Category: Cambridge

Are text-a-thons the future of activism? Cambridge’s Activist Afternoons thinks so.

Boxes of pizza, an aroma of hot coffee and smiling people invested in their phones filled a Cambridge workplace in the heart of Central Square yesterday, but the gathering wasn’t purely social.

As millions of Americans across the country prepared for the midterm elections by reading up on issues and candidates, over 160 volunteers in Cambridge spent the evening before Election Day encouraging voter participation at a text-a-thon hosted by Activist Afternoons.

The gathering was one of many the group has hosted since it launched in the fall of 2017. The first of three around the state, Activist Afternoons hosts weekly events with a different menu of activities – often including meetings, activist training sessions, and text-a-thons – for the Cambridge community at Workbar, a membership-based coworking space on Prospect Street.

Hustling young people to the polls

The members of the five national and local organizations present at the Nov. 5 text-a-thon used Hustle – the texting platform used for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the 2016 presidential election. For three hours they sent personalized messages to registered voters, reminding them to vote on issues, political parties and candidates this Election Day.

Daniel Curtis, community organizer at Activist Afternoons, said the goal of Monday night’s text-a-thon was to motivate or remind residents of Cambridge and others nationwide to participate, especially younger voters.

“The main objective of tonight is to get in contact with as many people as possible and encourage them to vote, ” said Curtis. “A general concern we have is that, historically, young people are the least likely to vote.”

During the 2014 midterm elections, only 17.1 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds showed up at the polls. That was less than half the turnout of the population at large – 41.9 percent of whom voted – according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Current Population Survey.

Curtis said he thinks a significant cause of low turnout among young people is the fact that they have never voted before.

The future of activism?

With Gen-Xers and younger generations representing 59 percent of American adults eligible to vote as of April 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, text-a-thon volunteers were hoping that the last-minute mobilization of younger voters has a serious effect on election results.

Among the clicking, tapping and chattering volunteers was state Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, who opted to make calls rather than texting during the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. event.

“I couldn’t really figure out how to work the texting, so I went with calling,” laughed Livingstone.

Out of the five Democratic organizations represented at the text-a-thon, Livingstone chose to work with the Environmental Voter Project and Justice Democrats groups. He noted that one of the reasons Democratic organizations specifically tend to focus on mobilizing the younger generations is because they tend to be more worried about social issues and protecting the environment.

“Young people are more concerned about social and environmental issues,” said Livingstone, who represents parts of Cambridgeport as well as Boston. “The way we get the Democratic Party to where it needs to be is by convincing people to vote at events like this one.”

“Texting as a medium appeals to younger people and can easily reach tons of voters,” said Labandibar. “I think we will see more voters turn out as result of these texting events.”

Ian Anderson is a Boston University journalism student writing as part of a collaboration between the Cambridge Chronicle and BU News Service.

http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/news/20181106/are-text-a-thons-future-of-activism-cambridges-activist-afternoons-thinks-so

Worsening BU Bridge, rotary traffic causes headaches in Cambridgeport

By Diane McLaughlin / Cambridge@wickedlocal.com

Since August, traffic on the Boston University Bridge has worsened, leading to congestion in the Cambridge rotary, adjacent intersection and Cambridgeport streets. Because of a network of one-way streets, many residents say they have found themselves trapped in the neighborhood.

“I’m just trying to get out of my street,” said Nancy Wei, a Rockingham Street resident.

City and state officials have met twice this fall with the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) to address traffic problems. While some issues have been identified, neighbors at the most recent meeting stressed the need for further improvements.

Multiple agencies involved

More than 70 residents have emailed complaints to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation [MassDOT] since the completion of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge project in August, according to CNA members Walter McDonald and Carol O’Hare, who have reviewed the correspondence.

″[Traffic has] never been great in anyone’s memory, but it seems to be worse starting after the summer 2018,” said Joe Barr, director of the city of Cambridge’s Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department.

Barr was one of several city and state officials who met with the CNA in September and again on Nov. 1 to address residents’ concerns. More than 40 people attended the latest meeting at the LBJ Apartments.

Along with the BU Bridge, neighbors are concerned about the lack of signs, traffic lights and lane markers for the rotary; drivers from Waverly Street who block the intersection; and a tree on Granite Street affecting cars approaching the intersection.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone, D-Boston, who represents Cambridgeport, told the CNA that multiple government agencies have jurisdiction over the areas experiencing these problems. These include: MassDOT, which operates the BU Bridge; city of Boston, which manages the traffic lights at the end of the bridge on Commonwealth Avenue; the state Department of Conservation and Recreation [DCR], which controls the rotary and traffic signals in Cambridge before the bridge; and the city of Cambridge, which manages the roads adjacent to the rotary – Brookline, Granite and Waverly streets.

“When there are multiple agencies that butt up against each other, like here, you often have all of the agencies running away,” Livingstone said. “But here … every agency is really invested in working together in trying to solve the problem.”

Traffic backup from BU Bridge

A key issue affecting Cambridgeport is the traffic backup on the BU Bridge, often extending around the rotary and blocking the intersection at Granite, Brookline and Waverly streets.

During the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge project, lane adjustments were made to the BU Bridge. Now, most of the road from Cambridge to Boston is a single lane, with two lanes in the other direction.

Hamilton Street resident Stephen Kaiser said extending the single lane has made it more difficult for cars to access the adjacent lanes at Commonwealth Avenue, causing traffic to stretch into Cambridge.

Neil Boudreau, a traffic engineer with MassDOT, has worked since September to identify causes for the increased traffic congestion. He said adjusting the lanes again would cause more gridlock.

