Central MA Transportation

Sunday, March 01, 2009

What Grownups Know

“Grownups know that you can’t have something for nothing.” - Deval Patrick

The flip side of governor Patrick's statement is that grownups expect to get something for the taxes and fees they're charged by their government.

The reported breakdown on the 19 cent proposed hike in the Massachusetts gasoline tax is as follows:
  • 6 cents - Averts MBTA service cuts and fare increases

    Could it be that T riders need to grow up.

  • 4 cents - Averts proposed toll hikes

    Could it be that Mass Pike users need to grow up.

  • 3 cents - Rail projects outside of Boston

    Could it be that Commuter Rail riders need to grow up.

  • 2 cents - Ends practice of paying for personnel by borrowing

    Could it be that state officials that believe it is OK to borrow to meet payroll then pass the costs on to motorists need to grow up.

  • 1.5 cents - Funds for regional transit authorities

    Could it be that public transportation users need to grow up.

  • 1.5 cents - Targeted regional road projects

    WooHoo nearly 8 percent of the proposed increase will help pay for road and bridge infrastructure. That may be a premature woohoo as past history tells us the money allocated for highway infrastructure has been used elsewhere and that is why we’re in this mess.

  • 1 cent - Funds innovative gas and toll solutions

    I think that Deval Patrick needs to Grow Up and stop looking for ways to take more money from Grownups to subsidize those that expect someone else to pay their fair share.

Here are some excerpts from CNN State of the Union with John King - Interview With Governors Barbour, Patrick which aired on February 22, 2009.

PATRICK: Look, I think that what the people want is candor. They want us to be honest about what the cost of the services that they say they want actually is. That's what we're trying to do in Massachusetts. Just this last week...

KING: But you say -- I want to show this headline as you speak, Governor, because you're taking some heat back home. This is "The Boston Herald." My first job was delivering this newspaper many years ago.


KING: "Just Gas-tly."

PATRICK: Look at you now, John.

KING: I tell everybody, get a job delivering "The Herald." Nineteen cent tax rip-off, they are calling it on the front page of "The Boston Herald." You have to make tough choices.

PATRICK: They are miserable choices. And it's not, you know, it's not a joyful decision, but it's that or substantial cuts in services in mass transit, as well as fare increases, or doubling of the tolls on the turnpike.

I have put all of that out there, and we are dealing, frankly, with 16 years of a lack of stewardship, where we took debt from the Big Dig project and stashed it away in all kinds of places and told people they could have things without paying for it.

That bill is now due. And so I am just trying to be candid with the people of Massachusetts about what our choices really are. And none of them are particularly pleasant. But grown-ups that know you can't have something for nothing.

There’s that Grownups quote again.

Oh and about that “16 years of a lack of stewardship”, it’s unfair to blame transportation infrastructure problems on the Romney, Swift, Cellucci, and Weld administrations. Our democrat controlled legislature votes along party lines and Bill Weld was the last Governor that had enough republicans in the state senate to sustain a gubernatorial veto, and he lost that during his term. The misappropriation of money to maintain highway infrastructure is squarely on the shoulders of the democrat controlled legislature.

The only change is that we now have a governor that is as clueless as our legislators. In truth they’re not clueless, they just believe that you are. If you're unable to see through the inconsistency in the governor's remarks and the unfairness of his proposal to charge motorists for the benefits received by non-highway transportation users then they are correct.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

SA Situation Awareness

So many things improve when we are situation aware. I was reminded of that this past week when driving to Leominster on Rt 12.

It was about 3:15 in the afternoon. Traffic was light with no vehicles heading northbound and no vehicles for at least 500 ft behind me. I'd just passed Nichols and Battle as a Leominster police office stepped into the southbound lane and stopped me to let a single construction vehicle pull out to head north on rt 12. Now why would this officer stop a single vehicle to let this truck out? Did he realize that the stop would cause wear and tear on the car, that the car would use additional fuel to get back up to speed, that a stop would cause additional emissions from the car. That the truck was using very little fuel while waiting a few additional seconds before pulling out in the huge empty space behind the car.

Truly this was a minor incident but it demonstrates how pervasive the lack of SA is when even a cop on the job in a construction zone is not being vigilant in observing what is going on around them that directly relates to their job performance.

What about you, the vehicle operator driving to work or the grocery store?

Do you pay attention to your driving or are you yacking away on your cell phone?

Are you using your mirrors to stay aware of what is behind you and to your sides?

Are you looking well ahead preparing to make that left turn, proceeding through when there's plenty of time before the oncoming car gets to the intersection or are you one of those drivers that stops and lets the oncoming car go by (holding up traffic behind you) because you weren't paying attention?

Just a thought.....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Home Rule Petition = Bad Idea

Tonight, 5 November 2008, there will be a Public Safety Committee meeting.

As a rule, any ordinance that requires a home rule petition is a bad idea. There are two on the agenda tonight.

The first petition...

015-08. Councillor Thomas J. Conry, to implement automated photographic traffic enforcement systems in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws.

This petition is a terrible idea. Camera enforcement does not improve public safety and there is plenty of evidence available that shows that, but don't expect Camera companies to provide that in their literature. Camera enforcement is about creating new revenue streams for cash strapped states and cities. This committee should soundly reject camera enforcement because of the lack of safety benefit. The petition then needs to go to Finance to determine if it is really a money maker or a looser (many California communities are getting rid of the cameras because they're too costly and haven't shown any safety benefit). It would then need to go to Legislative Affairs because the legislation to change Mass General Laws to allow camera enforcement is dead for this legislative session, making a home rule petition neccessary. The bill allowing camera enforcement was been killed by the insurance industry because there would be no surcharges for the tickets. Yeah, it's about the money.

The other petition is...

217-08. Councillor Kevin Starr, to petition the General Court for a special act of the legislature relative to public safety in the City of Fitchburg. The language of such act shall be identical to that of Ch. 327 of the Acts of 2004 enacted for the City of Somerville.

Essentially this give the police the authority to order people out of places if they are known gang members suspected of gang related activity. This idea, though it passed, was hotly contested in Somerville. On the surface it sounds like a good idea but it raises constitutional questions about the right to assemble. If it can be applied to gangs would it not be a simple matter to classify any group that is considered undesirable as a gang allowing government to stiffle their activities? Fitchburg cannot afford to put at risk of having to defend this one in the court system. I've never liked the idea of "giving the police another tool to do their job." If they already have a tool let them use it.

And here's a petition that makes needs to be altered...

192-08. Councillor Norman Boisvert, to declare Oak Hill Rd. from Fairmount St. to Franklin Rd. a “Truck Exclusion Zone” with the exception to be for local deliveries only.

This same petition was on the agenda for the Public Works Committee. It has been sent to the solicitor to determine if the council has the authority to create a Truck Exclusion. As of last Tuesday the solicitor had not responded. Other cities/towns are all over the map on Truck Exclusions. Leominster has properly requested exclusions from MassHwy and in some cases they've been granted. Lancaster has not put them in because they have not been approved. Then there's Clinton that has thrown up bogus signs (wrong color, wrong shape, wrong message - not similar to anything in the MUTCD) without approval. Bottom line regardless what the solicitor says is that MassHwy believes that MGL does not grant authority to cities to create truck exclusions. If there's a legitimate reason for this request, it needs to be reworded and the justification for the request needs to be formulated for MassHwy's approval or disapproval.

BTW there is at least one good idea on the agenda.

225-08. Councillor Kevin T. Starr, to turn Putnam St. from Main St. to Boulder Dr. back to a one way Street.
The conversion of Putnum to two way traffic was an ill conceived idea will no appropriate study introduced by Dan Mylott, while he was a councilor, pushed through the council while he was mayor. It's time to fix that mistake. It will be important to put up signs on Putnam, Main and Boulder warning of the pending change in the weeks prior to implimentation to avoid the possibility of collisions when unsuspecting motorists travel the wrong way.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Today, 9 July 2008, the House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hear arguments on H-3512. Jennifer Flanagan, state rep from Leominster and candidate for the Senate this fall is on that committee.


The bill, should it become law, would allow not just red-light cameras but speed cameras as well. In all probability, it would also allow stop sign cameras which are also now technically feasible.

Since the current focus, and the proposed Fitchburg ordinance, is on red-light cameras I’ll address those at this time.

There are 2 types of red-light running:
intentional and unintentional

There are 2 types of unintentional red-light running:

Type 1 is totally blew it, driving right through the intersection. Sure the camera operators can send out a ticket, and maybe the camera evidence can be used to establish fault if there’s a collision but enforcement cameras cannot prevent this type of driver error so there’s no public safety benefit from the camera in this case.

Type 2 is stopping beyond the stop line, caused by driver ineptitude or carelessness. Unfortunately, there is a large percentage, perhaps even a majority of drivers that are either incapable of putting the vehicle where it should be when it should be there, or too lazy to pay enough attention to their driving to get it right. While this is an annoyance to many, this type of red light running does not result in collisions. While cameras may be effective in reducing the occurance of this type of red-light running there will be no public safety benefit. Note that I wrote “may be effective”, because if they were effective they’d have run the companies that sell and/or operate the cameras out of business by now but with the exception of one Rhode Island company (whose financial difficulties are likely cause by poor management) they’re still in business. So in this instance the cameras only serve to generate a new revenue stream for government, companies that sell/operate the cameras and eventually the insurance companies.

