The birds are… shivering!

The birds should be chirping, but they are shivering instead.

What’s up with the weather? It was 68 degrees in February, and we are in the midst of a frozen Nor’easter on the first day of April. It should feel like spring, with chirping birds, lots of bikes on the bike path, and happy folks enjoying the first days of sidewalk dining. While we are just two short days from opening day at Fenway, it is a windy, wet, cold, snowy, Saturday. April Fools!

This is where I usually get into the feathery shtick and tell you it’s a beautiful day for an election. Let’s be honest. The weather is less than ideal, and the town-wide races are uncontested. It’s the kind of day that lends itself more toward French toast and huddling under a blanket with a good book. Still, there are good reasons to venture out into cold reality and visit your local polling place.

First, there are poll workers who are waiting for your visit! A slow election is a lonely day for the election workers, who make sure you have the opportunity to participate in your town government. Go thank them for working a very long day to make democracy possible.

Second, voting in an uncontested election is a way to say thank you to the people on the ballot. My colleagues on the school committee, and the other folks on the town-wide ballot, are all hard working and thoughtful people who spend considerable time working to make Arlington a better place to live. Diane Mahon is also a long-time friend and fan of this chirping bird routine. Please take the time to fill in the bubble next to Diane’s name, as well as Dan Dunn, both running for re-election as selectmen. Fill in the bubble for Mary Winstanley O’Connor, running for re-election to the Board of Assessors. Fill in the bubble for Town Clerk Stephanie Lucarelli, and Finance Committee member Dean Carmen who is running for Town Treasurer. Please vote for my school committee colleagues, Jennifer Susse and Bill Hayner, and I ask for your vote as well.

We work well together, we respect each other, and I think Arlington is moving in a positive direction. Your vote today may not be a vote to select candidates, but it is a vote of confidence.

In eleven of 21 precincts, it is also a vote to elect Town Meeting Members. Our citizen legislature appropriates the town budget, enacts bylaws and zoning bylaws, and makes the major decisions for the town. Some of the Town Meeting races are very spirited, with your neighbors engaged in a contest for the right to spend several spring evenings representing you in Town Hall.

Yes, we have a town election on April Fools Day, and it’s the fools who fail to use their vote! The polls are open until 8:00 p.m., and I promise you, if you vote, the birds will be out chirping in the sunshine really soon.

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The dysfunction of the U.S. House speaker

As a low-rent local elected official, I know I am substantially worthless. I can decide absolutely nothing, but as a member of a seven member board, I can only get something done if I can convince three other members to vote with me to do something. This is why the phrase, “Can you count to 4,” is significant in a seven member board.

Our Congress isn’t much different. With 435 members of the United States House of Representatives, the question is if you can count to 218. Under current circumstances, this presents an interesting challenge.

The House is currently comprised of 237 Republicans, 193 Democrats, and there are five vacancies. If you can get all 237 Republicans to agree on something, you can reach a decision. However, last week’s failure of the House Republicans to gather 218 members to support a health insurance bill illustrates a fatal flaw in the current House structure.

If you look at the current House mathematics, you need to consider the dynamics of the Republican caucus. Let’s start with one of the driving factors of the GOP split, the 23 Republicans who represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton GOP
GOP Representatives in Clinton districts

So, if you do some simple subtraction, taking 23 moderates away from 237 Republicans, you find yourself at 214. Similarly, if you remove approximately 30 members of the Freedom Caucus, your 237 member majority suddenly looks like a 207 member minority.

Republicans in Congress
Congressional Republicans by faction

If you start at the far right of the distribution with a policy proposal, chances are you are going to run out of yes votes before you get to 218. Similarly, if you restrict yourself to Republican members,start with the moderates, and move right, you are going to see the Freedom Caucus drop away.

Congress
Entire congress

The message is simple. A governing majority needs to somewhere near the middle, and cannot limit itself to one party. This is going to become more crucial if the probable outcome in 2018, a Republican loss of 10-15 seats, will leave the GOP with a razor-thin majority.

