MBTA Bus Route 80: Don’t kill it, make it wonderful!

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) bus Route 80 is on a list of routes to be eliminated under its Forging Ahead plan when the Green Line Extension (GLX) begins running to College Avenue in Medford.

Route 80 runs between Arlington Center and the current Green Line terminus at Lechmere Station. It runs parallel to the GLX, so there is a certain logic to eliminate the redundant portion of the route. That logic only extends from Lechmere to College Avenue, where the Green Line will end. Riders who use the bus between College Avenue and Arlington Center will lose their connection to the Green Line and Tufts University.

Instead of killing off Route 80, the MBTA could turn it into one of the best bus lines in the region. They should drop the redundant portion of the route east of College Avenue, and extend the line to the west beyond Arlington Center to the Arlington Heights busway.

Frequent service on an extended Route 80 could give Arlington residents fast and convenient access to the Green Line, as well as a convenient connection to the MBTA commuter rail Lowell Line at West Medford station.

Arlington pays almost $3 million in MBTA assessments, a disproportionately high amount for a municipality without fixed-rail service. Eliminating and reducing bus routes in Arlington should not be an option. Instead, the MBTA should use the Green Line Extension as an opportunity to improve service to Arlington using Route 80 to extend the benefits of the Green Line Extension into Arlington.

New Route 80




Professor Peter Ubertaccio’s myopic and parochial view of US 6

A few years ago, I had the joy of visiting the western end of US Route 6. There’s a big green sign in Bishop, California, proclaiming the 3,205 mile distance to Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s a bookend for a similar sign in Provincetown, an invitation to cross the continent on our nation’s second longest highway.

It’s a shame that Professor Peter Ubertaccio can’t see the glory of this beautiful transcontinental road, and views it merely as a constipated local road centered on a small stretch from Sandwich to the Sagamore Bridge. It’s a shame to think of this great road in purely parochial terms, limited to the world east of the Cape Cod Canal.

Federal regulations require exit numbers to correspond to mile markers on the nation’s highways. Most states have moved to comply with these rules, but Massachusetts has stubbornly dragged its feet. Massachusetts is the most highly educated state in the nation, and if Maine and Pennsylvania could convert its exit numbers without imposing cognitive trauma on its drivers, we should be able to accomplish this feat.

If the good professor wanders west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, he would see some of the problems with sequential exit numbers. He would see that new exits were sandwiched between the original sequential exits, creating exits 10A and 11A. Once he passes exit 3, he would know exit 2 is the next exit, but he will need to drive 30 miles before he reaches it.

The new exit numbers on US 6 correspond to those little green mile markers on the highway, in which Mile 0 is at the Rhode Island state line. The eastern end of the Sagamore Bridge is at mile marker 55, and a little mental math can benchmark your place on the highway.  If you also remember that the Orleans rotary is at mile marker 91, and mile marker 115 is in Provincetown, you can look at the new exit numbers and the mile markers to triangulate your position on US 6.

The esteemed professor wonders, “How does one get to an exit 89 when travelling down Rt. 6 from the Sagamore bridge?” Easy. Cross the bridge and drive 34 miles because 89-55=34.

There is a happy coincidence that the distance from the Sagamore Bridge to the Rhode Island state line is equal to the distance from the bridge to downtown Boston. Our friend at exit 89 has the good fortune to know they are 89 miles from Rhode Island and 89 miles from Haymarket Square.

I hope Professor Ubertaccio will find joy in the new exit numbers, and he will have fun with the geographical mathematics infused in the new system. Even if he never comes to love the new numbers, I hope he can view the new numbers through the lens of altruism, as out-of-state visitors will be able to navigate US 6 with the system in use in the rest of the nation. And if that’s too confusing, he can always travel south on Route 28 from Falmouth to Orleans.


Provincetown to BishopBishop to Provincetown


The wisest course is to open in full remote plan

These are my prepared remarks at the August 10, 2020 meeting of the Arlington School Committee.

I am facing the most critical decision I have made in 18 years of school committee service. This has the potential to be a life or death decision for students and staff in the Arlington Public Schools, as well as their families and the rest of our community.

I want to describe the context of the decision this committee is being asked to make tonight. There are 7.8 billion people on Earth; 331 million people live in the United States. Massachusetts law prohibits me from discussing this decision with only six other people; my colleagues on the Arlington School Committee.

