Archive for the ‘West Roxbury’ Category

Boston choo-choo ka-ching

March 3rd, 2016

fairmounttoot-213x300With a very jovial CYA delivery, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola chuckled his way through good-natured insults from Boston City Councilors last evening. He was at the Hyde Park Muni building for a hearing of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Transportation Committee (alas, no Amy Poehler cameo).

It was a very Boston, very city-government two hours entertainment. We got no denouement, but yet, a promise of more bureaucratic theater. It all may resolve well.

We recently saw that with related commuter-rail matters, specifically the Fairmount line. While we rail about commuter rail, Boston is a positive legend in transit circles nationally and internationally. Our local community groups badgered the commonwealth and feds into bring service and stations on the Fairmount Line (a.k.a. Indigo Line) to the underserved largely black and poor citizens. We also pushed successfully for both more frequent service and more than 50% fare drop to a fairer fare equal to a subway trip to Fairmount Station.

Hence the committee meeting. It had the heavy-fingered title of Order for a hearing Regarding Inconsistencies in Commuter Rail Fares and the Effect of This Policy on Local Communities. It resulted from well-justified whining by residents of neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods.

Unfair fares?

Commuter rail fares in Boston range from $2.10 to $6.25 per one-way trip. These differences relate — but arbitrarily — to MBTA zones, which only kind of tie to distance from major city rail hubs (mostly South Station). Moreover, a short walk or drive away can make that nearly 300% differential, and again, these are all within the city limits.

Then cue the Mommy-Jane-got-something-I-didn’t calls. The Fairmount neighborhood (mine) lobbied and otherwise worked the system for years go get the service, frequency, stations, and BANG! drop from $5.75 to $2.10 a trip. Readville and Hyde Park Stations, only a short distance away are still at $5.75 and $6.25 a trip. Those around them are aware that out-of-Boston stations like West Medford are at $2.10. (Insert understandable foot stomping.)

Last evening’s very civil hearing got into all of these. Three Councilors spoke their unanimous support for fare equity within city limits. They made it plain their constituents were wired about that happening.

Those who showed

Those who appeared in person and were mentioned as supporters were perhaps as telling as who did not. On the dais were:

  • District Councilor for Hyde Park Tim McCarthy
  • At-Large Councilor and Council President Michelle Wu
  • District Councilor for Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury (and Roslindale sliver) Matt O’Malley

McCarthy cited some of the legislators for those neighborhoods who supported lower fares in-town, including Representatives Liz Malia,, Russel Holmes and Angelo Scaccia, and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Note who didn’t bother, including all the Parks etc Committee members:

  • Chair Salvatore LaMattina
  • Vice Chair Bill Linehan
  • Frank Baker
  • Annissa Essaibi-George
  • Mark Ciommo

Perhaps they weren’t aware they could take the Fairmount Line and get off 100 yards from the municipal building.

Wu brought the prestige of the Council boss. She also worked the room before the hearing and captured snatches from several of us. For example, Gov. Mike Dukakis has long been a mass-transit rider and advocate. He and I both testified at a few public meetings, he was my my Left Ahead show a couple of times and we’ve even corresponded on fares. When Wu approached me at the Muni, I told her that I’d like to see the T as free with money spent on service, maintenance and security instead of fare collection, while Dukakis said he’d like a $1 trip for all. At yesterday’s hearing, from the dais she parroted that some would like free or $1 fares. I sincerely appreciated her saying that. She’s a skilled pol.

McCarthy has a pre-Council career of constituent services. He spoke of reason and fairness, particularly for the stations in Hyde Park on the two lines.

Sit-down comics

O’Malley was charming as he always is. He can out-jolly even DePaola. He said the fare issue was “a problem with a pretty simple solution, as is dropping all in-Boston fares to $2.10. “We can solve the problem and have an early night,” he added with the requisite chuckle.

Before dumping on DePaola as the T representative, O’Malley also apologized in advance. He linked the GM to a Yankee in Fenway Park, acknowledging that most commuters in  the system had terrible thoughts about the MBTA, particularly in light of the failures to operate last year in record snows (and under the previous GM).

Nonplussed, DePaola confirmed there’d be no resolution at the hearing. He pleaded bureaucrat with no portfolio. That is, he came into the meeting without power beyond listening and responding to direct questions that did not involve promises.