There are a variety of reasons why people intentionally run red-lights. I could engage in a lengthy discussion of those reasons but that is not neccessary. Let’s just say that drivers do it because they can without any consequence. That means that they don’t expect to get ticketed and there is no danger of a collision. The expectation of getting a ticket due to camera enforcement may alter driver behavior (which it has been shown can result in an increase in rear end collisions). Still, since there’s no danger of colliding with another vehicle with current driver behavior, the traffic camera has no public safety benefit, it’s just there to generate revenue.

BOTTOM LINE - this is just another money grab cloaked in a public safety argument. The real effect is to pick motorists pockets to fund things that have nothing to do with driving.

UPDATE 7/13/2008

07/10/08 H Bill reported favorably by committee as changed and referred to the committee on House Ways and Means

I sent a copy of the Swampscott report as e-mail attachments to State Reps Flanagan and DiNatale and Sen Antonioni.

From Rep DiNatale on the same day the e-mail was sent - "thank you for taking the time to contact me. I will review the data. Best wishes Steve"

From Sen Antonini one day after the e-mail - "The bill is still in the House. I will take a close look at the bill if it gets to the Senate side." and he's not even running for re-election.

From Rep Flanagan 4 business days after the e-mail, and the transportation committee report on the bill - ""
That's right nothing, no update on the status of the bill, no comment on her vote, not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the email. That doesn't sound to me like someone that wants/deserves my/your vote for a seat in the state senate.

Also related and on the agenda for the Public Safety Committee this Wednesday 7/16 is:
15-08. Councillor Thomas J. Conry to implement automated photographic traffic enforcement systems in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws.

Update 7/23

The Public Safety Committee meeting on 7/16 was cancelled and resceduled for Thursday 7/24. Unlike Anonymous I do not think it is a forgone conclusion that it will pass. Even if it does it must then go to the finance committee and if the legislature does not pass H-3512 it would also need to go to legislative affairs so the city can request a home rule petition. The legislature has not passed any home rule petitions for camera enforcement to date.

As for the likelyhood of the legislature passing H-3512 this session, I think is possible but unlikely. Now that the bill is in ways and means it has attracted the attention of organizations like the National Motorist Association. I suspect there will be significant opposition at the state level to stop it's passage.

Of course all politics is local so people could if made aware of the petition could show up at the council meetings or the committee meeting to oppose the petition.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another public safety committee meeting

Wow, after months without one - two weeks - two meetings.

There was a Public Safety Committee meeting on Wednesday 23rd of April.
It appeared that this was a meeting to clean the slate of old business.

The agenda included 9 petitions from 2002, 4 from 2003, 1 each from 2004 and 2005, 5 from 2006, one from 2007 and 1 from 2008. The committee will had a mere 30 minutes to cover all 22 petitions as there as a Finance Committee meeting scheduled for 7:30 and both were in Council Chambers.

Most of the petitions were of the constituent service (aka pork) variety. You know the kind where a voter wants something and the councilor files the petition to “buy” their vote in the next election. I was unable to attend since I didn’t get home from "work till around 7:20. Hopefully they were all given leave to withdraw.

A couple questions.
Why were petitions allowed to linger since 2002?
Shouldn’t petitions expire (allowed to die gracefully) when say a new council is sworn in, or maybe two years from when they are filed?

Now just a week later another Public Safety Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 30 April. The agenda is online here, at least till the next meeting agenda is posted.

Of particular interest to me are:
249 – 07. An Ordinance: Amending Chapter 169-76 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg
(Stop Signs)

15 – 08. Councillor Thomas J. Conry to implement automated photographic traffic enforcement systems in accordance with Massachusetts Traffic Laws.
(Note: No police report received)

53 – 08. Councillor David Clark to place a Stop sign at the corner of Walton and Seneca St. 321 Walton.
(Note: No police report received)

The wording of the 249 - 07 is vague. It would be nice to know exactly how they’re proposing to change. It has thus peeked my interest.

15 - 08 ought to be a no brainer. Since Mass General Laws do not permit photo enforcement it was foolish to introduce this petition and should be rejected by the council without the need for a police report. Further I did speak in opposition at the January council meeting when this was proposed. I referenced the report from Swampscott where photo enforcement was rejected by a vote of 5 to 0. I had a copy of the report with me at that meeting. No councilor asked to see it then and none has asked me how to get a copy since then. No surprise there. Here’s a link where you can download a pdf copy of the report, just in case you want to read it.

53 – 08 is not really a new petition since the same sign was request just one or two years ago. Is the plan to keep re-introducing it till it slips by when no one is looking? With or without a police report this should be rejected. That particular intersection has a stop sign in one direction and none in the other. And that’s how it should be. The direction with the sign is a blind intersection. The home on the left is raised up from road level and prevents drivers from getting a clear view of traffic approaching from the left. However, the opposite approach is wide open, approaching traffic from either side is clearly visible and it’s obvious that Walton has right of way. That means that the traffic on Seneca must yield to traffic on Walton, thus no stop sign is needed. Don’t understand why it’s not OK to just go ahead and install a stop sign then read this.

Monday, March 24, 2008

About engineers

There are many engineering disciplines. I work as a Software Engineer, with System Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers as well as number of other engineering disciplines. Very few of my co-workers are, “Licensed Professional Engineers”. If you wanted to become a Traffic Engineer for Mass Highway, you’d probably have to be a Licensed Professional Engineer. As I understand if from collegues that are Licensed Professional Engineers, most states do not license engineers and most engineers do not bother to become licensed because it is not required for most jobs and does not add value for their chosen carreer path.

That said, this is what the city code actually says about the DPW director.

§ 3-93. Commissioner of Public Works.

The Department of Public Works shall be under the supervision of the Commissioner of Public Works, who shall also, by virtue of his office, serve as City Engineer.

§ 3-94. Qualifications for Commissioner. [Amended 7-6-2004 by Ord. No. 189-04]

The Commissioner of Public Works shall be a person fitted by education, training and experience to efficiently perform the duties of his office.

§ 3-95. Appointment and term of Commissioner.

The Commissioner of Public Works shall be appointed by the Mayor in accordance with civil service laws.

As I read the code it does NOT require that the DPW commissioner be an engineer.

Reading the rest of Article IX it appears that the DPW commissioner is more manager than engineer.

Must one be an engineer to manage engineering projects?

Is it better to have an good manager that can converse intelligently with the engineering staff or a great engineer with poor or mediocre management/personel skills?

If you hire a great engineer to be DPW director will their talent be wasted on the day to day management of the DPW?

For the 4 years that Munier has been DPW commissioner, it appears he’s done a good job managing the resources he had to work with.

I think the mayor is on shaky ground here. The last DPW director, James Shuris, was fired for supposed insubordination but appealed his dismissal to the civil service commission. Shuris’ appeal hinged on his being a permanent vs. temporary civil service employee.

If Mr. Munier is a full time civil service employee he might, unlike Mr. Shuris successfully appeal his dismissal.

Of course this raises an interesting question. Why would you want to continue working for a boss that clearly wants to get rid of you?

Contrary to the opinion of many that post to SF, people do get to choose their boss. Mr. Munier could choose to move on (a loss to the city IMO) or if there is enough at stake for him he could choose to tough it out.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out....

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I misjudged our new governor

During last years gubernatorial election I had Deval Patrick pegged as just another tax and spend liberal Democrat, different only in that he had a very upbeat message. What was his campaign slogan, Together we can?

Well I was wrong. Patrick is more than a tax and spend liberal, he's a BORROW tax and spend liberal. In his first year in office Patrick has proposed 1.3 Billion for a new commuter rail line to New Bedford, more than 1 Billion for stem cell research, and more recently 2.9 Billion for transportation projects that include $75 Million (to be matched by Federal Grant) for the Fitchburg commuter rail line. Patrick has proposed borrowing over 5 Billion to bankroll these proposals. I'm sure some of the proposed spending makes sense but most of it isn't justified.

Is there any way to keep the state from wasting our tax dollars? Short of keeping our money out of the state's hands in the first place, probably not, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It looks like we'll have the opportunity (even if it's only a symbolic gesture) this November by voting to repeal the income tax. What's our governor think about that? He thinks it's "just a dumb idea". I respectfully disagree, if you're tired of waste in state government it makes perfect sense to keep your money out of their hands. It would be dumb
  • if you let the governor fool you with statements like this, “Civilization costs something,” he said. “If we could have something for nothing, which is the fiction that has been sold by the right for some time now, then we wouldn’t have a $19 billion upkeep backlog for the roads and bridges.”

    How could the right, conservatives, Republicans, Libertarians be responsible for a $19 Billion backlog in funding for roads and bridges. Liberals and the Democrats have controlled both chambers of the state legislature since as far back as I can remember, and they've had a veto proof majority since Bill Weld gave state senator Mary Pedula a post in his administration.

