Tag Archives: political

Of Bike Lanes and Politics

4 Oct

With the installation of protected bike lanes comes a fast-moving issue for council race

By Tom Meek Friday, October 1, 2021

A bicyclist travels in a quick-build protected bike lane in Central Square. (Photo: MassAve4 Impacts Analysis)

A springtime study about bike lanes replacing on-street parking continues to send out shock waves, and is now playing a role in November’s elections.

Citizens groups have been formed, petitions are circulating and candidates are getting endorsements around the MassAve4 Impact Analysis report and other issues relating to the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance. Passed by the City Council in 2019 and updated in October 2020, it calls for around 25 miles of protected bike lanes to be installed throughout Cambridge within five to seven years.

When released in April, the MassAve4 report triggered panic among business owners and residents who feared that nearly all on-street parking spaces would be removed in favor of quick-build protected bike lanes along Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square to Dudley Street, including Porter Square. The city quickly assured that it was only studying the effects of achieving the ordinance’s goals with quick-build options such as flex posts, signs and road markings rather than curb cuts, sidewalk and road surface alterations that would demand more planning, cost and resources and be less likely to meet the law’s timeline.

The city has not released a plan, but by May the city manager expects to identify where quick-build bike lanes will work and get City Council approval for a timeline on installing other kinds of bike infrastructure, according to the MassAve4 project page. Outreach and community engagement will be part of the process. If the city fails to have a plan approved in 2023, quick-build lanes along the corridor will be mandated by the ordinance.

Mass Ave. 4 All

In the interim, the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, several businesses along the corridor – The Abbey, Guitar Stop and Ward Maps among them – and the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group have banded together to form the Mass Ave. 4 All group, which is sponsoring a petition to reject the impact analysis report and to urge the city to try again on reimagining Massachusetts Avenue. Members have posted alternative design suggestions on the site and encouraged residents to contact City Council members and project planners.

Cambridge Bicycle Safety pushed for the ordinance but found the MassAve4 report troubling.

“Our vision is for there to be continuous protected bicycle lanes for the full length of Massachusetts Avenue,” member Nathanael Fillmore said, “as well as improvements to ensure efficient and reliable bus service, a safe environment for pedestrians, a thriving business corridor and a pleasant and welcoming place for all residents to spend time.”

Bicyclists rally for safe infrastructure at an Oct. 17, 2016, rally at City Hall, before the creation of a city Cycling Safety Ordinance. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Fillmore praised the city for its change of approach when kicking off the northernmost stage of the ordinance’s charge, with protected bike lanes from Dudley Street to the city’s border with Arlington at the Alewife Brook Parkway. For that, the city did not issue an impact report, but held an online community meeting to share designs concepts – which also showed a majority of on-street parking being eliminated, but with 15-minute pickup and loading zones during certain hours within a bus lane; and with metered parking moved to side streets in key locations. Before the Sept. 14 presentation, the city reached out to businesses along the stretch to get their input and hear concerns.

Andreas Wolfe, the city’s street design project manager, said Friday that “targeted outreach is taking place as part of the Dudley Street-to-Alewife Brook Parkway section for businesses along that section,” and Porter Square outreach would follow before that project takes place. The stretch from Dudley Street to Alewife Brook Parkway will be complete before the MassAve4 project, because it is entirely quick build and there are no overhead catenary wires powering buses to contend with.

Some felt the process is inadequate. “As a business owner that will be directly affected by this rushed and poorly planned project to install much-needed protected bike lanes, I was never given a real voice,” said Robert Harris, owner of the Season to Taste restaurant at 2447 Massachusetts Ave. “Instead there was a virtual meeting to talk about thoughts and feelings, with 99 percent of the decisions already made, which only highlights the flawed process for this project.”

Save Mass Ave

In the wake of that meeting, the group Save Mass Ave formed and launched a website with materials that tout the approach taken by Mass Ave. 4 All but also promotes candidate for City Council who have not signed onto a Cambridge Bicycle Safety pledge to support the Cycling Safety Ordinance. That includes one incumbent, E. Denise Simmons, and several challengers for council seats.

