Archive for the ‘City Hall’ Category

$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.

Bike Rental Killjoy or Cassandra?

July 13th, 2011

Gloomy prediction time…I’ll say Boston’s new bike-rental program fails. There it is and I would sincerely like to think I’d be wrong. My neck is on the block, particularly as a velophile (word?)

I’ll plug this on Harrumph! and Marry in Massachusetts, as it has both personal and political angles. I’ll admit if I’m wrong and folk can feel gleeful in calling me on it.

hublogoUnder the urging of Mayor Tom Menino and the excellent dealing and managing from Nicole Freedman, the city’s director of bicycle programs, The Hubway rental system is not only zooming into reality, it’s still on its original schedule, likely this month. With the outside deals, bureaucracy, and finances, that’s close to a miracle (which we have come to expect from Freedman).

Even before the particulars, I was pessimistic on this program. It has worked in other European, Canadian and a few U.S. cities already though. Here though, I don’t see it getting enough ridership, nor making the vendor happy with income levels, nor adding substantially to the cycles on the streets, nor getting citizen respect for the property.

To the latter point, we brag about our huge college-student population, while paying for it culturally too often. The tales of disturbances and destruction abound. Far more than other cities, we see that bottles seem meant for peeing in to leave on streets and stoops, or to smash on roads or sidewalks. I recall that lesson when I commuted daily from JP to Southie by bike. I had to learn to avoid Columbus near Northeastern, particularly by the campus cop station, where broken, tire-ruining beer-bottle shards were the norm.

Prove me wrong, Boston, but I can easily see drunken, drugged or just nasty college students and other youth trashing the bikes in rental stations. What fun, eh?

Today, looking at the announced pricing structure, I think it is too similar to parking garages. In between only a few initial stations and the pricing reality, the system is not all that attractive. Fundamentally, it works only if you will start and finish in those limited locales and can get where you want to go in under 30 minutes.

hubbikeThe stations will be in what most of us think of as the larger downtown area, out to one here and there also in Back Bay, South End, Seaport, Fenway, Longwood, and Brighton/Allston. I don’t see the actual spots on the site yet, but it’s pretty sure they’ll be kind of like Zipcars and only sort of convenient. Yet, this is not Athena emerging from Zeus’ head fully grown. It’ll take many months to figure out the right station locations.

The nut starts out reasonably enough, with an annual $85 fee (introductory $60). Then the nickels and dimes add up very quickly.

Again, 30 minutes is the magic period (set your carriage-to-pumpkin clock). If you have an annual membership or are an ad hoc renter (Casual member in Hubway lingo), you can theoretically have thousands of 30-minute maximum rides a year for no charge. In fact, if the station locations and timing worked for you, it would make the most sense to go up to a kiosk and use a credit card to reserve a bike every time, so long as you kept to the half hour. Annual memberships come with the convenience of a key that lets you grab a bike, as it maps to your data.

In the real world, if you don’t end up in the midway of your trip at a station, you pay by the hour. Here the fees leap up to and then far beyond parking garages. They really, really don’t want you having a bike out for more than 30 or 60 minutes. The whole pricing card is here. A taste of the acceleration is:

Time Annual Casual
<30 0 0
30-<60 $1.50 $2
60-<90 $4.50 $6
90-<2 hours $10.50 $14
2-<3 hours $16.50 $22

And so it climbs by about $8 an hour for casual and $6 per for annual renters. It tops at 6 and one-half to 7 hours at $94 and $70.50 and then from 7 to 24 hours at $100 and $75.  Lord help you if you keep the bike over a day. Hubway will consider it stolen and truly put a parking garage’s rates to shame — $1,000 on your credit card.

If you think Nexflix’ 60% just announced gouging rates are absurd, this gives some perspective.

On the other hand, for a limited number of potential users, $85 for a year of bike use, zero maintenance, and practically unlimited 30-minute trips is such a deal. Truly.

I remain to be convinced that we’re collectively mature enough for the Hubway. I simply don’t have the faith in Bostonians that Menino and Freedman have exhibited here. In fact, announcing this program at City Hall plaza in April, the Mayor committed to the three Italians, adding U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, to taking the first trio of Hubway bikes out of the racks.

Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

A Home Where the Hens Roam

July 12th, 2011

I am sure there must be a heavily labored pun involved in a young Turk becoming a champion of chickens. I won’t try, but I do predict that Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo will handle this in a moderately anal retentive, bureaucratically acceptable way. Given that live chickens are for some unfathomable reason a zoning issue controlled by the Board of Appeals, that’s the best possible outcome.


Sorry for the 2 to 3 hour delay from this morning/afternoon’s hearing. Fortunately Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin was there, along with at least one newspaper reporter. The former’s filing is here.

While the news would appear to be that Roslindale’s chicken ladies lost. They didn’t really, but they did have to continue to play the Boston Political Game. They are likely to prevail…with assistance from Consalvo.

The tale is worthy of a The Daily Show skit, including:

  • Boston regs read you can raise chickens if you get a health department permit
  • Pay your $50 for the permit application, wait, wait, get denied
  • Find that your neighborhood zoning (arbitrary with the effect of law) forbids Accessory keeping of animals other than laboratory animals (page 39)
  • Loud, smelly, feces heaping dogs and other pets are OK, but all farm animals are secretly excluded from the alleged permit system
  • Endorsements by all abutters are meaningless
  • You need to play the game of a Board of Appeals hearing to get a denial to advance

Consalvo is Councilor for the district that includes Hyde Park and a bit of Roslindale, the bit including Audra Karp and her wife, and formerly three hens. The chicken trio are in the Ashland yard of her father, who she says gets to keep the eggs although her family drops by for omelets.

You can read the detailed experience at Legalize Chickens in Boston.

At this point, I see that Consalvo (disclaimer: my district Councilor, whom I know) is going to fix it. He said he was working on doing that after the hearing today denying the couple’s zoning variance to bring the exiled hens back to Firth Road. Glum as I can be, I asked whether we were two or three years out for a solution. He figures one or less.

Of course, with machinations that would outrage a libertarian or small-government type, the underlying issues may not go away even then. First, consider what Consalvo IDs as the underlying problem — a health/animal control issue has been put under the control of the rules-are-rules types at zoning. While the board told the Globe that of course they were reasonable and that the decision on this case would occur at the hearing, the fix was in and that was so much Karp crap.

Even sympathetic Consalvo opposed the women’s appeal, as did the Mayor’s office. Both used the bureaucratic, impotent excuse that the city zoning policy put chickens in a forbidden class for that neighborhood. That’s the big duh in government.

The real solution is what Consalvo hinted at in his opposition comments. He followed Karp, who noted that she had contacted all of her neighbors within 300 feet, had letters of support from 42 of them, hundreds of petition signatures, and zero objections of anyone. Consalvo said that he had a folder with over 200 letters of support as well.

This is not some form of simple democracy.

To help understand the issue more clearly from the peculiar Boston perspective a member of Consalvo’s staff presented a sliver of Roslindale history. I searched the Globe archives (a half dozen for-fee articles; search rats, Roslindale and Samuel Wood) when I returned today to get the time frame as well. It was the early to mid-1980s. Back then, Roslindale was one of many Boston areas overrun with rats, rats and more rats.

Even though it turned out according to rat czar of the time, Sam Wood, that the pests came, played and stayed because a huge percentage of the public as well as restaurants left trash out, not in bags and in uncovered containers, the public was understandably freaked. In what might be a good ad for Scientology, many older residents are still engrammed, figuring it must have been farm animals, not themselves causing the problem. Hence, let’s oppose chickens, even if, as Karp says, she keeps the food in pest-proof containers and only sows small amounts of seed at a time.

robbwakHonestly, the folk objections to chickens — noise, food poisoning, smell and such are hooey. Reason is not the dominating factor here however. There’s the possibility of doing what Karp and her wife suggest, considering small numbers of chickens (no roosters, thank you very much) as pets.

For his part, Consalvo has applied his usual intense energy to this. He’s met with the chicken women, and with GreenRozzie and other advocates for them, as well as fielding anti-chicken types’ calls.

Had I been the chicken ladies, I would have been angry. Instead, they said they’d work the system to do what was necessary to get their hens back in town. Even after several of their neighbors praised the pair, said everyone loved seeing hens, applauded the self-sufficiency, and noting there was neither noise nor stink, Board member Michael Monahan expressed the preset tone of the body with a comment about theirs being “not the right house…not the right area.” That sounds like chicken shit to me.

Then again, Consalvo is a very reasonable guy, still energetic enough to pull on the levers of power as many times as it takes to get a prize. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get chickens taken away from zoning, where they have absolutely no business, but I bet he’ll broker a good deal.

