Government works, with a big push

The court case for the clean up of the Boston harbor has been declared finished:

US District Judge Richard G. Stearns last month issued the 239th compliance order in the 1985 lawsuit that led to the Boston Harbor cleanup project, declaring an end to the construction phase of the massive combined sewer overflow project.

Stearns issued the order after a presentation in March by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority — which was created as a result of the lawsuit — showed how three decades of litigation since have transformed the harbor into one of the country’s cleanest with people boating, kayaking, and swimming in its waters again. With the project completed, all that remains is a mandated three-year post-construction monitoring program.

The litigation dates back to a time in the 1980s, when Boston was known nationally for its dirty water, and public health officials warned that anyone who fell into the Charles River or Boston Harbor should go to a hospital to be checked.

Following the merger of several cases in 1985 — in which the Environmental Protection Agency was alternately a defendant and a plaintiff — the Conservation Law Foundation of New England became a lead plaintiff.

The EPA, which initially had been blamed for failing to enforce environmental regulations, allowing the pollution to occur, then took a leading role in demanding cleanup efforts. The Metropolitan District Commission, which used to run sewer operations for Greater Boston, became the lead defendant.

What followed was a series of federal judicial orders mandating a timeline for the completion of cleanup projects, first set by A. David Mazzone, the initial judge to oversee the case, and later by Stearns, who took over just before Mazzone died.

This is how government works. There were powerful forces aligned against doing anything, but citizens with the levers of power put into the government were able to get it done. The process wasn’t pretty, but the end result is one of the cleanest harbors in the country. Without the government, this would not have happened, without the citizens push this would not have happened, without the courts this would not have happened. Thanks to all three.

Green Line Extension to move forward?

The MBTA has released its report on the Green Line Extension (with summary here). Here’s a statement near the end:

 If the GLX project is to move forward, the next step would be to enter into detailed discussions with FTA to seek approval of the redesign, the new cost estimate, the identified risks and risk mitigation strategies, and the overall process for releasing the New Starts funding (e.g. the Full Funding Grant Agreement).

You might notice that ‘if’. This is curious since:

And since the state is required to complete the project as part of a lawsuit settlement to mitigate the environmental impacts of the Big Dig, canceling it could leave the state open to litigation. However, an attorney for the T said Wednesday the state has legal alternatives — such as replacing the Green Line extension with a project that “provides at least 110 percent of the air quality benefits of the original project.”

Rafael Mares, with the Conservation Law Foundation, the group that negotiated the original commitment to build the project, says any alternatives would have to be built in the same service area — something he doesn’t see as feasible.

It would be interesting to see what a court would do if the state decided not to build the extension–would the court step in to make the state proceed?

The report says there is still a $73 million gap in funding and the state has emphatically stated they will not pay any more:

The $300 million difference between the prior $2 billion budget and the new $2.3 billion figure would be filled in part by $152 million in federal funds that had been allocated for a later phase of the project, which would have brought further expansion to Medford, and $75 million combined from the cities of Somerville and Cambridge.

That still leaves a budget gap of $73 million with no source so far. Under the terms of a rule set by the two boards late last year, that additional funding can’t come from the state.

Here’s one of the cuts:

A vehicle maintenance facility has also been trimmed down significantly, accounting for $115 million in savings.

Well, it’s not like there are maintenance problems with the T now.

MBTA control board

The MBTA has put out its proposals for fare increases and I’m trying to figure out what their goal is:

Why target monthly passes for such steep increases?

Pollack said officials must balance raising revenue without driving riders away from its trains and buses. The prices on passes could increase, she said, and they would still be one of the best deals for major transit systems. Data presented by the MBTA showed the equivalent of its monthly LinkPass sells for $100 in Portland, Ore., and Chicago; $116.50 in New York City, and $91 in Philadelphia.

“We think there’s room to increase the costs of the passes without losing ridership,” Pollack said. “If we hear from our riders that we’re wrong about that, we’ll have to take that into account.”

So, they want fewer people to buy passes? Consider their own reasoning–they have found the median number of trips per month for a monthly pass holder to be 40 (20 days) and the number of trips needed to make the pass cheaper than the single-trip fares will be 37.5 under the new proposal (currently it’s 35.7). That means you need to use the T at least 19 times a month to make it worthwhile. I’m betting that the percent of people using passes will go down (I typically buy one 10 months out of the year, that will probably go down by 2 or 3 if this passes).

The last increase was in 2014, the cumulative increases for the bus only monthly pass will be either 20.8 or 24.5%; for the LinkPass it will either be 17.9 or 20.7%. Those are pretty steep increases in 2 years. So, yeah, for some reason the T really wants to decrease the number of people who buy monthly passes.

They also want to decrease the number of people who use the commuter rail in some places

The outer express bus fares drop 26.5 percent … Among the proposed increases for commuter rail tickets, none go over 10 percent.