Save Mass Ave also has its own petition calling for “meaningful engagement and planning with all stakeholders.”

“There are several petitions,” said Ruth Ryals, president of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, referring to the groups’ overlapping online and paper versions. “It is messy.”

On the social media site Nextdoor, some North Cambridge residents and others unhappy about the loss of parking and a process say they feel they don’t have a voice, while bike advocates such as CBS leverage their power disproportionately to control and influence elections and policy. Boston area cycling advocacy groups such as the Boston Cyclist Union promote and canvass for city council members and candidates who support bike safety policy and bike infrastructure as a priority.

Business concerns

This isn’t the first time the rollout of bike lanes has been contentious. Back in 2017 there was pushback from businesses and residents on Cambridge Street to the installation of protected bike lanes that took away some on-street parking. Though the city says businesses have come through bike changes fine in Harvard and Central squares, some have seen big drop-offs in walk-in traffic resulting from a lack of parking, said Guitar Stop’s Jeanne Oster at a Wednesday meeting of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee.

The data can be confusing, though. City surveys show that in Porter Square, for example, the No. 1 item businesses said would help them was more parking, while 62 percent of respondents said they came to shop in the area by foot, with biking accounting for another 19 percent and the MBTA for 16 percent. Motor vehicles checked in at 33 percent.

And for all the infrastructure already rolled out, outdoor dining spaces on Massachusetts Avenue have been retained in their entirety, Fillmore pointed out.

The pledge, which has been signed by seven councillors running for reelection and six council challengers, “is important to ensure continued implementation of the ordinance on schedule and without delay that will lead to further injuries or deaths,” Fillmore said.

“Certainly the bike pledge has an impact [politically], particularly among the challengers who have to decide publicly which side they’re on – we already know where the incumbents stand,” said councillor Quinton Zondervan, a signer of the pledge.

Political overlap

But it can be difficult to draw lines around politicians’ policies. In addition to first-time candidate Tonia Hicks appearing on both of the new groups’ lists, there are candidates such as Paul Toner – who did not sign the pledge but is not opposed to bike lanes or the ordinance’s overall goal of separated bike lanes and safety for all. “I agree with the goals of the Cambridge Cycling Safety Ordinance,” he said in an email, “I believe there needs to be flexibility on the construction timeline in order to gather input from relevant stakeholders, such as neighborhood residents and businesses.”

Separated bike lane infrastructure continues to be implemented – last month it went in along the Mid-Cambridge section of Massachusetts Avenue from City Hall to where Massachusetts Avenue and Mount Auburn Street meet in Harvard Square.

Zondervan thinks there is going to be a natural shift away from trips by single drivers with the arrival of autonomous vehicles and microtransit options such as Bluebikes and electric scooters. “Just as we’ve always said,” Zondervan said, “if you build it, they will come. As we make it safer and easier for people to bike instead of drive, more and more people will choose to do that, and that’s exactly what we need. Also exciting about Massachusetts Avenue in front of City Hall is the clearly marked bus stop lane. It’s exciting to see us prioritize not just bike lanes but also bus lanes. We’re really heading in the right direction prioritizing public transit over private vehicle transport, and I’m just really happy about that and look forward to more to come.”

Represent

14 Aug

‘Represent’: Embedded with three campaigns, women from all over the hard-to-navigate map

By Tom Meek


Another politically themed doc this week (along with “Boys State”), “Represent” looks at women running for political office in the Midwest. Under the observance of Hillary Bachelder’s lens, Myya Jones, a 22-year-old, tries to spark a youth movement by running for mayor of Detroit; Bryn Bird, a farmer and working mother in small town Ohio, seeks a township trustee post; while Julie Cho, a Korean immigrant, runs as a Republican candidate for state representative in a liberal Chicago suburb. The timelines aren’t all that linear, but most interesting is Cho, who, ostensibly because she is not a typical GOP candidate (“rich, white male”) is abandoned by the party during her campaign but also takes veiled racial pokes (she’s in an interracial marriage) from the liberal opposition – “Why don’t you go run in the Korean neighborhood?” To which she notes to the camera that only the left gets away with that kind of racism these days. Her idealism to embed and change the party feels like the right quest, but lack of support and the attacks she faces on the trail take their toll. Her frustration and weariness are palpable, and yet she remarkably soldiers on. We catch up with Bird already in office and making policy, some of which is not popular, and in one telling scene she remarks on how one of her jobs affects the other when formerly loyal customers, rankled by her policies and communal decisions, walk by her stand at a farmers market without a hello. What’s remarkable about Bachelder’s doc is the degree of access and trust she gains from her subjects. You could call it “Girls State: The Real World Edition.”

