Category: Boston Globe

Longfellow Bridge’s biker-safety posts to remain in place for now

By Steve Annear GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 14, 2018

A group of state elected officials sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Friday demanding a delay in the winter removal of plastic flexposts that separate cyclists from vehicular traffic along both sides of the Longfellow Bridge.

In a letter addressed to MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and forwarded to the Globe, state Senators Sal DiDomenico and Joseph Boncore and state Representatives Mike Connolly and Jay Livingstone called for a meeting with staff from the transportation agency “as soon as possible” to address the issue.

“We ask that you delay the removal of any safety measure from the bridge until that discussion concludes,” the letter said.

The request was sent after MassDOT officials announced earlier this week that the safety posts — also referred to as bollards — would come down beginning Sunday to make it safer and more convenient for plow trucks to clear snow off of the bridge during the winter months.

On Friday, after the letter was sent, officials said “given that there are no winter weather events in the immediate forecast,” they would delay the removal schedule.

“MassDOT has made the decision not to remove the bicycle lane flex posts on the Longfellow Bridge this weekend so that it can continue evaluating the stakeholder feedback it has received on this topic,” said Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for the department, in a statement.

The original announcement about removing the posts beginning Sunday was immediately met by harsh criticism from cyclists in the community who regularly travel across the bridge connecting Boston to Cambridge.

Organizers from several bike groups said MassDOT had initially promised in June — when the bridge reopened following years of reconstruction — to keep the flexposts in place for the winter, regardless of snow.

Cycling activists said taking them down will make bike commuters vulnerable to fast-moving vehicles that often break the speed limit going across the bridge.

“We know that about 40 percent of people who ride in warmer months continue to bike through the winter,” Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said in a statement this week. “And MassDOT is choosing to make their commutes much more dangerous and uncomfortable with this move.”

MassDOT officials said removing the bollards is necessary in order to “ensure that the vehicular travel lanes, bicycle lanes, gutter line, and drainage structures are all cleared at the same time.”

“Additionally,” Marvin said, “keeping the flexposts in place would restrict plow access to the bicycle lanes and would delay snow removal operations in the bicycle lanes until post-storm cleanup activities.”

In the letter to MassDOT, elected officials said they are “incredibly disappointed” that the department is “reneging on its specific commitment” to keep the flexposts in place through the snowy season.

“We are also disappointed that MassDOT has not announced any other safety measures for the bridge to mitigate in any way its removal of the flex posts,” the letter said. “It appears that the safety concerns that you had expressed earlier this year are not being addressed at all with this change.”

Marvin, the MassDOT spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the department looks “forward to reviewing this letter.”

Cyclists upset with MassDOT’s decision said they are organizing an event next week along the bridge to protest the removal of the flexposts.

According to a Facebook event page called “Human Protected Bike Lane on the Longfellow Bridge,” activists plan to stand in line along the bridge, arm in arm, to send “a strong message to MassDOT that cyclists need protection on our bridges.”

The protest is being hosted by the Boston Cyclists Union, the Cambridge Bicycle Safety group, LivableStreets Alliance, WalkBoston, and the Somerville Bicycle Committee.

MassDOT plans to put the flexposts back in place in the spring.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.

Advocates kept in dark about planned tower’s shadows

Tim Logan, Boston Globe Staff

City officials have known for years that putting a tower on the site of the Winthrop Square Garage would probably throw long shadows over Boston Common and the Public Garden, violating a state law that protects the popular parks from being cast in shade by the buildings around them.

Yet during a high-profile sale process that stretched for more than a year, through numerous public meetings and City Council hearings, Boston officials said little about the shadow problem, beyond an oblique reference to the state law in public documents.

Only after reaching a $153 million deal in October to sell the site to Millennium Partners did city officials begun to notify park advocates and legislators they would need to change the state law, because Millennium’s proposed 750-foot skyscraper may cast a shadow for several blocks, clear across the Common and Public Garden to Arlington Street.

“We had several hearings on this project, and not once was it mentioned that this proposal was barred by state law,” said City Councilor Josh Zakim, whose district includes the neighborhoods around the parks. “I expressed my displeasure and told them I’m pretty skeptical about any changes.”

Zakim said some of his constituents were “aghast” at projections showing the amount of shadow the tower could cast, and at the prospect of amending state law to allow more shade on the Common and Public Garden. Both the Legislature and the City Council would need to approve a change in the law, raising the possibility of a lengthy process that could wind up costing the city millions if the dispute is not resolved.

Planned tower’s shadows would violate laws

The proposed Winthrop Square skyscraper would violate state law by casting shadows over the Common and the Public Garden.

