thinking cops are the good guys is expecting them to behave that way. I think they should act to protect the public, drive like the best examples, know the laws, and enforce the letter and spirit of those laws.

For three decades though, I’ve lived in a town where a running joke about BPD folk in blue is “no blood, no ticket.” They seem loath to do anything that involves a ticket book or other paperwork. Moreover, too many, including the Commissioner, B.S. their way through life. That makes it hard to respect cops.

Today down in Logan Square around 2:30 PM, I had another experience with incompetent make-it-up-as-you-go policing. An officer saw a serious traffic law violation, but instead of enforcing the law, he showed both ignorance and lack of concern. It’s wearing.

The short of it is that I was walking to Cleary Square, westbound on River Street by the Hyde Park municipal building. Still healing from a broken clavicle and several busted ribs, I’m tricked out in an arm sling with my bright orange windbreaker. At 6 feet and nearly 200 pounds, I’m not camouflaged.

As I entered the crosswalk, a woman whipped around the right turn on River Street, almost stopping at the stop sign. She not only continued rolling toward me, but blew her car horn, as though this crippled guy should disappear and stop inconveniencing her.

When she honked, I thought there might be an acceptable reason, as another vehicle or other case where she was blowing to avoid a wreck, you know, the legal basis for horn blowing. Turning to my right toward her as I made my way across the crosswalk, I saw her raise her fist, mouth what looked like obscenities and swerve around me. She never stopped, as required by law. She certainly did not yield to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk, as required by law. Of course, as a minor issue, she also used her car horn  to threaten instead of its allowable safety purpose.

I pointed to her as she whipped past, barely missing me and called, “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalks!” Then the amazing happened.

A uniformed BPD officer appeared…and proceeded to scold me. I told him that she had just broken multiple state laws and deserved a ticket with fines, likely license suspension and six years of insurance surcharge.

Unbelievably, he told me:

  • He would have gotten to it and handled it, if only I had not turned and pointed at the driver
  • I had no right to point at her
  • My actions, inexplicably by geometry and time, caused him not to apprehend the driver for the crimes he had witnessed
  • Even though my walking through the crosswalk had slowed the aggressive driver, his not bothering to take two or three strides toward her and stop her was somehow my fault and not that of his indolence

I came right back at him. He saw the crimes and did nothing. He did not step forward and stop the driver when he easily could have. She violated the failure to yield  law and was subject to a $200 fine and she used her horn to threaten, which I said was a Boston regulation.

He countered that it was a $100 fine and that if I had not turned toward the driver, he was going to do something. Somehow, he implied, it was my fault he made no effort to apprehend her.

I checked and I was almost entirely right. It is $200 for the crosswalk violation. However, the horn violation is of state law and not city regulation, with a $50 fine.

Maybe I should have snagged the cop’s badge and recorded the scofflaw driver’s plate. I’ve wearied of that over the years, particularly with Commissioner Davis’  total disingenuous responses to his officers’ behavior.

Here before me was yet another Boston cop who did not know the laws, who made up what he thought violations and fines were, who saw crimes committed and did nothing, and who chastened the victim instead of taking a couple of steps (literally) to grab the perp or even calling in her plate to the nearby station. What a slug!

He even said to me, “Do you think they know the laws?” I was aghast, as in he didn’t even know the laws.

I’ve known good cops in various places, including Boston. For over two decades, I shared the block as well as the first name with one of the best in Jamaica Plain. That Mike though is not the norm.

On Ripping Off Relics

March 4th, 2012

I confess, but only as a figure of speech, that relics and reliquaries seem ghoulish to me, a non-Roman Catholic. As matter of faith, I likely shouldn’t find them so. I was a devote little Christian, one who believed in transubstantiation during communion, which I took many times.

Along with hormonal floods, puberty brought dousing of knowledge and analytic thought. I got better.

Today the news from Dublin includes the discovery that somebody made off with the heart of Saint Lorcan Ua Tuathail, later known as Laurence (or Lawrence) O’Toole. That’s a big deal, as he is the patron saint of Dublin.

The relic had been in a wooden box in a square iron cage in the cathedral. It was no impulse pilfer either, the thief/thieves sawed through the bars and  forced the cage free to get the treasure. The church dean said, “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father.”

Yet we also have to wonder, as parts of saints have been bought/sold/swapped/stolen for centuries. Some allegedly are duplicated in multiple locations. Other religious artifacts, such as pieces of “the True Cross” whereon Jesus died, appear in so many churches that wags have said there are enough around to build Noah’s ark.

To  believers, even beyond Ireland, such tangible links to holy folk are sacred in their own right. Many supposedly have innate powers — healing the sick if prayed to and beside, and other such miracles. Nearly six years ago, many gathered in Boston to peek at the visiting heart of a saint lent by a French church and briefly displayed here. I joined them.