The Open Meeting Law prohibits us from deliberating outside of a public meeting. I can’t talk outside these meetings with the six colleagues with whom I will share this decision. Unfortunately, the meetings leading up to tonight have primarily focused on the school administration talking to the school committee, with only a limited opportunity to ask questions of the administration.

We now find ourselves hard on a DESE deadline, with little or no opportunity for the committee to discuss our decision among each other. The key word here is decision, as the voters of the Town of Arlington have elected us to make decisions on their behalf. Our role is to decide, not ratify. Sadly, we find ourselves on the track to ratification of a hybrid plan, without evidence it is safe or educationally sound

In my view, we cannot build any plan without a foundation built on the health and safety of our students and staff. We closed our schools last March, before the governor shut down the state, because the risk of COVID transmission in our schools was unacceptable.

What is the probability of COVID transmission in September if we adopt a hybrid model? I can’t answer that question, but I am confident that the probability of bringing this virus into our schools is greater than zero.

What happens if COVID comes into our schools? Again, there is no certainty, just a matrix of probabilities that we still can’t quantify. We are told that younger children are more likely to be asymptomatic. We know that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people spread the virus. Without a robust, frequent testing program, we won’t know we have a problem until we see the virus generate noticeable symptoms. By that time, we could have a major outbreak in our schools.

When we look at the entry and spread of the virus into our schools, is unrealistic to expect a probability of 0; but I would want that number to approach 0. The lack of testing, the lack of precedent, the lack of proven models, and the lack of reliable data places us in a position where we cannot calculate the probability of sickness and spread in our schools.

I believe the wisest course is to open in full remote plan, and reconsider as we are able to collect evidence of success from other districts. There will be other Massachusetts districts similar to Arlington that will start with various hybrid models, and we can learn from their experiences. We can observe the public health data for these districts.

Going forward, this committee needs to deliberate and discuss the steps going forward.

As I mentioned earlier, the Open Meeting Law prevents us from discussing school committee business with our colleagues. The state has determined that answering email, in which it is possible for other members can read their responses, is viewed as serial deliberation and is a violation of the law.

To that end, I would ask for information requested and required for our work to be provided in a timely manner. I would ask for documents we request to be provided without question or objection, in a timely manner. I would ask for meetings to be structured to allow us the time to talk to each other, as we work together to guide the district through this pandemic.

I believe in science, and I believe the extraordinary efforts of researchers and public health professionals will lead us toward a full reopening before the conclusion of the school year. This year won’t be easy, but we will get to a better place.

Why I’m Sticking with Ed Markey

For friends and neighbors in Arlington, Ed Markey is a familiar face. When he was our congressman, he would find joy in marching in our Patriots’ Day parade. As a school committee member, I enjoyed the opportunity to stroll down the avenue with him. The walk was filled with good humor and stories of his work in Washington.

I saw the more serious side of Ed Markey when I went to Washington, lobbying with a group of Massachusetts school committee members. Ed always had the best legislative aides, all deeply immersed in public policy. Ed, himself, is the type of legislator who grabs hold of critical, under the radar issues, and masters the details in order to move public policy.

Because he is a workhorse, Ed is not as well-known as other statewide figures. This places our senator vulnerable to a challenge from an unremarkable congressman with a well-known and highly respected family name.

The Kennedy name could have fueled a progressive challenge to Governor Charlie Baker in 2018. The Kennedy name could have overcome the governor’s popularity veneer, and Governor Joseph P. Kennedy III could have moved a more progressive agenda through our mostly inert state legislature. Sadly, Joe Kennedy chose to bypass the challenge of replacing a Republican governor, but was compelled to challenge a progressive leader in the United States Senate. Why?

In a year we urgently need to focus on removing Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in the United States Senate, Joe Kennedy’s primary challenge is consuming millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours for a primary that won’t flip a seat or change control of the senate. We still don’t have the answer to the critical question at the center of Kennedy’s campaign. Why?

Since Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, we have seen talented legislators using their platforms to move public opinion and public policy. We have seen newcomers Katie Porter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley emerge as bold, effective legislators and advocates. Joe Kennedy? Not so much.

