Covid-2019 epidemic trends: U.S. and Massachusetts

The following U.S. map, prepared by John Hopkins University researchers Holm and Forster, also distributed by Associated Press, shows prevalence of death from Covid-2019 by county, as reported to state and federal public health agencies through April 16, 2020.

U.S. county death rates from Covid-2019, through April 16, 2020

Covid-2019UsCountyPrevalence20200416

Source: Holm and Forster, John Hopkins University

The New York Times publishes its own estimates of cases and deaths attributed to Covid-2019 by states. The following table shows the ten most severely affected states, ranked by cases of illness per thousand state residents, as estimated for the about the same date as the foregoing U.S. map reflected.

Covid-2019 illnesses and deaths by states, April 17, 2020

State Illness count per 1,000 residents Death count per 1,000 residents
New York 229,642 11.8 12,822 0.66
New Jersey 78,467 8.8 4,840 0.43
Massachusetts 34,402 5.0 1,404 0.20
Louisiana 23,118 5.0 1,213 0.26
Michigan 29,952 3.0 2,226 0.22
Pennsylvania 30,121 2.4 1,027 0.08
Illinois 27,575 2.2 1,142 0.09
Florida 24,745 1.2 726 0.03
California 29,398 0.7 1,050 0.03
Texas 18,191 0.6 461 0.02

Source: New York Times, April 17, 2020

As the map shows and the table reflects, Massachusetts has developed one of the worst Covid-2019 epidemics of any state, just short of New Jersey and New York. Gov. Baker has taken criticism for issuing orders as public advisories rather than in forms enforceable by State Police. However, data for the spread of the state’s epidemic tend to show that Baker’s approach is working to some degree, although the state remains at high rates of cases and deaths, as reported daily.

Covid-2019 trends, Massachusetts, through April 16, 2020

MassachusettsCovid-2019EpidemicData20200417

Source: analysis of Massachusetts daily Covid-2019 data

The blue trend curve shows the slope of a semilograrithmic plot of cumulative cases versus epidemic days. The steep initial portion shows a rapidly growing epidemic, in which doubling time of the case load is shrinking. Day one is chosen to be the first day with a cumulative total of 20 or more reported deaths: March 26, 2020. Two days earlier, Gov. Baker issued his first restrictive order: that “non-essential” businesses close. On Day 7, Baker issued a second restrictive order, expanding the list of business that should close. On Day 14, Baker issued a “grocery guidance,” describing how retail stores that continue to operate should install and conduct protective measures. The blue trend above is using five days spanning each point to calculate the slope of the logarithm of case counts, so it stops two days short. The red trend above shows that the cumulative mortality has been climbing, as victims of the disease die: from about one percent initially to near four percent.

Each advisory order from Gov. Baker was followed in five to seven days by a sustained reduction in the epidemic’s spread, shown by a drop in the slope of a plot of the logarithm of cumulative case count. While Massachusetts has made progress, a goal of ending the state’s epidemic is far from attainment. Over the past week, ending April 17, the state has been reporting averages of about 1,900 new Covid-2019 cases and 115 deaths from Covid-2019 per day. Many governors of states with severe epidemics are taking cautious approaches to relaxing restrictions. California has been notably cautious. Gov. Newsom issued a declaration of emergency March 4, 2020, well before Gov. Baker’s declaration of emergency on March 10. Collaborating with governors of Washington and Oregon, Gov. Newsom said they would use “science to guide our decision-making and not political pressure”–rejecting hasty actions being promoted by the Trump administration.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 18, 2020


Geoff Mulvihill, Lacking U.S. coordination, states team up on when to reopen, Associated Press, April 18, 2020

Coronavirus in the U.S.: latest map and case count, New York Times, April 17, 2020 (as found April 18, 2020)

Zeke Miller, Alan Suderman and Kevin Freking, Trump proposes plan to reopen economy, Associated Press, April 16, 2020 (includes U.S. map of Covid-2019 prevalence by county from Holm and Forster at John Hopkins University)

COVID-19 cases, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, for April 16, 2020

Patricia Wen, Massachusetts confirmed coronavirus cases by city and town, Boston Globe, April 15, 2020

Mark Arsenault, Massachusetts experts push back on university’s bleaker Covid-2019 forecast, Boston Globe, April 15, 2020

Liz Kreutz and Alix Martichoux, Newsom unveils plan to ease California stay-at-home restrictions amid coronavirus pandemic, ABC News, April 14, 2020

Press releases related to COVID-19, Massachusetts Office of the Governor, March and April, 2020

Declaration of a state of emergency to respond to COVID-19, Massachusetts Office of the Governor, March 10, 2020

Governor Newsom declares state of emergency to help state prepare for broader spread of COVID-19, California Office of the Governor, March 4, 2020

Hong Kong flu of 1968: patterns of an epidemic

The Hong Kong flu of 1968 and later years was the last major virus epidemic in the United States before the ongoing Wuhan virus epidemic, caused by the Covid-2019 virus first described in Wuhan, Hubei, China during late 2019, also known as SARS-CoV-2. The Hong Kong flu caused at least 100,000 fatal illnesses in the United States, among more than one million worldwide.