To legislate successfully, you need a Speaker of the House who can determine the will of the Congress, and lead it to that position. However, the role of the Speaker has transformed from the leader of the entire House of Representatives to a kind of uber-majority leader. The Hastert rule, where the Speaker was bound by the majority of the majority, effectively puts him in the position of supporting the position of the 119 most conservative Republicans in the House.

I don’t know how we are going to get there, but we need to find a way to get a more neutral Speaker, one that has the support of members from both parties. We need a Speaker who can work from the center and be able to bring the majority and minority leaders into the room and craft legislation that can achieve 218 votes. So, you lose 30 far-right Republicans, you can pick up 50 centerist Democrats and put together a governing coalition that stands a better chance of gaining acceptance of the American public.

Think about it. If the Speaker was focused on the will of the majority of all members, not just the majority of the majority, we would have had no problem passing an immigration reform proposal backed by George W. Bush and John McCain, many Democrats, a majority of the entire Congress, but not a majority of members of the Republican caucus.

Corker tweet

The ideal candidate for Speaker would be one of those Clinton-district Republican moderates, someone who is friendly with and can work with Democrats. We need someone who is more interested in representing the will of Congress, rather than advocating for a ideological or partisan position through the Speaker’s chair. The partisan advocates should be the majority leader and the minority leader; the Speaker should represent the entire Congress.

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Responses to YourArlington questions – February 1, 2017

Here are my answers to three questions asked by YourArlington.com:

— Why are you seeking reelection?

These are exciting times in our schools. We are building a new Gibbs School, planning for a new Arlington High School, renovating the Stratton School, expanding the Thompson School, and planning an addition to the Hardy School. I am energized by the tasks ahead, and honored to be able to work with six fantastic school committee colleagues as we meet the challenges we face in Arlington.

— What are your qualifications to hold the office you seek?
Past President, Massachusetts Association of School Committees (president in 2004)
15 years of school committee service (four years on the Minuteman Regional School Committee, eleven years on the Arlington School Committee).
21 years of service as a Town Meeting Member (1993-2003 and 2006-present).
34 years as a public school teacher and administrator
B.S., City University of New York;
Ed.M., C.A.S., Harvard University Graduate School of Education

— What major three challenges face a candidate for this seat, and how
would you address each with an aim to improve Arlington?

Three challenges:
1. Rebuilding Arlington High School. We have made tremendous progress in the past two years, but we have significant work ahead of us. We were accepted into the core program of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and we are advancing to Feasibility Study module of the construction program. We brought our case to the voters last June, and the funding for the Feasibility Study was approved by a 3:1 margin. Our challenge going forward is to devise a plan for a school that serves our community well for the next several decades.

2. Meeting the needs of a growing enrollment. During the housing crash eight years ago, Arlington was one of a few communities that retained housing values through the crisis. When lenders started to make mortgages available again, Arlington became a popular destination for young families. We are in the middle of a demographic shift, and many young families are willing to trade space for the amenities of an urban community with reasonable commutes and enticing amenities. We are in the middle of an enrollment surge that has us repurposing the Gibbs School, adding six classrooms to the Thompson School, and planning for an addition to the Hardy School. Our challenge is to continue to stay ahead of the demographic trends, and to rally community support for the funding required to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding enrollment.

3. Maintaining momentum. During my time on the school committee, we have made steady progress in our schools. We now have a culture of continuous improvement, and our teachers are committed to the work of making things a little bit better every day. We need to support or teaching staff in their work, and provide them the encouragement and resources they need to do great things for our children.

The connection among all three items, for the school committee, is to build the community’s understanding of our challenges, and gain support for our work.

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Vote NO on Question 2; November 8, 2016

I have been a member of the Arlington School Committee for more than ten years. Some things change, some things remain the same, but the one constant is that I have had to spend too much time and energy saying no.

I have said no to lots of great ideas. I have said no to programs that would benefit our children. I have said no when my heart was jumping up and down urging me to say yes. I have said no because the school committee has the difficult job of weighing priorities against a difficult fiscal reality.

It is no secret that Arlington has had to raise property taxes, significantly, since the turn of the century just to struggle to maintain our current level of municipal services, on the town side and in our schools. The worst year was our 2003-04 school year, when our Chapter 70 education aid and our unrestricted general government aid was cut by 20%.