  • voting to repeal the income tax in November and then sending the same liberal Democrat Senators and Representatives back to Boston to ignore the referendum just like they did the vote to roll back the income tax to 5%.
  • to continue to vote for politicians because their message is upbeat and they promise change despite offering few if any details of their plans for the future. Sound familiar?
In 2002 when the income tax referendum was on the ballot 40% voted for it and 12% of the ballots were blank. Clearly it's a possibility. Let's get behind the repeal and let's send every state rep and state senator that doesn't pledge to follow through with the voter's wishes packing.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Public Safety Committee Meeting

084-06. Councillor Dean A. Tran, to include one sheet with the following information:
name, age, sex, race and address of all Level 2 and 3 sex offenders sorted by address with water and sewer municipal bills (residing in Fitchburg only).

More Feel Good Legislation from councilor Tran. The bottom line is that there are costs associated with the petition and no real value to justify that cost. As I understand it the petition has been reduced to providing information on how to get information on level 2 and level 3 sex offenders and amended to send it off to the school department for consideration of distributing the information through the schools.

282-06. Councillor Jody Joseph, to place a crosswalk on Harvard St. on the corner of Harvard and Fulton St.

This petition was previously given leave to withdraw (back in June) but the full council sent it back to committee. The police department still opposes this on the grounds that would require a traffic study. Some councilors don't want to let this one go and it brought about some interesting and sometimes (lame) comment/discussion. There was concern that vehicles coming across the bridge are going too fast. Officer Hass pointed out that the area is thickly settled making it a 30 MPH zone and that setting a speed limit there would require a traffic study which could result in a posted limit higher than 30 MPH if the 85th percentile speed is higher. Councilor Hay (not a member of this committee) wanted to know why we adjust the speed when most of the drivers break the law. Councilor Dimartino claims there is already a crosswalk at Harvard and Fulton - Hmmm, there isn't one painted there and there no list of location where crosswalks are approved in the city code. Councilor Boisvert suggested that cautionary sign be installed. Councilor Hay indicated that cautionary signs may be installed at the discretion of the Chief of Police. IIRC The petition was amended to request that the police look into cautionary signage.

To answer councilor Hay's question about rewarding drivers that break the law. Throughout the world it is acknowedged that the vast majority of drivers are NOT hell bent on killing themselves and that they drive at speeds that are reasonable and proper. The Feds use the 85 percentile, because it makes sense. The State uses the 85th percentile and thankfully limits who can set speed limits. In Fitchburg only MassHwy (with agreement of the Registry of Motor Vehicles) can set a speed limit. That prevents speed limits from becoming a political football that can be used to buy constituent votes and or create new revenue streams.

Councilor Hay (and others like him) are looking at this question backwards. If the 85th percentile his high enough to result in a higher posted speed limit it doesn't mean that these drivers are speeding, it means that the speed limit is too low

119-07. Councillor Stephan Hay and Mr. Steve Bert, to place stop signs on Pearl St. at the intersection of Klondike Ave.
This would create a multiway stop (a 3 way stop at a T intersection). The warrants for a multiway stop are pretty high and it's unlikely that any of the warrants would be met (at least one of which must be met before installing a multiway stop). One of the warrants is 5 collisions a year at that location. Officer Hess indicated that there have been only 4 collisions at this intersection since 1990. That's less than one every 4 years. Police spoke with the residents in that area and the petition was brought as an attempt to slow traffic on Pearl St. It is claimed that traffic is traveling at 45 MPH here (not likely). The petition was held in committee. It really should have been given leave to withdraw.

021-07. Councillor Norman Boisvert, to ban dogs and exotic pets from public functions in Fitchburg where 50 or more people gather for the purpose of any social event and Institute penalties for violations.
Amended: Service dogs exluded.
As you may note from the number of the petition, this one's been around for a while. It doesn't seem to have broad support and the arguments Boisvert makes for passage aren't very convincing. This petition seem too restrictive and without good reason. The committee sent it to legislative affairs. The new council and new leglistative affairs committee may view it more favorably although I hope they just vote it down.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Discretion, Ignorance, Stupidity, Common Sense

I'm going to try to make some posts between Christmas and New Year's while I'm off work to catch up on some issues I made note of over the fall but just didn't have time to make entries for.

The words identified in the title, Discretion, Ignorance, Stupidity, Common Sense will be used in the posts as follows:
  • Discretion - discretion can be a good thing if it's used wisely
  • Ignorance - is the lack of knowledge. The nice thing about ignorance is it that it can be over come by education unless of course the target of education is stupid
  • Stupidity - per the folk saying "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig." It's often not worth the effort to try to educate the ignorant, especially those that make most of their decisions based on common sense (see Albert Einstein quote below)
  • Common Sense - Voltaire said "Common sense is not so common.". I think he refers to what most people call "good sense". Unfortunately for most individuals, the reality is closer to what Albert Einstein said, "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.". When I post and refer to common sense it'll be the Einstein variety. I'll use the term "Good Sense" to refer to the Voltaire type
With all that said, I'd like to address one of the petitions from the Public Safety Committee meeting from 18 Dec 2007.
229-07. Kathy Barns and various Brigham Park residents, to allow overnight parking during the winter snow bans on Brigham Parkway on the outside of the street.
Some residents were present and spoke on the issue. To summarize the residents claim that they (not the city) clean up the area. They clear the street of snow and should be allowed to park on the street, since it is already cleared and their parked vehicles have no affect of snow removal operations. They also noted that resident vehicles were ticketed (in the wee hours of the morning) during the most recent storm despite the street being completed cleared of snow and no additional street clearing of snow being necessary.
IIRC This petition was held in committee because it would have come down to a 2-2 vote (councilor Donnelly having left early). I think the committee and the full council should give this petition leave to withdraw. There is no legitimate reason to make an exception for Brigham Park residents.

OTOH if as residents claim the area is completely cleared of snow there is absolutely NO reason for the police department to ticket vehicles. The purpose of the parking ban is after all to ensure that vehicles parked on city streets do not keep the DPW and contractors from getting the streets cleaned. Police should use DISCRETION in ticketing. Generally officers on patrol are given much latitude and are allowed to use discretion when deciding to give a verbal warning, written warning or a citation. If what the resident claim was true then something in the system is broken. If officers are not using discretion wisely then it needs to be addressed by the (acting) chief. If the chief has instructed officers to ticket all violators regardless of the circumstances then the Mayor should straighten the chief out. And if the mayor doesn't get it - oh yeah he's history in less than two weeks anyway.

I think you get it though. Petitions like this should get trashed long before they get to the council chambers. Stuff like this is the purview of the executive branch and the council should make that clear to the petitioners.

More later this week. Items I hope to get to -

  • other items from the public safety committee meeting
  • Rt. 12 project status
  • Rt. 31 and John Fitch Hwy roundabout, hearing and current status
  • implications of the november election results
  • recent commentary by our borrow and spend Governor

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter in Central Mass - Get used to it

So you were stuck in traffic on the commute home this past Thursday (12/13/07). Here's a few hints to help you avoid a repeat performance:
  1. Avoid congested areas. A key area of congestion in the last storm was Rt. 13 near Rt. 2 in Leominster. This area is noted for heavy traffic. It has too many traffic lights, and they're too close to each other. Short sighted planning has allowed too much development here.

    If it's congested on a good day expect the level of congestion (and thus the level of driver frustration) to be at least double when the weather is bad. Consider alternate routes.

  2. When the snow gets deep enough to obscure lines on the roadway the number of lanes on the road will increase.

    IOW, with no visible lanes markings, the number of lanes on the road is limited only by the distance to the fender of the next vehicle. (Note the merge of northbound I190 traffic with westbound Rt. 2 traffic during the storm was as many as 6 lanes wide - 7 if you count the loons that were driving in the breakdown lane.) Avoid these situations by learning alternate routes you might be able to use. For example - heading to Westminster, Gardner, Ashburnham or Winchendonfrom the Worcester area, consider taking Rt. 140.

  3. Momentum is your friend.

    Don't misunderstand I'm not advocating excessive speed, running stop signs or running red lights. What I'm talking about is maintaining your momentum when ever possible. I observed far too many drivers during Thursday's storm being "courteous" by stopping to let a driver pull into traffic in front of them or to pull across to the oncoming lane. Does this describe you? Trust me, there were 15 drivers behind you were all giving you the single digit salute (even if only mentally), you just weren't in a position to see it. Oh, BTW the dope you let out, did you notice them spinning their tires trying to get going? The reason they were having a tough time getting out into traffic is that they have nearly worn out all season radials. They should have replaced those this fall or stayed home today.

  4. It's hilly around here and hills make it harder to get around.

    I realize this is news to some folks but gravity has a tendency to take you down hill. You can't stop as quickly (or at all) when heading down a hill or you may not be able to keep up your momentum to get to the top of a hill. The steeper the hill the bigger the problem. It's not possible to avoid all hills to get where you're going but you can usually find a route (maybe longer) where the hills aren't so steep.

  5. Courtesy, not the bogus kind like I mentioned earlier. This is the kind where you follow the rules of the road. A common (and annoying) violations is the stop line violation. Entering an intersection when there's no place for you to exit is not just rude, it's illegal. This violation has a direct impact on grid lock and people seem to be more inclined to commit this offense when it's snowing.