You can see what this does in places like Waltham. The monthly pass: will increase from $198 to either 208 or $217.75 for the commuter rail; it will decrease from $168 to $130 for the outer express bus. Which would you take to downtown Boston (the commuter rail is about 18% more, it will be at least 60% more after the fares change)?

By the way, according to this post, in constant dollars the fare increase last year raised the fare for the MBTA to its highest rate ever–well until the fare increase this July.

Watch your back

A new year means another climb up one of the mighty peaks in Malden and a picture of Boston looming in the distance (although Boston’s manufacturing days are mostly long past):

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Oh yeah, you can see a bit of snow on the ground if want.

No Olympics in China

This week is the week for Olympics news. We learned yesterday that Boston will not be hosting the 2024 Olympics and the Olympics committee will decide where the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held on Friday.

The articles on the choice for 2022 typically are like this one:

Chinese organizers have repeatedly stressed they would put on ‘‘sustainable’’ and ‘‘economical’’ games, using infrastructure from the 2008 Summer Games and promising to leave a ‘‘powerful legacy’’ by developing a winter sports market for China and east Asia.

Critics point to China’s lack of Alpine venues, and the distance from Beijing of suitable mountainous regions as having a negative impact on the bid.

Beijing insists it has sufficient water supplies for snow-making and can provide excellent conditions for ski competitions.

Both countries have been assailed for their human rights records. Human Rights Watch issued a report criticizing Kazakhstan’s ‘‘hostility and abuse’’ toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. China has been involved in a recent crackdown on rights lawyers.

This is one of the few articles that notes something I mentioned after the 2008 Summer Olympics in China:

Golog Jigme said in an interview that he was troubled that the International Olympic Committee would award the Winter Games to Beijing after the Chinese government broke promises it made during its earlier bid for the Olympics.

At the time, China assured the committee that it would improve press freedom, honor its international human rights commitments and even allow protests during the games. Although foreign journalists were given unfiltered Internet access at the official media center in Beijing, the government vigorously censored negative news about the games and security officials made sure that the designated protest zones set up around the city were empty. (Many who applied to protest in those areas were detained while filing their applications.)

Here’s an article that is somewhere in between:

As with its 2008 bid, Beijing has come under intense criticism from human rights groups who say giving it the games will only reward the communist government for its strict limits on political organization and freedom of speech.

They’ve been given further ammunition by an ongoing campaign against human rights lawyers, dozens of whom have been detained in recent weeks. That’s seen as part of a drive by president and Communist Party head Xi Jinping _ China’s most powerful leader in decades _ to further shrink the space for political critics.

The Internet also remains heavily regulated, with some social media sites blocked entirely. Organizers have pledged to lift those restrictions for the games.

Minority groups, especially Tibetans, Mongolians and Uighurs from the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, have also complained of tighter limits on political and religious life as well as being denied the right to travel abroad.

Despite commitments to loosen rules on foreign reporters in the country made during the 2008 games, Tibetan and Uighur areas remain largely off-limits to the media.

So, the article says that China is making promises to get the Olympics and notes that currently China is not following rules it promised to follow for the 2008 Olympics, but doesn’t directly say that China broke their promises in 2008. That would seem to be important–after all, why should anyone trust their promises this time around?

It’s sunny in Malden

This is a great picture of the Sun, showing how dynamic it is (Credit: NASA/SDO):

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It seems that astronaut Scott Kelly took a picture of the Boston area this morning:

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At first this confused me because the river in the middle of the picture is a mix of the Boston Harbor and then the Mystic and Chelsea rivers (the Charles is the one that appears to be going south–this also explains why it confused me at first, the Charles is mostly going east to west). The little spur off the Mystic near the left part of the picture is the Malden River, I live not too far from the end of it (the river goes underground. What looks like three white dots is Malden High School, I live a few blocks east of there (almost directly above it in the picture)). At 9:39 am I was inside or you could have seen me.

Once you get your bearings you can see downtown, the Commons and Public Gardens, Logan Airport (this is obvious), South Boston is at the bottom right (the enclosed body of water is at the end, you can see Fort Independence Park), East Boston is just to the west of the airport (yeah, South Boston southeast of East Boston), the peninsula at the top is Deer Island (you can see part of the waste treatment facility that has made Boston Harbor so much cleaner; it was an island until the hurricane of 1938) which goes into Winthrop if you follow it back.

Pay to play

Let’s see what’s happening in Faneuil Hall:

Starting next month, street performers at Faneuil Hall will have to do more than perform — they will also have to pay for the privilege of entertaining the crowd.
In a move that has outraged the popular musicians, acrobats, and other entertainers, Faneuil Hall Marketplace management wants performers to pay fees that run as high as $2,500 annually, saying the charges are needed to offset administration, promotion, and security costs.

Performers learned about the new fees last month, just a week before summer auditions were scheduled to begin. Angry over the late notice, they boycotted the auditions, causing them to be canceled.

Most places pay performers, but when you’re a billion dollar company like Ashkenazy you expect everyone to pay you. And it’s not like the entertainers are a major part of the attraction, oh wait.

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