Last year, the state’s Foundation Budget Review Commission determined that the state underfunds its obligations to local school districts by more than $1 billion. The state’s response was to deflate the Foundation Budget by -0.22%. Last week, facing a $294 million budget deficit, Governor Charlie Baker announced plans to cut 1% of the state budget.

In this context of steady and significant disinvestments by the state in local government, with more cuts on the horizon, Governor Baker and lots of wealthy out-of-state big money contributors want us to approve Question 2, which would blow the doors off the current spending cap for charter schools. Question 2 would allow 12 new schools charter schools to open, taking 1% of the total statewide school population, costing $120 million more in the first year alone.

$120 million worth of new charter schools every year? How can Governor Baker afford it? The answer is simple. He can’t afford it, but he has no worries. He just takes the money out of the host communities’ Chapter 70 state aid.

Though the Yes campaign states that Question 2 does not impact suburban districts, you don’t need to put a charter school IN Arlington for it to hurt Arlington. Natick doesn’t have a charter school, but they lose 39 students and $435,000 to charters in Framingham and Marlborough. A charter school across the border in Cambridge of Somerville could have a large negative impact on our funding, and with a dozen new charter schools every year the probability of one or two or more bringing significant harm to the Arlington Public Schools students is very high. Charter schools in neighboring communities could quickly blow past Arlington’s charter cap of about six million dollars, doing considerable damage to the programs we offer our students in our public school system.

Yes, I am making an argument about the money. As Reverend Ike once said, the lack of money is the root of all evil, and the disproportionate and preferential funding of charter schools, at the expense of public schools, presents significant harm to the children who remain in the public system.

Under the current rules, the state takes away our decision to set priorities, to make decisions about our town’s budget. Do we want elementary librarians or a charter school? Do we want reduced class size or a charter school? Do we want to expand our early childhood program or a charter school? Do we want to reduce athletic fees or a charter school? Under the current rules, the state can make the decision for us. They can decide we must pay for a charter school. With all caps lifted, the probability of programs for a public school will be reduced expand exponentially because the state decides our priority will be to pay for a charter school.

Question 2 is an assault on our Town Meeting. It is an assault on the New England tradition that we can come together and make decisions about how our town budget is spent. It is an assault on the principle that people who want to spend money from our town budget should stand before Town Meeting and defend their request for an appropriation, no matter how small. Question 2 blows the doors off Arlington’s $6 million cap on charter school garnishments. It is unsustainable, and it will inflict considerable harm on each and every student who remains in any public school district that is forced to pay for a charter school.

There really isn’t much of a difference, in the underlying concept, between a Commonwealth charter school and a regional vocational school district like Minuteman. Both provide choice. Both provide a different kind of education. However, we voted to join the Minuteman district. We voted to amend the regional agreement and to allow bonding for a new school. We had a referendum to exempt Minuteman capital costs from Proposition 2½, and another referendum to authorize the building. Charter schools don’t ask for our money. They take it. They take it without giving us any opportunity to vote to start the school, fund the school, or expand the school. They take it without any opportunity to review how the money is spent, without any opportunity to weigh it with any of the other priorities of the town.

There are charter schools that do good work, that make a difference in the lives of children. There are other charter schools that are mediocre at best. What do they have in common? Preferential funding, unaccountable to the cities and towns forced to pay for them. Question 2 calls for 12 new charter schools every year, seats for 1% of students statewide, $120 million additional every year. Cities and towns caught between Proposition 2½ and underfunded state aid accounts can’t afford this wholesale expansion without massive cuts to schools and municipal services, overrides, and higher user fees.

It was hard to say no to elementary librarians, reduced class sizes, and reduced sports fees. Question 2? That’s an easy choice. Please join me in saying NO when it counts for the children in our public schools. Please vote NO on Question 2 on November 8.

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Yes, you are special

The text of my speech to the graduating class of 2015, delivered on June 6, 2015.