  6. Make sure you can see where you're going.

    Clear the snow off your vehicle. Can't reach the roof of your mini van, SUV, or truck. Then get a bigger snow brush with a longer handle. No excuses please.

  7. Be prepared. Make sure you have everything you need. Running out of gas, window wash and the like is just plain silly.

Five indicators that you shouldn't drive in a snowstorm:
  1. You spin the tires a lot - but don't go anywhere.
  2. You observe a lot of other drivers giving a single digit salute.
  3. You've had your vehicle pulled out of a:
    • ditch
    • snow bank
    • body of water
    in the past 5 years.
  4. You've never driven in the snow before and it's rush hour.
  5. You just don't like driving in it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Kudos for Kaddy -well sorta

In a surprising turn of events councilor Kaddy submitted the agenda for this weeks Public Safety Committee meeting early enough that it was online more than a week before the meeting.

However there was a late update (1 March) adding more items. The following note is included with the agenda, "With the increased manpower in the traffic division we have received numerous police reports. Because of this, I would like to start our meeting at 6:30PM. I would appreciate good attendance by councilors. I will move the meeting along and will be well prepared. Sgt. Hess from FPD will attend."

Perhaps councilor Kaddy could surprise us again by making copies of those reports available to citizens in attendance as well as the councilors on the committee.

Among the items of concern on the agenda are:

* 272 – 06 Councillor David Clark and petitioners to make the intersection between Forest and Winthrop Streets a 4-way stop.
* 274 – 06 Councillor David Clark and petitioners to make the intersection between Forest and Charles Streets a 4-way stop.

Both item were voted to be granted at the 9/21/2006 committee meeting. But at the 3 October 2006 city council meeting councilor Kaddy requested that these instead be sent back to committee. I'm interested in the motivation for that decision and very interested in the police report on the petition. I'd like to know which, if any,of the three warrants for a 4 way stop are met at these locations.

Remember MGL Chapter 82 which gives municipal government the authority to approve stop signs also requires that the MUTCD be followed and the MUTCD requires that at least one of the warrants be met.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Red Light Cameras (Revisited)

I've addressed the evils of traffic cameras in the past. And there's plenty of information on the issue at theNewspaper.com website which is one of the links in the right hand panel. And I doubt I'll change any minds by posting on the issue again. Still there are three compelling reasons to bring up the subject again.

First, it's gotten a lot of coverage recently because Worcester, the second largest city in the state is considering them. Here are links to recent articles in the T&G.

Red light runners can’t hide behind privacy ‘right’

Council cautious on traffic cams

Red lights, cameras, legal tiffs

Second because it ties in with the speed limit issue discussed today regarding the Rt 20 improvements. It's important to understand that most red light violations are the result of short yellows which are based on underposted speed limits. The remainder of red light violations are just plain old driver errors which redlight cameras can document but cannot correct.

Third because of the implication that the red light camera discussion has on Fitchburg General Ordinance (FGO) 169-11.

From the T&G article Red lights, cameras, legal tiffs

"Some communities that have approved the idea — including Lawrence and Springfield — passed local laws giving them authority to use cameras to catch red-light runners. But the enforcement strategy that cities have adopted — to issue civil violations similar to parking tickets — contradict state laws calling red-light violations a criminal offense that warrants insurance surcharges.

Cities that passed their own laws never intended for violators to be punished with surcharges, increasing the cost of insurance policies, because the identity of the driver running a red light is unknown. The cameras shoot a car’s license plate, and the owner of the car receives a civil violation similar to a parking ticket.

But a state board that falls under the Department of Public Safety has advised the city of Lawrence, the first in the state to adopt its own traffic camera law, that it must enforce the insurance surcharge under state regulations."

Consider this petition from the Fitchburg City Council agenda from 19 October 2004.

58-04. Councillor Joel Kaddy, to request that the Fitchburg Police Dept. update and increase the fines for traffic violations under FGO 169-11.
(In the third and fourth lines of Section A strike “not exceeding twenty dollars ($20)” and replace with “not exceeding one hundred ($100).
Add a final sentence in this section to read “Any monies received under this section shall be returned to the Fitchburg Police Department in a special
account for the purposes of traffic enforcement, traffic equipment and traffic education programs as deemed necessary by the Chief of Police.”

Subsequently the petition appeared on the 7 Dec 2004 agenda.

58-04. Councillor Joel Kaddy, to request that the Fitchburg Police Dept. update and increase the fines for traffic violations under FGO 169-11.
(Be Granted)

And the petition was passed. Notice any similarity to how cities are handling the red light camera ordinances and the section of the petition that I italicized?

Setting proper speed limits

This is old news at this point but it's important enough that I want to post it anyway.

An article written by Brian Lee appeared in the T&G on January 30th 2007. The article addressed speed limits being updated on a section of Rt 20 in Charlton. My condensed version of what the article stated and why what MassHwy did was sooooo wrong follows.

The section of road in question has been reconstructed and it can now clearly handle higher speeds. At the urging of John F. Carr, a Massachusetts resident and member of the National Motorist Association a traffic study was performed. The resulting engineering study "recommended a speed limit of 60 mph or 65 mph on the divided stretch of road, and 55 mph on the undivided stretch in Charlton." However due to political pressure MassHwy rejected the engineering study and approved a increase from 50 MPH to 55 MPH over the entire stretch.

Where did the political pressure come from?

"Memos were received by the Board of Selectmen’s office and Charlton police in August, a town official said". Charlton Police Chief James A. Pervier was quoted saying, "the problem is that motorists tend to drive above posted limits, and since the safety improvement project was finished, there has been an increase in speeding motorists and red-light running."

Of course drivers are driving faster than the under posted speed limits and naturally the speeds increased because the road has been improved. The chiefs statements are misleading and as a public safety official he really should have a better understanding how roads and traffic work.

Accept please, the fact that motorists (at least the vast majority of us) aren't looking to get killed on the road. That's why we drive at speeds that are "reasonable and prudent". And that's why the accepted method of setting speed limits is to set them to the 85th percentile, the speed that 85% of drivers are at or below. The traffic study recommended that the limit to be set to either 60 or 65 MPH indicating that the 85 percentile is between those speeds, and that's what the limit should be set to.

Drivers aren't speeding because they're driving too fast. Rather, they've been turned into speeders because the limit posted is too low. More drivers are now speeding because the difference between the posted limit and what's reasonable and prudent is now even greater.

Oh, by the way, Federal Highway Administration studies show that when speed limits are increased by 15 MPH, (the speed recommended by the study) average speed increases by a modest 1 to 2 MPH. That increase is of course caused by the small percentage of motorists that drive at the speed limit rather than at the speed of traffic. The lame claim frequently cited that we can't post the correct limit because drivers will go that much faster is just so much bs.

What about the chiefs assertion regarding increased red light running?

Well that's a result of under posting limits. Engineers calculate the duration of the yellow light at traffic signals using formulas that include the posted limit. Calculating yellow duration on limits under posted by 10 MPH is a recipe for increased red light running.

MassHwy messed up big time by succumbing to political pressure on this one.

Eminent Domain Scams

Early in February property owners on Rt12 received checks for the fee takings (permanent easements), temporary easements, property taxes paid on the taken land, and interest on the money owed them. Here's how MassHwy and the city of Fitchburg have thusfar scammed the property owners out or proper and full payment for their loss.
  1. The proper way to assess damages for a partial taking of property is to make before and after appraisals of the property value. The damages to pay is the difference between the appraisals. (Scam) - For partial takings on Rt 12 MassHwy indicated there was no damages to the property by the taking and instead made payments based on their appraised value only of the land taken.
  2. In February 06 MassHwy inspected properties on Rt 12 for purposes of appraising the properties. Their inspections consisted of taking photographs of the front of the properties. (Scam) In fact the appraisals (at least the ones I've seen) were based on the city's tax assessments of the property for fiscal 2005. Data that was two years old at the time of the takings. For example, the 2006 appraisal on my property increased by 81% in fiscal 2006 and again by 73% in fiscal 2007 so MassHwy's appraisal is 69% lower than the tax assessment value at the time of the taking. That method of appraisal would be valid only if #1 above were ignored.
  3. Payment for land taken must be paid within 60 days. MassHwy calculated interest on the moneys owed for an expected 56 days. (Scam) MassHwy didn't cut checks till 90 days after the takings. They were not only late but didn't recalculate the interest for the additional 34 days.
  4. Under MGL Chapter 79 Section 44A. The city is entitled to collect for any liens on the property before the owner get payment. (Scam) - Fitchburg reported falsely to MassHwy that property owners had outstanding taxes on their properties equal to or roughly equal to their next quarterly tax payment despite taxes being current. MassHwy dutifully withheld payment and sent the money to the City of Fitchburg. (In my case the city improperly collect $513.31) At this time it appears the only way to recover the funds is to take time off from work to clear the matter with the temporary treasurer.
For the record. Homeowners that had independant appraisals of their property to establish damages have found the damages are higher than the estimates made by MassHwy.

BTW, we also can't cash MassHwy's check because it is made out to me, my wife and the mortgage company. I have to put together documentation for the mortgage company and request they endorse the check and return it to us all by registered mail.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Right on Red or NOT

Check out these new signs at the intersection of Water St. and Laurel St. in Fitchburg.

