September 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018 - 7:00pm

PSNA Meeting—September 20, 2018 (Compliments of Susan Hunziker) The subject of our meeting was the condition of Porter Square. DPW Commissioner Owen O’Riordian and DPW Senior Engineer Melissa Miguel updated us and answered questions on these issues: 1. Intersection work 2. Condition of sidewalk along Somerville Avenue and the Beacon St bridge along the commuter rail track 3. Sidewalks 4. Trees 5. Snow 1. Intersection work Work on reconfiguring the Porter Square intersection will begin on Sunday night, and continue until the end of October so that the final paving can be completed before November (The paving season and the baseball season run along roughly parallel tracks.) Some work will have to be done overnight, when the trolleys that require the overhead power are not running. Also, sections of the bike lanes and sidewalks will be blocked off as necessary. Caveat traveler. 2. Sidewalk along Somerville Avenue The poor condition of the sidewalk along the commuter rail was a hot topic. Ms. Miguel reports that her long campaign to get proper signage and barriers from the MBTA should bear fruit early next week. Jersey barriers to protect pedestrians and signs that convey status and provide a phone number to report (further) deteriorating conditions. These conditions have a long history. Attempts to get the MBTA to fix it properly have been made for well over 10 years without success. In 2007, the city of Cambridge installed the bollards along the curb to prevent collapse should a vehicle get its wheels over it and plunge onto the commuter rail. Whether a proper fix is actually on the list of projects the MBTA has funding for or just the long list of projects that need to be taken care of sometime is an administrative mystery. The city officials, elected representatives, and residents in attendance who have worked to get the attention of the MBTA for years agreed that a relentless, coordinated campaign is required. Such a campaign is underway for many projects in the city of Cambridge. Rep. Decker and Ms. Miguel reported their efforts in this regard, contacting the MBTA at least twice weekly to request status information, dashing any hopes the MBTA may harbor that they will eventually go away. Former representative Alice Wolf reminded all that such a campaign is a key responsibility of the city. Until victory is achieved, it’s quite possible that this temporary closure may be semi-permanent until funds are allocated. 3. Other sidewalks The condition of other sidewalks in Porter Square reflect this theme. Those in the worst condition are on MBTA property. Those on city property that have patches will be restored as part of the intersection work that is about to get underway. Point of interest that personal experience of minute-taker confirms: Sidewalks that are cheaper to install (and shovel) and stay in decent shape longer are made of concrete. Sidewalks that are charming, yet treacherous, and far more expensive to install are made of brick. 4. Trees The condition of street trees prompted another lively discussion. Among the points that emerged: • The city has 9 arborists, 7 of whom have completed certification training delivered by David Lefcourt, the head arborist. • Dead trees will be replaced as part of the intersection work under the new protocol, which includes creating larger wells in the sidewalk to collect more water for them. The tree wells in front of the Porter Lofts development at Mass Ave and Upland will be widened as part of this project; whether any new or replacement plantings will follow this protocol requires clarification because the point was raised during the review of these minutes. • Per the Participatory Budget plan, 50 improved tree wells will be created in the area. Also, 50 trees will be planted this fall; 50 more will be planted in the spring. Whether all of these plantings will be in new wells is another clarification raised as part of the review of these minutes. • The size of the tree when planted appears to have some predictive measure of its longevity. Small trees do better over time than large trees do, though the larger ones look better more immediately. This appears to confirm the wisdom of this Greek proverb and presents an opportunity to make Cambridge even greater again: A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. • So far, the Adopt-A-Tree program has not attracted enough people to keep an eye on all the city trees. As part of that program, adoptive caregivers, who water their trees, are required to report online when they have done so; city staff regularly check a small sample of these reports to confirm that watering has actually happened. Details on this program are available here: Note that that orphaned trees might be in front of or near your home, so the watering may be fairly easy to do. You may be doing them already, so you should get some credit for it. • The cost of planting a tree in some areas of the city runs to $10,000/tree. Much of this cost reflects the cost of public infrastructure improvements such as the larger tree wells that raise the odds of a long life for the tree. • The urban forest of the People’s Republic includes 19,000 trees, which, despite persistent concerns and complaints, is pretty amazing. 5. Snow Winter is headed our way and snow removal is moving to the front of many minds. To the astonishment of many, Commissioner O’Riordan reported Harvard University has been allowing the cities of Boston and Cambridge to dump inconvenient snow on their vacant lots in Allston for many years free of charge and is even absorbing the cost of managing this snow farm. Recognizing that this farm will eventually be developed, Commissioner O’Riordan doused any enthusiasm for snow melters as a solution. Melting snow generates volumes of water polluted with salt, snow treatment chemicals, and garbage and embedded fluids (including the yellow ones) at a rate too fast to be processed properly before it is dumped into fresh water. Next to not shoveling at all, snow melters are among the worst available options and to be employed only in pretty dire situations, such as winter 2015. Letting Mother Nature follow her natural course is the better choice, as She knows best. As for treating roads, the DPW expects to be using more brine in early stages to reduce the amount of salt. A less nasty treatment that is far more expensive and not available in the volumes needed will be used in some critical areas. Just for the record, salt is $70/ton; the nicer stuff is $1000/ton. As for getting property owners to shovel like they’re supposed to, O’Riordan reports that a program of meeting with them in person to address the issues has been underway for a few years and is proving more effective than rather than issuing fines. This report confirms the wisdom provided to the minute taker at Paddy’s a couple weeks ago by a patron who was purchasing drinks for all for an hour or so: It costs nothing to be nice. It costs a lot not to be. Words to live—and drink—by. Amen (Ruth)