April 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 7:00pm


  • Cambridge Police contact
  • MBTA contacts .. Buses .. Red Line
  • Long's Funeral Home

It was law enforcement and transportation night at the PSNA for the April meeting, with guests representing the Cambridge Police Department and the MBTA.

Cambridge Police Contact

First up were the police contacts for North Cambridge, including Porter Square: Officer Brian Pugliares, the PSNA liaison (bpugliares@cambridgepolice.org) and Sergeant Patrick Carney. According to the Neighborhood Sergeants Program page of the CPD website, sergeants are assigned to each of 13 neighborhoods in the city and lieutenants to each of five sectors. "These supervisors are primarily responsible for much of the outreach and problem solving activities in their neighborhoods," the site says. In North Cambridge, the assigned supervisors, in addition to Sergeant Carney, are: Sergeant John Boyle, Lieutenant John Lang and Deputy Superintendent Jack Albert. The email contact for them is northcambridge@cambridgepolice.org and the phone # is 617-349-9339. There was not much to discuss as far as crime issues. The main complaint was about bicyclists not following the rules of the road, endangering pedestrians. As Officer Pugliares noted, enforcement is difficult because bicyclists are not required to be licensed or even carry IDs, so while they can be issued $20 tickets for traffic infractions, there is no way to make them pay (and they can just give bogus names). While the concept of requiring training and licensing of bicyclists was mentioned, it's hard to think of how that would work, since anyone at any age (even four-year-olds) can ride bikes on the streets. Beyond that, most of the discussion centered on social services the police provide, such as a summer "police academy" youth camp, other types of interaction with young people, home security surveys and services for seniors. In response to a question, the police said there is no ordinance requiring businesses to clean litter from the sidewalks in front of their establishments, including cigarette butts, unlike the requirement that they clean the sidewalks of snow and ice. They also said they did not know if tours of the relatively new police headquarters would be offered this year, as they were last year. Also unknown at this point is the degree to which bicycle patrols will be out during the warm months this year.

MBTA Contacts

For the next part of the program, Lieutenant Commander Robert Lenehan (rlenehan@mbta.com) of the MBTA's Transit Police introduced himself and other T representatives, including Kevin Kwok (kwok@mbta.com) of the bus operations division, and William McClellan, the T's Red Line chief (wmcclellan@mbta.com).

Buses The main issue with buses seemed to be the problem of "bunching," (the T calls it "stacking"). Often buses arrive in groups of two or three or more at stops, rather than being evenly spaced, as they are supposed to be. For more on this, see John Howard's "Porter Square Bus discussion" email sent prior to the meeting, and subsequent messages to the Porter Square list. Kwok offered some observations about why this happens, including: --The buses--there are between 10 and 15 #77 buses in operation during rush hour--are scheduled closely together at just six minutes apart. (Presumably, as a lead bus slows to pick up passengers, a bus behind it can start catching up if it then has fewer or no passengers to stop for, and so on for a bus behind it, leading to a domino effect). --At the Harvard Square holding point (and starting point) for the #77 buses on Bennett Alley near the Charles Hotel there has been no T official stationed in recent months to help prevent bunching. --The bus drivers have a new communication system that allows them to talk to dispatchers, but not to each other. So drivers in close proximity cannot take matters into their own hands by agreeing, for instance, that one should go ahead as an express for a few stops to stretch out the spacing. --Even though the central dispatchers have real time information about where each bus is, they don't seem to be doing much to try to fix the problem with instructions to the drivers (Observation from John Howard: "I think we need to keep after the T to improve their dispatching and dealing with this problem.") In addition, meeting attendees noted that there used to be an express #77 bus that would not drop off or pick up passengers close to Harvard Square, but that became confusing (and frustrating) to would-be passengers watching them go by, so that service stopped about seven years ago. People also noted there are still some trackless trolleys that go as far as Cameron Avenue, but not many. Additional bus issues included:

Bus shelters are a combined MBTA-city responsibility. For one thing, they have to conform to the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA). Residents who think there should be one at a particular location should first address their request to city officials. CAMERAS are now on about 80 percent of buses. To report problem buses that block traffic by failing to pull all the way into a stop, or fail to pull up next to the curb or bypass disabled passengers, email Kevin Kwok or write to the T. In an emergency, call 222-1212. A final word on the buses: some attendees were complimentary about the drivers, saying they have always been courteous and tried to make it as easy as possible for passengers to get on and off. Kwok encouraged people to contact the T with positive (in addition to the negative) feedback. T employees who get such positive feedback can receive meritorious service citations.