Already, they have been examining the rules at places like New York City that allow and regulate fowl. Apparently, Vancouver’s system is a good model for us. You’d suppose it would be simpler, but let’s recall that somehow we let regulation of agrarian remnants of New England culture come under the BRA satraps. Rules are rules. They don’t really have to think. This is only one more piece of civic silliness.

In the end, the City Council is likely to chat up other, more rational cities’ chicken procedures, pick one or parts of several we can call our own, and pass an ordinance. I’ll bet on Consalvo to get it done.

Postprandial Update: The Globe has similar coverage to UH.

Hidden and Shadowy Boston Court Treasure

May 22nd, 2011

A chum led us to adumbral art treasures yesterday after we all toured the Gorey show at the Athenæum. That’s a tight little $5 exhibit worth the gawking (runs through June 4th).

The follow-up was like the secret clubhouse version nearby in the courthouse in Pemberton Square/Government Center, a.k.a. the John Adams Courthouse. It’s the theater of operations for the Supreme Judicial Court, the Social Law Library and the Appeals Court. To the point on an artsy afternoon, it got a rehab in 2005 and houses remarkable sculpture and architecture.

We got in on the weekend, on the coattails of an electronic pass and a key from a librarian. We can all tour it for free though. It is open from 8:30 AM to 5 PM weekdays. There’s also an uninspiring virtual tour, perhaps best illustrating why you should go and see for yourself. It’s dark inside and the sculpture is better in eyes that have adjusted than with ordinary cameras. I stick a couple of pix here and the next time I visit, I’ll bring something with more powerful flash.

As seems the wont in the neighborhood, the rehab was controversial. After all, this cheek to jowl with the much maligned Boston City Hall, an immigrant’s amble from the razed West End and closer to the bulldozer sanitized Scollay Square.

morafortitudeSo, when the $40 million rehab cost over three times that, it seemed like the normal way of Boston redevelopment. The Globe piece on its celebratory reopening on April Fool’s Day 2001 (pay or have subscriber access) seemed more pleased with the results than the journey to them.

moraguiltAmong those attending or speaking were Sen. Ted Kennedy, Mayor Thomas Menino, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, and really best of all, historian and author David McCullough. He defended the expenses as overdue honor to Adams. He said, “There’s no memorial to John Adams in our nation’s capital, no portrait on money, no postage stamp. But now we have this courthouse, and were he here today and maybe he is he would be as thrilled and gratified as any mortal could be.”

Regardless, you can help justify the cost by visiting and marveling at the ornate arched ceiling and particularly the allegorical statuary of Domingo Mora. So-so snaps of two of his larger-than-human tropes are here, Guilt (right) and Fortitude. The hall has a large grouping of the figures you appropriately must gaze up to see.

Had he not lived what should be every parent’s dream — children who are more accomplished, successful and famous than himself — this Mora would be the family pride. After moving to U.S. via Uruguay from his native Barcelona, he was a busy guy. His works range across America, including numerous pieces here. He was an architect as well as sculptor for the Emmanuel Church and the BPL features his statuary as well as nearly three dozen window spandrels.

In the visit down to Pemberton Square, revel in his hall of allegories and ideals.

Every Tom, Steve and Mike

May 16th, 2011


“Aw, he’s full of beans,” our mild-mouthed Mayor Tom Menino said this morning of Boston City Council President Steve Murphy. It wasn’t politics in the cold and misty air though.

I arrived for the coffee and doughnuts with the Mayor this morning in our shared neighborhood of Hyde Park. It’s a bit early to pressure him for comments on the big pending battle for at-large Councilors, but we could talk bikes. That’s where he seemed willing to take it to Murphy.

For a long time, Menino was known as a bike/cyclist hater. His transformation has been complete to bike champion and cyclist himself. Lately, a couple of leg injuries have kept him off the road in what used to be his daily ride around HP’s Readville.

More recently though at the announcement of pending bike sharing (maybe starting as early as July) here, he greeted the supportive crowd at the City Hall plaza announcement as fellow cyclists. He rued his injuries/recovery period. He pledged to be on the first bike out of the chute when the program starts. He also committed the trio he called the three Italians, including U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano, who was there, and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who was not.


(Menino appears in his cycling togs left and Capuano was at the announcement with Boston’s cycling czarina Nicole Freedman.)

