High Street, a Little History

Let’s have a little chat. Let’s have a little chat about how in the world did we end up having a High Street Master Plan, and what about those wretched (for some) bike lanes.

To go back to the beginning, sort of. In January of 1995, the city of Newburyport, MA asked and then received a grant from the Massachusetts Highway Department to fix High Street. The original grant (all of this can be found on the High Street website under “Reference Documents.”) acknowledged that it would adhere to Federal and State “design requirements.”

What the “design requirements” ended up being (all of this being presented to the City of Newburyport, 3 years later, in 1998, on 52 detailed pages) was the removal of 77 trees, 3 traffic lights (one at Three Roads, one at the High School and a new one at High and State Street), and a whole lot of other things that people weren’t too crazy about.

The new stop light at High and State Street required that the street be widened and a number of feet be taken by right (I believe) from the Mobile Station at the corner of State and High, all the way down to somewhere around Fruit Street or lower. And a retaining wall to be put up, to hold up that part of the “Ridge.”

It took about a year to get people’s attention, about what was about to happen to High Street, and the residences, once they got the message, pretty much went berserk, and MassHighway finally backed down in the fall of 1999.

Long, long story, but the long and short of it, was that the residence wanted the street to be historically restored, and also wanted traffic to be slowed down without stoplights.

Years of research and public hearings later, a (beautiful, in my mind) High Street Master Plan was created in 2004. And to “calm” traffic (or make it go slower) one of the elements were the bike lanes.

And, it is my belief, that before the bike lanes went down, and there was just a yellow strip down the middle, with wide open spaces on either side, it was real easy to go down High Street at 50 miles an hour, and that was not uncommon.

It’s hard to go more than 40 miles an hour now, and often the speed is more like 30 miles an hour, which, except for around the schools, would be the speed limit.

So the bike lanes do appear to “calm” or slow down traffic. And they also do other things, like get people out of their cars to walk and bike. And it appears, at this point, that we would like a walkable and bikable community.

Mary Eaton

High Street Master Plan and Bike Lanes


I’ve always thought that The High Street Master Plan is inspirational, and quite frankly, a little bit a head of its time, with its emphasis on “green living,” walkable and bikable community, much less restoring High Street to its rightful glory.

But then again, a great many people disagreed with me about those bike lanes (yes, this is a vast understatement).

Full disclosure: Ever since February 1999, I’ve been working towards a High Street Master Plan, and was beyond joyous when the Newburyport Planning Office presented the High Street Master Plan in 2004 to an enthusiastic crowd. And befuddled beyond belief by the convoluted politics that followed, leaving us in “bike lane limbo.”

Do I want this inspirational plan to go forward? Yup, you bet I do. And am I extremely grateful that the Newburyport City Council has put this way up on their “to do” priority list? Yup, you bet I am.


Mary Eaton

Inspirational Change

My father (see previous post) was a realist. He knew change could be inspirational, and although daily, informal encounters could change people’s lives (and his did), he also believed that inspirational change could cost money. Often lots and lots of money.

My dad was a Roosevelt Democrat, and felt quite strongly that for people who had money, paying taxes was a patriotic act. And if people didn’t want to pay taxes, that provisions should be made to either compliment what the government could do, or create an entity that undertook a project that the government should, but refused to do.

And as a tax lawyer (way before being a “lawyer” became not such a good attribute, when lawyers, in general, believed in service, not how much money can I make) he persuaded his clients to do things like fund research for mental illness, at a time when no one talked about mental illness, or look for a cure for cancer, and fund stem cell research, when, for example, the present administration had “reservations” about such things.

And face it, one of the reasons Newburyport’s downtown is so inspirational, is that it was funded by lots and lots of federal dollars.

My father also understood the stresses of poverty. He fought for a compassionate solution to homelessness in New York City, and believed that the criminal justice system in New York City had the potential to be humane. And he raised the money (a talent my father had, and a gene his daughter did not receive) to attempt to make these goals attainable.

To make the educational system for our children “inspirational,” it would not only take the guardian angles that inhabit it, but also lots and lots of money to restore all the cuts that have been made over so many years. My father would have understood this. But he also would have believed that it would not be right to raise money on the backs of the struggling poor and middle class.

The same would go for such things as creating a senior center, and for funding the Council on Aging to an “inspirational” level.

And what to do at budget time with dealing and coping with the myriad of valuable projects and issues, all of which need to be funded, but where funds are lacking, I have no idea.

I do know, that to make many of them “inspirational,” lots and lots of money, would go a long, long way. I also believe that to raise taxes in Newburyport, MA that would put the less fortunate and middle class in crisis, would be a huge mistake.

Mary Eaton

Insight, Wisdom and Inspiration

I miss my Dad.

One of the things that my Dad and I would always do, is talk about politics, national and local. And I want to ask him so many things.

