OK this is stale news now, but on Jan.1 the inauguration of elected Salem City officers was held in the sunny grand central hall of the Peabody Essex Museum, a warm refuge from the single digit temperatures outside. Mayor-elect Kim Driscoll assumed the oath of office for her fourth four-year term; the eleven city councilors assumed the oath of office for two-year terms, four newbies and seven returnees; and three new members of the School Committee were sworn in.
Newbies are especially prevalent in the four city wards that that cover most (Ward 4) or abut (Wards 2, 3, and 6) the Gallows Hill / Blubber Hollow neighborhood. Timothy Flynn is the new councilor for Ward 4*; Christine Madore the new councilor for Ward 2*; Lisa Peterson the new councilor for Ward 3*; while returnee Beth Gerard of Ward 6* was elected President of the City Council (Congratulations and condolences). New Councilor At-Large Domingo Dominguez owns property on Gallows Hill, and returnee Elaine Milo resides in Witchcraft Heights. So, Gallows Hill is well-represented on City Council, accounting for six of the eleven councilors – now it’s time get to work.
But a listicle of city councilors is not the purpose of this post. The inaugural address by Kim Driscoll listed three critical concerns Salem faces: housing, transportation, and education. Or, in her words, where we live, how we get around, and how our children learn and grow. Every other city mayor would likely list the same three, though their order might be shuffled.**
Actually all three concerns intersect. Without affordable housing nearby workers have to move far into the exurbs to find affordable housing (drive until you qualify), meaning more cars and more traffic. Conversely, without convenient transit accessibility, more people must have cars, more cars need more parking spaces, tying up land that might be more purposefully dedicated to housing. Similarly, if parents of school age children need to devote half or more of their income to housing, as is common, then necessarily attention dedicated to education of those children gets short shrift. And so on.
After decades of building more roads, or widening existing roads, to ease traffic the realization has finally dawned on urban planners that the solution is to get people OUT of cars, NOT to build room for more cars. Hence programs like Complete Streets. The many programs cited by Mayor Driscoll to reduce cars (bike sharing and bike paths, designing streets around traffic calming to increase pedestrian accessibility, and so forth) have had an effect: “Salem’s population increased by 3 percent, the number of vehicles registered here dropped by almost 2 percent.” Tiny, but in the right direction!
Now onto the real point of this blog post – the Complete Streets plan for Blubber Hollow, funded more than a year ago in fall 2016 and slated to begin in spring 2017, then publicly announced in September 2017 with a start planned in fall 2017 – well here it is a month into 2018 and still no construction in sight. Possible reasons why not: the work of National Grid to replace all gas lines along Bridge and Boston Streets in Blubber Hollow is still ongoing months past anticipated completion; burying of power lines in front of the new Senior Center going up on Bridge St not started yet; flooding of Bridge St by winter storms delays all street improvements.
So it seems that it’ll be 2019 before commuters of Blubber Hollow will have an uninterrupted bike path to the Salem Depot, before stroller moms can walk along sidewalks wider than the stroller, before school kids can use crosswalks without having to dodge cars.
Let’s end with a line from the mayor’s inaugural address: “let us work together to ensure that Salem is a city that does provide for everybody – a city that is, indeed, created by everybody.”
*Ward 4 = Gallows Hill and Witchcraft Heights;
*Ward 2 = Bridge Street Neck through northern half of downtown and a corner of Mill Hill to McIntire District abutting Gallows Hill;
*Ward 3 = Mill Hill and Castle Hill neighborhoods through the central hinterlands of Salem but encompassing a significant corner of Gallows Hill;
*Ward 6 = North Salem (or Northfields) and Mack Park neighborhoods down to Blubber Hollow.
** From an AP article on the sex scandal of the Mayor of Nashville: “The popular mayor, who was elected in 2015, said progress has been made to offer affordable housing, improve to public education and promote better transportation options.” Same three, different order.