When I asked the Mayor if he was back on the bike, he said he was, sort of. He’s riding his stationary version inside getting his legs in shape. He was walking steadily this morning when he arrived at the Iacono Playground a couple of blocks from his house.

I told him that Murphy and I lived two blocks apart on the other side of Hyde Park. The Council President has told me that if I could get the Mayor to cycle from home to City Hall, he’d ride with us. That led immediately to the allegation of legume fullness.

I had to laugh because that was on par with my mother’s swearing. If someone was an absolute jerk to her, she might express her frustration and anger by saying, “What a pill.” When she was at her limit with someone’s behavior, she’d spit out her worst — “For crying out loud in a bucket!”

Menino said he’d never seen Murphy on a bike and doubted that he really owned one. He added, “He’d have a heart attack.”

I’ll take that as a challenge to pass along to the Council President. We may yet get another trio, this one of aging men, biking downtown.

Tags: harrumphharrumphercyclingMeninoMurphyHyde Park

Clean Streets and Small Favors

April 23rd, 2011

milletgleanersBusiness-card shame was the order of the afternoon in a midtown NYC bar among us trade journalists. Most of us who had worked for the huge Conover-Mast chain of magazines did not want to leave the city for either Chicago or Boston. We scattered to local jobs when the Boston-based acquirer Cahners Publishing moved our books, as we were wont to call the magazines.

As we swapped our new cards, one poor fellow was slow to flip his on the table. He would be well paid, but he had not adjusted to the shift from Purchasing to Solid Waste Management.

Well, way back then and today, trash is big business and not just in the romance-novel and porn industries. He did just fine, but I don’t think he ever did adjust to the name.

Street flotsam

My Boston City Councilor, Rob Consalvo is learning that. He is figuratively hip deep in trash.

Among the numerous tedious problems very important to some constituents is trash-day trash leavings. Residents in his Hyde Park and Roslindale neighborhoods, and abutting areas, are disgusted, irate and want some fixes.

Paper and garbage clogging or blowing around sidewalks and streets are not the stuff of movies or important novels. They certainly aren’t what pols claim as their legacies. Yet, trash is unpleasant to look at or smell, it brings squirrels, dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums and crows, and no one sane longs to pick up other folk’s rubbish.

This week’s Hyde Park Bulletin has the messy story. (You have to pay $12 a year to read the articles and can only see an image of the lastest week’s front page otherwise.)

It’s complex and Consalvo is forced into a multi-phasic set of problems and solutions. It’ll likely lead to public hearings. Issues include:

  • Trash on the curb in boxes, paper bags, and plastic bags, often not in trash cans or barrels.
  • People looking for deposit cans and bottles opening up those before the garbage trucks get there, scattering trash about or leaving the bags open for animals.
  • Garbage crews spilling partial loads through inattention or because of poor packaging — and leaving the stuff on the sidewalk or road.
  • Trash put on the curb up to 24 or more hours before pickup day, which exacerbates the likelihood of its ending up loose.

Already, Consalvo sees a couple of partial solutions. One would be to copy the requirement in higher-density areas with restaurants, like the North End, for all trash to go into lidded barrels. That was largely a reaction to the rodent problems there. However, we in more suburban, single family Boston neighborhoods know the destructive capabilities of hungry ‘possums and dogs.

Another would be to make sure that street sweeping schedules follow trash pickup the next day.

Consider the gleaners

Among his messages was also the awareness that bottle pickers can open bags in their quest for deposit money. There’s a chance for an education/cultural solution here.

In a town that fancies itself as Catholic and otherwise religious, the modest consideration for such gleaners should be an easy sell. It goes back to the Torah and Old Testament, and is well covered in the Book of Ruth. The law in agarian communities was to allow the less fortunate to pick the leavings in the fields after harvest.

Likewise, we have weekly (or three times a week in places like Beacon Hill) harvest in a sense. Most people don’t bother with nickel deposits on soda and beer cans and bottles. Even in such hard times, there are plenty of pickings on the curb as well as in downtown public trash cans.

All we need to do in front of our houses is to put out a separate container with the deposit containers. We have that single-stream monster recycling bin, but we use the old, small rectangular blue one for deposit bottles and cans.

Modern gleaners come around a few hours before the garbage and recycling trucks. Where they see separate containers with the deposit containers, they don’t mess with trash cans or the big bin.