These new signs appeared about a month ago. Strange though because this is what's in the city code for Right on Red.

§ 169-75. Right turn during red signal prohibited. [Added 6-3-1980]

No driver of a vehicle facing a steady red indication in a traffic control signal shall make a right turn against such red or stop indication at the following intersections when a sign is erected at such intersections prohibiting such right turn:

Name of StreetDirection of TravelProhibited Right Turn on Red Signal Onto
Bemis RoadWestWater Street
Boyle CourtEastWater Street
Fifth StreetWestWater Street
Kimball StreetEastLaurel Street
Main StreetNorthDay Street
Old South StreetWestSouth Street
Water StreetNorthBemis Road
Water StreetSouthWanoosnoc Road

Does anyone know what's actually going on here?

Could it be that:

  • these were added to the city code without going through the normal, safety committee, council approval, mayoral approval, publish ordinance in paper of record process?
  • they're bogus?
  • that the DPW is intentionally spending down their budget to avoid future cuts?
  • that this is part of some new revenue raising scheme? (possibly tied to plans to increase the police traffic division from 2 to 5 officers)
  • the cameras at the intersections are being used to evaluate traffic and come up with changes to improve traffic flow?
That last bullet might sound like a good use for those cameras, but if this is what came up with then they aren't doing a very good job of coming up with fixes. Note that the car below the sign in the last photo is stopped. That means they turned left from Laurel Street onto Water Street despite not having any place to go on the other side of the intersection, which is a traffic violation. The traffic northbound on Water Street is now unable to turn right over the bridge since the intersection is blocked.

Bottom line is that none of the suggested possibilities are appropriate. Comments anyone?

UPDATE 3/12/2007
After the Public Safety Committee meeting on 3/5 one of the councilors asked the traffic division officers about the no right on red signs. Turns out Fitchburg did not put the signs up. A contractor for MassHwy put them up while performing other work at the intersection. Fitchburg police have asked MassHwy about the signs but they had not responded yet. Fitchburg officers have been instructed NOT to write tickets for right on red at this intersection.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fitchburg website should be updated

An S&E article in December referenced a report by Common Cause that discussed the documentation available on local municipal websites.

You can navigate information about the report at Open Government by clicking on the "Massachusetts Campaign for Open Government" link.

Fitchburg as noted in the "All Municipalities" table fails to publish it's budget and the minutes of the city council meetings. It's actually a little worse than that because they also frequently fail to get council meeting agendas published in a timely manner, sometimes publishing the agenda after the meeting or not at all.

In anycase, the reason I bring this up is because earlier this year the council approved the following petition

83-06 Councillor Dean A. Tran and Councillor Ted E. DeSalvatore, to implement the necessary technologies to have all forms, applications, instructions, directions, payment methods and public communications from all depts. in City Hall to be on-line.

and sent it to the Mayor's office.

Now according to the city code

Sec. 55. Approval and veto by mayor of orders, etc.
Every order, ordinance, resolution and vote relative to the affairs of the city, adopted or passed by the city council, shall be presented to the mayor for his approval. If he approves it he shall sign it; if he disapproves it he shall return it, with his written objections, to the city council, which shall enter the objections at large on its records, and again consider it. If the city council, notwithstanding such disapproval of the mayor, shall again pass such order, ordinance, resolution or vote by a two-thirds vote of all its members, it shall then be in force, but such vote shall not be taken for seven days after its return to the city council. Every such order, ordinance, resolution and vote shall be in force if not returned by the mayor within ten days after it has been presented to him. This section shall not apply to budgets submitted under section thirty-two of chapter forty-four or to appropriations by a city council under section thirty-three of said chapter. (1915, 267, II, Sec. 10.)

I don't recall seeing anything about the petition being returned to the council, so unless I'm wrong the order passed. Based on the article, as well as recent visits to the Fitchburg website it seems the Mayor has yet to implement it.

I think it's high time for that to change.

Manning Street Stop Sign

In the S&E article Leominster looks to slow down traffic on Manning Ave.

Leominster officials consider placing a stop sign on Manning Ave at the intersection with Mechanic Street as, "the first step in addressing speeding traffic".

Helloooo, you don't use stop signs to control speed.

From the article,

Mazzarella said the law requires people to stop, even though there isn't a sign.

"If you reach an intersection and there is a road in front of you, you have to stop," he said.

Wrong, quoting from Chapter 4 Rules of the Road in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver's Manual,

Intersections Not Controlled by Signs or Signals
If you come to an uncontrolled intersection, slow
down, look left and right for oncoming traffic,
and proceed if the way is clear. However,

  • You must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle that has entered the intersection from your right or is approaching from your right.
  • Look for any traffic approaching from the left. Even though you may have the legal right-of-way, make sure that the other driver is yielding to you before you proceed.

Also quoting the article,

Mechanic Street is very busy, and every motorist who turned onto it from Manning Avenue -- during a span of a few minutes Thursday afternoon -- all stopped.

Please understand, that's the way it supposed to (and does) work. Drivers on Manning Avenue, approaching the intersection, evaluate the situation. They see that they'll be crossing a sidewalk to turn onto Mechanic Street, they note the large building on the right which limits the ability to see pedestrians and vehicles approaching on Mechanic Street and they slow to an approapriate speed and or stop as needed before proceeding.

Based on the content of the article DPW director Patrick LaPointe and Mayor Mazzarella are wrong. They've given no legitimate reason to put up a stop sign at this location. Clearly they don't get it, maybe they should leave traffic engineering to - oh traffic engineers.

Unless the police department can show a history of collisions at Manning Avenue and Mechanic Street that are of a type that can be reduced by forcing traffic on Manning Avenue to stop the Leominster city council should reject this petition.

On a different note from the same article,

Ward 5 City Councilor Richard Marchand called LaPointe's petition "a great idea."

"Manning Avenue has become a cut through for the downtown traffic," he said, referring to drivers who use the street to avoid Monument Square.

Councilor Marchand is wrong on the first count and right on the second. Manning Avenue has become a cut through for drivers to avoid the delays caused by poor planning and engineering of the intersections around monument square.

However it makes more sense to fix the problems on the primary roads in the downtown area instead of treating the symptoms on the alternate routes with inappropriate signs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sound Off is soooo lame

This weeks Sound off question on the Twin City blog is
Do you support the state’s land-taking along Route 12?

How lame can you get asking this question after MassHwy has completed the takings?

Legitimate Sound off questions over the course of this project might have been...

  1. Will the Rt 12 project reduce traffic congestion?

  2. Will adding traffic lights at Benson and Water or at Water, Nichols, North Main and Battles reduce collisions on Rt 12?

  3. Were mayors Mazzarella and Mylott action to bypass the city councils and beg MassHwy to do the land taking for the Rt 12 project justifiable?

#1. Not likely.
The reconstruction of the Water, Bemis and Wanoosnoc intersection is likely to reduced delays at that intersection as a result of reallignment of Bemis and Wanoosnoc, reduction in grade on Bemis and additional dedicated turning lanes on Bemis and Water Streets. There is also the potential for reduced delays at North Main and Erdman Way due to additional lanes. However, The project adds two new traffic signals and the signals at State Street and North Main which already create delays are not significantly changed. Bear in mind that signals don't reduce delays, they create them.

#2 No way.
It's a common but incorrect assumption that signals make intersections safer. Studies show that the collision index, (potential collisions vs. actual collisions) at intersections are statistically indistinguishable regardless what type of controls, none, two way stop, all way stops, yield or signals, are used at intersections.
Much of the Rt 12 design involves raising sidewalks and creating curb cuts, which is expected to make the roadway safer. Again, that's not likely. The raised sidewalks and curb cuts will reduce the number of locations where conflicts are likely to occur but not the number of conflicts. The curb cuts will also increase delay times as drivers are force to use a single entry/exit from businesses along the road.
The new 4 lane design actually increases the number of driver conflicts because
  • drivers will need to merge where there are lane drops
  • drivers will have to make more lane changes to
    • be in the correct lane when making turns
    • go around drivers waiting to cross two lanes of traffic and access businesses through the curb cuts

#3 You judge.
MassHwy clearly stated that the cities of Leominster and Fitchburg were responsible for the taking of land for the project. Leominster councilors voted 6 to 3 against taking land for the project. Fitchburg councilors never even voted on it because they knew they didn't have the 8 votes for a 2/3 majority needed to approve the takings.

Have doubts about my comments on #1 and #2? Read the articles at the next two links. See how safer roads with less traffic delay are being built in other countries. See what we should have been insisting on instead of the antiquated and ineffective design we wound up with for Rt 12.
In Europe, minimalism has the right of way in road signs
Can 'naked roads' kill speed?
Wouldn't work here? Think again. Make sure to read to the end of the article
No road signs? Europe has surely gone mad

Monday, November 13, 2006

North and Pearl

On Monday 11/13 I went to the MassHwy 25% design hearing for Phase III of the North Street / Pearl Street Project. I attended primarily to object to the plan to install a 4 way stop at this intersection. I asked a few question regarding the decision for a 4 way before the meeting.

