I am not someone that you would expect to be working at the Community Development Department, considering that normally it would be a rare occurrence to see me out of my house let alone talking to people. I try and make this ship sail a little smoother, so I have mostly done administrative work here assembling packets and handouts for my co-worker who does most of the actual community outreach. I have also taken inventory of the items we have at our disposal. I have taken to the front lines occasionally though. I have done outreach at the City Hall Annex, The Cambridge Public Library, and I helped at the transportation fair in University Park. I have worked here for about two weeks and although the task of taking inventory sounds simple on paper in practice we have a lot of things but knowledge is power so knowing what we have to work with will allow us to better plan and know when to get more resources so even what I do effects how the field operations go. I work in a big machine and my job is to make sure we have all the bits we think we do. In the interest of keeping this short and allowing you to get on with your Tumblring I will end with this change takes time and patience is key so if you see a problem say something knowing than a few years down the line your wish may come true
By Sara Feijo
Steve Demos recently walked the hallways of the MBTA Alewife Station, pinpointing the pros and cons of public transit for seniors in Cambridge.
His snow-white hair was pulled back, and he sported a neon yellow and black backpack with a stylish green cane as he recalled the frustration that can sometimes come with riding the bus.
"There are bus drivers that see you coming and pull away and bus drivers that see you coming and very generously stop and wait for you to arrive," Demos said. "I’m so happy when somebody sees me shaking the cane and they stop, and I’m pretty pissed when the opposite occurs."
For seniors like Demos, the city’s public transit system can, at times, be difficult to navigate. The bus service, they say, can be infrequent or unreliable, many bus stops are not covered, and there are some seasonal maintenance issues, especially when snow plowers push the snow into the stops.
"The cover waiting for the bus out there (at the corner of Cambridge and Lambert streets) is a big issue," said Elaine Shrewsburry, one of the seniors who lives at the Millers River Apartments. "There’s a long bench out there, but no cover."
According to Shrewsburry, seniors have to endure rain, snow and cold temperatures while waiting for the bus during the winter months, and many struggle to cross the curb on the corner of Gore and Lambert streets.
"The curb on the corner of Gore Street and Lambert Street is a mess," she said. "They have to put the rubber thing in there so that people in wheelchairs can cross."
In an effort to assess seniors’ experiences with public transit, the city is currently in the middle of conducting a two-year transit strategic process.
"We have had some really wonderful conversations with folks about some of the barriers and challenges to access the transit in Cambridge," said Jennifer Lawrence, sustainability planner for the Cambridge Community Development Department.
"The city is hosting a transit strategic planning process to look at all types of access issues, barriers to getting to transit, to funding transit, the kind of infrastructure that we have around buses and trains, and everything that has to do with public transportation in Cambridge," she added.
Lawrence and staff working on the healthy aging and public transit project hosted four meetings with seniors and 11 walking tours around Cambridge to get the inside scoop on the transportation barriers, she said.
The goal is to identify barriers and obstacles to using public transit in Cambridge, said Conor Semler, the consultant for the healthy aging and public transit project.
"In the end we are going to generate a list of all of the obstacles that we heard and identify the top priorities to go out and do a project," Semler said.
According to Willa Crolius, director of the user-expert laboratory and coordinator of public programs at the Institute for Human Centered Design, seniors raised concerns during the walking tours about the signs at bus stops, which face the cars instead of pedestrians, being unable to find staff at MBTA stations, and having a hard time understanding intercom announcements while riding the T.
"A big issue that came up over and over again was people not being able to find (T) staff to ask questions, which helps them feel safer to have people to talk to," Crolius said, adding that seniors were confused about the difference between Charlie cards and Charlie tickets and that many didn’t know about priority sitting in the subway system.
Staff working on the project will present a report to the Transit Advisory Committee in the fall, and the board will address the top priority using a grant from Cambridge in Motion, a community transformation grant that aims at promoting healthy eating and physical activity, Lawrence said.
"We will be implementing one of your recommendations this fall, and then the short-term, medium-term and long-term goals will be put into this plan," Lawrence told a group of seniors at the Millers River Apartments on June 25. "The short-term are things that we can do as a city. The medium are the things that we would probably still do as a city, but will take a little bit longer, and the long-term is the stuff that we will push the state and the T to do."
Willa Crolius, left, director of the user-expert laboratory and coordinator of public programs at the Institute for Human Centered Design, and Fernanda Jordani, right, also with IHCD, take a public transit walking tour with former Cambridge resident Steve Demos, now of Maine, at the Alewife MBTA station. Wicked Local Staff Photo / Brett Crawford