“Represent” shows as part of the the Brattle Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room.

Boys State

14 Aug

‘Boys State’: Re-creating America in miniature, dominated by right whites (then comes a twist)

By Tom Meek

Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ immersion into the Girls and Boys State mock political programs, which have for decades turned out leaders of tomorrow such as Bill Clinton, Ann Richards and Dick Cheney, is both an eye-opener and a reason for pause. For “Boys State” the documentarians embedded in 2017 with the Texas chapter, where 1,100 17-year-olds assemble for a fortnight in the capital, divide into two parties (Nationalist and Federalists), develop platforms and elect a governor – the highest official rank to be reached, and the final act of the educational event sponsored by the American Legion.

Sounds pretty wholesome and promising, right? And it is, on one hand (the passion for politics and democracy, a clear win), but at times the hooting, testosterone-amped crowd of mostly white lads (“I’ve never seen so many white people ever,” one African American attendee reflects) eerily calls to mind the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville. The agendas too feel skewed to the right – pro-gun, pro-life (“if there’s a rape, we don’t punish the child, we find the rapist and castrate him!”) and “back the blue.” Given the lack of color, it’s refreshing to see a son of undocumented parents rise to run for governor, bolstered by a somber, reflective approach rather than shouted platitudes such as “freedom!” and “a vote for me is a vote for all!” The use of Instagram and other social media is impressive, though it’s often mean, personal and racist. Drinking in “Boys State” instills a sense of hope, and dread. It’s a slice of America if lived on a landlocked “Lord of the Flies” isle, where you know boys will be boys.

Long Shot

3 May

‘Long Shot’: She’s testing a run for president, he’s that strange bedfellow you hear about

 

Image result for long shot

Without Charlize Theron, “Long Shot” would likely have no shot. The capable and statuesque actress has time and time again demonstrated her versatility, bouncing seamlessly from action (“Atomic Blonde”and “Mad Max: Fury Road”) to comedy (“Young Adult”) and of course, dark drama, namely playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster” (2003), for which she won Oscar gold. Here she’s in rom-com mode as Secretary of State Charlotte Field looking to push a green initiative worldwide and launch a run for the Oval Office.

Before you say Hillary Clinton, “Long Shot” is set against a different political climate than the one we find ourselves in today – not that it doesn’t parody and poke at it. In this parallel political universe, the sitting president (Bob Odenkirk) is a former actor who has let it quietly be known he isn’t going to seek reelection because he’s got a series (Netflix, Amazon?), which triggers Field’s ambition. Along her test-the-waters tour there’s an early stop at a swanky Manhattan cocktail party where Boyz II Men happen to be the centerpiece of the all-white event. It’s there in the haughty suffocating stuffiness that she recognizes Seth Rogen’s Fred Flarsky, not because he’s in an electric blue windbreaker at a black tie event – one of many long running gags that goes on perhaps a bit too long – but because she babysat him when he was in his pre-teens, ending in an awkward moment when the young Flarsky winds up sporting a very visible erection.

Yes, that’s how “Long Shot” rolls. The script by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling has the uproarious irreverence of “Something About Mary” (1998) and some sharp political spoofs too, especially Andy Serkis as the Rupert Murdoch-styled tycoon who just fired Flarsky’s ultra critical journalist (penning pieces such as “Why the Two-Party System Can Suck a Dick”) or Alexander Skarsgård as the Justin Trudeau-esque Canadian prime minister being pushed by handlers, the diplomatically community at large and the press on Charlotte as a romantic possibility.The saucy send-ups of Fox News and CNN are bitingly hysterical, and sadly spot-on.