To us less faithful, we are wont to insult folk by speaking of worshiping a finger bone in a filigree tube (available at the Cloisters in NYC, for one) and such. Catholics are quick to point out that there’s a huge difference between praying through a saint to God and worshiping a body part.

For the best treatment to the relic world concentrated on the whole bodies, I recommend Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter’s Head, St. Claire’s Heart, St. Stephen’s Hand, and Other Saintly Relics by Anneli Rufus. She was fascinated by relics, particularly whole bodies of the incorruptibles — corpses on display allegedly never decomposing, thus proving their holiness. She visited numerous shrines to observe both the saints’ remains and the visitors.

St. Lorcan lived in the 12th Century. There are trails and tales of his body parts too, including buried, disinterred and stolen bones. Even before his relics were shared and disappeared, he was on a fast track to sainthood. Many claimed miracles by praying to him in the months and years following his death (natural causes and not martyrdom) both at his tomb and through his intercession.

He apparently led a saintly life of humility and abstinence, replete with hair shirt, prolonged fasting, forgoing meat and stimulants and such that other prelates enjoyed. Now whether a figurative pure heart translated into a literal holy one, I suppose, is that matter of faith. Regardless, ripping off a religion’s palpable symbol is a terrible act.

Bucks for Busts

December 2nd, 2011

We lesser mortals may gape at antiquities in museums, squinting at the plaques, straining to recall our history lessons, and generally marveling at the artistry of the potters and sculptors. Others know potential profit when they approach it.

In today’s FT Wealth maggy, the mindset of collectors, dealers and museums is the cover story. As it turns out, we have been distracted by the past few decades of tales of tainted treasures. Countries and some individuals have worked to get back looted, stolen or smuggled works. Folk concerned with the money aspect above all understand the implications.

For centuries, museums and rich collectors rubbed the spoils of Colonialism and conquest. They’d haughtily proclaim they were the rightful, righteous guardians of treasures that would be lost otherwise.

As others began to track the routes of various statues and such, they found less honorable provenance for many. We’ve been slowly learning of various artifacts and art returned to wronged owners.

The business angle? The FT turns to Christian Levett, a hedge-fund founder whose museum displays his collection of antiquities. He says provenance is the key differentiator now.

For tax evasion or less nefarious reasons, ownership paper trails on many objects are scant or none. He claim to buy only with verifiable info. The dubious works are always at risk.

He figures, “What’s happened in the last few years is that the price of antiquities with a strong provenance has shot up, while those with a weak one are not really moving. A two-tier market of pricing has developed, and the sky is the limit for items with great provenance.”

Check the paperwork before writing that multimillion dollar check.

Taking a Pass…Twice

November 21st, 2011

Flat out, I don’t have a personal story of childhood sexual abuse. To those of us who don’t, the number we read or hear directly is stunning. With the infamy of the Penn State cases, more moving, inevitably confessional tales broadcast, such as the poignant one by a Notre Dame law professor in today’s Slate.

An oddment is the very brief moment of jealousy in not having a story, very similar to the feeling of us boomer men who did not get thrown into jungle warfare in Vietnam. It is all too human to want to share in the zeitgeist of your various eras. Something seems amiss and missing when you don’t, like those moments when you feel your soul is off somewhere else.

Dispassionately, of course, there’s no reason to visit horrors on yourself. Yet, we want to feel both that we are a part of our times and that we are the sturdy stuff of heroes.

As a very mild expression of these needs, many people I knew in high school, college and my 20s embroidered their shared experience samplers. They were hippies, they smoked pot and hash, they tripped on acid and more, they were sexually profligate, and of course, they protested and rioted on their campuses. All gross exaggerations and outright lies…in the name of shared experience.


Non-Nam


Many of my male chums past and current did go to Vietnam. Some sat on ships or in offices, while others fought, including some who died and others physically and emotionally maimed. Much like those of my father’s generation who killed and who saw the horrors of war, those who did don’t talk about it and if pressed say those who did not were much better off.

There was that pesky military draft, in which I had a very low number. My draft board made a relentless effort to get me, but finally seemed to give up, going for easier pickings.

While in Cambridge on a grant to look at a couple of underground newspapers, I found my board decided I wasn’t technically a full-time college student, so they had a place for me to go. I replied that I would not carry a gun, but I would go as medic, photog or reporter if they needed me in Viet Nam. They responded with CO papers and a notice that I could not pick what I’d do. I sent back that under their absurdly tight CO definition, I didn’t fit, but they could take my deal or send me to jail. They sent another batch of CO applications.