Superintendent Bodie, Principal Janger, school committee colleagues, members of the Arlington faculty and staff, family and friends of our distinguished graduating class, and members of the Arlington High Class of 2015, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.

I come to you as a member of the Class of 1970, Northport High School, Long Island, New York. Although my memory of my graduation day is sweet and sour vivid, I remember absolutely nothing about any graduation speeches.

I remember graduating on a late-June day with a vague suggestion of thunderstorms, so the ceremony moved indoors. Our class of 600-plus Tigers sat on the stage of the high school auditorium, packed onto flimsy folding chairs, with less legroom than coach passengers on a discount airline. In 98 degree heat, with 98 percent humidity, I was at least 500 seats back in the alphabetical ghetto. We were so far back, that if the scenery from the spring musical were to come crashing down from the ceiling, we would have been at least four rows behind the disaster.

I don’t know what they said, but those who spoke at my graduation had front row seats and plenty of legroom. If only I took the high school thing more seriously. If only I worked with the extraordinary intensity required to reach the top of a class of more than 600 students, I could have had a great seat and an audience. I had graduation speaker envy.

I didn’t get to speak at my graduation, but I get to speak at yours. If you, too, have graduation speaker envy, if you wish you were at this podium, all you need to do is get elected to the school committee, then get your colleagues to elect you to be their chair. I guarantee it is much easier than finishing first or second in your class.

If I am to find joy in subjecting you to my speaking, I thought it only fair that I put in the effort I lacked in high school, and deliver a speech that will give you the fond memories that were absent from my own graduation ceremony. So, I did what any modern researcher would do. I consulted the Internet.

I talked to Siri, and typed to Google, and my query for memorable speeches kept bringing me back to 2012, when a Wellesley English teacher named Dave went viral by saying:

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you are nothing special.

How awful. I am grateful for having forgettable speakers, rather than remembering a highly publicized and viral declaration of “You’re not special,” or even worse, the plagiarized and watered-down version of this speech delivered by a Florida principal. Even if it is true, which I doubt, who wants the Internet to be filled with reminders of this pronouncement on your graduating class? Who wants that memory?

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I do remember my third grade teacher, Florence E. Briggs. I remember being warned how strict she was, but her classroom was a magical place. She was a veteran teacher, and her classroom was overflowing with 35 years worth of stuff she collected in her teaching career. In the back corner of her classroom was a puppet stage, and we made papier-mâché puppets.

Miss Briggs thought it was essential for every third grader who passed through her classroom to know how to spell the word, “constitution,” and that word remained on the weekly spelling test until everyone in the class got it right.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I cherish my memories of Miss Briggs.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but my fifth grade teacher, Richard Hottinger, was something of a rebel and an outcast. Our classroom was a man cave, somewhere beyond the basement. It was a five minute walk to the rest of the school, following a habitrail past the fallout shelter and the boiler room. We loved it. We had a kiln, and we made pottery. It was a joy to come to school every day.

While my second grade teacher thought children should spend their school days copying endless text into those black and white hard cover notebooks, Mr. Hottinger was opposed to any such drudgery. When confronted by multiple school district forms asking for his date of birth, he lost patience and started making up different dates. Of course, when the office provided us with his alleged birthday, the surprise party we planned was much more of a surprise than we anticipated.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I cherish my memories of Mr. Hottinger.

Howard Faulkner, whose handwriting was worse than mine, had the audacity to give me a D in penmanship on four consecutive report cards. He was with us in Room C-116, Northport Junior High School, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As with everyone alive at the time, November 22, 1963 is sharply engraved in our memories.

I don’t remember my graduation speakers, but I have many great memories of my teachers. I answered a geometry question correctly, and James Morrissey tossed me a Euclidian lollipop. Mildred Ross introduced me to Holden Caulfield. Coach Robert Krapf, in tune with our group of disengaged seniors, took our class onto the field and taught us how to hit golf balls. My summer of Driver Ed with Coach John Donarummo is a joyous memory of sunshine and rock and roll. Katherine Lamprecht, my journalism teacher, taught me the skills I used to earn a living writing for my local newspaper. Winston Jay was my social studies teacher in 1967; he taught us the joys of the Boston Red Sox and never let us forget that Yaz was from Long Island. Michael Barbera, my social studies teacher in 1968, got elected as a delegate to the tumultuous Democratic National Convention.