Plot-wise, Flarsky gets brought aboard as Charlotte’s speechwriter, and romantic seeds begin to take hold along a trip through Europe. That’s also when “Long Shot” becomes its least effective. Theron registers her best when Charlotte’s charming a room with her confidence and style or talking about the limitations of being a woman in politics: “If I am angry, I’m hysterical. If I raise my voice, I’m a bitch.” Not enough can be said about Theron’s presence and poise, and director Jonathan Levine seems to be well aware of the fact, as nearly every frame hangs from his star’s gravitational pull. Comedy star June Diane Raphael adds to the potpourri, playing it straight and sassy as Charlotte’s senior staffer, but the real big winner in this Theron tour de force (as well as carrying the film, she’s also devilishly funny) is O’Shea Jackson Jr., so good in “Straight Outta Compton” (2015, where he played his father, Ice Cube) and “Ingrid Goes West” (2017), and even more scene-grabbing here as Flasky’s bestie, a closeted GOP pragmatist. For O’Shea the future should be rife with opportunity, for Theron, there are no limits.

Porter Square Clean Up

9 Sep

Group effort cleans Porter Square Saturday; power washing, window cleaning to come

 

Cigarette butts are the main haul in a Saturday sweep in Porter Square as part of an organized cleanup. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If the T plaza at Porter Square and the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue north and south of it looks a bit trimmer and neater, thank the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, Porter Square Shopping Center owner Gravestar, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, a smattering of area residents and 15 or so students from Harvard who threw in a part of their Day of Service. The “Porter Square and Mass Ave Clean Up!” organized by the association kicked off Saturday with about 30 volunteers broken into teams to weed, sweep and pick up trash along the corridor over four hours. Gravestar and the city donated tools and trash bags, and coffee and doughnuts were provided for those lending sweat and sinew. (For volunteers, the bane of the cigarette butt far outweighed that of the resilient reed.)

The MBTA and Gravestar have promised power washing and window cleaning follow-ups, association organizer Ruth Ryals said.

Aftermath

21 May

The Long Island Literary Journal May 2018

“We did this to ourselves,” Jonesy said sliding bullets into a tarnished old .38.  Besides an aluminum baseball bat and a barn full of rusted farm implements, it was their primary means of defense, one they had yet to use, but the expectation was that things were to only get worse. It had been eighteen months since the ban went into effect, fourteen since the MOAB was dropped on a so tagged hot-spot in the Middle-east and five weeks since the dirty bombs went off in Boston and New York.

Stan watched Jonesy cautiously in the rearview as he guided the dinged-up Dodge Charger along the roadway marred by frost heaves and years of neglect. He knew little about his passenger other than he was elusive when it came to questions but seemed to know much about the western hills of Massachusetts and Connecticut and how to get the most from the woods. Just five days earlier he had drifted out from the tree line under the weight of a large backpack. Stan was prompt in his effort to dismiss the intruder, and felt he had matters in hand until Echo appeared on the back porch with a bottle of pop in hand.

 “Maybe he can help with the generator?” she interjected casually, “We might need that hunk of junk after all.”

Stan wished to protest but knew his wife was probably right just like his mother was when she had the massive crate delivered to the farmhouse in the tense months following 9/11. “If anything like that ever happens again,” the matriarch chortled while drinking a saucer full of cheap scotch when she could easily afford better, “you kids just jump in the car and head to Weathervane Farm. I’ll have everything there for you.” Stan found the notion of buying a farm in Western Massachusetts when his parents lived in Connecticut a complete waste of money, though Church View did turn out to be a good central place for Worthington holiday gatherings. His sister lived in Chicago and made the dutiful trek east twice a year with her ever growing brood.  It was perfect while it lasted and now, his mother’s paranoid ramblings about the future of mankind boomeranged back from the beyond as shards of prophetic wisdom. Stan’s only regret being that he wished he had set up the generator back then when she had wished it.

The car hit a pothole and a bullet slipped from Jonesy’s hand. “Steady mate,” he said cooly as he retrieved the projectile, “Be a shame if Bulla put a hole in your seat.”