Red Line

Next, the conversation shifted to the Red Line and questions directed to William McClellan. Meeting goers' concerns addressed a few topics: the elevator construction at the Porter Square station, the T park and plaza and escalator safety, as well as issues involving Red Line trains. McClellan noted that in response to a lawsuit settlement, and to conform to the ADA, the T must install new elevators at eight stations, including Porter Square. These are "redundant" elevators, in addition to those that already exist. The construction at the Porter Square station is especially difficult and lengthy because of the depth of the station and the fact that it has to be excavated through rock and the ceiling of the station.

There are shuttle buses available during construction to take disabled passengers between the Porter and Davis Square stations, but they are little used. McClellan said that on some days, not a single passenger requests a shuttle bus. In the future, disabled commuter rail passengers will have to be shuttled between Porter Square and the Waltham station, which the T acknowledges will be a considerable inconvenience, but cannot find any way around it.

As far as escalator safety goes, McClellan said better maintenance has reduced complaints and incidents in which passengers have been injured, or potentially so, from escalators suddenly moving or "jerking." We observed that the hand rail on the shorter elevator runs slower than the steps. This has caused at least one rider with poor balance to fall and be injured. McClellan promised to notify the maintenance company about this.

As to the much maligned, no name "pigeon park" that recently merited an article on the CCTV website for lack of maintenance, McClellan indicated that it would be better maintained in the future. "I talked to my staff about it," he said. "It was ridiculous, There's no defense for it." While an MBTA crew quickly cleaned up debris that included a large tree limb after the CCTV story appeared, he seemed surprised that a concrete slab that fell off a trash barrel container had not been removed and he promised to follow up on that. He also indicated he would look into getting a larger trash container installed in the park or to have the existing trash barrels emptied more often.

As far as Red Line operations go, McClellan said that just as with the buses, sometimes bunching/stacking occurs, mostly because of delays involving the turnarounds at Alewife during peak operation hours. He said the seatless cars known as "Big Red" have proved a success, although surprisingly, there is only one train "Big Red" train at present. On some other miscellaneous items, Lenehan indicated that the MBTA would like to see a new law passed to clamp down on , which he agreed are a hazard and damage property. One possibility is a regulation that would allow the T to confiscate skateboards, something that was successful in the past with offending boomboxes (remember them?).

There was also a promise to look into getting the "Gift of the Wind" sculpture repainted. Finally, on a couple of positive MBTA notes: pedestrian advocate Astrid Dodds lauded the job the T did over the past winter at clearing snow and ice around the Porter Square station and down a stretch of Somerville Avenue adjacent to the commuter rail. And Lenehan said that when construction is finished at the Porter Square station there are plans to install a secure bicycle cage like the one at Alewife. He also said that since Boston police arrested a man who appears to be prolific bike thief in a sting operation involving a listing on Craigslist, thefts of two-wheelers at T stations have fallen off dramatically. He suggested the cage installation might include some landscape improvements to the park. (And now that Cambridge is slated to take part in the bike sharing program Boston announced this week, might there be a bike sharing depot in the park as suggested in the recent report on proposed Mass Ave improvements between Porter and Harvard squares?)

Long's Funeral Home Susan Hunziker reported on the status of the long-stalled lawsuit involving the former Long's funeral home (popularly known as the "Plywood Palace" of Porter Square) and the city's decision to issue a building permit for it. There are many unknowns about this, first and foremost involving who will own the property when that happens. It does look like it could move forward after a long delay, now that the property seems close to exiting bankruptcy.

Other topics

As the meeting was already running over time, we deferred the topic of missing retail around Porter Square to a future meeting.