One of my Dad’s great gifts, and I’ve heard this over and over from so many people who knew him, was his ability to listen to an issue or problem, business or personal, and in one or two sentences get to the kernel of the what would be at stake, but always with an optimistic twist.

I remember when I talked to my Dad about the override for our schools, and his wonderful remark, that folks were afraid that if an override passed, that they would “lose their town.” Bingo. It was always a “bingo.” It might not be a “bingo” I might want to hear, but it was a “bingo,” nevertheless.

I want to ask him about Mr. Karp’s visit. He would have some wise insight that eludes me. I want to ask him about Newburyport’s critical need for funding, which is at odds with people’s often desperate personal financial struggles. He would have ideas. Lots and lots of ideas. And very wise ideas at that.

He always taught me that change was an organic part of life. And one of his many gifts, was not only to make change acceptable, but almost always to make change inspiring.

Change is and has and will happen to Newburyport, MA. And how do we as citizens and residents of this small New England city, make that change, not just acceptable, but how do we make change an inspiration?

Mary Eaton

Stephen Karp’s Visit to Newburyport, MA

I wasn’t at Mr. Karp’s visit to Newburyport, MA (see previous post), and having read all the newspaper articles, blogs and having talked to any number for folks, and having put all of that in a stew in my brain, the following “stuff” has emerged.

It does appear that Mr. Karp did good. As Public Relations go, in fact, of all the many, many ways he could have conducted the evening, it was “brilliant.”

To meet folks in person before hand, I gotta tell you, A+. (Does this blogger feel a little bit arrogant giving a developer of Mr. Karp stature, grades that one receives in High School? Yup, she does.) Being the only one to address the audience, relaxed, joking, in shirt sleeves and taking questions–as my son would say, “classic.” Definitely good go’n Mr. Karp.

Stressing public input and public process, on the record no less, well, this blogger likes this big time.

However, there were a few, “wait a moment” moments for moi.

The stress on the city coming up with a solution to the parking issue.

My first thought was, well, we’ve been fighting over this since the automobile first made its appearance, good luck with that one. I guess nothing is ever going to get built on Waterfront West or East. As my mother would say “tant pis,” or French for “too bad.”

And then I thought, hmm, the best proposed location for a parking garage by far, in my opinion, had been on the Lomardi Oil site, on Merrimac Street, behind the Newburyport police station. The Newburyport Planning Office had come up with a pretty awesome design (it failed in the Newburyport City Council at the time by one vote–in hindsight, it appears to be an “oh dear”).

And Mr. Karp has mentioned that he would not be opposed to a public, private enterprise. So 2 great locations on Mr. Karp’s property. Around the Fitness Factory, but even better, a well designed garage right off of Route 1 where the land going down to Michael’s Harborside is, and where I gather the hotel-condominium is being proposed. I think that the citizens of Newburyport, MA might go for a parking garage on that site. I have a feeling however, that that might not give the bang for the buck that Mr. Karp could be looking for.

There was a “ding, ding, ding, ding” going off in my head, hearing that when the question was asked, who on the development team would be the contact person for the Newburyport public on this project, and that at that time, no one had been appointed.

And on the subject of affordable housing, it sounds as if Mr. Karp drew a blank, and our own Nancy Colbert (Newburyport’ Planning Director), came to his rescue.

On his blog, Newburyport According to X, Mr. Npbt X had some interesting observations about Mr. Karp’s audience. What can I say, I wasn’t there. An interesting read.

And it appears that the audience broke down into three separate groups: the “skeptical group,” the “cautiously optimistic group,” and the “can I KYA, leechy group.” All of which, I would imagine, in Mr. Karp’s long career, must seem all very, very familiar.

So welcome to Newburyport, Stephen Karp.

Mary Eaton

Service, Fixing and Helping

My Dad passed on March 3rd, 12 hours short of his 90th birthday.

My father was a remarkable man. He taught me about the gift of “service.”

He taught his daughter that service is different from “helping” or “fixing” people, situations, institutions. That in “helping” and “fixing” one often sees individuals and institutions as being weaker than oneself, and that people could feel diminished, something my father never wanted.

My father taught me that service honors life, and the wholeness and holiness of life. And that service is not about taking credit for whatever is accomplished, but that amazing things could be achieved when one does not care who takes the credit.

And this brings me to Mr. Karp, who arrives in Newburyport, MA today for his first encounter with the people of Newburyport, MA.

And my hope would be that Mr. Karp would see Newburyport, MA not as a place to be “fixed,” or a place to be “helped.” But that Mr. Karp would use his knowledge, his expertise and his wealth in a spirit of “service.” That he would honor Newburyport, MA, and see his purpose, not as putting his “mark” on our small New England city, but see his work here, as a way of enriching Newburyport’s “wholeness” and enriching the city’s “spirit.”

That he might see himself not as a “powerful” landlord, but as a servant to a place that is much greater than himself.

Mary Eaton