Eventually, they sent me a deferment they gave to fathers of multiple children. Eh? Some vets are positive there must have been someone  at the board looking out for me. A more likely story was through a friend whose father was on the board. He said in such cases, they went after guys who didn’t cause so much trouble and paperwork.


Unabused


Nearly all my best friends and quite a few women I’d kept company with in my single years have tales of being fondled or raped as small or teen kids. A few times, it was strangers they had just met, but more typically, it was a father, brother, cleric, teacher or camp counselor.

The stats sexual abuse prima facie don’t see so terrible, until you read deeper. Start for example from the Wikipedia entry and follow the references to places like Health and Human Services reports to first see that 15% to 25% of girls and 5% to 15% of boys were physically molested. From what I have heard directly and from learning that many of these stats are reported cases, and those percentages are very low.

In retrospect, I wonder whether our itinerant life protected me. We moved every couple years throughout my childhood. It seems that those I know who were abused either were in situations where the perpetrator had gained trust of the family and child, or in which they were in stereotypical abuse hells like boarding schools. It probably helped that my sister and I were not physically abused at all at home by beatings as most of my peers said they were. We were not taught to be submissive. The atmosphere of child as chattel was not part of my life. I also surmise that my willful personality may have acted as a shield.

Motivation for sexual abusers seem clear enough. These tend to be crimes of opportunity. The children are younger, smaller, weaker and often under the older child or adult’s control. Also, there is a strong correlation between having been abused and abusing.

If my second-hand knowledge is accurate, such abuse is never something simply gotten over. There seems to be a spectrum from those who live in victimhood perpetually to those who discuss it was friends or shrinks to those who sometimes shock into recollection to those who sublimate. Yet to those of us who lucked through childhood without being sexually abused, what is astonishing most is how common such behavior is.

This area is another good pointer to humans as not being all that evolved.

After it all, where is evidence of our better nature if we prey on the weakest of us as wild mammals, raptors and even insects do? Where is our alleged striving to be like angels or our god? If the cliché that character is what we are in the dark is true, what does it mean if so many of us even create the figurative dark for our evils?

We Don’t Have the Same: Cycling Edition

October 31st, 2011

bikepieces“It’s not fair!” (Add foot stomping.)

Just the latest sensible, cycling-related bill to go to the MA legislature is certain to piss the puerile in the public and body. It highlights the fundamental and extremely strong hostility that delays any transportation laws related to two wheels.

This one is a simple amplification of existing law. Rep. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) proposes codifying crosswalk regulations to make it plain that mowing down a cyclist in one should carry the same penalties as failing to yield to a pedestrian in one. That would be H408, An Act providing for the safety of bicyclists traveling on bicycle paths.

As has happened to me numerous times, far too many motorists see a cyclist on a bike path heading to a crosswalk that continues the path and lose it. They drive at the cyclist, blow their horns, fail to stop back of the crosswalk or stop in it to prepare for their turn (another moving violation), and curse at the cyclist screaming they and their car/SUV/truck have right of way. They don’t, they shouldn’t, they need to be aware of it, and the law should make it plain that threatening a cyclist with maiming or death like that comes with a $200 fine, a moving violation, and an insurance surcharge.

The bill is presently in Joint Committee on the Judiciary hands. It may never come out and may require repeated introduction. Having been through the hearing process, testifying on a bike-related bill, I’ve seen and heard expressions of that underlying issue.

Too many motorists, including those in the General Court jealously guard what they think are inalienable rights to road fairness…as they define it. Unless they also bike, they are almost certain to go all childish if they think anyone, particularly pedestrians or cyclists is getting some privilege denied to them.

That attitude reminds me of my lads when they were in nursery school. Early on, a key academic and social lesson is fairness. The little kids get so excited when they can recognize and exclaim when, “We have the same!”

Unfortunately, MassBike put all its marbles in the bag marked Same Roads. Same Rules. On the face of it, equating cyclists and drivers should greatly benefit bikers.

The central idea is that cyclists obey lights, signs and regulations, and that drivers treat bicycles as the law defines them, other vehicles on the road. Of course, in practice far too many drivers want and demand the first but not the second.

To see the ensuing hate fest and understand the raw emotion that leads so many drivers to buzz, scream at or otherwise threaten cyclists, visit any online site that has a cycling-related article or post. The vitriol and absurd generalization goes far beyond irrationality and into mania. Despite buckets of statistics proving otherwise, a shocking number of drivers hold that cyclists (and their weaker demon siblings pedestrians) are the causes of injury, collisions and deaths on our roads. It is, they hold, the 25-pound, non-motorized bike that is the danger, not the ton and one half metal shell.

Real differences

I’ll have to do a few more posts on this, particularly pointing out flaws in the same-roads/rules shtick. There are many times and conditions calling for different rules. In fact, the future needs to incorporate different laws and rules in many cases, as bike-oriented countries and cities in Asia and Europe do. They are not as unobservant as we seem to be.