There are major problems characterizing an epidemic caused by a new virus, even using technology of molecular biology that had not yet been invented when the Hong Kong flu of 1968 struck.
• How reliably do laboratory tests identify and classify infections?
• How large a fraction of the population has been tested for infection?
• What fraction of infections have been missed or misclassified?
How often or seldom do infected people transmit infection?
• How often is death resulting from infection missed or misclassified?
• How long do virus deposits remain infectious in typical environments?
• How much viral dose is needed to cause an infection?
How much individual variation occurs in resistance to infection?
• Can infection and contagion occur without clinical symptoms?
• How much individual variation appears in severity of infection?
• Are infections or severe illness resulting from them seasonal?
• How reliable are antibodies as indicators of prior infections?
• Do infection and recovery confer immunity, or can disease reoccur?

Accurate answers to such questions often take years of research. Without answers, social measures to control an epidemic may misfire: costly but ineffective steps taken or simple and effective steps missed. Medical measures often take years of research as well. Vaccines against virus diseases can be highly effective, but they are usually difficult to develop. The first successful, strategically developed vaccine–against yellow fever–took more than 35 years after the classificatiobn of yellow fever as a viral disease in 1901. About 35 years after identification of HIV as the virus causing AIDS in 1985, there is still no safe and effective vaccine licensed by the U.S. government.

Contemporary news: Although the Hong Kong flu turned out to be about as deadly in the United States as the Wuhan virus is often predicted to become, in 1968 the Hong Kong flu did not draw a comparable public response. Writing in the New York Times, Jane E. Brody–then and now a featured writer on personal health–reported in 1968 that “Hong Kong flu gained a foothold…last week. To date, 28 states have reported attacks….” She did not cite case counts or express alarm. Currently Mrs. Brody, now a mother of two and a grandmother, is counseling readers about “managing coronavirus fears” although competing for today’s readers with thousands of other news writers who are stimulating fears. In 2020, she writes, “…it’s the bad news that gets the most attention….”

As Times reporter Brody noted in late 1968, U.S. labs produced about 5 million doses of a late-season vaccine for seasonal flu incorporating activity against the Hong Kong flu. Such a vaccine was possible because of more than 30 years of U.S. experience producing, testing and using flu vaccines. Around 1970, the United States typically produced about 30 million doses of flu vaccine per year, versus about 150 million doses per year recently. There is no comparable experience producing vaccines against a coronavirus, so that recent efforts toward such a vaccine start with a largely blank slate.

Following the patterns of other influenza strains, Hong Kong flu epidemics starting in 1968 and 1969 were seasonal: beginning in late fall and ending before the start of spring. The chart shows deaths in thousands per month from Hong Kong flu during its first two seasons in the United States.

Hong Kong flu deaths, U.S. 1968 and 1969 seasons

HongKongFlu1968-1969SeasonsUnitedStates

Source: Viboud et al., 2005

So far, disease caused by the Covid-2019 virus does not clearly appear seasonal, although the less than four months experience is too limited to be sure of that. In the United States, counts of cases were still rising in most places though the middle of April, 2020, when all records of the Hong Kong flu in the northern hemisphere show cases beginning to fall no later than February.

Contrasts: While the Wuhan virus epidemic seems to be following a similar pattern of surges and responses to controls worldwide, the Hong Kong flu did not. As Viboud and colleagues documented in 2005, Hong Kong flu epidemics followed different patterns in North America and in Europe and the Far East. In North America the first season was the stronger, while elsewhere the second season dominated. A factor these authors did not consider was U.S. vaccines targeting Hong Kong flu. It looks highly unlikely that vaccines targeting the Covid-2019 virus will be produced in time to arrest the first epidemics outside China, still accelerating as of mid-April, 2020. More likely, these epidemics will be controlled by social measures and by intensive testing to identify contagious carriers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2020


Marc Lipsitch, Who is immune to the Covid-2019 virus?, New York Times, April 13, 2020

Jane E. Brody, Managing coronavirus fears, New York Times,April 13, 2020

Gina Kolata, Why are some people so much more infectious than others?, New York Times, April 12, 2020

Matthew Perrone, Fears of ‘Wild West’ as Covid-2019 blood tests hit the market, Associated Press, April 12, 2020

Christopher Murray, Forecasting Covid-2019 impact on hospital bed-days, ICU-days, ventilator days and deaths by U.S. state in the next four months, Medrxiv (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), submitted March 26, 2020

Xinguang Chen and Bin Yu, Coronavirus disease epidemic in China: real-time surveillance and evaluation with a second derivative model, Global Health Research and Policy 5(7), March 7, 2020

Seasonal influenza vaccine supply for the U.S. 2019-2020 influenza season, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 24, 2019

Douglas Jordan, Terrence Tumpey and Barbara Jester, Discovery and reconstruction of the 1918 pandemic virus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 17, 2019