He cited the powers that be:

  • Governor Charles D. Baker
  • The 11-member MassDOT board
  • Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack
  • I think he even mentioned the five-member Fiscal and Management Control Board

Baker is a professional bureaucrat. He knows how to wall himself off and is better insulated than a hipster dressed for downhill skiing. DePaola reveled is padding himself.

As he put it, the fares and related issues are all major policy concerns. He praised the questions and concerns from the audience as well as the trio of Councilors as “great ideas.” Then he was at his CYA best with, “We’re the troops. We deliver the service. The policy comes to us from those who make it.”

That was short of don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you lingo, but not by much.

T probation periods

I’d add that when the Fairground frequency increase and fare decrease came, they were on trial bases. They were on six and 12 month tests. If ridership and revenue seemed to justify them, the MBTA would (fanfare for noblesse oblige) kindly keep them in place.

Apparently, we near Fairmount Station did OK. The T queen bees would still like better numbers but we passed the minimal, it seems. The irony is that they really don’t other to count, not under the old crew or the new Keolis one. Many Fairmount Line trains have conductors who do not have the time (or interest) to collect fare. Those who do grunt approval of smartphone purchases and monthly passes waved in front of them. They simply don’t count the actual number of passengers per trip.

DePaola made much of the T subsidizing commuter-rail at $4 per passenger trip, in contrast to 65¢ on the subway or trolley. We have to trust those are accurate figures and that they amount to the $200 million a year shortfall the T provides.

McCarthy noted that among the 175 communities who pay some annual fees to the T, Boston is by far the largest contributor. He contended that we deserve a break, at the least that all commuter-rail stops in city limits should have the same fare (as in $2.10).

DePaola rejoined that 50 rail stops were within the distance of the farthest Boston-limit distances from South Station, so that would be a big deal. If Boston gets that, then everyone will want it. Whaaa.

My sense of the hearing (and speakers) was that we might be headed to another, bigger trial. That might mean after more headings and sloth-like action by the T bureaucracy, stations like the four in West Roxbury and Roslindale might get Fairmount-style tests. If lowered fares bring in more riders and fuller parking lots, the T gods just might nod approving on the peasants.


Die or Grow Beyond Fear

September 2nd, 2014

swimLake, ocean, pool or river can be inviting, calming or terrifying. For the latter camp, a solid NYT piece with vid of an man who just had to get over his wet anxiety brought back pubescent times.

First know I’m a water guy, as in:

  • My water-safety instructor (WSI) mother taught me to swim in the South Branch of the Potomac at Romney WV
  • My sister and I became instructors and lifeguards
  • I coached a summer swim team two years
  • I was on my high school, then freshman college swim team
  • I got all the Boy Scout aquatics merit badges
  • I swam at beaches from Florida (yucky hot) to Maine (my God! cold) and lakes all over

Water is my buddy. I meditate while swimming several times each week and I never feel as graceful as in the water.

Yet I was surprised at 12 or just 13 to have the head swimming teacher at a man-made lake in Virginia ask for help. My sister and I were taking life-saving classes and killing time afterward swimming and diving. We would wait until our mother, who ran the local Red Cross chapter, to come by and drive us home.

Turns out the teacher had a lot more in mind that just getting me to help her. What she really wanted and cannily figured out was that I could teach some gray hairs to swim.

Had she put it like that I’m pretty sure I would have said I wasn’t able. In no small part both the times and central Virginia locale made that unlikely. I was a Ma’am and Sir, respect-elders boy. It would seem to betray the natural order for a kid to teach maybe 8 folk in the 60s and 70s anything.

Yet, the teacher knew my mother, sister and me. She knew that many of the Red Cross volunteers aged up to 80 or so had me call them by their first names from when I was 6 or 7. Yes, I was polite and attentive, had a large vocabulary and never ever would have called them by another other than Mr.., Miss or Mrs. (last name) unless they insisted. They did.

I was also a water prize, getting my advanced-swimmer card young. I was my mother’s son. So maybe it wasn’t so crazy to ask me to help.

I didn’t know any of the 8 or so men and women in my instant class. In retrospect I guess the median age was 72. The teacher introduced us and said I’d show them how to get used to the water. Then she left.

Well, I was a sincere little boy and that’s just what I did. I’d bet they were both charmed a lad their grandchildren’s age was in charge and comfortable that if I could do this water stuff they had a shot.

