RIP Wapo Taco – Don’t Mourn, Organize!

Wapo Taco Roslindale
Wapo Taco Storefront (image courtesy WalkScore,com)

Sad News from Wapo Taco, a quirky, tasty, and affordable two-person taco shop that has been with us for nearly two decades. They are closing at the end of the month due to a substantial rent hike:

TO ALL OF OUR CUSTOMERS
It is with great sadness and heavy hearts, that we make this announcement.
After 18 yrs. We have decided to close THE WAPO TACO. The building we are in, was recently sold. The new Landlords have doubled our rent. In order for us to stay, we would have to pass that on our customers, with a substantial price increase. We don’t think that would be fair to all of you. We would like to thank all of our customers for all of your love and support over the past 18 yrs. We value the many friendships and memories we’ve made throughout the years…..
Our last day of business will be Saturday, June 27th….
Thank you all again it has been a wonderful ride.
Dianne and Lorenzo

This announcement comes on the heels of the closure of several other long-standing Roslindale businesses: most recently Vouros bakery, before that the Select Cafe (f/k/a Emac and Bolio’s), and the more short-lived Sugar Restaurant.

These losses to our community are always followed by hand-wringing and no small amount of antipathy directed to greedy landlords, accompanied by a legitimate fear of large-chain invasion. And there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of this, but to re-appropriate the words of Joe Hill (often mis-attributed as his last): Don’t Mourn, Organize!

Rising commercial rents and the related shifting demographics in the neighborhood will inevitably result in some unfortunate (and perhaps avoidable) casualties. But there are other factors at work here too, that we can do something about. Every single entrepreneur we’ve heard from who has considered opening a storefront in Roslindale in recent years has expressed concern about the lack of daytime foot traffic. Although Wapo Taco was open most days from 12pm to 8pm, anecdotal observation suggests the shop was slow for most of that time, and often empty.

We don’t know any details of the restaurant’s balance sheet, but it’s easy to imagine that they could have survived a substantial rent increase with a 2x increase in sales. They certainly had the production capacity for it. Lack of foot-traffic (especially daytime) was also a concern of the previous owners of the Boston Cheese Cellar, which closed in the spring but recently reopened with a new owner and extra gusto. Moreover, the 2010 Tufts University Study, Destination: Roslindale Village, A Roadmap for a Vibrant Village, also highlighted the need for increased foot traffic to improve and invigorate the neighborhood economy.

So what do we do to increase foot traffic so we can retain businesses like Wapo Taco and attract others that are badly needed (a fancy espresso shop!)? There is no single strategy for success, but all of WalkUP Roslindale‘s priorities will help get us there: increased density close to the square (perhaps the #1  need); an improved pedestrian environment (via infrastructure, design, enforcement, and cultural changes); better bike infrastructure (think Hubway and an off-road bike highway to the orange line); improved (and more affordable) transit connectivity; as well as neighborhood marketing.

It’s worth noting that there is no way we can achieve these goals through more auto-centric build-out: there is no practical place to add more free parking, and even if we could, at most it would bring a handful more people into the village while further exacerbating the already existing street gridlock at peak hours. Abolishing unlimited free parking could actually help quite a bit, but that’s a topic for a future blog entry. It will be much more effective to find ways to let people who want to live here do so affordably, and enable those who want to get to the village other than by car do so safely, thereby freeing up parking spots and easing traffic congestion for others who cannot or will not travel other than by car.

See also this discussion about Wapo Taco’s closing on Universal Hub.

Welcome to our neighborhood: A Manifesto for Inclusivity

What Todd Litman said over on Planetizen about a month ago: Welcome to our neighborhood: A Manifesto for Inclusivity.

Key concept: An “affordable” neighborhood isn’t just about housing cost as a share of your income. It’s really about housing plus transportation costs. You can afford to pay more for where you live if where you live lets you get around for less — by foot, bike, or transit.