It’s better for us and for them. Consalvo is likely right on this aspect too. We don’t see damaged bags or papers pulled out of the big bin.

The old texts commanded that gleanings be left for the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. The principle remains much the same. What is a small thing for most of us can be substantial to another.

Plus, it makes for spiffier neighborhoods.

Tags: harrumphharrumphergarbagerecyclinggleanerbottle depositConsalvo

Rewardin’ the Warden

November 4th, 2010

hp18Sometimes the fatigue and torpor of a 15-hour day seem a bit much to poll workers — the inspectors, clerks and wardens. We carped during the September primary at the low turnout and too little to do and we were flat out this week for the general with triple the voters.

Yet, Tuesday brought its sweet, high-democracy moments. As warden at a Boston precinct, I had the worst duties and got the best rewards. I was the troubleshooter, the fixer.

The irate senior who answered every question at the check-in table with a shout and insult was mine to mollify. The mid-aged lawyer who swore that she had voting at that school for years was mine to locate her real polling place and provide directions. The several who were simply not in the voter book each needed investigation, sometimes among their wallet ID and others in a long call to the elections department for database or paper registration files.

A couple of young men who could have been really nasty about their problems turned out to be the nicest and most reasonable. As a father of three boys, two of voting age, and someone who has more than once railed against poor manners and irrationality here in the Hub of the Universe, I was very pleasantly surprised. These guys worked with me, filled out the necessary paperwork, stated how much they wanted to vote, and then shook my hand and thanked me for helping them.

All right!

One want-to-vote guy had moved from Bedford back to Hyde Park. He had changed his drivers-license and updated the city voter census annual form. He figured he was covered. Of course, while those are reasonable assumptions, we don’t link the license and voter databases as many states do. We expect voters to get a reg card online or at various government offices or less commonly at temporary sign-up tables in public places. Filling out a card for even the slightest change is always safest, but even that doesn’t always mean you’ll be the check-in book when you arrive.

For the fellow from Bedford, I called elections to find that the Boston lists did not include him. He was still game when I explained that we could do a provisional ballot, which required him (and me) to fill out several forms. Then it would go to elections at city hall, where they would research it. If they agreed that he was qualified, they’d count his vote.

Doing that required him to fill out the application provisional ballot, show me ID with his current address and mark a ballot on which I had written PROVISIONAL. I filled in the lower half of his form, created a provisional ballot ID and prepared his pink sheet, with information identifying his code number and giving him a phone number at elections to call no sooner than 7 or more than 20 days later to see if his vote counted.

He returned the marked ballot, which I inserted into its own envelope marked with his unique number. He then filled in a voter registration card on the spot. I put his sealed ballot envelope into Envelope B for such research downtown. He got the pink sheet. His reg card and provisional ballot application went into Envelope A, along with the log of all provisional ballots issued that day from that precinct. His choices remained private, with the ballot available for recording if the researchers found that he was qualified. They saw the name and address, but not the ballot itself.

While elaborate, that does uphold the letter and spirit of voting laws, including ballot privacy.

One might think that an 18 or 19 year old could find all this was not worth the trouble. Some older adults have walked away rather than work 15 or more minutes on forms. Of course, several older adults also walked away after learning they needed to drive two or three miles to their proper polling place.

The young men who were voting for the first time were not deterred though. They plugged away, while I stayed close and help explain some of the blanks they had to fill in on this form or that.

Then came the reward. After all they had been through, each stuck out his hand, pumped mine, and thanked me sincerely and vigorously. The only reward we can offer is a small oval I VOTED sticker. They took that with smiles as well.

I’ve been voting for decades and have rarely missed any election, primary, preliminary, special or general, once when I was suddenly sick and once when I got sent out of town on business with no time to get an absentee ballot. I confess that I can still get blasé or at least take it for granted that I’ll be able to vote.

Now having worked elections for years at three different precincts in Boston, I pretty much know the rules and how to avoid problems. I’m quick to fill in the annual voter census, I complete a reg card when I move, and so forth.

I do admire the determination of those caught in the intricacies of registration. Those who arrive ready to be a citizen only to hear they aren’t in the book, were deleted by mistake (one of those in my precinct this year), were never moved from the old ward and precinct to the new one, or the many who are marked *I* (inactive) and having to show one of the few forms of accepted ID, fill out a form, and literally take an oath that they are who they say.