I was in for my own shock when they told me, almost to a one, that they were afraid to put their faces in the water. They never had in the 70-some years. They were born at the very end of the 19th or very beginning of the 20th Century. Shower baths were rare. they would bath in a tub but never do as I was used to — shampooing and plunging my whole head underwater repeatedly while rinsing, repeating. They said they wet washcloths and used them on their faces.

That was not a chapter in the WSI manuals at home and in the chapter buildings. I read those on the sofa or on the toilet. When I went into a new level of swimming class I already knew what we were supposed to do and generally had already mastered it on my own. Yet, afraid of water? Never put your face in water in your entire life?

Well, it turns out the clever teacher had it right. My job was to teach this group to be okay in the water. By then it never seemed possible to do less and maybe a lot more. The students were certainly willing.  I got them bobbing, splashing water on their heads and faces as they stood in thigh-high water, and eventually putting their faces down in water while keeping control by blowing air through their noses. We went on as I had learned in my first few levels of classes to back floating, front floating, using a kickboard and basic rhythmic breathing. We did dog-paddling and backstroke.

I didn’t have time to teach them how to swim, as in how I swam. They let me know how far we had come though. At the end of one class, they told me together that they felt they had learned to fly. They had been afraid of water their whole lives and now were able to float, to do basic strokes, and to breathe out with their faces in the water was mastering a whole new element, just water instead of air.

Since then, I’ve taught photography, writing, various aspects of computer use, and management. Apparently I’m good at doing that, but never since that lake have my students compared what they learned to mastering a whole new element. When students and teachers are in it together, there is elegance, beauty and fulfillment. That class is still my touchstone for a splendid job.

I hadn’t thought of those happy moments in a long time, until the NYT piece. I was with Attis Clopton all along. That’s the thrill of learning at its best.


Train to Gorillas

November 29th, 2013



The quasi-suburban parts of Boston can have their own simple pleasures. Mine today came from an excursion, train time, zoo time!

Here in Hyde Park, as in Roslindale and West Roxbury, we all seem proud of being part of the city, yet very aware we can’t reasonably walk across the central fist of it as you can from Beason Hill or the South or West Ends. Standout successes like the recent new stations and skeds of the Indigo (Fairmount) Line are big deals down here.

For 10 years, we lived right downtown and then for 21, we were in JP, right below Forest Hills. Now in lower Hyde Park, it’s a trek and rigmarole to get places. I and one of my sons bike frequently (it’s quicker to get to Porter Square on two wheels than by T or God forfend by four). We have to plan. Until recently too the infrequent commuter rail just down the hill from us was also $5.50 a trip and only went as far as South Station.

I’ve been taking the zap, pow, wow improved Fairmount line regularly and grokking it. They dropped the fare to subway prices ($2 a trip) and roughly doubled the frequency. There is also a subtext. This is Thomas Michael Menino’s turf also and part of the idea was to pay attention to the Mayor and District Councilor Rob Consalvo in fostering development in Logan Square, a few hundred yards from the Fairmount stop. Moreover, personally, I got my geezer card from the MBTA, so one way is half price — a buck.

Freebie Road Trip

Today was a trial run for many who had not caught the T fever and fervor. Touted in the local weekly, in flyers at the Y and such, the notice was that today at 11:45 AM, we could gather at the Fairmount Grille and head for the 12:03 PM train. We’d get free round-trip fare.

Every station had its attraction. In particular, New Market was the big honking blue-collar South Bay shopping center with anything your little heart desires. Honestly, as much as I bike and sometimes drive around there, I reeled at the mentions of Four Corners and a short walk to the Franklin Park Zoo. I had never gotten off the Fairmount line at that stop and in my rigid mind thought it must not practical…too far.



I decided to do the zoo stop, assured a lackey would appear to lead me. Turns out, I was the only fool headed to the animals in the cold. When we gathered at the Fairmount Grille before heading to the stop, people were talking about shopping, either at South Bay or downtown. Joe Cosgrove (right), the MBTA’s director of planning and development, and Mat Thall, the interim executive director of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, spoke, but did not pitch Franklin Park. We heard that the $2 fare was an experiment, for both Fairmount and as a test for other Boston neighborhood commuter lines shackled to absurdly high fares despite being in Boston city limits. We heard that the Fairmount traffic had spiked 47% since the fare change, and mostly we heard that we had to talk it up.