For a teaser, most non-cycling drivers don’t notice or think that bicycles fall over at a stop unless the cyclist puts a foot down or does some skillful tracks moves. Yet, bikes have very little inertia to overcome as they leave a stop. Cyclists can’t safely ride on shoulders or even narrow bike lanes when those are full of sand or gravel or glass shards.

Each of those factors has implications that literal minded, it’s-unfair drivers may find troubling, things that don’t fit in we-have-the-same molds. A bike leaving a stop for example, can freak out drivers. They should be able to move in coordination with a cyclist on the right, but often veer either way and seem to panic. We need instead to head to either having a bike box at the front of the intersection behind the stop sign or to let cyclists leave ahead of the drivers, maybe on a red after stopping. That lets the driver overtake the cyclist and feel in control — safe for everybody.

Likewise, for the shoulder/path rubble. Drivers are often angry if cyclists are in “their” road. When cyclists cannot ride to the right of the main travel lane safely, they may and should take as much of a travel lane as they need. A duty of drivers is to watch the road ahead for unsafe conditions. It doesn’t take a lot of sense and smarts to see the glass or sand to the right of the fog line.

There are many situations and physical differences that put the lie to the same-road/rules platitudes. Unfortunately, that program gets invoked whenever a sensible bill or enforcement call arises.

Facts are, for safety of everyone, we have to make it plain where there are differences. Many nations have done this, but we are still in the beginning of it. Short- and mid-term the burden will fall to a few savvy, safety-minded legislators and to the various cyclists and their groups. We can’t count on drivers to become observant suddenly, but we can inform them repeatedly of the physical realities and distinctions.

“We have the same!,” works when you’re four. As you age, you need to know more and be more discerning.

Hole in Ground Zero

September 26th, 2011

Yeah, yeah, Boston skies were raining hard at 4:46 AM when I left. So, I decided not to bring a camera and risk ruining it. I was headed to NYC for two days and a night. Traveling without my digital companion was odd, feeling naked odd. I would have the cellphone, with its sort of pic ability. A few of those follow.

My wife was down for a multi-day company meeting. Their NY HQ was directly connected to the 9/11 catastrophe site. The new one was rebuilt two blocks away. The company-designated hotel is adjacent to the WTC site, Club Quarters New York World Trade Center. I was intellectually prepared to be there. As a Bostonian of decades and a former Manhattanite, I had it covered.

Emotionally, I turned out not to be.

During our dovetailed stay, my wife and I refreshed each other on the 9/11 personal presence. I had been in an important (I knew at the time) meeting with my international software company. I was a principal, leading a discussion with our local engineers and the Israeli test and development team. I had gigantic paste-ups of MS Project sheets and was brimming with busyness.

Our conference room was packed with intense, intent geeks when Jeannie, the office manager, opened the door. She didn’t knock, which was unlike her. She was pale and wide-eyed, which was rare for her too. She said something like, “Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center. You need to stop your meeting.”

We all walked next door to a room with a TV, watched the second plane hit and the towers collapse.

So, just after 10 years later, I had a grip on it….or not.

cranesnycLast weekend, we overlooked the site. From the 18th floor, we could see directly into that pit. From the restaurant on the top floor, the 20th, we could look west to New Jersey and north to the new WTC 1 building. Everywhere, we could see and hear the 24/7 reconstruction of the site. Machinery I knew well from a previous life as a trade-journal editor lifted for the new and dug to prepare for the new-new. Cranes were a hand clasp in the sky. Hydraulic excavators (some Cat dealer is making a fortune on this contract) dug for the foundations for WTC 2 and 3.

Any trip by or to the windows displayed one massive truck after another heaped with dirt and rock from the site before pulling out. All day, all night, America was righting what Bin Laden ruined.

dignycI found it wrenching. I thought a decade on, many hundreds of thousands of words read, sounds heard, images seen that I was fine. Yet each glance or stare from the 18th or 20th floors ate at me. I also slept poorly, even though the hotel walls and windows were well insulated from sound. I just knew.

Apparently my disquiet is not universal. My wife was in meetings when I arrived and I sat by the entrance to the 9/11 memorial on a Jersey barrier. One phalanx after another of t-shirted firefighters crowded and knelt for snaps with the site and new WTC 1 building as backdrop. Their shirts were from stations in Ohio and California and Pennsylvania. They posed and waved.

I saw clots of middle-aged women with the stereotypical mannishly short easy-to-care-for do trailing hubbies and sons, lining up with their tickets for the site tour. On the hour, people queued concert-style behind metal frame chutes to walk the mud, see the two pools, and crook their necks at WTC 1.