Nobody in the history of chemistry taught it better than Gerry Kass. Susan Flego never met an animal she didn’t want to dissect, and within three weeks of being in her biology class I knew my mother’s dreams for my medical career could never become a reality.

I cherish these memories. They all became a part of who I am today. And, yes, they were all very special.

Just like you.

Dave from Wellesley argued, that if everyone gets a trophy, if everyone is special, then no one is.

That’s just wrong.

I am here to tell you, every one of you who receives our diploma today, you are special.

And so am I.

I know I am special every morning, because my cat wakes me up with urgency, affection, and hope; as she is heavily invested in my getting out of bed and opening a can of cat food. But she’s a cat, and being special in her eyes is cyclical. Special diminishes sharply once she is fed, and takes the shape of an exponential curve as dinnertime approaches. By the time it becomes 6 p.m., I am truly special again.

For special is not an absolute term, except in very rare cases; some folks like the President of the United States and David Ortiz are universally special. But for all the rest of us, special is a relative term, and we earn that honor with our daily lives.

Yes, one of the joys of teaching is that it propels you to the front of the line for special… actually it goes on beyond special to immortality. Those teachers I mentioned live beyond their years, they are with us here today, and their influence extends to all who know me.

You, too, have so many experiences, memories, stories of the teachers and classmates who fill your heart and soul. It’s OK to forget today’s speakers, but cherish and honor the memories from our schools and those we hired to fill you with our hopes and dreams.

And every day, aspire to be a special person in another life.

Marry your best friend.

Be a loving parent.

Adopt a shelter dog or cat.

Teach a child.

Commit a crazy, unsolicited, unnecessary, wonderful act of kindness. Often.

And enjoy this beautiful, wonderful, special day that will forever be one of the cherished milestones of your life.

Thank you, and congratulations on your graduation.

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Town Meeting Scorecard 2015

Article Title Action Recorded Vote Date
1 Annual Town Election Voted 2697 cards cast 28-Mar
2 State of the Town Received 27-Apr
3 Reports of Committees Received 11-May
4 Measurer of Wood & Bark Voted Voice Vote 27-Apr
5 Assistant Town Moderator Voted Voice Vote 27-Apr
6 Documented Zoning Reviews No Action 147-45-6 27-Apr
7 Posted Event Notices Voted 171-35-1 4-May
8 Limiting Speaking Time Voted 104-95-6 27-Apr
9 Human Rights Commission No Action Voice Vote 27-Apr
10 Mount Gilboa Historic Voted Unanimous 27-Apr
11 Community Preservation Committee Voted 159-48-2 29-Apr
12 Revision of 2020 Committee Voted 178-2-7 4-May
13 Disposition of 1207 Mass. Ave. Voted 184-11-0 4-May
14 Disposition of 13-383 Cliffe Ave. No Action Voice Vote 4-May
15 Home Rule – Assessor Change Voted 116-76-2 4-May
16 Complete Streets Voted 157-33-0 4-May
17 Local Option Taxes No Action Voice Vote 6-May
18 Endorsement of CDBG Voted 190-14-2 6-May
19 Revolving Finds Voted 199-4-2 6-May
20 Collective Bargaining Voted Unanimous 11-May
21 Positions Reclassification Voted 199-0-3 6-May
22 Town Budgets Voted 192-4-1 11-May
23 Revaluation of Real Property Voted Unanimous 11-May
24 Capital Budget Voted 188-2-1 29-Apr
25 Rescind Borrowing Authority Voted 187-2-1 29-Apr
26 Financing Sewerage Voted 189-0-2 29-Apr
27 Financing Water Voted 190-1-2 29-Apr
28 Appropriation Mintueman Voted 156-16-2 4-May
29 Appropriation Committees Voted Unanimous 11-May
30 Appropriation Town Celebrations Voted Unanimous 11-May
31 Appropriation Miscelanious Voted Unanimous 11-May
32 Appropriation Public Art Voted 130-62-3 11-May
33 Appropriation Human Rights Voted 161-24-7 11-May
34 Appropriation Water Bodies Voted Unanimous 11-May
35 Appropriaiton Barber Service Voted Unanimous 11-May
36 Appropriaiton Scenic Byway Voted Voice Vote 11-May
37 Appropriation Pension Adjustment Voted Unanimous 11-May
38 Appropriation OPEB Trust Fund Voted Unanimous 11-May
39 Acceptance of Survivor Benefits Voted Unanimous 11-May
40 Appropriation Long Term Stabilization Voted Unanimous 11-May
41 Appropriation Overlay Reserve Voted Unanimous 11-May
42 Transfer of Funds – Cemetery Voted Voice Vote 11-May
43 Use of Free Cash Voted Unanimous 11-May
44 Appropriation Fiscal Stability Voted Unanimous 11-May
45 Resolution – TMM Removal Voted 107-79-5 11-May
46 Resolution – Master Plan Endorsement Voted 136-41-3  11-May
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Mass Transit reform (January 19, 2013)

