Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bus Schedules

I've written on this topic far too many times. Public transportation is essential to a healthy, thriving city. It is also good for reducing pollution and traffic. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but here in Waterbury our public transportation system is woefully inadequate.

Naugatuck Valley Community College recently put out a press release explaining the need for better transportation for their students, including the following information from a recent survey:
  • 33% of students surveyed have been unable to take a class
    because of difficulty getting to NVCC
  • 48% of students surveyed would use evening bus service to take a
    night class at NVCC
  • 66% of students surveyed report knowing someone who would attend
    evening classes at NVCC if public transportation was available.
They also explain the massive conflict between the bus schedules and their class schedules: "
The college currently offers classes from 6:30 am – 10 pm. Buses stop at the College between 6:40 am and 5:40 pm."

When I was a college student up in Massachusetts, the Five College system (UMass, Amherst, Smith, Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire) actually subsidized the public buses during the school year, so that students could get to classes at any campus for free. 

The current proposed state budget will cut funding to our community colleges by 5.9%, so that involved a collaboration between the area colleges and the bus company is probably out of the question. But surely the bus company would benefit financially from providing better service to the college campuses (not just NVCC) throughout Waterbury. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Opinion

I really don't want to dwell on this, nor do I want to stir up trouble, but I am still upset about the way I was treated, I am upset that there are people in Waterbury whose own experiences in this city lead them to believe that I will be punished by those with power because I dare to complain, and I am upset by the way my neighborhood association was reprimanded for seeking help from the city.

Back on the 5th, I wrote an opinion-based blog post after going through a couple of bad days, venting my frustrations about the terrible condition of the roads in my neighborhood. I criticized the city's policy of not enforcing parking bans during snowstorms, and I criticized comments made by Mayor Jarjura in the Republican-American.

Almost immediately after my blog was posted, I was attacked on a personal level by an anonymous commenter who, based on the comment’s content, may very well be a city official. The comment was written in a tone that made me fear government reprisal. Several people have agreed that the comment contained veiled threats.

At about the same time that Anonymous posted a comment on my blog, Mayoral Aide Steve Gambini posted a somewhat aggressive comment on my Facebook page. He continued to harass me on Facebook throughout the weekend about my complaints, insinuating that I should not have written the blog post, disparaging my knowledge of the situation, falsely accusing me of taking unfair advantage of city services, and otherwise engaging me in a very heated debate in which I found myself defending my right to complain about city government. At no point has he apologized for his harassment or insults.

An appropriate response from the city, had it been deemed necessary to respond at all, would have been something the lines of "Sorry to hear about your car, this is a difficult winter for us, we'll be sure to check on the condition of the streets in your neighborhood as soon as we can." Instead, I was bullied by a government official. 

When I was running for political office, Mr. Gambini engaged me in a similarly aggressive debate over political issues. I have no problem with that. If I am a candidate for political office, there should be a debate in a public forum. But I am not currently a candidate, and Mr. Gambini was not debating political issues with me--as far as I can tell, he was harassing me because I dared to complain.

On Sunday night, Mr. Gambini wrote that his “responses have been appropriate to the tine [sic] and content of your blog. There’s nothing that says we have to happily endure that kind of stuff.”

Well!  What is next? When the Board of Aldermen hold their public speaking and angry citizens yell at them, should the Aldermen start yelling back? If protesters gather outside City Hall, should they be subdued with force?

During the 2009 Democrat Primary campaign, when I was a candidate for the Board of Alderman on Paul Vance’s slate, I heard countless stories of people who were bullied and threatened by Mayor Jarjura’s supporters. Now I have experienced it first-hand.

This is the sort of behavior that makes people give up on their government. This is the sort of bullying that leaves citizens feeling like they will be victimized by the people in power if they let their opinions be known. This is arrogance and pettiness rolled into one. This is inappropriate and unprofessional behavior for a top-level city official. I would not be surprised to learn that a city official harassing a citizen who complains about city services infringes on First Amendment rights, as it seems intended to dissuade all citizens from ever complaining again.

Perhaps worst of all, Mr. Gambini tried to drag the Scovill Homes Association into the fight, criticizing the Association for asking the city for assistance in plowing our back lots, something we can't afford to do ourselves, even though it is necessary for fire safety. We expect to be self-sufficient next winter, but this winter we needed help.

The Scovill Association has a small core group which has been doing everything possible to revive the Association and to make this neighborhood great again. We are struggling with blight, street violence, drug dealers, slum lords, poorly designed intersections, decaying sidewalks and poverty. We cannot succeed on our own. We are dependent upon the city to help us in any way they can. Fortunately, there are several city officials and employees who have been doing a wonderful job helping us. This is a great thing. When the city coordinates with neighborhood organizations to tackle the many problems we all face, we all benefit.