I saw more Amish than I had outside of Pennsylvania and Ohio. There were women and girls from 70 to 14 dressed in their full drabness with their gauzy white plain caps like yarmulkes. Dads had suspenders and all looked terrifically un-New York but very comfortable in themselves. They paused and photographed too.

After checking into my wife’s room, I had lunch two blocks south. The two active tables were filled with firefighters from distant places in their station t-shirts.

FFsIn meals on the 20th, many diners of all ages posed on the balcony with the WTC 1 as backdrop. Most smiled their here-I-am-at-the-notable-location grins. Some were reflective, but nearly all were gleeful as any tourist at any site, loading up the slide-show lineup.

Sunday morning, we happened upon the 10th tunnel-to-towers run, just south of the hotel. The pipers were piping, the cops keeping people behind barriers, and 343 uniformed NYC firefighters lined the Battery Tunnel exit, each wearing a photo placard of one of their brethren who died rescuing those trapped on 9/11.

The run has raised millions of dollars, mostly destined to build houses for quadriplegics from the current wars. It traces the route Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller took that day. He was off and headed to play golf with his brothers when he heard about the first plane on the scanner. He drove to his station, loaded up with his 60 pounds of gear, found the tunnel closed, and ran the three miles through it to the towers…and his death.

A decade later, there are many tears, both from the firefighters and the surviving family members and the runners.

Make Data Losers Pay

September 4th, 2011

It’s anxiety-making easy to find stories of lost and stolen personal data and intellectual property.

OK, boys and girls, one of the latest high-tech clumsiness was a repeat of an Apple employee losing the proprietary prototype of the next generation iPhone, maybe in a bar. This happened to Apple before.

Then there was the BP employee on a business trip who lost a laptop holding a spreadsheet with personal data from 13,000 oil-spill claimants. A wrap-up article includes citations of NJ BC/BS stolen laptop with data from 300,000 customers, another was the GAP losing 800,000 job applicants’ data, a hacker grabbing key SS and financial data from 226,000 customers of the Davidson Companies, and the Veterans Administration’s stolen laptop with data from 26.5 million current and past U.S. military members.

We all know how government agencies, retailers, financial institutions and even utilities demand personal data to get services and goods.They assure us both that they won’t sell our stuff — emails, phones, addresses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts ID and on and one — but we have to reveal all and (ta da) trust them.

It’s increasingly plain that we should not trust them. They have neither the technology systems nor the training in place to keep our data safe. They first rely on nothing or password systems that millions of kids among others could hack. They allow absurd amounts of complete data sets out at a time on single hard drives. Far too many move thousands or millions of sets of actionable data onto laptop hard drives, which every bozo and bozoette in the company can leave with for whatever honorable or nefarious purpose, or lose on an airplane, in a cab or at a bar. And they do.

lockedlapNearly all of the many, many cases of data exposure are human errors, both of the employees who lose the computers and other objects, and the systems people and managers who set up the safeguards. Their heads should roll. The companies and agencies should pay heavy enough fines and open disgrace that they change their ways. Applying magical thinking to data security is totally inadequate.

Think this is like using the term accident to account for inattentive or reckless driving that brings maiming or death. Sure the cops, prosecutors and judges can identify (there but for fortune…), but that is wrong, often fatally wrong, thinking. Some missteps definitely deserve punishment and prevention.

The humanity defense is not a solid one here. Nor is it in most places used. Consider how to apply, “It’s only human to…” Yeah, it’s human to take your eyes off the road, to lose things in a restaurant or bar when you’ve been drinking, to walk off an airplane totally forgetting expensive and essential goods, and for that matter, to lie, cheat, steal, rape or any of a large number of crimes and offenses you think you might get away with when no one’s paying close attention.

Actually many of our laws specifically call out human frailties. Because something valuable is not being guarded at a moment doesn’t make it up for grabs, for example.

For the deterrent factor, clamping down criminally and civilly on the schmo who puts large numbers of us at risk for direct stealing or ID theft should start immediately. One strike and you’re out. It should also cost the company a lot more than one-year subscriptions to credit-card watching services.

Yet because they’re good at protecting themselves, if not you, the managers will be harder. The facts are that lazy or dull-witted IT types and corporate managers who make security policy are culpable. Allowing huge chunks of key data affecting thousands or millions of human beings to flow out of control is asinine.

I suspect that much of the laptop-based losses fall back on that old employees-are-lazy syndrome that affects so many so-so managers. The conceit starts with a belief that if only those shiftless employees would put in anywhere near the effort and production that the sainted managers did, the company would be at least twice as wealthy. Even when measurable productivity soars beyond other countries’ and financial troubles can easily be traced to short-term management thinking, that’s the pretense. It’s delusional and destructive.