The breakdown of the T has resulted in many calls for reform. I wrote this piece two years ago, and it seems worthwhile to reintroduce some of these points into the current discussion.

Governor Deval Patrick recently proposed consolidating 240 local housing authorities into six regional agencies. I don’t know what kind of impact will be felt by tenants in public housing, but I doubt it matters if the plumber comes from next door or the next town.

Transit, on the other hand, is another story. Boundaries matter. While people tend to live in one apartment at once, people who travel tend to travel across town lines. They also tend to travel across the boundaries and limits of the MBTA and the 15 regional transit authorities. Yet, in the governor’s plan for improving transportation, there was no proposal to consolidate the RTAs with the MBTA, not to mention all the little suburban bus services that don’t transcend municipal limits.

Shouldn’t we be consolidating transit systems, instead?

Fixed rail is fixed, but those buses can go almost anywhere. When they scrapped the extensive streetcar network, the argument was that buses were far more flexible. Routes could be adjusted to meet demand. Mostly, instead of offering flexibility, they offered an easy, quiet way for our transit infrastructure to disappear.

Private bus lines disappeared, replaced by regional transportation authorities. The biggest is the MBTA, but there are 14 others around the state. Two (Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket) make perfect sense, as an island transportation authority doesn’t have a need for expanding its network into adjacent towns. But the other twelve?

Alewife to Lowell
Let’s look at one example of boundaries defining bus routes. Consider a trip from Alewife Station in Cambridge to the Robert B. Kennedy Bus Transfer Center at the Charles A. Gallagher Transit Terminal (also known as the Lowell MBTA station) in Lowell. You can make the 25 mile drive in about a half hour (except in rush hour). Want to travel by bus? It wil take a bit longer.

MBTA buses will take you from Alewife to Burlington, where you will need to change to a Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) bus to go the rest of the way. If the bus gods are with you, you can make the trip in 1:28, but it can also take you 2:16. If you get to Alewife later than 6:20 p.m., forget about it, because you won’t make it any farther than Chestnut Street in Burlington.

The fastest trip is the 350 that leaves Alewife at 6:20 a.m. It doesn’t make the loop to the Burlington Mall, instead it proceeds up Cambridge Street to Chestnut Street, where the route ends. This is also the south end of the LRTA Route 13, which runs through Billerica to the Kennedy Center. The 350 is scheduled to reach Chestnut Street at 7:04, and the LRTA 13 leaves at 7:10, a six minute scheduled layover.

Normally, the layover at Chestnut Street is significantly longer. Get on the 6:42 or the 6:58 leaving Alewife, you will have a 44 or 24 minute layover at Chestnut Street before the 8:10 bus leaves for Lowell.

If you leave Alewife at 8:15, the optimal strategy is to get off the bus at the Burlington Mall, where you have a 12 minute wait before LRTA Route 14 is scheduled to leave for Lowell (arriving at 9:45). Continue on to the end of the 350 at Chestnut Street, you have a 51 minute wait for the connection to LRTA Route 13, and you won’t get to Lowell until 10:38.