At issue are state laws passed in the early 1990s to prevent new buildings in most of central Boston from casting additional shadows on either park for more than one hour a day. The laws emerged from a successful battle neighborhood residents mounted against a skyscraper planned for Park Plaza in the 1970s.

The shadow law was mentioned briefly in the formal request for proposals for the tower project that the Boston Planning & Development Agency issued in March, as one of several environmental factors potential bidders “must be aware of.” But the document made no mention of needing to change the law.

Agency officials say they waited to bring it up until they had more information on what might be built at Winthrop Square. The bidding yielded six proposals, all of which included towers of at least 725 feet, though they were of different shapes and silhouettes, and two involved using other properties nearby.

“We needed to know very specifically what we were talking about,” said Jonathan Greeley, director of development review for the agency. “Even now the building has to get much more detailed architecturally before we really know what the impact will be.”

The agency and Millennium have released few details, but have acknowledged that preliminary building models show shadows for as long as 90 minutes in the morning during certain times of the year, reaching as far as the edge of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, around three-quarters of a mile away. Shadows vary widely based on precise contours of buildings, but they can be strikingly long. For example, during the afternoons in early winter, the shadow from the John Hancock Tower reaches across the Public Garden and Common to the edge of the lawn of the State House, according to a recent study submitted to city officials for a new building proposed for the Back Bay.

In the cold and gloom of a Boston winter, even a little sunshine more or less can make a big difference, said Vicki Smith, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay. That’s especially true when people are sitting in a park.

“It might sound minor, but you start putting shadows on these parks it really changes people’s reaction to the place,” she said. “You feel a big difference if you’re out there having lunch in the sun or in the shade.”

The Walsh administration is preparing to ask the City Council and the Legislature to amend the shadow laws to allow the Winthrop Square tower. It would require votes from both and the signature of Governor Charlie Baker.

The city agency and Millennium have begun briefing state and city lawmakers about the shade issue. Several said that they were surprised it didn’t come up sooner, and that any changes would require careful study.

‘We had several hearings . . . and not once was it mentioned that this proposal was barred by state law.’

Josh Zakim, Boston city councilor
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“These protections have been in place for 26 years, and they’ve worked well,” said state Representative Jay Livingstone, who represents Beacon Hill. “Any decision to modify them is not going to be taken lightly.”

Meanwhile, the timing of the tower deal is tight. The agency contract with Millennium, which a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh said should be signed within a few weeks, gives city officials 10 months to get shadow law changes approved. If they don’t, city officials face the prospect of giving back to Millennium a $10 million deposit. Millennium has said it hopes to begin construction next fall, and city officials are eager to formally close on the $153 million sale of the property while the real estate market remains hot.

But a contentious legislative process could take months, and opponents such as the Back Bay residents group are already lining up.

Other civic groups are watching closely.

Liz Vizza, president of Friends of the Public Garden, said her organization is open to minor changes that could allow the Winthrop Square tower, but doesn’t want to enable more projects that would add darkness to the parks in daytime.

“Let’s take this as slowly and considerately as we can,” she said. “This is our generation’s opportunity to amend these laws in ways that make sense.”

While the conversation is just starting, Winthrop Square’s shadow problem has long been known.

It surfaced a decade ago, when entrepreneur Steve Belkin was planning a 1,000-foot tower on the site. He acknowledged that shadow effects and state laws could pose a “hurdle,” according to news accounts at the time. But the issue faded after that those plans fizzled in the 2008 real estate crash.

More recently, several of the development teams that bid for Winthrop Square this year said they understood that any tower above perhaps 400 feet would cast a long enough shadow to violate the state laws, and thus would need legislative action. But none explicitly said so in their proposals.

“I’d suspect every team thought about it,” said Matt Kiefer, a lawyer who represented the real estate company Trinity Financial on its Winthrop Square proposal. “It may have been the kind of thing where ‘We’ll solve that problem once we get designated.’ ”

And it’s too soon to say precisely what shadows Millennium’s tower might cast. The shape, contours, and even heights of proposed buildings often evolve as they go through public reviews and city input, which Millennium and the city agency aim to begin in coming weeks.

But all agree that, absent drastic changes, the Winthrop Square tower would need changes in the shadow laws. Having a $153 million check hanging in the balance may give city officials leverage to persuade critics to go along with changes. But with a tight deadline, they also risk losing that money if anything goes awry, said Matt Cahill, executive director of the Boston Finance Commission.