When a top-level city official harangues city residents, we all suffer.

Yes, it is great that the city helped us out by plowing our back lot on one occasion. That does not change the fact that many of the streets in this part of town were not plowed well. It does not change the fact that entire lanes are missing from many major thoroughfares in the North End. It does not change the fact that some streets have been almost impassable and are a massive nightmare for anyone who needs to use them. It does not change my opinion that the city needs to improve the way it handles the enforcement of road laws. Most especially, it does not disqualify me from complaining when I have had a couple bad days in a row, nor does it entitle the Mayor's Aide to harass me when I complain.

I welcome Mr. Gambini to come to the next meeting of the Scovill Homes Association to explain his viewpoints to my neighbors and to discuss ways in which all of us, citizens and government, can work together to solve our problems. I hope that he would refrain from treating my neighbors in the same offensive and unprofessional way he has treated me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

State of the Blog

When I started this blog, it was a way to keep myself out of trouble, an alternative to writing too many letters to the editor of the Republican-American. As many of you know, this blog now gets me into more trouble than not. I have recently learned that some people taking my rantings and frustrated complaints Very Seriously (more on that tomorrow).

While I do often use the blog to vent my frustrations, I also like to use it to showcase the many great things I love about Waterbury. I try to keep a balance between happy blog posts and grumpy blog posts. I don't want to bore everyone with constant complaining, and I don't want to create a false impression that everything is always wonderful all the time.

Right now I'm in a bit of a grumpy rut, thanks to the way I was recently harassed in response to a blog post. Hopefully the warm weather later this week will inspire me to write a happy blog post, but in the meantime there will be one more grumpy post tomorrow (sorry!).

For those of you looking for some winter cheer, I recommend a new Waterbury blog, Bank Street 360, a blog about "all things Bank Street." Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Road Conditions

I went for a drive through town this afternoon to see how the streets in other neighborhoods compare with the ones where I live. Here's what I saw.

The worst street I saw was Park Place, downtown, used by patrons of the Mattatuck Museum, Girls Inc. and the YMCA, as well as some residents. If my stretch of Wood Street didn't get full sun all day, it would be the same right now.

Next is Wood Street, between Walnut and Cherry Streets. This is a two-way street. That means traffic travels in both directions at the same time. At least it's supposed to. Right now that is completely impossible. There is no sign that the plow driver even considered making the road wide enough for two vehicles. Bear in mind that this photo was taken after several days of warmth and sun which melted much of the snow. Before Sunday, this stretch of Wood Street looked just like Park Place does now.

Think Wood Street is bad? Below is a shot of Putnam Street, also with two-way traffic. That truck you see is parked as close to the right side of the road as the driver could get. In order to get down this street, I had to back up onto Willard Street to allow another car past, then very slowly drove up onto the icy snow bank, with just barely enough room to get by.

This is not an unimportant road. This is a road that leads to an elementary school.

 So, if that's how a road connecting to an elementary school looks, how do you think a dead end street will look? If it's in Waterville, it looks just fine, like there's hardly been any snow at all.

Next stop: Town Plot, specifically Hutchinson Street. Looks great. Nice and wide. Plows made sure both lanes were clear.

Here's Oronoke Road,  running past the Waterbury Country Club. They must not have gotten as much snow as other parts of the city. The road is so wide! It's even wider than some sections of Wolcott and Homer Streets, which both have four lanes, not just the two lanes that Oronoke Road has.

Robinwood Road is also looking great.

Off of Robinwood is Arden Road, just a little road connecting Robinwood to Fern. Again, the plow driver took the time to clear both lanes. If it was possible in all these other places, why not in my neighborhood? Why not Wolcott Street, which is missing lanes and has a dangerous hard ridge of ice running down the middle of the road?

After what I saw today, I stand firmly by my earlier blog post. The city has done a great job with most of the city, but it has truly dropped the ball in my part of town.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Let the Race Begin!

Just to be clear, THIS is a politically-charged blog post.

Let me also make clear where I'm coming from on this. Two years ago I ran in the Democrat primary as a candidate for the Board of Aldermen on Paul Vance's slate. I consider myself a community activist, not a politician. I believe that if you think things should be done differently, you have a duty to step up and try to help out. I have been encouraged by several people to again run for political office, and if I am invited to do so, I will. Until then, I am just another voter who wants to see a change in city leadership.