The warrants for a 4 way can be met based on traffic counts, or collision history or combinations of the two. The number of traffic collisions in the most recent year for which data is available was three, two shy of the minimum for a 4 way stop. The most recent traffic counts I could find on MassHwys website were too old to be useful. The counts on North Street were too low for a 4 way and there were no counts for Pearl St. The engineers may have been able to meet the warrant using a combination of traffic counts including bicycle and pedestrian counts and other conditions. Unfortunately I won't have time to verify that before the 10 day comment period expires. In any case I strongly believe a roundabout would be a safer approach for this intersection and I suspect that the designers agree.

During the meeting I pointed out that 4 ways have negative affects including:
  • higher approach and exit speeds
  • promote rolling stops
  • increased wear and tear on vehicles
  • higher levels of air and noise polution
I also asked if the land required for a roundabout would be available. The land is there, no buildings on it, however the land is owned by FSC. Rather than stall the project while trying to get the land the recommendation is to install a 4 way stop.
If a roundabout is the best solution wouldn't you expect FSC to be on board with giving up the land? Wouldn't you expect the legislature to be quick in passing any special legislation required if FCS, MassHwy and Fitchburg proposed this together?

There were three public official at the hearing. Mylott, Boisvert and Conry all had something to say regarding the project. Mylott's comments merely indicated that the engineers had done the best they could with a difficult intersection. One of the councilors was to agree that drivers are likely to roll through the stop signs. I doubt they've made the connection that the reason drivers tend to roll through stops signs is that vast majority of stop signs approved by cities and towns are not needed, drivers have adapted to this. The problem is that it is difficult for drivers to tell which stop signs are legit and which are bogus.

Not surprisingly both councilors wanted signals at this intersection. Never mind that there is ample evidence that signals do not make intersections safer.

Update on 6/3/2007
Reply to Anonymous.

You're correct your are behind on this - you need to come up to speed on roundabouts before offering your opinion.

People don't know how to use a rotary - try using the one in Cleghorn. I used to have to use this rotary twice a day - the majority of the time, NO ONE yields to rotary traffic. I think this would cause many more accidents and would make it much more difficult for students and employees to cross the street.

The rotary in Cleghorn was most likely built in the 50s or earlier, before the rotary law was changed. Believe it or not the rotary law used to be that traffic entering a rotary had right of way.

For a roundabout to work well:
  • each approach should have clear view of the rotary and other approaches.
  • it should be well marked so that drivers have a clear understanding of where they want to exit before entering the roundabout
  • there should be free access to the rotary.
  • additional non-roadway entries near or at the rotary should be limited>
The rotary in Cleghorn is lacking on all four counts:
  1. The view of the rotary and other approaches is blocked by a large brick building and by a railroad bridge.
  2. markings are confusing. For example the approach from west Fitchburg is Rt 12 South, Rt 31 North and Rt2A East. The signs for each are separate and it is not clear where each will exit the rotary as drivers approach. The other approaches provide even less information.
  3. The entrances/exits for the rotary are obstructed by stop signs and signals.
  4. There are multiple extra entrances and exits at or near the rotary. IIRC at total of 4 businesses have entrance/exits at or near the rotary, Cumberland Farms, McDonalds, a gas station and an package (liquour) store.
As to driver behavior, roadway users (including pedestrians) adapt to the situation. Build a well design rotary at North and Pearl and both drivers and pedestrians will learn to negotiate it.

Attempting to compare this monstrosity with a modern well designed roundabout is ludicrous.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The other white meat.

Front page S&E headlines on Saturday read "Report doubts impact of rail money".

This article nailed it. Proponents of commuter rail love to point to passenger rail in Europe as an example we should follow. However, this isn't Europe, our communities are not laid out the way cities and villages in Europe are. The article correctly identifies this when it states "...efforts to increase density, reduce sprawl, and promote transit should start with local land use policies and then link those policies with transportation plans", plan properly first and rail will begin to make sense. Sadly, people like Matt Straight, and public officials like Mayor Dan H. Mylott, U.S. Rep. John Olver, and at-large City Councilor Stephen DiNatale, that reject the finding of the study don't get it.

This is our tax money gentlemen, and the "Harvard University study" doesn't need to prove that they're right. No gentlemen, if want to spend our money it's you that needs to prove the benefit of spending tax dollars on this pork barrel project. Front page S&E headlines on Saturday read "Report doubts impact of rail money".

posted by noway at 7:55 PM on Nov 06 2006

On 11/11/2006

Thomas Shawn said...

They may have to spend the $300M on the rail because the chances of making route 2 a real highway through Concord and Lincoln are approximately 0%.

Thomas, your assessment of the resistance of Concord and Lincoln to significant redesign of Rt 2 in their communities is spot on.

Here's some additional information on the issue of commuter rail and the commute on Rt 2.

On Wednesday 11/15, I attended the Montachusett Joing Transportation Committee meeting. Mohammed Kahn made the presentation regarding public transportation.

It was noted that there will be a fare increase on the MART buses. An adult fare will go from 75 cents to $1, and fares for seniors will go from 35 cents to 50 cents. Ridership is expected to drop by 5% and then to gradually rise to current levels.

It was also noted that Commuter Rail fares are currently at $6 per trip but are expected to rise to between $7.50 and $8.00. No corresponding drop in ridership is expected because the trip to Boston on Rt 2 is so bad.

So, if the trip on Rt 2 is so bad that a substantial rate hike isn't likely to divert riders back onto the highway why divert precious transportation funds from road and bridge repairs for commuter rail?

Any "improvements" to the commuter rail line should be funded by additional rate increases. Let those that stand to benefit pick up the tab.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Traffic Cameras

On the first of the month the T&G ran this article about the city of Worcester's plan to monitor intersections with cameras.

“It has been shown that having cameras at intersections dramatically improves the level of public safety,” Mr. O’Brien said in an interview after the council meeting. “Once people know that cameras are there, they are less likely to run a red light or fail to stop for a stop sign. The cameras can be a true deterrent to breaking the law.”

Really, who besides Mr. O'Brien and of course the manufacturers of the cameras says that traffic cameras are beneficial. There are plenty of opposing opinions on this including this one from Patrick Bedard at Car and Driver.

Furthermore, red light cameras are illegal in Massachusetts as stated on this page from the Massachusetts chapter of the National Motorist Association.

“This isn’t about generating new revenues because they would decline after a while,” Mr. O’Brien said. “This is all about public safety, which is paramount.”

Not about the money? Yeah right.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dump the Twin City Rail Trail

As if there weren't enough reasons to stop support for the Twin City Rail Trail lets add this one "Rail trail becomes hangout for men in search of sex" to the list.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rt 2 Overpass

Today the top story on page one of the S&E is Councilors call for Route 2 overpass The plan may have merit when it's considered that there's no east bound access between the Rt 31 exit and the South St / Merriam Ave exit.
Still it is disturbing that planning infrastructure to support develoment comes after the development. This shows a lack of long range planning or at least of an inability to adapt long range planning to changing needs.

I had initially planned to do an extensive writeup about the article and the process such a project would have to go through but it has gotten a lot of comment (from me as well) on Save Fitchburg Blog. And frankly even though a number of people seemed to be interested in the process I'm skeptical. So I'll leave it at the paragraph below and the new links I've added today.

So let's assume that you want to advance a project similar to the one in the article. To whom would you bring your ideas? Well you could bring it to your congressman and senators as well as your state represenative and state senator, and you should, they love being advocates for this type of stuff, because bringing home the bacon enhances their chances of getting reelecting in November. But ultimately the project has to go through the Regional Planning Organization. In the case of Fitchburg that's the MRPC. I've added two links to the MRPC and one to MassHwy for anyone that wants to do some research.

BTW: If you're truly interested in issues related to roads and traffic, or if this is your first visit here, I strongly recommend visiting the TED TIPs link (all the the TED TIPS apply here in Central Mass). Last but not least check the Roads Gone Wild article, see how good engineering can make roads safer while using few controls.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Winter Parking Ban

I did not attend the last Public Safety Committee meeting or either of the last two City Council Meetings. Still I have been watching.
One of the more interesting event from those meetings and on the agenda for Tuesday 10/17 is the change in the winter parking ban.
Without any apparent public discussion of last winters experiment the new parking ban was on the council agenda for 10/3 and went to first and second readings. The wording for the new ordinance was published in the S&E on 10/06/2006.
Did I miss something? Was there some hugh positive benefit discovered last year during their 90 day experiment?
  • Were there fewer illegally parked cars on city streets during snow emergencies last winter?
  • Were Fitchburg streets cleared of snow quicker last winter?
  • Were the plows able to do a better job of widening the streets after the storm last winter?
You certainly couldn't tell in my neightborhood. I've lived at the same address for 19 years. In that time I've only seen cars ticketed for violating the winter parking ban ONCE, and it certainly wasn't last winter. There were cars parked on the street in my neighborhood through out every snow emergency declared last winter. As often as not the cars were parked on the street for the entire time of the declared emergency. None of these cars were ticketed, none were towed and the city did their usual inadequate job of plowing.