That coy air of amiable aloofness bothered Stan. He knew he was alone in that regard.  The others taking refuge in the place his mother had so affectionately rebranded ‘Manure Manor,’  didn’t share his scrutiny. Little Jade was delighted by the coins pulled from her ears at dinner that first night, and afterwards Jonesy toiled under Echo’s direction in the kitchen, sharing wine and laughs late into the evening. Even crabby old Rosemary appeared susceptible to his charms granting Jonesy great deference before launching in with her bristly opines and demeaning insistences. Each morning, Stan expected the man hidden behind aviator sunglasses and a fine beard, to disappear back into the woods, but at night, when dinner was served, he was there at the table as if he has always been.  The tenor of the manor had shifted. There was less control, more spontaneity and things got done. Jonesy was fit and able, a rising commodity as networks fell and the availability of shrink wrapped sustenance waned.

“How much we got?” Stan asked. Continue reading

The Trump supporter profile on film

21 Nov

Angry white men on film: Seven times cinema got to the Trump vote before us

Most of us in the proudly liberal-leaning Hub are still in shock from Donald Trump’s historic and controversial “win” last week, making the demagogue the 45th president-elect. Throughout the presidential campaign there were near-riotous breakouts at Trump rallies and the candidate famously offended minorities, immigrants and, most resoundingly, women. “The Art of the Deal” Don looked primed to go up in flames at any turn and got away with language and behavior that would get any wage-earning wonk fired without a second consideration, but come Nov. 8 there was pushback from a certain populace in mid- and and Southern states who had been suffering quietly through the long, slow manufacturing ebb and were left out of the high-tech, life sciences and servicing surges – the non-college-educated white male, known as hard-working union members in more prosperous times, who had previously delivered swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan blue. We on the coasts scratch our head why, slow to realize the cold sting of disenfranchisement as a powerful motivator. Below are seven films that delve into the psyche of the dislocated white male, usually outcast, antisocial and operating outside the law:

 

“Hell or High Water” (2016)
Boston-born Ben Foster and Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk) play brothers desperate to keep the family farm by heisting banks. Foster’s Tanner, just out of the slammer, has been there before, but Pine’s Toby is divorced and struggling to stay afloat financially and maintain a relationship with his progeny. The bureaucratic bank holding the homestead’s deed plays the heavy, and Jeff Bridges checks in as the sympathetic, but dutiful sheriff caught in the mix on the eve of his retirement. Pine and Foster make the frustration of hopeless conclusions, and the flight against them, deeply palpable. David Mackenzie, the British-born director who turned in the saucy “Young Adam” (2003), renders the Texas setting like a sequel to “No Country for Old Men” and registers one of the best films of the year so far. See also: “Out of the Furnace” (2013).

 

“All the Right Moves” (1983)
A young Tom Cruise plays a high school football star in dying steel-mill Pennsylvania who values his gridiron prowess as a way out of the economic dead-end, but his strict coach (Craig T. Nelson) may have other ideas. The death of the working-class American Dream and the despair as big biz going overseas for cheaper labor remains pointedly relevant. See also: “Hoosiers” (1986)  Continue reading

Weiner

28 May
If you ever watched the riveting behind-the-scenes documentary “The War Room,” you’ve already seen a man snared by scandal mid-campaign. The speed bump Gennifer Flowers dealt Bill Clinton en route to a landslide victory in 1992, however, pales in comparison with the 20-car pileup Anthony Weiner is responsible for in “Weiner,” a beguiling look into the paradoxical and self-destructive nature of a man who, while earnest in his desire to serve the public, remains unable to shake a sex-trolling persona infamously known as Carlos Danger.052716i WeinerThe filmmakers, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, must have thought they had a lock on a picture of redemption, with a congressman felled by scandal looking to come back as mayor of New York. Given what’s on the film, Weiner sounds the part, talking charismatically about the quality of education and the ability to earn a wage equal to living in New York. It doesn’t hurt that the seemingly resurgent pol has a wife who’s a senior aide to Hillary Clinton ramping up her political machine for a 2016 presidential run. Continue reading

Election Flicks

23 May
A still from the film "Weiner." (Courtesy of IFC Film)

The political season is well upon us, more vehemently and contentiously so than past presidential primaries, especially given the surprising number of upstarts, lack of usual faces and an arguably unpopular field. If either of the Democratic candidates win, history will be made with the first female commander in chief or the oldest citizen to assume the Oval Office. If Republican front-runner Donald Trump wins, his victory will cap a campaign of shock and awe, bluster and division, the likes of which seemed only possible in a movie.