Joe Kennedy hasn’t earned a promotion, and there’s no compelling case for him to replace Ed Markey. Ed Markey is the visionary, hard-working senator we need and deserve, especially if we gain a Democratic majority in the United States Senate. His passion for public policy, and attention to detail, will be tremendous assets as we restore our democracy and repair the damage inflicted by the Trump administration.

Please join me in re-electing Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic primary. Vote by mail or in person. Your primary ballot is due in the clerk’s office Tuesday, September 1.

Statewide school accountability map – 2019

This is the second year of Massachusetts’ revised school accountability system. An explanation of the system is posted on the DESE website.

Published lists are not the best way to see the patterns and understand the data. Here’s some graphs and a state map displaying the results. A larger scale version is published here.


Arlington Override Votes – June 11, 2019

On June 11, 12,723 Arlington voters went to the polls and chose to support a debt exclusion to fund a new high school building and a $5.5 million operating override.
This map illustrates precinct-by-precinct turnout and the votes for both questions. Use the tabs to move between maps, and hover over a precinct for a popup with precinct details. A larger scale, higher performance version is also posted here.

Arlington’s huge 21.1% enrollment increase

I compared public school enrollments for all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts over a six year period (2012-2018), and Arlington has a 21.1% increase. With the exception of some small towns with enrollments less than 100, this is the largest rate of increase in the state.

A larger scale version of the map is available here.

Arlington town election results – April, 2019

Here are some maps to illustrate the 2019 annual town election.

Paul’s progressive, perspicacious primary picks

We’re a week from the Massachusetts primary. September 4, the day after Labor Day, is a crappy day for a primary. September is a crappy time for a primary. Josh Zakim is blaming Bill Galvin for the primary date, for the 30 day registration deadline, for the lack of same day registration, for the lack of Instant Runoff Voting, for Trump’s name appearing on the ballot, for global warming, for Babe Ruth being sold to the New York Yankees.

Galvin has long been known as the Prince of Darkness, perhaps the most anti-social statewide officeholder in recent memory. When he was a state representative, he had one of those socially conservative voting records that makes Colleen Garry looks like a Berniecrat. Zakim has a great name. Everybody loved his dad,and we all love that Zakim bridge. Only problem, the kid is not the father. Josh seems to have Andrew Cuomo syndrome; wrapped in the good feeling of the name established by his father, only to fall far short of lofty expectations.

Election laws are the domain of the legislature, the Secretary of State merely implements them. So when Josh Zakim blames Galvin for every failing of our electoral system, it just feels like the cry of an opportunistic demagogue. Galvin was a pro-life legislator? Hasn’t seemed to have had an impact on his role as Secretary of State. Zakim’s beef about election laws have merit, but the argument is with Robert DeLeo, and to blame Galvin for Mr. Speaker’s passive aggressive approach to progressive reforms is misplaced.

Elections are run at the local level, and the historical data made available on the Secretary’s website is outstanding.

I went to Worcester as a Jay Gonzalez delegate. I looked at Jay as the candidate with the best argument against Charlie Baker, and I still think he has the best shot at making an argument against a popular, lackluster governor. Baker’s argument of being a fixer is best addressed by someone who has command of the details, who can call out the cost of Baker’s inaction to three places beyond the decimal. Still, I am ready to love Bob Massie if he wins the primary. No matter who wins the primary for governor, they need Jimmy Tingle on the ticket. While I am sure Quentin Palfrey was a good and loyal functionary in the administrations of Deval Patrick and Barack Obama, I can’t imagine sending him out to Weymouth or Woburn or Worcester to pull votes away from Baker. Palfrey, who moved to Weston to fight for social justice, may resonate in the other W towns, but Tingle speaks the language of the folks we need to engage and persuade. (Tingle’s convention video is must-see TV.)

I am an establishment Berniecrat, so I drive people nuts with my endorsements. I do have a fairly consistent set of values, and one of those is that I will show appreciation for someone who has been fighting at my side over the years. That’s why I need to stand tall with Mike Capuano, who I supported enthusiastically when he ran for the U.S. Senate. I met him fifteen years ago, when I was in a group of educators wandering in the halls of the congressional office buildings in Washington. Capuano was knowledgable, strategic, and passionate about education issues, and walked away wishing he would replace Mitt Romney as governor. Yes, we need a more diverse delegation, yes I like Ayanna Pressley, and I want her to have a powerful future. I just don’t want to fire Capuano, who I view as an outstanding Democrat who can do great things if the Democrats recapture the House.

