Leftovers: January 11, 2016

Random observations leftover from last week:

Temperature Swings and Tires – Yesterday’s 57 degree high temperature provided quite a contrast to the 5 degrees at 6 a.m. on Tuesday with a stiff wind from the northwest. The tires on my car didn’t like it: the dashboard sensor read “Low Tire Pressure.” After trying unsuccessfully to add air, I took it to my favorite tire place (Stansfield on Chelmsford Street). It seems the seal between the tire and the wheel was broken by me finding a pothole or a curb. They quickly fixed it and I was on my way.

Commuter Rail – On that same cold morning, the MBTA’s Commuter Rail had a worrisome start with the 6:18 a.m. train from Lowell running 20 minutes behind schedule “due to a mechanical problem” which is Commuter Rail-speak for “our equipment doesn’t work in cold weather.” Not a good start after all the promises of better performance.

Logan Airport – My son Andrew was home for the holidays from graduate school in Washington, D.C. He flew back on Saturday and I drove him to Logan Airport. Leaving Lowell at 7:30 a.m., we pulled up to Terminal C at 8:15 a.m. After a quick goodbye and I headed back to Lowell, arriving home at 8:50 a.m. So the roundtrip from Lowell to Logan took only 80 minutes. Too bad that can’t be the case all the time.

Self-Driving Cars and Insurance – An interesting consequence of self-driving cars is that we might not need insurance companies any longer. That’s what Benjamin Preston suggested Thursday in the New York Times Automobiles column (“Insurers Brace for the Self-Driving Future and Fewer Accidents”). I’m not sure how soon it will be until we’re able to read the print edition of that column while driving down Rte. 93, but I do believe that some related features like automatic braking, collision and pedestrian alerts, and other hi-tech features will make driving a lot easier for all of us.

Walkability – Even though driving should get easier and safer, some people – me included – often prefer walking. That’s always a challenge in Lowell. Judith Durant, a friend and neighbor from the Highlands, took to Facebook recently to share her experience walking to the Gallagher Terminal and the train to Boston:

We live 1.5 miles away, and I lost count of how many times we had to walk in the street because the sidewalks are not cleared more than a week after the snow. And the trash is disgusting–empty nip and half-pint bottles, plastic bags, soda cans, Dunkin’ Donuts debris. This on top of the most pedestrian unfriendly entry to the station itself. A most unpleasant experience.

Making a city more walkable is not just about big-money construction projects. It’s about the little things like eliminating clutter and keeping sidewalks clear of snow, ice, cars, barrels, and other obstructions. The first step is to get more people walking. I know City Manager Murphy is a regular walker; I often see him on the sidewalk on Stevens Street near his home in the Highlands. If everyone walked more – for exercise, transportation, and enjoyment – we’d be more likely to adopt the collective mindset of a walkable city.

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