A common corollary is that employees will only do a decent amount of work if they always have to be on. Going to a distant customer or for a conference? Well then, be sure the carry a laptop with all possible applications and data you might conceivably need. Work in the airport. Work on the airplane. Work in the hotel. Work over dinner. Work. Work. Work.

The filthy secret is that what is human is overload. That leads to inefficiency of thought and output. That leads to fatigue and concomitant errors. That leads to oversights and mistakes as we try to pretend that there is no end to our multi-tasking abilities. Top being tired with a couple of drinks and, now did you leave that damned laptop in the booth?!

For managers:

  • Security policies don’t work well enough and need to be more thoroughly thought out and tested.
  • No sensitive data should leave the building without a lot better reason than it just might come in handy while you’re traveling.
  • Encryption, password and other software-based security has to be harder, even it’s inconvenient for employees short term.
  • Any data breach has to be analyzed to death, from management and IT aspects as well as the obvious employee possession ones.
  • Databases that travel should be neutered, that is separated from Social Security number and the like so that a lost or stolen hard drive is useless to others; they can be merged when the employee returns, to reflect any changes.
  • Those responsible for putting customers at risk need punishment fitting their involved incompetence.

Sorry, kiddies, it’s only human doesn’t cut…whether you’re drunk driving, drunk laptop toting, or half thinking security policies and procedures.

Greenway within Grasp

August 31st, 2011

Hail to the many who have worked for the better part of two decades for a Neponset River Greenway! Within two years, the biggest missing piece will be complete. Citizens, engineering sorts and bureaucrats alike have ‘er done.

I joined what looked like a little over a hundred in the Foley Senior Center on River St. in Mattapan last evening for another quenching trip to the well. You can grab the straight coverage and a link to the presentation at the Dorchester Reporter. You can also search at that site for excellent past coverage on this trail.

The short of it is that after many meetings and laborious compiling of complaints, suggestions and comments of Milton, Mattapan and Dorchester abutters (and numerous whiners, loudmouths and cheerleaders), the final plan looks like a winner. A large majority apparently love it. It moves from conceptual drawings to engineer docs that can aid in getting the federal money for the project as well as giving the nitpickers and Myers-Briggs S types something to hold and come to terms with happening. They are now figuring that completion of a link from Central Avenue into Mattapan Square for a ped/bike path will happen by the fall of 2013.greenplan

Click the pic for a closer view or go to the presentation for it and the earlier schemes. Key aspects are that it starts at the existing path at Central Avenue, runs between the trolley path and river, crossing from Milton to Mattapan on a new bridge by the Ryan Playground, then curves on the north of the river to a new ped/bike bridge over and around the trolley terminus and into Mattapan Square.

This came after five previous plans. After the public meetings and private comments, which the presentation recaps in concepts and numbers, the latest plan seemed to placate nearly everyone.

I came for the details, but left with a felt sense of the democratic skills involved, particularly the the DCR folk in managing a prickly, often nasty process. While he was quick and frequent to spread credit and praise, the diplomat in chief seems to be Jack Murray.

The DCR Deputy Commissioner for Park Operations is unfazed by the hostile, NIMBY and unfair-to-me types. Even at this largely jovial celebration, several dissatisfied folk spoke out and up, without rattling Murray. He’s been though a couple years of rough democracy on this and kept his cool and his smile.

In fact, several of the pols who attended and chimed in their praises (Sen. Brian Joyce and Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Russell Holmes) called the process out for its amazing transparency, flexibility, and outreach. There was passing mention of the contention involved from the beginning, and nothing but kudos for a thoroughly open process — perhaps an inspiration for the larger government, ask I?

Murray was also charmingly coy about the MBTA. It refused to allow an at-grade crossing for the trail, leading to among other expensive problems, a ped/bike bridge at Mattpan station. Murray just smiled and said “We love our sister agencies.”

So it’s worth nothing the residual complaints that bring up what the DCR and the many others involved overcame. Last evening lacked the whiffs of racism and classism noted in articles about earlier public meetings. A few of those seemed to mirror the fears that kept Weston from allowing an extension of the Minuteman path. There was only one of those last night, and of course Murray handled that well.

Despite the round praise for the proposal, one resident still wanted her say, there and in some private meeting. It was a wonder to hear. She said the trolley runs behind her house and the bike path will. Her concern was that cyclists would jump the fence and do something nefarious on her property – to her possessions or daughter. Hearing that it doesn’t happen, not in Boston or Lexington, and that bike paths add light and witnesses, making areas safer was not enough. She didn’t seem to notice that she undercut her argument by saying she feared the same of the nearby trolley. The fact that this has never been a problem did not deter her. She wanted some kind of meeting with state officials and not a public one. Meh.