And his response to the commenter is worth citing as well: “There are few better sustainability strategies, which help achieve economic, social and environmental goals together, than to ensure that every household can find an affordable house in an accessible, walkable neighborhood. Everybody wins!”

Soofa and the Virtue of Experiments

Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO of Soofa, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, shortly after Boston’s pilot program launched last year. Image via Soofa.
Sandra Richter, co-founder and CEO of Soofa, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, shortly after Boston’s pilot program launched last year. Image via Soofa.

The Globe reports today on the broader roll-out of the Soofa “smart” bench, including one in front of the famed Toscanini’s ice cream shop in Central Square, Cambridge. The Soofa features a solar panel and free USB charging ports. This news follows last summer’s pilot program when Soofa was deployed in select parks throughout Boston; sadly, Rozzie was not included.

Why does this matter? No one is deeply suffering from the lack of phone charging facilities. It is far from the most urgent infrastructure need in our neighborhood (or anywhere). But these sorts of projects are important because they represent and promote new and creative uses of public space. They expand our imagination about the possibilities of the commons. Just as we are re-thinking most aspects of our home and work spaces in light of new technology and a rapidly-transforming economy, we should seek out experiments–both modest and bold–for our public spaces, to discover what works and what doesn’t. Roslindale is the ideal neighborhood to try out these ideas because of our compact layout and diverse demographics. Let’s make sure we are not left out of these new urban visions in the future.

Also worth checking out: results and lessons learned from the Soofa experiment via the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.

Promising Job Openings

Earlier this year, the City of Boston posted two job openings that should be of particular interest to WalkUP believers. Most notably, a Director of Active Transportation who will “think holistically about how our streets are used by people who walk, bike, and take transit.” The application period may (?) be closed, and the public listing is now difficult (perhaps impossible) to find, so we wanted to share an archive copy here to provide perspective into a very promising new direction for the city. It’s unlikely that we would have seen a city job posting requiring “an individual who understands the pressing need for action” on pedestrian and bike issues several years ago. Hopefully this description is (or was) sufficiently inspiring to attract top talent to apply locally and perhaps from everywhere in the world. If anyone knows more about the status of this opening (or the “Chief of Streets” discussed further below), please leave a comment!

Brief Job Description (essential functions of the job):

The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) is seeking an experienced, hands-on, impactful and highly motivated Active Transportation Director who wants to be a part of transforming how people experience and move about the city of Boston.

The selected candidate will be an individual who understands the pressing need for action and have the patience and persistence required to catalyze change in an environment where needs, resources and opportunities vary enormously. The selected candidate will have the ability to propose new ideas and to advance them in collaboration with multiple, diverse constituencies and public agencies. Ideal candidate must have an outstanding track record of proven results championing walking and bicycling.

The City of Boston is a leader in implementing transportation projects that create an inviting and safe public realm, bolster economic activity in the neighborhoods, improve equitable access to services, encourage a healthy lifestyle and advance greenhouse gas reduction goals. Particularly, Boston has embraced cutting edge innovation to encourage its residents to walk, bicycle, run and ride transit with programs that benefit users of all ages and abilities.

The Active Transportation Director will report and work directly with BTD’s Commissioner and lead matrix-based teams to plan and deliver initiatives. The Director will be responsible for taking charge of the existing programs and staff of Boston Bikes and work in parallel with the transportation planners in the department to establish new projects that encourage walking and running. The Director will work across departments to continue building strong relationships that support walking and bicycling goals in the City of Boston. The new projects will complement and support ongoing initiatives being undertaken by the Policy and Planning division such as its citywide plan Go Boston 2030, Vision Zero and Green Links.