That said, hitting the campaign trail has not been a particularly vast topic explored on film, but when it has, it’s been done with biting satire or a telling inward look at ourselves, our society and how we value democracy.

Most often those films stoke our fear of big corporations and power brokers seeking to influence control, as well as our fascination with scandal, the politician’s sudden fall and the tabloid train wreck that ultimately becomes a reflection of our impossible expectations, our own hypocrisies and an illumination of the intoxicating stupor of power that leads to self-destructive hubris.

Below is a list of 10 movies that bear particular relevance to the campaign as it is currently unfolding. (The last film in the list, “Weiner,” opens this weekend in select locations.)

“The Best Man” (1964)

Gore Vidal’s seminal skewering of big egos clashing for the White House pit a fictionalized version of Adlai Stevenson (played by Henry Fonda) against a JFK-like incarnation (Cliff Robertson), both vying for a former president’s approval. The shards of political courtship carry the tang of Obama having to mitigate his allegiances with Sanders and his former secretary of state Clinton. Vidal adapted his stage play, Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed “Planet of the Apes” and “Patton”) directs and Lee Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his turn as the ailing former president, casting an ostensible nod to Harry Truman.   Continue reading

Salo or 120 Days of Sodom

23 Oct

A scene from Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom." (Zebra Photofest)

“120 Days of Sodom,” the rapacious weave of sexual excess and debauchery penned by Marquis de Sade in the late 1700s, didn’t receive a commercial publishing until the 20th century, mostly in part because of its perceived depraved pornographic content.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinematic rendering of de Sade’s carnal excursion gone gonzo some 200 years later has often been called the most reviled film of all time, not just because of its stark, graphic nature, but more so for its aloof dehumanized detachment. Still, much like de Sade, with such infamy credited to his name, Pasolini looms a major cultural icon bridging zeitgeists, ideologies and art forms.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” his final work, remains a hot topic of discussion, most recently rekindled after Criterion Collection’s reissue on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, and is also part of the Harvard Film Archive‘s ongoing “Furious and Furiouser” series about maverick filmmaking outside the studio system in the ’70s. The program, inspired by the anti-Hollywood ire of Sam Peckinpah, includes such eclectic and wide ranging works as Larisa Shepitko’s “The Ascent,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” Robert Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” and even “Saturday Night Fever.”

In a historical context, it’s ironic that “Salò” was Pasolini’s film. The film (and de Sade’s underlying work) pulls heavily from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” most notably the “Circle of S—” and “Circle of Blood” chapters that conclude the work. Leading up to those two fine portrayals of fecal feasting and slow homicidal executions (genital burning, sodomy to expiration, scalping and dismemberment) there’s a succession of bacchanal orgies where those subjugated to the whim of the ruling few, must entertain or provide services of sensual pleasuring, and should they balk or fail, the discipline is swift, cruel and even lethal.

Pasolini, a known homosexual and something of a libertine, didn’t live to see his film’s controversial ripple throughout the world (it was banned in many countries upon its initial release in 1975). He was murdered outside Rome, run over (repeatedly) by his own Alfa Romeo driven by a 17-year-old hustler who claimed Pasolini picked him up and made unwanted sexual advances (even with a confession there remains much conjecture as to the nature of events).

Given grim dithyrambs of debasement in “Salò,” the film’s being is ultimately more eerily prophetic than sadistically ironic. The great director Michelangelo Antonioni (“The Passenger” and “L’Avventura”), a contemporary countryman of Pasolini, remarked that the poet-turned-filmmaker, “was the victim of his own characters.”  Continue reading