The mayor, City Council and city manager all take great pride in the development boom that is going on in our downtown – and they should. We are still in the hunt to land the Triple-A Red Sox affiliate and Worcester Regional Airport is adding flights.
But, while we applaud these initiatives, it is important that city officials focus on the day-to-day operation of our city departments – on routine services, both big and small, that we receive. Many departments do a good job, but all of them can do better.
As the City Council begins a new term, here are a few of my ideas and the ideas of others worth considering.
Change the way we repair city streets
Our streets are a mess – and part of the problem is the way we repair and patch them when a street is opened. Drive around our city and you will see a series of small, medium and large patches in Rorschach inkblot shapes that end up causing the street to crumble.
A number of years ago, I proposed that the city require any patch be paved to the curb. That eliminates one of the patch seams. More importantly, I also proposed that longer repairs, especially those made by utilities like the gas or cable company, be paved from the centerline of the road to the curb. City officials refused.
Nevertheless, this is a great idea. I happened to be on vacation on the Cape last summer when an entire neighborhood had its streets ripped up by the gas company. After they dug their tiny trenches, instead of long, thin, endless patches, the contractor paved from the center line to the curb. It worked magnificently – and the neighbors got a half new street.
Initiate the process for police to wear body cameras
To a large extent, the members of the Worcester Police Department do exceptional work. Even in such a difficult and dangerous job, most officers treat the public professionally and with respect. But that does not negate the need for body cameras. Those cameras protect police as much as they do the public. They also provide vital information to assist in investigations of criminal acts.
To initiate the wearing of body cameras, city officials will need to work with rank-and-file officers and their unions. They should start now and not wait for a tragedy to make that call.
Prohibit the dispensing of plastic bags
A number of other communities, most recently Boston, have bans which force stores into using paper bags or no bags. The idea is to get the plastic bags out of the waste stream and, more importantly, keep them from flying around our neighborhoods.
Back in 2010, Councilor Konnie Lukes proposed a citywide ban on plastic bags. Her proposal got stuck in a City Council subcommittee. She proposed it again in 2017.
Currently, her proposal is being studied by the city administration and is once again languishing in a subcommittee. The city should accelerate its work and get this to the floor of the City Council for a final vote as soon as possible.
Stop recycling from blowing throughout our neighborhoods (1)
An owner of a property on Vernon Hill noted a “meteorological phenomenon that occurs every Wednesday” in his neighborhood when strong winds whip down the street toppling recycling bins and spreading debris everywhere. For me, it’s every Monday, when my neighbor’s mail and milk containers get blown into my yard.
City councilors have started to talk about changing recycling containers. They have several options. Councilors have been sitting on a report from the DPW and city manager for months waiting for the election to pass – they did not want to offend voters so close to an election.
Well, now the election has come and gone and Worcester is covered in trash. We need to improve what has been an excellent recycling program by providing containers that keep recyclables from visiting our neighbors.
It is time to get this done!
Stop recycling from blowing throughout our neighborhoods (2)
One of the causes of recycling spread throughout the neighborhoods of our city comes from people who put their recycling out a day or two early. These recycling containers are prone to be dumped by animals, picked over by birds or tossed around by high winds.
The city needs to aggressively ticket those who repeatedly put out recycling containers early and initiate an educational program to curb this problem.
Help taxpayers maintain private streets
Taxpayers who live on a “private” street do not get a discount on their taxes. But they sure do get forgotten when it comes to certain city services. Many private streets are unpaved and have languished for years on a list of streets that residents hope will someday be paved.
Until that happens, the city should do two things. First, it should provide those taxpayers with materials, upon request, that they can use to fill in the holes on the unpaved private streets. Second, the city should collect bagged leaves in the fall when they perform routine leaf collection.
These Worcester taxpayers deserve help.
Don’t start picking up the leaves until they fall
As my 2-year-old grandson would say: “Ah-come-on!” Starting fall leaf collection before the leaves even start to fall from the trees is ridiculous.
This year, the city started collecting leaves early on Nov. 6 before they started to fall and completed their work on Tuesday, Dec. 5. Staff worked six days a week.
I understand that we never know when the leaves will start and complete falling, and it is a big city. And we certainly don’t want to wait too long and have piles of leaves in the street when the snow falls. But we can adjust our schedule based on existing conditions; budget for more overtime, including an expanded seven-days-a-week schedule; assign more staff to the job; and even hire outside equipment to do a better job.
Enforce no parking on city sidewalks
Especially troublesome in three-decker, congested neighborhoods, resident and guest parking on sidewalks is a serious safety concern. With the elderly and children forced to walk in the streets, these illegally parked vehicles are a menace. The city needs to notify residents, warn them and then initiate an aggressive ticketing program to keep sidewalks clear.
Provide relief for areas that routinely flood after a rain
In certain areas, citizens are forced to suffer street flooding on a regular basis. In some of those areas the flooding reaches their home basements. The city should do more to reduce this problem.
The long-term solution to these problems is often an extremely costly redesign and replacement of existing drain pipes. In the short term, the city should regularly and routinely clean and inspect catch basins in areas known to be likely to flood. Rather than wait for panicked residents to call after the street has flooded, as a preventative measure, DPW workers should be scheduled to visit these problem areas monthly.
More police bicycle patrols
I have always found that police officers on bicycles can be a very effective community policing tool. The mobile officers can go places cars cannot, cover far more ground than officers on foot and interact with citizens in their area in a way that officers in cars cannot.
Unfortunately, last summer the WPD had no officers on patrol on bicycles. In the fall, when youngsters and teenagers started swerving in and out of traffic in large numbers, officers on bikes were deployed as a countermeasure.
This summer, the WPD should deploy these mobile officers in targeted neighborhoods like Main South and downtown. With all of the new downtown apartments to be occupied, having a mobile police presence makes sense.
Make Worcester clean again
Year by year, Worcester is getting dirtier. The city should step up its existing program to help improve conditions. First, the city should add an additional street sweeping to the current fall and spring cleanups. This past year, the city added a third sweeping but it did not post the streets and notify residents that they had to move their vehicles. The city should make the third sweeping a full effort that includes posting.
In addition, the city should take the responsibility to aggressively promote and organize more neighborhood cleanups, using area residents and local college and university students to help.
Publish names of johns soliciting prostitutes
In 1994, as mayor, I proposed that the city publish the names of men arrested for soliciting prostitutes in their hometown newspapers. Interestingly enough, about half of those arrested come from outside the city. We don’t want their dirty business in Worcester. The best way to stop them is to let all of their friends and family at home know how they spend their evenings.
Recently, District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera asked the administration for a plan focused on the men seeking prostitutes. If you want to dramatically reduce the number of men coming to Worcester for this sordid business, publish the names of those who are convicted on Facebook and send a press release to their hometown newspaper. It may not solve the problem, but it will certainly send them somewhere else.
If you have an idea that would improve the operation of our city departments, let me know. I might use it in a future column.
Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor. Be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every week in the Worcester Sun. His column will appear weekly in the Sun’s print edition, on newsstands Saturdays.