Responsibilities and activities:

Program Wide

  • Formalize the day-to-day use of Boston’s national award winning Complete Streets Guidelines by establishing an inter-agency design review process and performance measures benchmarks.
    Develop a Public Realm Plan that consolidates ongoing public space design initiatives and harnesses the inclusion of walking, bike- and car-share, social media and real-time information.
  • Advocate for non-motorized transportation values and facilities in all city transportation related projects.
  • Mobilize community support for walking and bicycling at the neighborhood level and maintain positive relationships with Boston area advocacy groups. This includes the ability to lead campaigns through a variety of digital and physical formats to educate and drive positive change.
  • Develop fund raising goals including identifying and applying for new grants and managing complex budget related reporting requirements for city and grant funding.
  • Maintaining accurate and complete financial records in compliance with City of Boston and Department of Transportation practices.
  • Create protocols for the systematic collection, storage and analysis of data relative to walking and bicycling.

Bicycling

  • Oversee all existing bicycle related programs in Boston Bikes.
  • Lead key initiatives including the Hubway bike share, bike lane design and installation, bike parking.
  • Manage and support nation-leading community biking initiatives focused on education, equity and engagement
  • Oversee annual bike events including the 5,000 person Hub On Wheels ride and Mayor’s Cup Professional race.
  • Refine and implement the Boston Bike Network Plan including delivering on 2015, 2016 and 2017 goals.
  • Promote and coordinate safety and enforcement programs and the Bike Friendly Businesses initiative.
  • Manage all existing projects with support by consulting teams, contractors and city agencies.
  • Effectively recruit, hire, manage and motivate 3 full-time staff, 10 part-time staff, 5-10 interns per year, and dozens of volunteers.
  • Deliver aggressive annual fundraising goals to grow and maintain bike share, community biking and new initiatives.

Walking and Running

  • Initiate new projects to complement existing initiatives.
  • Develop a Neighborhood Safe Streets program to create a safe environment on residential streets.
  • Develop and lead Neighborhood Walks that encourage walking and running and serve as walk-audits of public sidewalks and public spaces.
  • Work with staff from the Engineering Division to learn how signals are timed for pedestrians and collaborate to institute best-practices.
  • Work with the Boston Main Streets to develop programs that highlight the links between walking and vibrant small businesses.
  • Establish programs in coordination with the Commission on the Affairs of the Elderly and the Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
  • Establish programs with Boston Public Schools to promote safe walking and cycling routes to schools, libraries, and community centers.
  • Performs related work as required.

Minimum Entrance Qualifications:

  • At least four (4) years of experience managing complex and detail-oriented urban programs.
  • A Master’s Degree in city planning, urban design, transportation, engineering, or management from a recognized institution. Candidates with a Bachelor’s Degree may be considered if they have outstanding and proven experience in the field.
  • Demonstrated experience in Adobe Creative Suite or similar graphics program, website development and maintenance, and creative use of presentation software highly preferred.
  • Knowledge of how to manage, implement, and evaluate a diverse set of programs with an eye towards data collection and continued improvement.
  • A deep understanding of transportation issues in urban environments, particularly those related to pedestrians and cyclists.
  • A familiarly with city or local government operations and the ability to build relationships across departments and levels of government.
  • Working knowledge of current communication tools and best practices
  • A self-starter, who can be independent, but is able to be part of a team or lead a team depending upon the situation.
  • Creative and not afraid to push the envelope in moving city goals forward
  • Ability and willingness to attend weekend events and evening meetings
  • Demonstrated ability to fundraise from a wide variety of sources, including foundations, grants, corporations, and individuals highly preferred.
  • Ability to create and implement a strategic plan.
  • Ability to manage, motivate, and develop talented staff and volunteers
  • Ability to exercise good judgment and focus on detail as required by the job.
  • Strong project management skills
  • Budget management skills
  • Strong public speaking skills and a comfort with being the voice of cycling and walking in the City of Boston.
  • Must be able to ride a bicycle and have stamina sufficient to participate in neighborhood walks or runs.

Boston Residency Required

Terms:

Union/Salary Plan/Grade: Nonunion/MM2-8
Hours per week: 35
Please refer to the Salary Information section on the Boston Career Center site for more information on compensation. For each Salary Plan, salaries are listed by Grade and Step.