Clearly, I”m self-interested, but I think it’s worth it. Sure to the rail geeks, Boston has a reputation far beyond our boundaries for how hard the CDCs pushed for the Indigo Line work that has produced the improvements after almost two decades. Honestly, I can attest that we are a model for the hemisphere for the accomplishments. More personally, I want to see weekend service and trains that leave downtown for my neighborhood after the current latest, 9:40 PM. I want to be able to go to the Haymarket on Saturday, thank you very much. Let’s be a real city.

Gorillas, No Giraffes

My hick mindset had the zoo out of range. Despite my frequent bike rides down Columbia, up Blue Hill, through Franklin Park, past Forest Hills, the length of Mass Ave and all of the convoluted Washington Street in various neighborhoods, I fell into the Geneva Ave/Four Corners is distant gang turf. I was ignorant.

Sure enough, I ended up being the only bozo getting off the train at Four Corners. At Fairmount, the conductor was amused and amusing. He was the veritable gang of us, highly unusual for 12:03 PM on a weekday and did a great double take as he greeted us. I was literally the only Four Corners stop requester and the only one who exited for the zoo instead of consumer/Black Friday choices.


As promised, a pleasant young man, Hanad, was there to shepherd me. Turns out, as I was the only one, he didn’t even bother putting me through the half-priced-day gate. I got in for free. So there, shoppers.

Sure, a cold November day is not primo. Many animals are not the slightest bit interested in playing the game below 65F. Even my favorite beasts of all, giraffes, were bunked or huddling inside. No tigers, a single lion, no roos, maybe a third of the areas and cages said exhibit not open. Harrumph, as the expression goes.

Yet there was plenty to see. The parents with kids in strollers and racing ahead of them squealing about dark jungles, warthogs, gorillas and such had a great time. So did I.

(I’ll post some pix on Flickr and update with a link here.)

For the logistics minded, the walk from the Four Corners stop to the zoo entrance is eight minutes. It’s exit the station to the South onto Washington, go four short blocks, then seven short blocks up Columbia to the zoo. It’s a devil of a lot easier and closer than by Orange line or some wacky bus combo.If you want to start from South Station or Hyde Park, this is it. It’s in my mental maps.

We can be as provincial as Manhattanites and a question I heard in the Fairmoumt Grille and on the platform was what can you see in late November at a zoo? Lots, sports fans. The Tropical Forest was fully stocked; the great apes, warthogs, pygmy hippo, wacky carrion birds and more are crowd pleasers.  Nearby in Bird’s World, ibises and lurid finches and parakeets play, while the huge green keas wail and shriek.

A male lion showed off endlessly and on and on and on.

I earned bragging rights for going to the cold-weather zoo, doubled by taking the commuter rail.

Dye, dye, dye

April 10th, 2012

To us non-Catholics (Roman or Eastern Orthodox), the fixation on Christ’s blood, wounds and suffering may well seem bizarre. While raised as a devote little Christian,  I was a Protestant and without all the figurative and literal gear.

Yet, many years ago, I picked up a dye envelope in a Greek grocery and reveled in the true blood color it produced on eggshells. In contrast, the silly pastels in my childhood Easter baskets were insipid and unmemorable.

This year, I swung by the West Roxbury’s Greek International Food Market (great place). Selecting a basket of cheeses, olives, taramasalata, retsina and bread, I was pleased to see dye packets by the register.

Alas, with my eggs handy, I was stunned to find the offering was pink, pink I say, in the water. Even had I used a small portion of the water it called for it would not at all resemble blood.

I ended up with eggs that had a color that likely never appears in nature. I have to admit though, the pink is so garish we all liked it.

Next year, I’ll shop around a bit and make sure to get the blood version.

Skulls to Wheat in West Roxbury

August 21st, 2011

If Forest Hills is a palace among cemeteries, Westerly is a studio apartment, one with a terrible view, but well furnished nonetheless. Today I wandered a bit in the wee West Roxbury burying ground. It has treasurers.

In particularly, Westerly’s existence reflects WR’s then and current attitude. As part of Roxbury and founded about the same time as Boston, near 1630, what became West Roxbury had to have their own, as they do now. The locals buried their bodies in Eliot Street ground, at what became Dudley Square. In 1683, the gentry in western Roxbury decided it was too much of a bother and set up their own cemetery, with the first burial in 1691.

hannahFor us cemetery and iconography freaks, the keen feature is that the ground with only a few hundred burials (many currently who knows where and without stones remaining), Westerly has examples of three centuries of New England stones.

While the MFA filched one as an good example of the slate stone, none of the iconography is unique or even spectacular. However, this little ground is a fine place to see a wide range in a single location.