“This conversation should have taken place two or three years ago,” he said. “It’s going to be more difficult now. You’re on a time crunch.”

Dr. Fran Burke, 88, longtime advocate for women in politics

By Felicia Gans Globe Correspondent September 21, 2016

Fran Burke.

A passionate political campaigner and an avid sports fan, Fran Burke loved a good competition, but it wasn’t just about victory. She liked the competitive energy that brought people together, regardless of which side they were on.

“She always had a different perspective on things,” said state Representative Jay Livingstone, a Boston Democrat who added that Dr. Burke focused on the common ground between people and always encouraged officials to seek unity, even with their political opponents.

Dr. Burke chaired Livingstone’s legislative races, and about a month before one particular election, “she started talking about how to bring everyone back together,” he said, “and she started organizing a unity breakfast for right after the election to make sure everyone was talking.”

A Suffolk University professor emerita who fought for more female representation in politics, Dr. Burke died Aug. 23 in her Beacon Hill home from complications of congestive heart failure. She was 88.

Across the country, she advocated for female leaders, from political candidates to her own daughters and granddaughter. Attorney General Maura Healey, who met Dr. Burke while campaigning for the state office, said her greatest joy would have been witnessing the election of the first female president.

“With Fran, you always had this feeling that you were with someone who understood a broader context, understood decades, centuries of struggle around these issues and was always going to be pressuring people, right to the end, to do what was right and what was just,” Healey said.

Speaking at a meeting of the Massachusetts Women in Public Higher Education in 1983, Dr. Burke advised women in the audience to “avoid the role of agents of moral authority,” adding that “in the 19th century, women played that role and were subservient.”

“That role gave the excuse for generations of women to serve mankind,” she said, according to the Globe’s account. “The values set in place as keepers of the morals kept women from getting other than moral power. Keep this in mind as we work for world peace, for the nuclear freeze, for disarmament — the bind may come especially in time of recession, for society to try to isolate women as keepers of the moral peace again.”

As she became a fixture in Boston’s political circles, Dr. Burke established a strong reputation as a social justice activist, a reliable campaigner, and an iconic figure in the fight to get more women elected. When Healey was introduced to her just a few years ago, she was told Dr. Burke was the woman she needed to know to win.

“Everywhere you’d go with Fran, everyone knew her,” Healey said. “She was just such an institution.”

Frances Katen, who was known as Fran, was born in New York City and moved to Milton as a teenager. She went to schools in Milton and attended Suffolk University, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1950.

Shortly after, she married Robert Henry Burke, with whom she had two daughters. They divorced in 1961.

Dr. Burke returned to school in 1971 and graduated from Boston University with a joint master’s degree and doctorate in political science.

In 1975, she joined the Suffolk University faculty, teaching classes in what is now Sawyer Business School. During her 25-year tenure, she chaired the public management department and introduced classes about global management ethics and ethical decision making. Dr. Burke became a professor emerita in 2000.

“She felt everybody should have the opportunity to learn and continue learning their entire life,” said her daughter Sarah Quinlan of West Palm Beach, Fla.

In 2012, Dr. Burke began serving as vice chair of the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, and though she was passionate about her own political views, she had remarkable respect for those of her opponents, said her granddaughter Katen Manion of New York City.

Dr. Burke’s patience and appreciation for the views of others gave her the ability to converse with anyone, said Manion, who is Sarah’s daughter.

“She could be at a Sox game and sit next to a conservative Republican and actually have something to talk about,” Manion said. “That’s what she really liked about sports: It brings people together regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of your political views, regardless of anything.”

Along with her academic career and political activism, Dr. Burke coedited a book about ethics and traveled to Vietnam during the Vietnam War to teach police chiefs about ethical behavior. She assisted in fund-raising for Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, including her current run for president. Dr. Burke even founded a consulting company, called Integrity International, which specialized in management ethics.

Her numerous honors included the 2013 Simmons College Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2015 Unsung Heroine award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, and an Ethics Lifetime Achievement Award this year from the American Society for Public Administration.

Ever since Manion was young, her grandmother taught her the importance of public service, bringing her on tours of the State House and to rallies for equality. And despite the New York roots Manion and her grandmother share, both supported Boston teams.

“I’m honestly more of a New Yorker than I would consider myself a Bostonian, but she’d never, ever, ever let me like New York sports,” said Manion, who like her grandmother is “a diehard Red Sox-Pats-Celtics fan.”

A memorial service has been held for Dr. Burke, who in addition to her daughter and granddaughter leaves another daughter, Louise Locke of Seattle, and a brother, Frank Katen Jr. of Silver Spring, Md.