Toward the end of the question-and-comment period another resident tried the it’s-only-a-start ploy. He’s surely sadly mistaken if he supposes something with this much pubic input and accommodation awaits his brilliant revisions and a restart.

Otherwise, the niggles were indeed niggling. People were pleased at the result and particularly at having been listened to. They could see their suggestions, complaints and fine-tuning before them. The Neponset River Tail Phase II is rolling right along.

Safety? That’s the ticket!

August 8th, 2011

BPjollyParalyzed police are so oppressed by thoughtless lawmakers. Otherwise, for sure dudes and dudettes, they’d do the right thing.

Over at the Globe today, Peter DeMarco does his usual clear writing on bike issues. The gist is that cops in Boston and other cities around aren’t writing tickets for cycling infractions, particularly running red lights. It seems there are flaws in the laws.

Rather, there are numerous laws that make it clear that under MA law, a bicycle is a vehicle with similar rights and responsibilities for the operator as motor vehicles. (A later post or two will rip into the inane same-road-same-rules chant.) Yet the three-paragraph law (Ch. 85-Sect. 11E) that passed this January gives the cops a weak excuse not to write tickets for bikers.

The ruse is that as there is no driver’s license to suspend or revoke, the constabulary is powerless, powerless I say son, to do anything other than write warning tickets to cyclists. While listening to locals and reading comments on newspaper and websites, you’d believe all drivers are law abiding and all cyclists hellions.The BDP and other cops around feign impotence.

Unfortunately, DeMarco stops with taking them at their word and does not point out the obvious. Nor does the Globe or police or anyone seem interested in a bit of science. Counting and classifying infractions by drivers, bikers and walkers would likely make them all squirm and shuffle their feet.

We really do need to disregard these give perceptions that drive (if you pardon) the related discussions. I’ve done a few short term counts. I think I’ll do some more and publish them. This is a discussion awaiting and some official counter sorts should get involved.

First let’s note some Boston road traits:

  • Unlike many cities with long, straight runs of well-timed lights, ours are generally low speed.
  • This keeps most collisions to non-lethal levels. While it’s rare to find a local car without dings, we don’t get going fast enough to murder in most cases.
  • The sheer number of cars here so vastly exceeds bikes that the numbers of wrecks, hit-and-runs and more commonly moving violations is several orders of magnitude higher for motor vehicles.
  • There are virtually no fatalities caused by a bicycle hitting anyone or anything, and numerous ones of car, bus and truck drivers hitting cyclists.

Yet the need of urbanites to identify with fellow drivers and to believe that cyclists are far more likely to disregard traffic laws is terrifically strong. Hence, there is a cry for our cops to crack down on these scofflaws.

periodmoto

Back to my quasi-scientific findings, which I promise to replicate and expand a bit, I went to a few intersections, some with little bike traffic and others with a mix of motor and non-motor. What I found included with the preponderance of cars, trucks and buses, it was extremely rare (under 1%) of traffic lights and stop lights that did not have multiple driver offenses at every light change and every sign stop. These were running the light or sign, not coming to a complete stop, blocking the crosswalk or box, not stopping before the stop line, turning on red where not allowed, speeding, turning or changing lanes without a signal, turning without yielding to pedestrians, and turning from the wrong, marked lane. In general, the law-abiding drivers were the one who were not close enough to commit the moving violations. At nearly all lights, from one to five drivers ran red lights, often tailgating each other through after the change.

Cyclists tended to be guilty most frequently of slowing or stopping for the red light, then proceeding, running the light in vehicular terms. Yet, more and more cyclists are stopping and waiting, including this one. The message seems to be getting through to us. It appears a slight majority do proceed after stopping and before the light changes though.

Of course, cyclists are wont to point out that the risk to anyone from a cyclist stopping and going is tiny contrasted to a motor vehicle driver doing that. It’s still illegal tough. Moreover, it is well to a cyclist’s safety to get ahead of drivers at a light change. Drivers are much more sensible and safe overtaking cyclists where they can see and feel in charge than leaving a light at the same moment. Yet, even starting a second or two before the change to green is still illegal.

The fact seems to be that most drivers who do not also cycle seem to resent cyclists or anyone who might get to do something they cannot. Despite the vast physical differences, drivers seem from their comments to have a puerile reaction — If I can’t, they can’t! It’s not fair!

Then to the cops, let’s be plain about return on their time and effort investment. They roundly hate the $1 MA jaywalking law and the $20 bike tickets. Fair enough for pedestrians, but they know that the bike tickets can be $20 to $50, enough to make it worth the time.