That spot by the bye is now the backyard of the gigantic Walgreen’s on Centre Street. The unlocked entrance is behind a bus stop at LaGrange. It’s right there, but even many locals don’t notice it or stroll through. It’s on the historic register and comes with the standard restrictions, like no dog walking, no booze, and no gravestone rubbing.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Westerly has many examples of the N.E. classic icon of a winged skull. These are symbols of transformation — to the afterlife. Mehetabel Newel (d. 1739) is a fine example of the early 18th Century work, replete with side scrolling. MehetabelNewel
Newelskull The top in slate is finely carved and has survived well.
Robert Seaver’s (died 1770) already shows the personalization. The original Puritans allegedly saw no chance of communication with the Almighty, yet the skull ornamentation continued to evolve from stylized bones to faces. I’d bet that this resembled Seaver. robertseaver
EBacon1 An older stone, Elizabeth Bacon (died 1713) showed what happened when you gave license to the carver, who expanded the acceptable symbolism. These works are unsigned, although some carvers were prolific enough to be known.
Some of the starkest examples of the skull remain the most straightforward. Here the stone of Benjamin Lyon (died 1752) were Puritan in providing just his death and age, although with modest scroll work lyonfull
WillieHunting In some cemeteries, stones of infants and small children have wee lambs and such. Here, Little Willie (Hunting, died 1860), under two years, had no decoration.
More typically for a child, four year old Abby Harper (died 1845) had a stone with simple wording, but flowers in bud and blossom. Of course, those represented a young life. These are among the most poignant in some cemeteries when there are several blossom or lamb stones together for youngsters who fell to an epidemic. childflowers
guildclose Westerly has a common icon that appears in many N.E. cemeteries. The gathered sheaf of wheat represents God harvesting the people in their time.
Wheat often appeared in whole family plots. Here, the (died 1877 and 1878) stones of Abner and Mary Guild show the symbol, clearly done by the same carver. guilds
draperclose A variation in the same period was a sheaf on top of the stone. This might appear on a single grave, or as here in the mid-to-late 18th Century family stone of the Drapers.
Despite the elaborate carving, these wheat bundles survive amazingly well. Here the 1840 stone topping still shows detail. sheaftop
urncherub Westerly has several other common symbols done well, particularly the urn and willow. Here, an early version on the stone of William Lyon (died 1714) shows cherubs bearing a urn. The container symbolizes the soul within the body, with the transformation winged skull above, as the little angels carry the urn off. We presume there were headed upward.
More typically, stones came to include willows. These trees symbolized eternal life. Here a particularly fine specimen appears on an 1877 stone. willow1877
willowurn As in the previous from the same period, the willow appears next to an urn, with its body/soul symbolism.

Resident directory: The 280 known burials have gotten history buffs excited. The Find-a-Grave site lets you search them, many with images and some with transcriptions of the text. No one hugely famous is here, but there are many from pre-Revolutionary through the Civil War.

Shingle Shield Hoisted

December 3rd, 2010

fowlChicken pox? Shingles? WTF?

Fairly under orders from my uxorial unit, I pressed the shingles vaccine to its fulfillment today. In real speak, I got the long-overdue shot.

I’ve only known one person who had shingles. Surely there have been others, but only one fessed up. It was many years ago in Greek class, six semesters with only six students and Prof. Ott. We were relatively intimate or at least casual by our three-times-a-week meetings on the quaint and townhouse scaled horseshoe on the old campus of the University of South Carolina. Our studies lent themselves to object lessons and our professor had many applicable tales to impress the lessons of classics into our memories.

Among other texts of mythology and history, we translated the Iliad and Odyssey. Many of these led Prof. Ott to discourses on life in general and her experiences in particular. As well as her recounting visits to Athens and other classic-related sites, she mentioned shingles several times. She had it and was plain that the itching and burning and other recurrent, prolonged symptoms were dreadful. In the end, shingles attacks as so many of her experiences led her to focus her attention on matters Greek and philosophic. Nonetheless, she hoped that none of us ever got the incurable curse.

While still incurable, shingles are now preventable…so doctors would have us believe. My wife is also a believer, having read of the wonders of the vaccine.

It is pertinent in our times, as the viral disease can appear in anyone who has had chicken pox and even those who have never had the disease but been inoculated against it. That’s most of us. Moreover, between one and four percent of healthy folk get it, a rate that basically triples as we age, peaking about retirement age. As a result, docs now recommend that anyone over 60 get the vaccine, apparently so we don’t suffer to the end.