The Mayoral campaign season began in earnest today with Neil O'Leary's campaign kick-off at 62 East Main Street (in the Lombard Building). I attended not as an ardent supporter, but because I wanted to hear what he had to say. I try to approach this sort of thing (assessing a candidate) in a logical, analytical way, weighing the pros and cons, so forgive me if this comes off as cold or harsh.

Before I even stepped inside, I was impressed by the number of people waiting to get in.

Here's when I thought I knew how big the crowd was. I was impressed by the large number of people. For those of you who keep track of these things, some of the political types in attendance included former Mayor Bergin, Karen Mulcahy, Paul Pernerewski, Paul Noguiera, Antonio Pinto, Victor Diaz, Jimmie Griffin and a few others I'm forgetting right now (apologies to those I've left out!).

Then I walked to the far end of the room and got a better idea of the size of the crowd. At this point, not everyone had yet arrived. There was still a very long line out the door of people waiting to get in.


Cotton candy, a clown and balloon animals to keep the little ones happy.

Finally, everyone made it inside and the speech began.

O'Leary hit on a number of points that are important to me: getting the buses to run after 6, changing horrible unemployment rate (which has been the worst in the state for a decade), continuing to revive downtown, seeking private funds when possible instead of relying just on tax dollars, and striving for something better than the status quo. I was also impressed by his desire to create collaborations with state government and to improve the effectiveness and quality of government. He drew on his experiences on the Board of Education to highlight inefficiencies and poor communication within the school system that can easily be changed. He recommends changing the meeting schedules of the Board of Education so that the Mayor and the Aldermen can be more involved. And, of course, he highlighted the successes of the PAL program (all well-deserving of praise), from which he said he has learned a few things about the realities of education in today's world. O'Leary pledged that he would not accept his city pension while earning a salary as Mayor.

It was a good speech, and there is also a lot of information on his campaign website,, but I still have some unanswered questions and concerns. Two years ago, while I campaigned, the one thing I heard over and over from voters is that they pay their taxes and feel like they get nothing in return. Quality of life in Waterbury needs improvement for all residents, not just those in Bunker Hill. Does O'Leary have a clear vision of how Waterbury will be made better under his leadership, or is he just mouthing things that sound good? Will he, in fact, be a positive change in leadership? I think he would be an improvement over Jarjura, but is he a better choice than Vance? It's only February, so there is plenty of time to find out the answers!

Here's one last photo, of the crowd slowly filing out of the room. O'Leary has not yet rented a campaign headquarters. This space was chosen for today's event because of its large size and because it is an empty storefront downtown, symbolic of how much room for improvement there is in Waterbury.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Too Much Snow

Before I launch into my complaints, I will say that I recognize the limits of what can be done when there is a record-setting amount of snow in one month. I've tried to be fair for weeks, allowing that this is an unusual circumstance. But I believe that certain criticisms are justified. My primary criticism is that the city has made a bad situation worse by failing to enforce the law and failing to send the plow crews out to fully clear the roads when they had the chance.

Way back on January 12, we had over two feet of fresh snow on the ground. On January 13, the roads were a mess. I had hoped the city would send the plows out again during the night of the 13th to finish their job, to widen roads where they hadn't cleared the lanes fully. If they had done so, we would currently have wider roads and we wouldn't have so many lanes lost to what  is now hard-packed snow. The city management probably assumed this would be a normal winter, and the roads would clear up on their own in a few days, as soon as the weather warmed up.

As we know, this is not a normal winter. If the city had fully plowed the roads on January 13, the plows would have been able to do a much better job during the storms that followed.

How bad are the roads? If you're not in Waterbury, here's a sample. There was no one behind me, so I stopped my car to let a pedestrian across the road and got this shot of Oak Street while I waited:

The city has also failed to enforce parking bans during snow storms. Waterbury makes it a habit to never enforce the parking ban (just like they never enforce the speed limit), and everyone knows it. As a result, the ban on parking on the even-numbered sides of the streets is completely ignored (might as well ignore the law if the law is never enforced, right?).

The Rep-Am ran a hilarious article on January 28 titled "Mayor talks tough about cars parked in streets." First point of hilarity: by January 28, the streets were full of cars that hadn't been moved in over a month--those cars, like the one opposite my driveway in the photo below, are buried in hard-packed snow and can't be towed unless they are dug out. Mayor Jarjura is "talking tough" a month too late.

Second point of hilarity: the "tough talk" is pretty darn weak. Jarjura is quoted saying that he isn't going to fully enforce the parking bans because of the recession. Supposedly the city was going to tow cars from major roadways, but only after creating a painfully bureaucratic process of making lists and going to excessive lengths to find the owner of the car first.  Seriously? Too little, too late. By January 28, the roadways were blocked by snow that was too hard-packed to plow. By January 28, the only way to clear the roads was with a front loader and dump truck.