Sorry for the rant but there's no justification for adopting this unless there's clear evidence that the experiment last year resulted in improved public safety by allowing the DPW to do a better job of clearing snow and ice from the roads. Some people may have considered the experimental ban better (because they got fewer tickets) but ticket revenue is not the purpose of the parking ban. This change does nothing to help find scarce off street parking and the lack of ticketing before the snow flies eliminates the incentive for drivers to find it themselves. Shame on any city councilor that supports this ordinance change.

How about you folks in the FSC area or any other neighborhood for that matter. Did you see any improvement in snow clearing in your neighborhood last winter?

Two to nothing - so far

As predicted - MassHwy has failed to compete the takings of the Rt 12 project in September. In fact they didn't vote on the takings until three days ago on 10/11. The taking will not be register until 11/7.

Also as predicted the amount of compensation is below what might be expected considering the appraisal for property taxes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Two new links

I've added two new link. The first is to theNewspaper.com which has stories related to photo enforcement. The second is to the recently opened blog for the National Motorist Association.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rail Trail and ROW

Back on March 30 2ndson asked the question.
"If not too much added difficulty, please include in your promised update later today any info on the rail trail/rt 12 easement, i.e. which wins?"
My response at the time,
"I wish I could give you a definitive answer but all inquirys I've made to find out the answer have gone unanswered. It is important to the Twin City Rail Trail that Mass Hwy not get an easement because the rail road ROW has to remain intact for the rail trail to proceed." was less than informative because it wasn't clear at the time.
At the public safety and public works committee meetings back on October 12, I asked for clarification on that. As I recall the response was that MassHwy would be getting an easement on the the RR ROW. I asked if MassHwy had contingency plans in the event the CSX decided to put the rail road line line back in and their response was that they had none. They also indicated that with the developments over the past year, specifically the asking price from CSX, they doubted the viability of the Rail Trail.

The change in design on Water St from the proposed 6 lanes to 4 lanes reduces the width of the easement needed for Rt 12. I beleive this leaves sufficient width for another easement for the rail trail. The new design guidelines released by MassHwy last December suggest that if the rail trail became a reality, the design might have to be modified to force trail users to cross at the Water St. and Bemis Road intersection and not just below the intersection on Bemis Road.

The bottom line is that neither MassHwy nor the Rail Trail proponents have considered the possiblility that CSX could take the land back for an actual rail use. This seems like poor planning on their part or perhaps something else is going on that we're not being kept informed of. Not neccessarily illegal but not being published in the media.

Still related to the rail trail the Sentinel and Enterprise reported that the Fitchburg Planning Board squeezed a $100,000 "donation" for the project from yet another developer.

Friday, September 15, 2006

My Prediction

Warning: this is at least a bit though not completely tongue-in-cheek so smile at least a little as you read it.

  • Sept 06 - MassHwy fails to complete takings on time - Bidding delayed (but for only a month)
  • Fall 06 - MassHwy eventually completes takings - property owners express disbelief at how little MassHwy plans to pay for land (lets just say it's less than the city tax assessment - note for a partial taking the compensation is supposed to be the difference in value before and after the taking not the value of the portion of land taken.)
  • Summer 07 - construction begins, probably in August/Sept
  • Summer 08 / Fall 09 - Construction period traffic in knots every day during commuting hours.
  • Fall 09 - major construction operations completed but "upgraded" signals remain inoperative
  • Winter 09/2010 - Wider roadway with reduced shoulder widths provide inadequate space for snow accumulations. Height of snow banks limits sight lines makes turning onto the roadway hazardous. Businesses, residents and commuters complain to city officials in Fitchburg and Leominster about snow and ice buildup on Rt 12 and ask what happened to the snow removal plans MassHwy indicated the cities would need to develop. Fitchburg responds by sending out a front end loader to reduce height of snow banks at the intersections.
  • Spring 2010 - Residents complain that the snow, sand and salt the front end loaded dumped in their front yard killed their grass and shrubs. Silent response from city officials is deafening.
  • Fall 2010 - signals at all 5 intersections are functional. Commuters recall fondly the construction period when the traffic wasn't this backed up. Residents and businesses recall the pre-construction period when the traffic tie ups where caused by only 3 set of traffic signals instead of 5 traffic signals and having to cross two lanes of traffic at every left turning entry/exit to the roadway.
  • 2011 - First fatal collision since construction completed. Candidate intersections are Rt 12 with Battles or Benson. Probability greater than 60% that one of the vehicles will be a ambulance or other emergency vehicle struck by vehicle that ran a red light.
  • 2014 - Right hand southbound lane on Rt 12 begins to show significant deterioration. Northbound lanes and left hand southbound lane were construction by repaving on the already compacted and stable cobblestone roadbed. New pavement in the southbound lane is constructed on a new foundation which is still being compacted by traffic and has sunk below the level of the other lanes.
  • 2020 - Fitchburg is still requesting a connector but it's out of the question due to development of land on all paths between Rt2. and downtown.
  • 2050 - Oil is scarce - price at $65/gallon. No one is driving anymore. Problem solved.

Commercial vs Residential

One of the questions asked at the Rt 12 meeting of the council on 12 September concerned the land on the west side of Rt 12 between Carey St and Old Leominster Rd situated roughly where the old Twin City Diner sat. Councilor Donnelly seemed to be suggesting that little spot of land might be put to use. Perhaps a small commercial properly. Councilor Kaddy followed that up with a comment that driving south on Rt 12 he noticed very few residential properties and that residents on Rt 12 would eventually realize that their property had more value as commercial property. Councilor Joseph took note and exception to councilor Kaddy's remark.

By my count between Bemis Rd and Rt 2, there are 17 residential properties in Fitchburg and 8 in Leominster on the west (southbound) side or Rt 12 and on the east (northbound) side the count is 10 in Leominster and 19 in Fitchburg.

Given that some councilors believe property values along Rt 12 will increase with the completion of the Rt 12 project do you suppose the expect us residential owners to PAY the state for taking the land. After all according to them our property will go up in value. More on that in the discussion on eminent domain.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wa Wa

Not surprisingly there was nothing in either the T&G or the S&E about the joint meetings of the Public Works and Public Safety committees. Guess everyone figures this stuff is a done deal.

Being the only non-politician, non-city-employee non-MassHwy-employee and only private citizen at the meeting who will be effected by the eminent domain takings for this project, I was given some latitude by councilor Kaddy in asking questions of MassHwys representatives. After it became apparent that my questions were directed more toward design short comings and eminent domain as it relates to Bemis/Water and the rail trail rather than my own property I was cut off.

I have to work late today but time permitting will try to post about eminent domain after work.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rt 12 Project Timeline (per MassHwy)

For anyone that is interested this is the basic timeline for the project.
  • Sept 06 - Complete eminent domain takings and put project out to bid
  • Dec 06 - Bid Openings (my note) probably followed by awarding contract(s)
  • Spring 07 - begin constructions - the road will remain open through out constructions as one lane in each direction.
  • Fall 08 - project completion

The outcome on these ordinances.

The results are in

Each committee met and each had the same results
  1. 261-06. AN ORDINANCE: Amending Chapter 169-24 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg (Parking prohibited at all times) as it pertains to Water Street, Benson Street and Bemis Rd.
    This ordinance change will move forward. The petition will eliminate all parking on Water St. from the city line to Abbott Ave and add no parking on Benson St. for 50 Ft from the intersection with Water St.
  2. 262-06. AN ORDINANCE: Amending Chapter 169-59 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg (One way streets) as it pertains to Devlin Passway and Old Leominster Rd.
    This ordinance change will be withdrawn. The original design called for Devlin Passway to be closed to Bemis Rd. However this was opposed by the fire department because there were issues with fire apparatus ability to turn on to Devlin Passway from the other end. The decision to leave Old Leominster Rd two way was not discussed. I would have liked to hear what the reasoning had been for their original decision to make this road one way southbound. I can only think of a few possible reasons and all of them would have made MassHwy appear inept.
  3. 263-06. AN ORDINANCE: Amending Chapter 169-76 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg (Stop intersections) as it pertains to Carey Street, Old Leominster Rd., Falulah Street and Abbott Avenue.
    This ordinance change will move forward.

    These intersections clearly meet the warrant for stop signs (that means they meet the minimum requirement that permit the signs to be installed) but meeting the warrant does not mean the signs are required. There are almost always several design options available and that's where engineering judgement comes in. In this case the engineers decided that these intersections will get stop signs.
    However, at the Phase I hearing for the Rt 12 project (Fitchburg Public Library Theater 28 Feb 2002) MassHwy displayed computer simulations of traffic on the proposed roadway. The simulations showed how signals will bunch vehicles together into packets with gaps between the packets. Vehicles will be able to enter the roadway from businesses that line the road by filling in the gap. Additionally in the new design MassHwy will close the spur with yield sign for traffic turning south onto Rt 12 from Wanoosnoc Rd forcing that traffic to drive down to Rt 12, but that traffic will not be controlled by traffic signals instead having a free turn allowing drivers to move into the gaps in the traffic. This suggests that MassHwy still believes the simulation remains accurate. So how is the free turn from Wanoosnoc to Water or any turn from a businesses or home along Water St. different from a right turn at the intersections of Abbott Avenue, Old Leominster Rd or Carey St onto Water St?
    This ordinance change will move forward despite the fact that these stop signs are not clearly needed at this time. Obviously if after the project is completed traffic patterns developed in ways that indicated a clear need it would be easy to correct the problem by installing stop signs.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ordinance Changes

At the most recent City Council meeting (5 Sept 2006) three ordinance changes and a petition relating to the Rt 12 project were on the agenda. These changes we're told must be made before MassHwy can put the project out to bid and they want to put it out to bid by the end of the month so destruction can begin in the spring.