One problem on the BU Bridge has already been identified. In speaking with city of Boston officials, Boudreau learned that a traffic detection system was damaged during the bridge project. The system, which recognizes cars waiting at the traffic light, was fixed by the city of Boston Oct. 29, Boudreau said. He did not yet know the impact on bridge traffic.

The rotary and intersection

Another problem involves the rotary itself. The cars backed up into the intersection of Brookline, Granite and Waverly streets also affect drivers who want to head away from the bridge.

Wei, the Rockingham Street resident, said with the intersection blocked, cars cannot turn left from Granite Street onto Brookline Street, causing the Granite Street traffic to back up.

The network of one-way streets means Granite Street is the only way out for some neighbors. Several people at the CNA meeting said cars drive the wrong way on one-way streets to avoid the congestion.

Neighbors would like to see lane markings, signs and traffic lights for cars entering the rotary from Memorial Drive. For traffic approaching the rotary from Waverly Street, neighbors suggested signs advising cars not to block the intersection, with fines for offending drivers.

DCR could look at short-term solutions, including painting lines and putting up signs, Livingstone said. Long-term solutions for the rotary will be included in the third phase of DCR’s Memorial Drive project.

Tree preservation leads to reduced space

The blocked intersection is not the only problem affecting Granite Street.

To preserve a tree affecting sidewalk accessibility, the city of Cambridge routed the sidewalk into the street near the intersection, reducing the lane available for cars taking a right toward the rotary and contributing to congestion on Granite Street.

As a temporary solution, seven parking spaces on Granite Street have been eliminated starting Oct. 29, Barr said, allowing drivers to start lining up sooner for the left turn onto Brookline Street.

Barr said the city would continue to look at other solutions to address the intersection and surrounding streets.

MBTA Focus 40 Comment Letter

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority unveiled a 35-page drafted investment plan, called “Focus40,” which mapped potential improvements and plans for the T. You can read the report here.

I was disappointed that the MBTA had yet again failed to address the possibility of connecting the Grand Junction Rail to Kendall Square via West Station. I was also disappointed that a connection of the Red and Blue lines were not prioritized either. Both connections would be a fantastic boon to the economy of Kendall square by increasing access to the hub. During the comment period, I submitted a letter to this effect, which you can read below:

MBTA_Focus40_Comment_Final

Rep. Fernandes Seeks to Save Threatened Federal Sea Grant Program

BOSTON – A local legislator is defending the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution-based Sea Grant College Program, which could lose funding as part of proposed Trump Administration budget cuts.

Barnstable, Dukes, Nantucket State Representative Dylan Fernandes co-sponsored a resolution which passed through the House that urges level funding for the program which began in 1966.

The network of 33 Sea Grant programs throughout the country promotes sustainable economic development and oceanic conservation.

“The Sea Grant Program has helped our communities guard against natural disasters, promote our blue economy and develop our oceanic resources in a sustainable way,” said Fernandes.

“The program has been an indispensable asset to our region and eliminating it is unacceptable.”

The resolution was introduced with State Rep. Jay Livingstone, whose district is home to the Sea Grant College Program housed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Woods Hole Sea Grant program’s history traces back to 1971 and has since worked with towns to build sustainable aquaculture programs, promote coastal resiliency and educate the public on environmental issues.

An initial budget proposal from the Trump Administration last month would completely eliminate the program.

Fernandes said the program generates about $142 million in economic activity each year.

A copy of the language used in the resolution will be sent to all the members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and the White House Office of Budget and Management.

Livingstone Seeking Regulations for Local Airbnbs

February 2, 2018

By 

State Rep. Jay Livingstone of Beacon Hill will be focusing his legislative efforts on a number of bills this year, including the regulation of Airbnbs in the city.

Airbnb, which began in 2008, is a company that helps people rent short-term lodging in apartments, homes, and other residences through an online service.

“What’s happening, particularly in Beacon Hill, is some people have started to buy buildings and turn them in to Airbnbs that can be short-term rentals,” said Livingstone. “So basically those buildings can act as a hotel without any of the permits of a business operating in a residential district.”

Livingstone said at the state level, officials hope to enact a regulatory scheme to allow cities to have options on how they’re going to treat Airbnb rentals.

He believes that for densely populated areas like Beacon Hill, “people should need the permits of a hotel operating in a residential district before they can buy a building and basically act as a hotel.”

Livingstone said that he knows there are two properties on Beacon Hill where this type of rental operation has begun.

“I know of at least two, one on Chestnut Street and one on West Cedar Street,” he said.

Livingstone said the goal is to pass a state law that gives municipalities such as the city of Boston options on how to regulate Airbnbs.

“I would like to see Boston have the regulatory authority to require businesses that are going to act as hotels to get the permits that hotels need,” said Livingstone. “There is a full zoning process that they need to go through in order to do that, and it’s not happening with respect to these Airbnb buildings in Beacon Hill.”

He said his colleague in the House of Representatives, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, has filed a bill on the regulation of Airbnbs. Livingstone expects the bill will be debated in the House of Representatives next month.

“I’ve worked with Aaron on this bill,” said Livingstone. “He’s worked hard to build consensus on this issue and I think a lot of people see issues that have arisen because there is no regulatory scheme in place.”

Livingstone said he will also be focusing on legislation pertaining to Paid Family Leave income.

“The United States is one of three countries in the world not to offer Paid Family Leave to families,” he noted. “Especially as a father of a young child, I know that my wife and I were able to get by and stay home for a time at the start of our son’s life and how crucial that was for his development. So many families don’t have that option because they have to return to work for financial reasons and their children will miss out on that crucial early development with the parents. Many states have adopted Paid Family Leave policy, so I’ve been working the past couple of years to get Paid Family Leave legislation here. My colleague, Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford), has filed a bill on Paid Family Leave.”