That seemed simple enough, until the swine-flu syndrome kicked in. My wife’s regular doc gave her the shot last year and suggested she tell other boomers to do the same. Well eventually, I asked my internist and fell into the whirlpool of medical fads.

As with swine flu, yes, the medical literature was virtually unanimous. This was a necessary shot. In turn that meant that every FP, GP and internal medical sort fell into line. It naturally followed as with swine flu that there were a lot more willing patients than drug.

I have been on a waiting list for half a year. The docs and nurses would check. Yup, I was on the list. Nope, they had no idea when they’d get vaccine.

Well, today I was by for a routine check and asked afterward. This was not the first the crew at Harvard Vanguard had heard of this. They weren’t too jaded to kick in though. They confirmed on the database that I was in queue. Then after 10 minutes of calling around, one nurse found that they happened to have received 80 doses that very afternoon. I chilled for half an hour before a vial could be set aside and another half for it to travel from ground floor up one level and end up in my arm.

Of course, I had to sign the usual vaccine waiver that any side-effects were just too damned bad. Plus, I got the dreadful Center for Disease Control flyer on how awful shingles are and what God-awful reactions might occur from the vaccine.

My reward was from the injecting nurse. She explained that it was one of the few vaccines that they gave subcutaneously — into body fat in the arm.

I dutifully pushed up my right shirt sleeve and she went to work. She seemed to be spending a long time pinching and pushing with her fingers. Finally she said, “You have some muscle mass. I’ve having a hard time finding any fat to use.”

Well, I have fat elsewhere, but that was a pleasant artifact from a medical visit.


Brookline: Just Go Away!

November 30th, 2010

goawayProbably all of us as adolescents had our cranky periods. Brookline never outgrew its.

Unless you live there, they are too good for you anyway. They don’t even want you parking there. They don’t need your damned tourist dollars. If you are from a neighboring town, why don’t you just stay there?

Speak to someone from Brookline and you are likely to hear how friendly they are. After all in schools, income, personal achievement and every other way, they are superior and have a lot of reason to be happy.

Brookline as a town makes its attitude plain on every street and road coming it. I think of it particularly as I bicycle around Eastern Massachusetts. (Fortunately for lesser mortals such as me, Brookline does not put up toll roads at its borders…yet.)

Other burgs in the area, such as Boston, Newton, Somerville and Cambridge, are different. Signs on streets entering those have this curious term that seems unknown in Brookline — WELCOME. Driving, cycling or walking into those ordinary places read WELCOME TO…

The Brookline version appears here. You are not welcome. You will not park anywhere in town for more than two hours, and there will be places that permit less time or none at all for non-residents. You will not park on the street anywhere overnight.

Go home. You don’t belong there.

It doesn’t work the other way, of course. Many from Brookline work in the financial district, medical facilities, corporations and universities of Boston and Cambridge.

thumbYou get a sense of the long standing of the Brookline attitude from its geography and governance. Brookline is a self-selected island of Norfolk County. As you can see from the map, it appears to be a thumb protruding into Boston’s bottom.

The rest of Norfolk County is to the South. Brookline refused to join Boston on several occasions, the last in 1873 when the town of West Roxbury agreed to annexation. Now Brookline is an exclave (not coincidentally sharing the first four letters with exclusive).

Back to bicycling, for all its snootiness, Brookline as a town is OK by riders. They don’t have nearly enough bike racks (goes with the car-parking attitude surely), but the cops there expect drivers to play nice with riders.

It has one nice, large park, plus the Olmsted site. We attend an old UU church there. The Brookline Village and Coolidge Corner areas have numerous OK, some good, but no great restaurants. (Note: Be very careful in the Village in the evening. Predatory towing services constantly monitor all off-street parking lots of closed businesses. They will get your car within 10 minutes.) It also has a concentration of kosher restaurants and bakeries.

Brookline never joined Boston, never formed its own county and apparently never got lonely for the rest of it body and buddies. It is content to float solo.

If you want to visit, bring quarters for the meters and for God’s sake, get out within two hours!

Tags: , , , ,

Wheels of Health, Wheels of Death

April 8th, 2010

HuntingtonTurnPremature and ignominious death can visit us suddenly, cruelly and diversely. Surely there are even worse forms than being hit by a city bus. Dying under the wheels of a garbage truck comes to mind.