While we’re discussing new city jobs, another recent listing, for “Chief of the Streets” is also (potentially) inspiring:

Executive/Professional (Mgmt)
Position: Chief of the Streets Reports to: Mayor
Hiring Range: $125,000-$140,000
’14 Budget: $137 Million (operating), $81 Million (capital)
Employees: 870 (approx.)
Job Description:
The streets are one of our most valuable public resources and the lifeblood of the city. Boston is in the midst of a transition from a city that served the transportation needs of the last half-century to one which can serve the future. The street network in Boston is unique, constrained, and rich in character. From being the first American City with a subway system, to the depression of the Central Artery, to becoming one of the most successful multi-city bicycle-share systems in the nation – Boston does not shy away from complicated and transformative projects. Now, the City is again poised to be an innovator and leader in re-imagining how streets are used by the public for the next century.
Under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the City of Boston seeks a visionary leader with a strong concern for and awareness of urban issues, who, as Chief of the Streets (COTS), will build the infrastructure, team, and tools that deliver against a vision for better city services and enhanced mobility opportunities.
There are three responsibilities consistent across all positions in the Walsh Administration:

  • Learning. Mayor Walsh is building a team of people who are not only comfortable with new ideas, but also have the curiosity to seek them and the courage to try them. For the COTS, this will mean exploring ways to reach the Citys stated mode-shift goals, identifying solutions to improve service delivery, and seeking out best-practice solutions from around the world.
  • Leveraging. Mayor Walsh is creating one Boston, where all of our institutions, departments and residents are collaborating to build the best city. For the COTS, this will mean identifying ways to consolidate and improve operations, forging new partnerships with private organizations and area research universities, and investing in programs and infrastructure that serve as the platform for Bostonians high-quality of life.
  • Leading. Mayor Walsh is seeking leaders who will steer a change agenda. For the COTS, this will mean a person with a passion for implementing transformative projects to make our streets safer and more sustainable, working collaboratively with colleagues across departments, the region and neighboring cities on an action oriented agenda, and, bringing Boston to new prominence as a world-class leader for mobility, infrastructure, and integrated city services.

Boston has long been considered an innovator and leader in transportation and public works projects. While the street network is complicated, the role the streets play are not. Simply put, the streets permit the City to function – from commutes to work and school, to the recycling trucks humming through the neighborhoods, and the web of utilities swimming underneath them – they are the lifeblood of a City with almost 400 years of history. But while Boston been providing transportation and public works projects to residents for almost four centuries, there are still tremendous opportunities to make improvements and to ready Boston for the next century of growth and change.
Boston is unique in its resources, it’s home to the world’s leading academic institutions, to world-class healthcare and finance industries, and to a growing creative economy. Boston also has an especially tech-savvy population; one in every three residents of the city is between the ages of 20-34. Over half of Boston residents select a mode other than a car as they head to work and school each day. Boston is also a dense city, encompassing 50 square miles and 850 miles of streets. The network of roadways, sidewalks, and public space, is about to undergo a major public process through the GoBoston2030 project – a City-led transportation vision plan kicking off in early January 2015.
The City of Boston COTS will be expected to lead an ambitious agenda including:
Vision

  • To set a progressive vision for improving our streets in a way that meets the needs of a changing population and delivers on City goals including:
    • leading Boston’s Transportation Visioning Process (GoBoston2030);
    • designing a plan to eliminate traffic-related fatalities in Boston over the next decade;
    • sparking ideas for non-traditional uses that create a vibrant, green, creative, and active streetscape
    • advancing a “lighter, quicker, and cheaper” approach as a pathway for improvements that benefit all roadway users.