In fairness, we need to be aware that tickets are time consuming, particularly if the receiver fights it and the cop is supposed to appear in court to testify. Understandably, they’d rather not mess with bike and ped tickets. They could enforce these laws, as they have in places like D.C. and occasionally, periodically, in Cambridge.

However, cops may have seen too many police dramas. Talk to a cop and they would have it they are overwhelmed with major stuff. Yet the danger of some loony or criminal shooting at or trying to stab or club a cop are very low in a given year or decade. Some officers go careers without any of that. More importantly, the vast majority of cops are not detectives bringing to the bar murderers, burglars and such. Most cops do pretty mundane looking and other work all day every day.

They largely have time to do for pay what I have done out of curiosity — go to intersections and observe moving violations. The difference, of course, is that they should then write tickets.

Virtually any intersection any day would provide one violation after another. They would quickly:

  • Fill up ticket book
  • Shock the drivers used to the no-blood-no-ticket attitude
  • Spread the word that urban cops were enforcing laws for a change
  • Make our streets safer

The pretense that tweaking the new 85-11E would make a difference is absurd. Facts include that cyclists have advantages here. While they are much more likely to be maimed or killed when hit, they don’t have licenses to lose or surchargeable insurance. They don’t have to produce their papers (license) and could give false names and addresses.

In comments on sites, a common call is for cyclists to have operator insurance and some form of license. These too are those shallow, emotional responses to someone having something those commenting do not. Plus, I try to imaging the cry over the expense and new bureaucracy in implementing such changes.

Instead, cops should enforce existing laws for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Police departments can make that happen by mandating enforcement and creating policies for their officers in presently iffy situations.

Sure, cops would whine that they’ll spend a lot more time writing tickets and appearing court. I can almost guarantee that this would be only for a few months. When the word got out that the BPD suddenly means to enforce traffic laws, violations will plunge as driver/cyclist/walker behavior changes.

I propose that we measure violations, both by study and by tickets issued. That would certainly take the bluster out of driver’s claims that they are the only ones who obey the laws. We could get a much safer city.

Cross-post: This is both legal and personal. I’ll post in Harrumph and Marry in Massachusetts.

$20 Tom At It Again

July 13th, 2011

Last fall, when the students (and their bikes) had returned, Boston staged a barely dramatic crackdown on cyclists. Today, Mayor Tom Menino gave fair warning that he was ordering another, ongoing this summer.

Per his press release, he bills this one as largely educational too. In preparation for the bike sharing program about to start, he sees a broad public information campaign. Most aspects, of course, won’t be punative. As the release puts it, “‘It is important that all cyclists and motorists alike follow the rules of the road so that the streets are safe for all users,’ Mayor Menino said. ‘This program will educate cyclists on how to bike safely and abide by the rules. We want all cyclists to wear helmets and to follow stoplights.'”

That’s actually only a little odd. The helmet aspect is optional above age 12. (As a regular cyclist, I always wear a helmet and used to keep a post car-crash one with three cracks in it to convince my vain, painter-cap wearing chums to go my way.)

Last September, the BU daily paper reported 100 students got $20 tickets, largely for passing red lights without stopping. Police claimed that the cyclists largely understood it was for their safety and that some thanked the cops.

In preparation for the Hubway bike-sharing launch shortly, City Hall has already expressed concerns that non-cyclists won’t be used to the laws and that some may ignore their agreement to wear a helmet when on a city bike. Beyond the ticketing, the education will include free and highly reduced-price helmets, as well as literature and classes coordinated with Boston Cyclists Union, Livable Streets Alliance, MassBike, Walk Boston, Boston University Police, Northeastern Police and the Boston Public Health Commission.

Given the adversarial and disdainful attitude of many non-cyclists here, a well-handled education program should be amusing all around. To hear the anti-cyclist types tell it or read their comments on newspaper and other websites, every single cyclist is a crazed scofflaw who terrorizes the aged, toddlers and law-abiding motorists and pedestrians.

Yet, if the Mayor’s release is right, a very overdue crackdown on red-light runners, crosswalk blockers, and those who don’t yield to walkers or other vehicles (including bikes) should follow. Motorists, whose tickets for moving violations are considerably higher than $20 and can come with license suspensions and multi-year insurance surcharges, will be in for a much greater shock than cyclists.

I have long doubted the police had the political will and respect for pubic safety to enforce laws routinely against motorists. The cliché of no-blood-no-ticket has a basis in observable fact.

I for one will watch to see how since the Mayor and BPD are here. If it’s just a small drama as last year, nothing will change. If motorists as well as cyclists come to think they have some incentive beyond decency to obey traffic laws, that would be huge advance.

On the other hand, if the Mayor or police brass have fantasies that motorists here adhere to the laws, they need to stand next to virtually any traffic light or stop sign for 10 minutes. Count the illegal actions by motorists and weep, guys.