You get the picture? You need to get off the MBTA bus at the end of the MBTA service area, then board the LRTA bus for the journey through its towns. Oh, and you will pay two fares, though the LTRA will allow you to pay its fares with a Charlie Card.

What happens if we turn two separate lines into one line? The trip that takes from 1:28 to 2:16 is reduced to a trip of 1:06 to 1:17, eliminating layovers of up to 49 minutes. It can’t happen with two agencies with two territories, but a unified system could do it.

How do you get out of Lexington?
Note: On July 1, 2014, Lexington’s LExpress bus service was extended into Arlington Heights, and now connects with the 77 bus at its western terminus.

The Town of Lexington (with partial MBTA funding) operates LExpress, a suburban bus system that revolves around Depot Square in the center of town. The bus service does cross the line to reach the Burlington Mall, but other than that it doesn’t leave Lexington. You can make a connection to MBTA bus routes 62 or 76 in Lexington Center (two lines, both run hourly mid-day, for a 30-minute headway in Lexington Center). The LExpress buses are timed to leave Lexington Center on the hour and half-hour, and 67/76 buses are scheduled to leave for Alewife about three minutes later. Outbound buses tend to arrive in Lexington Center between 10 and 13 minutes before the LExpress buses leave Depot Square.

However, the LExpress does make its way as far east as Massachusetts Avenue and Taft Avenue, about a half-mile from the Arlington Heights terminal of the 77 (Arlington Heights – Harvard Station) and 79 (Arlington Heights – Alewife) bus lines. The LExpress doesn’t cross into Arlington, doesn’t make the connection, and doesn’t provide an option for a rider looking to travel from Arlington Center into Lexington.

Out of sync?
The Red Line runs every 12 minutes between Alewife and Ashmont, and every 12 minutes between Alewife and Briantree, after 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. This means the trains between Alewife and JFK-UMass runs every six minutes.

On Saturdays, the Red Line runs every 14 minutes between Alewife and Ashmont, and every 14 minutes between Alewife and Briantree. This means the trains between Alewife and JFK-UMass runs every seven minutes.

On Sundays, the Red Line runs every 16 minutes between Alewife and Ashmont, and every 16 minutes between Alewife and Briantree. This means the trains between Alewife and JFK-UMass runs every eight minutes.

One of the major Red LIne connections is the 77 bus from Harvard Station to Alewife. Many of the people on the 77 bus connect from the Red Line. Let’s see how it works:

On weekday evenings, when the Red Line is running on six minute intervals, the 77 runs on intervals of 10 minutes, 11 minutes, and 13 minutes.

On Saturdays, when the Red Line is running on seven minute intervals, the 77 runs on 12 and 15 minute intervals.

On Sundays, when the Red Line is running on eight minute intervals, the 77 runs on 20 minute, 17 minute, 14 minute, and 15 minute intervals.

It’s all so close, but it’s all so far away. You can walk off the Red Line train and find good fortune and a 77 bus will come a minute later. However, you can walk off the Red Line and watch the taillights of the bus vanish and face a 10, 13, 15, or 17 minute wait. What sense does that make?

If the Red Line is running on eight minute intervals on Sunday, why not run the buses on 16 minute intervals? Why not set it up so that the bus is timed to arrive just behind every other train, reducing the wait time on the Harvard Station bus platform? How hard is it to run the buses every 16 minutes instead of every 14 minutes or every 17 minutes?

Anyone with a smart phone can download a bus app that lets us know where the buses are. If we have this technology, why can’t the MBTA use this technology to sync trains to connecting buses? Why can’t we reduce unnecessary waits for buses? Why can’t buses be timed to meet commuter rail trains in places like West Medford?

MassTransit
As long as we have all these separate bus systems, separate from the subway trains, separate from commuter rail, intermodal transit becomes slow and inconvenient. If we put it all under one operating agency, we can sync the schedules in one easy to use system. You can have different operating agencies (LRTA can run one set of buses between Lowell and Alewife, MBTA can run another), but all the buses will be the same color, have the same fare structure, and will have unified schedules.