I salute those young men who went through all the clerical work in their disappointment. They wanted to vote, we made it happen, even knowing they were not positive that ballot would count, and to top it off, they thanked me. Good stuff — almost worth a 15-hour day right there.

Tags: ,  

Behold Boston’s Bike Lanes

May 17th, 2010

bikelanesYes, it was a silly, short bike tour. Yes, I loved it.

Billed as the opening to the now-statewide bike week and billed as a ride with the mayor (Boston’s Tom Menino), cycling the few miles to play on the new Commonwealth Avenue bike paths was a spoke-geek’s delight.

First, a disappointment was that this was not a ride with the mayor. Instead, it was a ride to the mayor. I’ve asked him personally several times to ride into city hall together. He demurs — I’d be too fast; he only rides around his (our) neighborhood; and lately, he has been recovering from knee surgery. I even got City Councilor Steve Murphy, also from Hyde Park, to say he’d ride in with us.

Today when we arrived at the podium and mic set up on Commonwealth Mall for the press conference, Menino started his words with a promise to get back on the bike…starting next week. He got applause instead of snickers.

For us who ride in Boston, he remains a hero. Long stereotypically disdainful of cyclists, he had an enlightenment a few years ago. He hired hot shot champion cyclist Nicole Freedman to run the city’s biking program and backs her up with resources and words.

So today, he and she chatted up Boston’s emerging shift from bike-hostile to bikeable. As illustrated at top, they implemented one of the Comm Ave plans. That’s no small accomplishment and it compounds the bike lanes going in piecemeal as roads are built, rebuilt or re-striped. This actually makes a place on a major street, on the left, away from parked cars with their dooring dangers. It also sets the pattern for the possible.

For many decades, cycling advocates before Freedman heard repeatedly that we were unique among cities (horse feathers!) and such things couldn’t happen here. What critics, which used to include Menino, meant was that motor-vehicle operators had the rights and weren’t going to be asked to share the road.


Joining Da Mare and Da Champ was City Council President Mike Ross. He’s a cyclist, mostly, although he doesn’t commute by bike. This week, Bike Week, though he intends to go by cycle. We’ll see how his resolves holds up in Wednesday’s predicted rain. (That’s Ross and Menino.)

His head’s in the right place. He’s the one who encouraged Menino to bike. He backed that up with a gift of a mountain bike…and more encouragement. Ross was the catalyst, Menino has said repeatedly.

We’ll get Ross on a Left Ahead! podcast soon. It’ s been over a year since we’ve done a biking one. He told me today he’d like to do it.

Today was the week’s teaser. There’s lots of activities, free breakfasts, rides, movies, and of course, Bike Friday. Thursday evening, there’s a one-time presentation on cycling successes in various cities, at BU’s Sleeper auditorium. During the week, most towns in the Boston area will have their own bike events too.

Plus, it doesn’t stop with this week. For example, on Monday, June 7th, there’s the annual Redbones party to benefit MassBike. That’s only $15, with brew and food…and valet bike parking. Then, the Bike Fridays with all the goodies reappears on Boston’s city hall plaza the last Friday of the month through the summer.

In other words, you don’t even have to roll to Boston to do some of the stuff. There’s no way you can do all of it, but there’s plenty in many places for everyone.

Today was a little more focused on bike advances. Thursday’s presentation will be more serious still.


The good stuff this afternoon came from Menino recounting some of the successes of the city’s successes and continuing projects. Freedman (right) was as excited as the rest of us on the bike lanes, which she called “more than a four-inch stripe on the road.” Also, Ross promised more bike lanes coming to Boston.

I’m slowly becoming convinced that patience will out here. Word is that when car, truck and bus drivers see more cyclists, more bike lanes, more sharrows that there’ll be less threatening cyclists and resentment expressed in other ways. Bikes become part of the traffic. That can’t come fast enough for me.

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From Kitchen to Ear

January 23rd, 2010

Even I have gotten a bit of politics fatigue with the fall and special election for U.S. Senator here. At our weekly podcast, we couldn’t seem to stop talking about what had, should, and might happen. This Tuesday, we sort of take a break.

FruitsWe’ll have a food-oriented show, with only minor political content. The Boston-based Chefs Collaborative‘s executive director, Melissa Kogut talks sustainable and local food.

I being I, there’s bound to be political overtones. Think is this a class thing for those who eat in fancy restaurants? What about the vast majority of middle-class as poor Americans who not only don’t know but couldn’t afford high-end politically correct groceries?