Leadership

  • Lead the implementation of Complete Streets policies, which strive to make our streets green, multi-modal, and smart, through increased collaboration and transparency of the Public Improvements Commission
  • Forge new public private partnerships and more formalized relationships with existing Transportation Management Associations and local business groups.
  • Strengthen ties with surrounding communities and relative state agencies to foster a regional approach to public infrastructure and transportation solutions
  • Deliver top-quality public services with focus on data-driven results in the maintenance of public infrastructure, waste reduction, and improved permitting processes

Management

  • Provide continuity to agency operations across the Public Works and Transportation Departments to drive effectiveness in serving constituents;
  • Align department resources to provide a clear and transparent review process for large-scale capital projects and private development;
  • Management of department Directors, who oversee daily operations, programs, and planning activities.

Chief of Streets, Transportation, & Sanitation Cabinet:

This cabinet position oversees the Public Works and Transportation Departments, as well as the Office of the Parking Clerk and Boston Bikes. The Cabinet Chief is also the link to the Boston Water and Sewer Commission – which is overseen by a separate Executive Director and a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Mayor.
Transportation Department: Works to promote public safety and enhance the quality of life for residents through the management of the Citys transportation network. This includes long-range visioning and planning, engineering, education, parking enforcement, and policy setting.
Public Works Department: Provides core basic services essential to neighborhood quality of life, including snow/ice control, trash and recycling collection, street sweeping, street lighting, utility coordination, and road resurfacing and reconstruction projects.
Preferred Candidate Qualifications:
The ideal candidate:

  • Is a seasoned manager with strong transportation or public works planning, policy and/or operations experience.
  • Has a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning, Public Policy, Public Administration, Engineering or a closely related field, and the knowledge typically gained through a Master’s program or professional degree program in a relevant field.
  • At least five to seven years of management experience in a complex urban environment is preferred.
  • Significant work experience involving transportation policy, budget management, traffic, and urban planning is an essential prerequisite
  • The successful applicant will possess a combination of technical skills, organization management skills, and leadership skills
  • Will be able to demonstrate success in moving forward a vision through to complete implementation, overcoming significant challenges
  • Can work collaboratively with a team – both inside and outside of their departments
  • Experience working between tiers of government to deliver on an agenda
  • Candidates conversant in multiple languages are encouraged to apply
  • Boston residency is required.

Southwest Corridor to Roslindale and Beyond

Photo used under Creative Commons License from Rand Snyder
Southwest Corridor Park (photo republished under Creative Commons License from Rand Snyder)

The Parkland Management Advisory Committee, created in the 1970s to advise on the Southwest Corridor Park planning process, recently conducted a survey of corridor users. Lots of interesting results, including several relating to the sometimes challenging interactions between pedestrians and bicyclists, but perhaps most relevant here:

57% of survey respondents live or work in Jamaica Plain, 23% in the Back Bay or South End, 16% in Roxbury, 5% in the Fenway neighborhood and 14% in other neighborhoods or cities. Among the other neighborhoods and cities, Roslindale was the most frequently mentioned.

Emphasis added (note that Roslindale wasn’t offered as a “checklist” option).

Once the Casey Overpass project is complete, entering the Southwest Corridor at Forest Hills should be a pleasant experience. The path is already a heavily-used nonmotorized highway from Southwest Boston to downtown; it is possible, for example, to take bike paths and wide bike lanes all the way from the Southwest Corridor to the water’s edge in the Seaport via the Melnea Cass bike path, Silver Line shared bike lane on Washington Street, and the Fort Port channel path across from the central USPS facility. Lots remains to be done to improve this thoroughfare (perhaps a topic for a future blog entry) but it’s a decent start.

But thousands of users who start out beyond Forest Hills have few pleasant options to reach the start of the corridor. It’s possible to walk or bike through the Arboretum, but that route is around 2x-3x longer than the straight shot from Rozzie Village to Forest Hills. Let’s envision a dedicated straight-shot path (e.g. through the arboretum, or along one of the rail rights-of-way), Hubway stations at both ends, and the phenomenal community, health, social, traffic, and mobility benefits that would come to both JP and Roslindale from that connection. Much crazier ideas have been implemented–we can and will make this happen.