Pardon me, but when did poor planning on the part of MassHwy become an emergency for the city. Seems to me that the urgency is overstated, especially considering that MassHwy must also complete all takings before the project can go to bid and I've yet to meet anyone whose property involves a partial taking that has recieved any notice of taking at this time.

These ordinance changes need to be explained and evaluated before they are approved. They should not be rubber stamped as it appears the council is headed towards doing. As indicated by the fact that they moved the petitions to first and second readings and they suspended the rules and passed Mr. Meunier's petition.

Here are the ordinance changes so you don't have to go to the city's website to read them.
  1. 261-06. AN ORDINANCE: Amending Chapter 169-24 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg (Parking prohibited at all
    times) as it pertains to Water Street, Benson Street and Bemis Rd.
    (First Reading)
  2. 262-06. AN ORDINANCE: Amending Chapter 169-59 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg (One way streets) as it pertainsto Devlin Passway and Old Leominster Rd.
    (First Reading)
  3. 263-06. AN ORDINANCE: Amending Chapter 169-76 of the Code of the City of Fitchburg (Stop intersections) as it pertains to Carey Street, Old Leominster Rd., Falulah Street and Abbott Avenue.
    (First Reading)
  4. The Petition
    264-06. Denis R. Meunier, Commissioner Dept. of Public Works, to make various changes in the Code of the City of Fitchburg
    related to traffic patterns on various streets necessitated by the redesign and construction of Route 12.

Notice anything about the ordinances and petition? That right - the text tells you absolutely nothing about what the actual changes are. You'd think that the councilors who voted to move these forward had a more detailed description of the changes like maybe which way travel would be allowed on Old Leominster Road, but from what I've been told by one councilor, they didn't have anything more that what was printed in the agenda. And of course they did pass the petition and moved the ordinances to First and Second readings. BTW: Councilor Donnelly took offense to Mr Boutwell's, Politics as usual comment, but it didn't stop him from voting to move these forward without even knowing what was in them. Sounds to me like Mr Boutwell hit the nail on the head.

In any case there will be a special joint meeting of the Public Works and Public Safety Committees this Tuesday 12 September at 6 PM with the three ordinances on the agenda. Not surprisingly the S&E, longtime supporters of this project did not include this special meeting in the list of public meetings in the Sunday Edition today.

So what are the issues as I see them.

Regarding the ordinance changes.

  1. 261-06. Exactly from where to where and on which side of the street will the no parking at any time be implemented on Bemis, Water and Benson.
  2. 262-06. Devlin Passway is one way so lets assume it will become two way - Old Leominster Rd is currently 2 way so they must plan on making it a one way. Why is it deemed neccessary to make it one way. Which direction? Expect follow up questions depending on the responses.
  3. 263-06. Stop intersection - which intersections are get stop signs - which will have stop signs removed. Is the list complete?

Other issues I'd like to see addressed before this project goes to bid.
  1. It's been over three years since MassHwy held the 25% hearing for Phase II of the project at Leominster City Hall (June 03). I'd like to MassHwys responses to my comments for that hearing.
  2. Some of MassHwys responses to my comments on Phase I indicated that certain issues are responsiblity of the various city departments. Included in those are traffic violations and snow removal - no city department has yet provided a plan for either.
  3. A signifiant Right of Way issue at the Water St/Bemis Rd intersections remains unexplained. Any widening of Rt 12 at that location requires land from the Railroad ROW. Original plans showed 6 lanes. (Later plans showed only 5 - probably a response to my Phase II comments) A 5 lane road would require a 66 ft ROW where today there is only a 50 ft ROW. How can this project move forward without MassHwy taking the land needed from CSX? I've heard rumors that MassHwy will only be granted an easement on CSXs ROW. What will happen to Rt 12 if CSX takes the ROW back as it would be able to do if the ROW is Banked?

There will be one representative of MassHwy at this special meeting. I don't think that's going to be sufficient. I would think as a minimum, the district director, the district's chief engineer, and a representative versed in ROW and Rail Banking to back them up. But of course that's just my opinion.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New Link

If you haven't done so yet check out the new link - Roads Gone Wild. This is the future of road design. Take the time to read the whole article. Nearly everyone has the same reaction, it'll never work here, cause people here don't know how to drive. Yet cities the size of Fitchburg and larger have taken this approach and found that it does work here. The longer we take to get on board and change the way we think about roads and road design the worse our traffic will get.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The 3Es

Road user behavior is the product of the 3 Es:
  • education
  • Engineering
  • enforcement

Road users include anyone that uses public roads, that includes everyone from the commercial truck driver down to pedestrians.

On the education side quantity and quality is all over the map. Learners permit and license exams for obtaining a Commercial Driver License are intense and passing standards are high. In the middle are class D or M license holders, where the passing score for a permit is a whopping 70% and the typical license exam doesn't even include backing up. At the low end of the spectrum are cyclists and pedestrians who do not require licenses and receive little or no training.
BTW: at some point in every trip we all become pedestrians.

Proposed changes in the Junior Operator Law have gotten a lot of press this year but the efforts are misguided and have moved in the wrong direction. Increasing licensing standard is not a bad idea but the return on investment won't be realized until we fix the root problem.

Many believe that increasing enforcement is the solution to improving driver behavior. But the level of traffic enforcement is like gasoline pricing. It finds the proper level on it's own and tampering with the price can have unintended consequences like creating shortages by increasing use and reducing exploration for new sources when prices are held artificially low. As for traffic enforcement, voters complain about what they perceive as problem traffic violations, politicians then react by forcing police to step up enforcement. Typically the people that get ticketed include many of the folks that were doing the complaining, most of the rest are their neighbors, the complaints subside, things slowly return to normal. A downside to the process is that it diverts manpower and other resources from more important police operations. Supporters of increased traffic enforcement will suggest that we need to increase the number of police but it's unsustainable in the long term. Increased enforcement reduces the number of violations initially but then the new officers have little to do.

So if the commonly perceived solutions, better training and more enforcement are ineffective where is the solution?

It's the one that's left, the one in the middle, the one were we already spend the most but need to do a better job of, the BIG E, ENGINEERING is the only viable long term solution. We need to ensure that road redesigns and new road construction include measures to:
  • reduce the frequency of road user conflicts
  • reduce the consequences of driver conflicts
  • reduce traffic congestion
  • reduce air pollution
  • keep traffic moving
  • allow drivers to use judgment
  • make good driving beneficial to drivers
  • make roadway users equal partners in their own safety
We don't do any of those things today.

The solution to practically every traffic problem, at least in the eyes of general public and therefore their elected representatives, involves increasing the number of traffic controls. That has been the approach for as far back as I can remember and I got my license in 1969, so far it hasn't worked. We got away with poor planing and bad politically motivated decisions for decades, but only because cause traffic density was lower and new road construction was keeping pace with the additional traffic on our roads. But that's a thing of the past, planning and new road construction takes much longer today. We're much more environmentally conscious today, roads were routed through sensitive wetlands decades ago. Today that's out of the question, at best such routes require years of studies and designs that mitigate the impact on the environment. We have to be smarter with our planning and and must find ways to use the existing footprint more effectively whenever possible. We also need to plan further ahead than we have in the past because of the extended time for new construction.

Were do we start? Locally of course, but what to do? If you're really concerned start by educating yourself about road design, read the TED TIPS at the link on the right as a primer. Look at what has been working in other countries and other cities in the US. I'll be providing a link to some articles about different design approaches that work soon. Realize that politics must take a back seat to good engineering if we're going to get the best solutions. And last but not least think things through don't assume organizations like the MRPC and MassHwy have the answers, they routinely make bad decisions sometimes even violating their own design guidelines.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Busy, Busy, Busy....

As you may have noticed I haven't posted in over a month. It's not because there hasn't been anything of interest. I've just been that busy. I'll try to get some posts over the next week. Possible topics?
  • rail trails - theres been an article in the T&G about the price for the trail between Leominster and Fitchburg, a letter to the editor in the S&E on same, and the opening of the steam line trail in west Fitchburg
  • communter rail - legislators rode the train from Fitchburg to Boston, there's been articles about failing equipment and today's T&G has an editorial, and a quote from Dan Grubauskas
  • Walmart's plans for Lancaster - do any of the local communities and their elected officials including, Lancaster, Clinton, Bolton, Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Ayer, worse of all Leominster have a clue how to manage traffic?
  • then there's councilor Boisvert's petition to redesign the Clarendon/Daniels St intersection.
  • the Rt 12 project - any progress on the takings, should the current TIP from the MRPC include 1.5 Million in CMAQ funding for Rt 12
  • the Mass Ave / John Fitch Hwy intersection - designated most dangerous in the city
  • what ever else might be on folks minds

I won't have time to discuss them all so drop an e-mail and let me know what issues are of interest.