We’re sure Kogurt has considered all our questions. We look forward to learning what they’re up to and how the chefs got involved.

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Boston Ballots’ Beauty

January 20th, 2010

While recapping my battlefield promotion from clerk to warden at a Boston polling place yesterday, I thought repeatedly of the arcane and essential ballot control in the process. At least to a tech geek such as me, it has a true beauty.

A lot of planning and training and procedure development goes into ensuring one-voter/one-ballot here. Clerical controls are in the middle of it. The city accounts for every damned ballot many times with abounding crosschecks. While not impossible to scam the system to get two or more ballots, it would be damned hard and almost certainly not worth the trouble or risk.

Follow an unused ballot from the time it arrives at a polling location.

  1. Polls perk an hour before the 7 a.m. opening time. Elections workers have already brought the signs and other supplies and a police officer has brought a scanner and the blank ballots in a locked case.
  2. Workers (inspectors, interpreters, clerk and warden) arrive to tape up the many necessary signs, prepare check-in and check-out table, turn on and validate the scanner andassistive ballot preparing machine, and count the ballots.
  3. Depending on the expected turnout, blanks come bundled in nominal rubber-banded packs of 50 or 200. Poll workers first count bundles assuming the right number in each. These can vary by 6% (3 more or less in a 50 pack) because Elections prepares them by weight for efficiency.
  4. The clerk records the supposed number of blanks in the book.
  5. Before opening, inspectors hand count a group of bundles and put a Post-It on each with the actual number. The clerk keeps a running tally of each as it is brought into play to fine-tune the count of blanks.
  6. The scanner tracks each ballot it accepts, incrementing its count, which starts at zero. Throughout the day, Elections calls every few hours for the number and in busy elections, particularly primaries, observers from candidates and parties may look at the total, which does not differentiate by candidate.
  7. Spoiled ballots go back to Elections in their own envelope. If a voter mismarks a ballot, changes the decision before putting it in the scanner or marks too many candidates, the clerk or warden writes SPOILED on it, places it in the envelope and gives the voter up to a total of three ballots to get it right. The clerk tends to keep a tally of spoiled ballots and records them in the book at closing time.
  8. Absentee ballots arrive with the officer at opening and sometimes throughout the day as Elections sorts them. The clerk or warden opens the larger envelope and each absentee’s cover envelope to find the sealed envelope with the ballot. Then each ballot is treated like a voter, checked in at one table off the voter list and out at the other table. Then the ballot is removed from the sealed envelope and fed into the scanner. The clerk records the number of absentee ballots in the book.
  9. Provisional ballots for voters Elections cannot clear to for scanned ballots go into unique envelopes, one per ballot. That’s an elaborate process touched on in the battlefield promotion post. The warden provides each provisional voter with a ballot, which goes to Elections separately and is not scanned. The clerk records the number of provisional ballots as well as the voter’s name and address.
  10. At poll closing the ballot procedures align. First, the officer at the check-out table and the clerk or inspector with the check-in book compare notes. They verify that they have the same number of voters checked off per page of their respective voter list. Any discrepancies give them the chance to identify anyone missed ormismarked. They end up with a total count of voters.
  11. Meanwhile, the warden has generated totals from the scanner. If there is a difference between the voting books and scanner’s total, the three identify and correct it.
  12. The clerk then totals ballots  the book. The total ballots received needs to equal ballots cast, accounting for the spoiled ones,provisionals, absentee ones delivered,  and unused ballots remaining. Again, all stops until the numbers are accurate.
  13. The warden removed ballots from the scanner. Any that fail to scan are in one compartment; the get a re-feed and if necessary a hand count and recording in a log and the book. Write-ins are in another; they are hand recorded and placed in one envelope. The other ballots get a look for write-ins not ID’ed as such but clearly intended even without the write-in oval smeared. All scanned ballots go into envelopes that the officer delivers under lock to Elections.

If you were able to divert one or more ballots, then what? Without collusion of a worker and the officer, it would not qualify for the scanner. Even if you were able to sneak one in the scanner, it would mess up the total. Those and similar ploys would be possible, but elaborate, involving several people and surely not worth the exposure and punishments.

From my years of documenting computer software, I am impressed by the flow here. Elections has had a lot of time…with many eyes watching…to get this working well. It shows.

Cross-post: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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