Yet, a 22-year-old Bostonian dying when being run over by a bus is awful enough.

Update: The Herald reports that the cyclist was Eric Michael Hunt of Mission Hill, which is the area where he died.

Police and the T have not named the cyclist or revealed his other details. We know more about the 29-year-old bus driver (only two years service, but a clean record). The BostonChannel site has the available info.

Commentary, including the requisite all cyclists/drivers are incompetent cowboys, appears at Universal Hub. That URL is likely to carry any updates as well.

I’m intellectually and emotionally invested. I bike almost daily. I’ve been hit twice by inattentive drivers (one car and one truck in a little over 20 years) who were disobeying laws as well as safety and common sense. Plus, I know that dangerous Huntington/South Huntington intersection well.

Click the thumbnail above for a closer view on the Google map. Those arcs are the trolley tracks implicated in the fatal wreck yesterday.

While I have an old mountain bike, I almost always use my thin-wheel (23mm tires) road bike in and around Boston. I find that particular intersection dangerous for cars and extremely so for cycles. The tracks make cars and trucks slide over the lane and would catch all but the fattest bike tires with the slightest inattention. Turning left heading north to west there requires a dance of exquisite timing to cut at sharp angles over the tracks while watching traffic and lights from three directions for the very short opening of green lights — assuming motor vehicles do not run the reds as they often do. It’s a heart-pounding event every time.

While drivers don’t seem to know or may forget, cyclists invariably lose in a collision with a car, truck, trolley or bus. Oddly in the inevitable I-hate-cyclists comments on websites and in public, that injury, dismemberment or death reality can translate into, “Those damned cyclists better stay out of my way!”

Boston Beserker

I see versions of that frequently in Boston. Just yesterday, leaving the West Roxbury Y, heading south on Centre to turn left in one long block onto Lagrange, I was tailgated by a foolish woman blowing her horn all the way. Consider:

  • She had been stopped at the light above where I entered the road, so she had to speed to get up to me anyway.
  • I was in the left lane as required by law, making my left signal as required by law, and entering the left-turn only cut at the Lagrange light.
  • Those pesky laws require anyone approaching any other vehicle to use care and slow as necessary for safety.
  • The Lagrange light was red and she had to stop anyway.
  • There was nowhere for a cyclist to disappear to regardless of the indignation of a driver who resented sharing the road.

She used her car and horn to threaten and scold, not for any safety considerations. She made an awful face and gesture, despite her being totally wrong. She did not hit me, just, it would seem, hated me.

With the obvious exceptions (think bike paths and turnpikes), cycles and motor vehicles have the same responsibilities, rights and road access. The bike haters forget the rights part. They too often remind me of bigoted Southerners I knew in my childhood. Those folk loved to tell stories of lazy or dishonest Black people they claimed to have witnessed or heard about as proof it was OK to defame or distrust the lot of them.

Who Loses?

We cyclists are too aware of who’ll lose in a collision. Moreover, lax law enforcement and laxer obedience of traffic regulations and laws by drivers mist every ride with the scent of danger.

For yesterday’s death, initial reports are that a bike tire jammed in the trolley track and as the cyclist tried to dislodge it, the bus drove around the corner and crushed him. Even in Boston’s notorious no-blood-no-ticket environment, the likely outcome would be no charges against the driver, assuming he could not have stopped in the estimated 150 feet he had.

Of course, we can surmise that an attentive driver operating at reasonable speed would have seen the adult standing in the road and been quick enough to stop. That is merely a surmise though and it seems police and judges are like most citizens, identifying more with drivers than cyclists and erring on the motorist’s side given a choice. That’s not likely to change until we are more like an Amsterdam or other cycling cities where cops and judges bike as well as drive or instead of driving.

I remain a shameless promoter of cycling. It’s healthy. It’s fun. It’s far more scenic. It’s vastly quieter and cleaner than driving. It decreases congestion too.

I am also a claim-a-lane guy. I do stop at red lights and octagonal signs, but if I need the lane to travel safely, I take it and the driver may have to wait two to five seconds for a place to pass. Too bad, but it’s safety, it’s courtesy, it’s common sense, it’s the law.

For that infamous intersection, I’d prefer the tracks disappear and that trolleys stop at Brigham Circle, putting passengers on buses a few block earlier. Watching cars skid at that intersection and knowing the risk to cyclists tells me this needs fixing.