Manion said she hopes her grandmother’s legacy of equality and ethics in the city continues to resonate. “I associate the City of Boston so much with her,” Manion said. “She was like the second mayor.”

Dr. Burke’s advocacy for unity and peace inspired candidates across the city, said Livingstone, who added that he heeded his mentor’s advice.

“Having a diversity of opinions around you is incredibly important to make any decision, and she was always insistent upon that,” he said. “It could lead to a slower decision-making process, but it always led to a better decision.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at

Parents of woman killed in crash push duck boat bill

By Meg Bernhard Globe Correspondent June 15, 2016

The parents of a 28-year-old woman who died after a duck boat struck her in April spoke out Wednesday in support of a bill to regulate the amphibious vehicles, saying if such measures had been in place their daughter might still be alive.

The legislation would mandate that all vehicles which operate both on land and in water contain blind-spot cameras and sensors to detect when other vehicles are near. Additionally, the bill would bar people driving sightseeing vehicles from simultaneously giving tours; instead, a second person would be required to narrate and point out landmarks.

Just over a month ago, Allison Warmuth was killed near Boston Common when a duck boat ran over her motor scooter, raising concerns about the large vehicles’ blind spots. Warmuth was stopped in front of the vehicle when a red light changed and the duck boat moved forward. She was unable to accelerate out of the way.

“This was a preventable accident,” said Ivan Warmuth, Allison’s father, at a press conference to present the bill. “My daughter did nothing wrong. She was exactly following the rules of the road. But the accident was a result of the systemic flaws in the design, safety equipment, and operation of these vehicles.”

The Boston Duck Tours company responded in a statement that “safety has always been the number one priority for Boston Duck Tours” and said it is making adjustments to its vehicles.

Woman driving scooter dies after being struck by duck boat

A 29-year-old woman was killed Saturday after the motor scooter she was operating collided with a duck boat.

After Seattle duck boat fatalities, regulators took tough steps
Fatal duck boat crashes in other cities

“We have already installed a new camera on each duck, which will complement the eight existing mirrors to address any blind spots,” read the statement. “We also plan to add sensory equipment to the front and back of the vehicle in the near term. We await the conclusion of the city of Boston’s investigation and will collaborate with them on any additional safety procedures that they recommend.”

William Brownsberger, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the bill’s cosponsor, presented the legislation Wednesday, along with Senator Joseph Boncore and Representative Jay Livingstone. Brownsberger said the bill was intended to address the issue of distracted driving that operators of many sightseeing vehicles face as they both drive and narrate a tour. Another portion of the bill specifically focuses on duck boats because of their large size, he said.

“Duck boats have huge blind spots as a result of their sloping front surface, which is designed to make them hydrodynamic,” Brownsberger said. “The result of that is the possibility for tragedy.”

Brownsberger said he and the Warmuths researched best practices in other states where similar accidents occurred. Duck boats in Seattle were required to install cameras after a crash in 2011, and last fall, after a fatal collision with a bus, safety commissioners required the duck boat company to use “paired” tours, so drivers did not have to narrate behind the wheel.

According to Brownsberger, the Registry of Motor Vehicles would ensure that the vehicles had cameras and sensors. He said there are currently no plans on how to ensure that the person who is driving a vehicle is also not giving a tour.

Martha Warmuth, Allison’s mother, said she had reached out to Boston Duck Tours after the accident to ask that they install cameras and add another person to narrate a tour while someone else was driving. The company said it was in the process of installing cameras but would not add another person until after the police completed their investigation.

“We found that to be very dissatisfactory,” Martha Warmuth said, her voice trembling slightly. “It’s obvious these vehicles are unsafe. So to continue to have that situation with distracted drivers is a real problem.”

The bill does not include more extensive background checks or hiring criteria for drivers. The driver of the duck boat that killed Warmuth had been cited for speeding 10 times since 1994 and also faced a number of other driving infractions.

Brownsberger said he hopes the bill, which he believes is “uncontroversial” and “common sense,” will pass before the end of the legislative session in July. If so, it would go into effect in April 2017. “We are convinced that had these two requirements been in place, our daughter may be alive today,” Ivan Warmuth said.

Turnout not high for marijuana legalization push

Boston Globe — Report on signature drive for petition to regulate marijuana like alcohol. Rep. Jay Livingstone was one of the first signers of the petition. “State Representative Jay D. Livingstone, a Beacon Hill Democrat who lives near the State House and did show up, noted that strong majorities of Massachusetts voters approved measures that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and allowed its use for medical purposes in 2012.” Read the story.