Rozzie Bike Corral Meeting June 10

In honor of Roslindale hero Steve Gag, Roslindale Village Main Streets supporters raised several thousands dollars to kick off a campaign to install a bike corral in Rozzie Square. The proposal is to replace one car parking space with ten bike spaces (note the ratio!). This investment in infrastructure is important both for the direct utility it brings and for the message it sends–better bike and ped infrastructure changes mindsets, bringing people out on foot and bike, resulting in a virtuous self-reinforcing circle.

The City of Boston is hosting a public meeting on June 10, 6pm-7pm, at the Roslindale Community Center, to present the city’s plan. If you share the WalkUP vision, come to learn more about the project and support this step in the right direction. 

 

Housing Needed!

Today’s Globe features a front-page article Lack of homes on market has prices rising, sales slipping, highlighting the housing shortage in Boston and environs:

The number of single-family houses for sale in Massachusetts plunged 20 percent in April from a year earlier, the 39th consecutive month that inventories have declined from the previous year. That’s according to data released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. …

In some high-demand places, inventories plunged 30 percent or more from a year earlier. In Boston, the number of single-family homes for sale fell 31 percent, in Brookline 35 percent, and in Somerville 40 percent. In Cambridge, the number of condos on the market dove 56 percent, according to the real estate association.

No surprise here. The Boston-area economy is growing much faster than the housing supply, and the crunch is exacerbated by a multi-generational shift toward living in cities and in particular car-less (or less-car) based lifestyles.

To sustain the region’s economic growth, avoid crippling commute times, and improve the quality of life in the city, we need to build a lot more housing. And the only feasible way to achieve that is with increased density (recall that Boston’s population is still far below what it was sixty years ago).

As one of Boston’s smaller neighborhoods, Roslindale can only play a small part in solving this macro problem. But we can be part of the solution–there are surface parking lots near the village that could be homes for people, not just cars. And much of Rozzie Square and areas immediately adjacent the T is filled with very low-rise buildings (often just one story!). With proper transit-oriented/pedestrian-and-bike-friendly development, the addition of a few hundred residents will enhance the vitality of the neighborhood and the shopping district. Let’s make it happen.

 

What will Roslindale look like in 2030? Who will be living, working, and playing here? How will they come and go, and how will they get around once they’re here?

These are questions that two massive city-wide planning efforts are trying to answer. On the first couple of questions, Imagine Boston is the first comprehenisve master plan the city has even attempted in the last 50 years. Go Boston 2030 is the city’s new transportation planning process dealing with the second set of questions.

We are standing at a crossroads as a city. What direction will we take in welcoming our new neighbors, business owners and employees, and visitors? How will these new planning efforts be steered in Roslindale? Will we make our community more walkable and bikeable and livable in the process? In the next 18 months or so, the course to 2030 will be largely set. Now is the time to get involved. What ideas do we want to put on the table? This conversation is critical to our future, and we’re reminded by the last post about why that really is.

Near Fatal Hit-and-Run Near Rozzie

Universal Hub reports on a potentially deadly hit-and-run against a pedestrian on Washington Street not far from Rozzie Square late Thursday night. While it’s important that BPD bring the perpetrator to justice, we should also take this opportunity to fix the pedestrian environment. Washington Street brings a large volume of pass-through traffic through the village, and features large stretches of road without crosswalks; crosswalks with poor visibility; gridlocked traffic at busy times; and dangerously high-speed traffic (including drag racing) at others. There’s a lot more to say on this topic, but for now let’s just start a conversation about a new vision for the area stretching from Turtle Pond all the way up to the Forest Hills, while we also hope the victim makes a full recovery.

(Update 6/9/15: the driver has since been identified based on a tip and summonsed for arraignment, specifically Eddie Cartagena, 25, of Boston.)