Meanwhile, I’ll watch for details on that dead cyclist and for any outcome other than the predictable Boston Police one of “unavoidable accident.”I expect reports will eventually clarify the initial ones of the cyclist hitting the back driver side of the bus. If the cyclist had been in front of the bus, which came around the corner and overtook him, then the bus hit the cyclist, not the other way around. The first go sure sounds like T parsing to shift responsibility.

I’m heading off today on a pretty long ride through Boston, Brookline and beyond. I expect to make it home, but it’s always an adventure.

Tags: , , , , ,

Call Me Squeaky

November 25th, 2009

Ribbon RackAt the West Roxbury YMCA today, one of the desk staff sought me to say excitedly that a Ribbon Rack® was on the way. He said the Y had applied to the city for a bike rack in the parking lot and had heard back that there’s one coming in the spring when the weather warms enough to make it practical to install.

I am, after all, the jerk (maybe squeaky wheel or crank) who had a fit about the old rack. Not only did it not suit bikes after the 1970s, but when they had the lot repaved, it ended up nearly useless against a brick wall.

My mom would be proud that I am carrying on her example. She had little patience with inefficiency or stupidity when it affects others. She’s dead several years now, but lives through me in this way at least.

The existing badly reinstalled bad rack actively discourages bikers. Setting aside the contradiction of driving a few miles to exercise to stay or get fit, I figure it can work the other way. The Y has two parking lots, often full, with spillover into adjacent residential streets. When cyclists discover a conveniently located, sensibly installed and easy to use rack, with my bike and a couple of others, they are likely to be inspired to spin 2 to 5 miles instead of driving.

I’ll report on the effects come spring.

Oh, yes, and the requisite praise should go to the city’s bike coordinator, Nicole Freedman, and Mayor Tom Menino to, if you pardon, driving this rack program.

Tags: , , , ,

Crank Returns

November 10th, 2009

My late mother does manifest through me. As in the tiny woman cowing the gigantic manager, I would shamelessly embarrass my children in pursuit of efficiency and clear thinking. Fortunately for them, none of my boys was at the Y yesterday to hear me.

non-sensical bike rack My mom may be dead, but the world is not missing a crank. I have replaced her.

At issue is the week-long parking-lot repaving that is into its third month. In fairness, we had some rain and other bad weather, but this is being done on contractor time.

The last piece was re-installing the bicycle rack. This is something I know a bit about, having spec’ed a rack for a church, having attended multiple Moving Together and other transportation conferences, having interviewed the bike coordinators of Cambridge and Boston, and being a very regular cyclist.

I had spoken with the Y’s staff, including the executive director. I said it would be a false economy not to replace the inadequate 1960s rack with a much more sensible Ribbon Rack. It holds more bikes and more types of bikes in less space.  I pointed them to one in the neighborhood at the public library. I noted that the city has an active program to place racks for free in likely places. I added that there were reimbursement programs that would require only paying for installation. Everyone responded with aggressive head nods and promises to follow up.

Horse feathers!

When the rack reappeared, not only was it the same lame old one whose upright members don’t accommodate any mountain bike or even modern road bikes, the solid-geometry deficient and cycling ignorant pavers had actually set it as in the above image (click for larger view). As the new placement is not even a wheel diameter away from the brick wall, the only way to lock a bike to it is is sideways, limiting it to three at best and more likely two bikes. Duh.

In other words, if the aim is to service the Y members or encourage visitors to leave cars at home, this fails. Cyclists I know and I would not ride a bike there if we knew that the racks would not be easy to use or in this case even possible to use.

Channeling my mother Wanda, I asked the staff to call the executive director. I led her to the rack and explained why it utterly failed at its aim. I discussed the options for free or reduced cost racks and insulted the intellect of the paving minions.

She alleged she would be interested in links to the rack programs.  Arriving home, I sent her links to:

  • Boston’s bike-rack request form
  • Boston’s Bike Coordinator Nicole Freedman
  • The MAPC rack-reimbursement program
  • Ribbon Rack

She replied quickly by return email that she was not aware of these and was delighted to have the information. Crank. Crank. Crank.

I shall watch eager to see whether and if so how long it will take to put a functional rack in the parking lot or in one of the two locations (Bellevue or Centre) I suggested for the free city ones that have to go in pubic spaces.

Like Wanda, I do not raise my voice. However, also like her, I am reasoned and relentless. It all seems to intensify with age.

Tags: , , , ,