The Globe endorsed Lori Trahan, which underlines her position as the Charlie Baker Democrat in the race. The shoutout to Juana Matias, is further proof that the Globe editorial writes will go out of their way to support Democrats who embrace the charter schol industry. Using that standard, it’s no wonder why the Glohe wouldn’t endorse Barbara L’Italien, an outspoken advocate for public schools and the class of the field. L’Italien has a solid legislative record, so we know exactly what we are getting with this mom on a mission. She was out front, early, on marriage equality. She worked her way up from a seat on the Andover School Committee. She is the hard working, proven progressive, who will crash Fox News to talk truth to Trump.

Meanwhile, what’s up with this Rufus Gifford guy? Dad’s got cash and clout, and the kid got a nice gig as US Ambassador to Denmark. When Nikki Tsongas retired, Rufus moved from Nantucket to Concord, then dumped a bunch of family money into his campaign.

If we can’t get rid of Charlie Baker, we can (at the very least) shake the foundation of best buddy Speaker DeLeo’s chokehold on the Massachusetts House of Representatives. I mean, Donald Trump is wrecking havoc out there, and we counter with DeLeo and Baker governing over a cup of tea and some lovely scones in a private State House parlor.

Our legislature turned on a dime in 2004, when Carl Sciortino took out sixteen year incumbent Vinny Ciampa in a primary in the 34th Middlesex (Medford and Somerville)District. A flock of lemmings, detecting a potential threat to their seats, made rapid progressive progress into the winds of change. It will take more than one primary defeat to ruffle the current flock, but a good starting point would be Jeffrey Sanchez in the 15th Suffolk house district. Sanchez, a top DeLeo lieutenant, saidThe Safe Communities Act didn’t reach the house floor for a vote because “we just did not find consensus on those provisions.” Translation. DeLeo and Baker vetoed it at tea time. Send a message with Nika Elugardo.

There are several more races where Democrats can shake the foundation of the House. In Dracut and Tyngsborough, Colleen Garry would be center-right in a Republican primary, and is being challenged for her House seat by passionate Berniecrat and Dracut School Committee member Sabrina Heisey. While the two towns have a conservative bent, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in both towns in 2016, so Heisey has a real shot at winning the primary.

Lexington has a five-way Democratic primary, and the progressive choice is Mary Ann Stewart. She’s a former member of the Lexington School Committee, and a Deval Patrick appointee to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It’s a body full of Baker appointees, and she manages to be an effective though outnumbered advocate when the numbers are stacked against her. She has the skill to push the envelope as far as she can without being exiled to total irrelevance in the statehouse basement. This is also an argument for retaining incumbent representatives who have shown the same skill; Arlington’s Sean Garballey has shown the same skill while pushing as much of a progressive agenda as possible in DeLeo’s chamber. Note that Elugardo, Heisey, Stewart, and Garballey have all been endorsed by Progressive Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Barry Finegold is trying to regain the state senate seat he gave up to run for treasurer. Finegold is the point person in the senate for the charter school industry, reason enough to back Mike Armano in the Second Essex and Middlesex primary. Armano is a progressive firefighter in the mold of Ken Donnelly, and it would be wonderful if Armano continues Donnelly’s legacy of fighting for working families and progressive causes. Armano is also endorsed by Progressive Massachusetts.

As for the Middlesex DA race, I look upon it from my home in Arlington. Our police chief, Fred Ryan, told Town Meeting last spring that if Starbucks called police on a couple of black guys sitting in the store, he would buy them a cup of coffee. “Every one of my officers would do the same thing.” Turns out the chief’s message resonates with the officers, as they bought coffee for a homeless man last week. We have a progressive view of community policing, where we have been leaders in community policing and seeking treatment (not jail) for folks caught up with opioids. When we held a Black Lives Matter vigil in front of the UU church, the police brought boxes of donuts. In all the progressive policing in town, Marian Ryan has been a partner. Embracing my “don’t fire folks who do good work” rule, I like Donna Patalano but I want to keep Ryan.

So what if I’m not an orthodox Berniecrat. Guess I am sort of a maverick. To that, I say, thank you to John McCain for your service to our country. Let’s hope the next time I wander to Washington to lobby for public education, I get to visit the McCain Senate Office Building. May you rest in peace.