Let’s make it one unified system. Call it MassTransit. Make it easy to get around the state using the existing resources. Make the connections, let’s reform these little agencies and transform them to a statewide transit system.

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Oh, What a New England Morning

What do you do in the middle of a series of February snowstorms? Sing, of course.

Oh, What a New England Morning
sung to the tune of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
Music by Richard Rodgers, lyric by Paul Schlichtman

There’s now six feet of snow on the meadow,
And ten feet of snow on the sidewalk.,
There’s snowbanks as high as an elephant’s eye,
And it looks like more snow falling down from the sky.

Chorus:
Oh what a New England morning,
Oh what a cold winters day,
French Toast is sending a warning,
More snow is coming our way.

Repeat chorus

There’s a big crowd of folks in the milk aisle.
There’s a big crowd of folks in the egg aisle.
There isn’t a loaf of fresh bread to be bought,
And the panicky shoppers are all overwrought.

Repeat chorus

There’s a flight out of Logan to Tampa,
But the flight out of Logan is cancelled.
T’s frozen in ice, and there’s no place to go.
So we’ll stay home and wait for the melt of the snow.

Repeat chorus

Snow covered mailbox
Mailbox. Capitol Square, Arlington.
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Bunches of Buses – part 2

No planes, but lots of trains and automobiles.

That was the theme for our Thanksgiving week trip to and from Florida. Even during one of the busiest travel days of the year, even on a Amtrak train that was sold out from Washington to Boston, all went well. Our travel home, on Sunday November 30, was flawless.

Until we reached Harvard Square.

It was shortly before 8:00 on a Sunday evening when we reached the 77 loading platform at Harvard Square. It was crowded, not a good sign. And we waited. And waited.

Finally, bus 0430 arrives and everyone climbs on board. Standing room only. Fully loaded, we took off up Massachusetts Avenue toward Arlington. Less than one block from Harvard Square, bus 0710 went zipping by. It was a classic case of bus bunching, even though none of the usual causes were present. Traffic on Massachusetts Avenue was minimal. Yes, the Red Line was running no farther than Harvard, with shuttle buses to Alewife. The buses were using the Harvard busway, but that was the only thing unusual on an otherwise quiet Sunday night.

bus1bus2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the way to Arlington Center, our crowded bus was escorted by an almost-empty companion.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the bunches of buses that populated Massachusetts Avenue on a quiet Saturday. Nothing changed, and 77 buses continue to bunch on an even quieter Sunday evening.

Why is this happening? I have no idea, but there is no excuse for such dramatically poor service on this bus line. Every bus rider with a smart phone can monitor MBTA buses, and they know when the buses are bunching.

If we know the buses are bunching on quiet weekends, why doesn’t the MBTA? Or, if they know the buses are bunching, why don’t they do something about it?

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We need Martha!

I am urging all my friends and neighbors to come out to vote for  Martha Coakley, who is the best choice to lead Massachusetts as governor for the next four years.

Those who know me also know of my passion for K-12 education and local governance. The governor has extraordinary influence over cities and towns, particularly with the appointment powers for a powerful state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Much of the governor’s work is in the weeds of regulatmartha_paulions and funding formulas, but this work makes a big deal of difference in our ability to deliver quality services at the local level.

Martha Coakley will be a thoughtful and effective partner for local governments and school districts.

Martha has always demonstrated a willingness to listen to multiple points of view and to do her homework. In January, Martha’s views on education were seemed to be good, but they were also quite vague. I told her that I didn’t need to agree with her on everything, but I needed to get a firm sense of understanding and direction pertaining to local governance and K-12 education.

I met with Martha last spring, as she spoke to a gathering of a couple of dozen uncommitted delegates. She spoke with clarity and specificity on issues of concern, particularly those raised by educators and municipal officials in the room. She spoke of the need to eliminate the prohibition of educators from serving on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. She spoke of the need to recalculate the foundation budget. She also reminded me of the partnerships she formed with local schools when she was Middlesex DA.

That’s why I enthusiastically support Martha Coakley for governor.

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Public school governance, and other topics of interest, in a large New England town.