This winter has given us yet another example of how the Jarjura administration fails at managing quality of life issues for Waterbury.

The problem with the narrowing of the streets has become very personal for me. There is an abandoned car opposite my driveway (the photo above). Because the car is abandoned, it hasn't been shoveled out. Every time it snows, the hard-packed snow pile gets larger and the plows are less and less able to fully clear the road. I can no longer back out as far into the street when I pull out of my driveway. This means I need to cut to the right much sooner in order to navigate the mountains of snow on either side of my driveway.

When I left for work yesterday morning (the photo above is from today, after the road cleared up thanks to warmth and drizzle), I had no trouble getting out my driveway. I was briefly happy as I backed out as far as I could, cutting to the right as far as I could. Then, because the road was covered in a three-inch deep layer of sandy ice and snow, my car slid sideways down the road. I was wedged between two giant piles of sandy snow and ice.

I tried going backwards. I tried going forwards. Sometimes I felt my car rotate a few degrees on the icy road, but this only wedged me in further. I felt rushed, because I was completely blocking the road during the morning rush hour and school bus time. I got out of the car and got a dirt shovel (better than a snow shovel for breaking hard-packed snow) from my garage. I tried digging down the snowbank behind me. I tried digging down the snow pile in front of me. Finally a woman from down the street suggested I put my floor mats under the wheels for traction. Success! I was finally able to get my car pointed the right way. Sadly, I left part of my car on the ice and snow.

I'm a little cranky about the hole in my front bumper. If the city had done its job and enforced parking bans from the beginning, this never would have happened.

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and above freezing. I'll head out with my ice breaker and dirt shovel late in the afternoon. Hopefully I'll be able to open up a wider path for my car.

I can't do anything about the other road hazards. I've been impressed by the way most drivers are being more courteous than usual to one another. But there are some places where you just feel doomed. Like when I get down to the end of my street and have to turn left on Walnut Street with zero visibility of the oncoming traffic from the left. The photo below shows the view to the left when I stop as far forward as I can without being in the way of the cars coming from the left. I'm worried that if I pull forward far enough to see if anyone is coming, I'll get hit.

I know the plows have to put the snow somewhere, but is it really necessary to make a dangerous intersection (several fatalities over the years) more dangerous?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Metro-North Does It Again

If it wasn't clear before, it is now: the Waterbury line is Metro-North's and Connecticut's lowest priority. They've run out of trains due to weather-related problems, so train service to Waterbury is discontinued. They've put us back on buses. At least they are running express as well as local, but that doesn't do much good if the roads are icy or traffic is jammed.

Governor Malloy's Press Release, boasting about taking trains away from Waterbury for the main line:

(Hartford, CT) - Governor Dannel P. Malloy moved today to add much-needed rail cars to the beleaguered New Haven Line – announcing that buses will be used on the Waterbury Branch commuter rail line beginning Saturday, freeing up two 7-car, diesel-powered trains that can be put into service on the New Haven Line. With each car carrying about 100 people, the action will make about 1,400 additional seats available.
“This brutal and punishing winter has meant unprecedented breakdowns on the New Haven Line and anything we can do to supplement service, we will do,” Governor Malloy said. “We are happy to use existing resources to help our partners at Metro-North.”
“Furthermore, this is an important step toward maintaining commerce during this difficult winter season,” the Governor added. “People need to get to work. If they can’t, their companies suffer and, ultimately, our overall economy suffers.”
The branch line runs from Waterbury to Bridgeport, where it connects with the New Haven Line. There are stops in between at Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia and Derby/Shelton.
Because of the weather-related rail car breakdowns, Metro-North has announced a reduced train schedule beginning Monday, February 7 and continuing through Friday, March 4, 2011. The Waterbury bus schedule will be posted on the Metro-North website – Customers may also call 212 532-4900.
The buses will come from CTTransit, which operates bus service around the state, under the auspices of the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT). The busing plan will be essentially the same plan that was operated successfully and reliably in the summer of 2009 when there was a major track-upgrade program on the rail line.  Generally, buses will leave Waterbury heading for Bridgeport about 15 minutes earlier than the regular train times.  A combination of express and local buses will be operated.  For the return trip, buses will connect with trains at Bridgeport.  Express and local buses will also operate for that service.
Metro-North operates the New Haven Line and its three branches – Waterbury, Danbury and New Canaan – under a contract with the DOT. It has 37 million passenger trips annually, consistently making it the busiest or second-busiest in the country.
Revised weekend bus service will begin Saturday, February 5, 2011.
For Immediate Release: February 4, 2011