Timeline of HIV and AIDS, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019

I. Barberis, P. Myles, S.K. Ault, N.L. Bragazzi and M. Martini, History and evolution of influenza control through vaccination: from the first monovalent vaccine to universal vaccines, Journal of Preventative Medicine and Hygeine 57(3):E115-E120, 2016

Errling Norby, Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine, Journal of Experimental Medicine 204(12):2779-2784, 2007

Cecile Viboud, Rebecca F. Grais, Bernard A. P. Lafont, Mark A. Miller and Lone Simonsen, Multinational impact of the 1968 Hong Kong influenza pandemic: evidence for a smoldering pandemic, Journal of Infectious Diseases 192(2):233-248, 2005

Jane E. Brody, Hong Kong flu attacks thousands here swiftly, New York Times, December 11, 1968

Rental electric scooters: high-pressure plans vent steam

Pressured by first-term member Heather Hamilton, during 2019 the Select Board of Brookline, MA pursued a lose-lose-lose proposition with rental electric scooters. Renting the lightly built vehicles in an impulse-driven market has proven unsustainable as a business, harmful to the environment and acutely hazardous for both customers and bystanders. (Shown left to right: Administrator Kleckner, Board members Heller, Greene, Hamilton, Fernandez, Franco)

Select Board of Brookline, June, 2019

BrooklineSelectBoard2019June

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

It’s hardly surprising to see business for rental electric scooters entering free-fall. Last year Verge reported industry experience that “scooters don’t bring in enough money to cover their cost.” Surveys found typical lifetimes of U.S. rental scooters only several months. Operating costs remain high. Every night staff collect scooters, charge them and return them near streets. Considering the trucks and vans used and the short operating lives, total air pollution per mile of rental electric scooter use ranks higher than many automobiles.

Peaking during 2018, venture capital staked near $2 billion on U.S. rental scooters. Business plans never passed “smell tests.” Finances for rental scooters skirt the extremes of the U.S. “ride share” business, including Uber and Lyft, with no firm in the entire sector reporting a profit. Local operations for Lime and Bird have had large layoffs and have abandoned host communities. Some firms still in business are nearing collapse as their cash burns through.

Unlike automobiles, electric scooters are not very costly or hard to keep. Most riders who find them useful can afford a few hundred dollars to buy one and can find places to keep it. Rental firms often can expect only a few rides before a customer either quits riding or buys a scooter. Rental scooters survive mainly as novelties, appealing to young visitors–unfamiliar with vehicles and locales–who incur most of the rising deaths and injuries.

Death rates and injury rates per passenger-mile for rental electric scooters are hundreds of times those for public transit. The rising incident counts appear small only because U.S. passenger-miles per year are vastly lower for rental electric scooters than for public transit and for private automobiles. Some injuries are very severe and can be permanently disabling. Alcohol, drugs or both have been found to factor in many e-scooter crashes, while helmet use is rare among crash victims.

The bottom fell out last year. Venture firms stopped funding rental scooters or stiffened their terms. There are no more Lime or Bird bonanzas like those of 2018. Some rental firms have tried to evade liability with rental agreements stating that “the riders relieve the company of liability.” Several host communities, facing complaints from elderly and disabled people put at risk, boosted insurance requirements and limited scooter operations. Lime just pulled out of Atlanta, once a major market–following Jump, Lyft and Gotcha–unwilling to observe city rules and post bonded insurance to benefit injured riders and bystanders.

Here in Brookline, MA, so far our Select Board largely neglects risks and costs. Contracts last year with rental firms indemnified the town but failed to protect riders and bystanders against rising risks and costs. When Brookline, like Atlanta, bans riding motorized scooters on sidewalks by law–so police can enforce the ban–and requires rental firms to post bonded insurance to benefit injured riders and bystanders, the board will start moving from neglect toward responsibility.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 24, 2020


Niall McCarthy, U.S. experiences surge in e-scooter accidents, Statista, January 16, 2020

Megan Rose Dickey, Electric scooter wars of 2019, Tech Crunch (Verizon Media), January 11, 2020

Sean Keenan, Major player Lime leaving Atlanta, Curbed Atlanta, January 10, 2020

Kia Kokalitcheva, E-scooter startup Lime shuts in 12 markets, lays off around 100, Axios, January 9, 2020

Sophia Kunthara and Natasha Mascarenhas, As Lime leaves 12 markets, a note on scooters, Crunchbase News (San Francisco, CA), January 9, 2020

Nikan K. Namiri, Hansen Lui et al., Electric scooter injuries and hospital admissions in the United States, 2014-2018, JAMA Surgery (in press), American Medical Association, January 8, 2020

Electric scooter and bike sharing companies, Crunchbase News (San Francisco, CA), January, 2020

Chris O’Brien, Globally, scooters are crashing, Techonomy (New York, NY), December 9, 2019

Madison Hogan, Lyft pulls the plug in Atlanta, American Innovation, November 15, 2019

George Abunaw, As pilot program nears end, Brookline residents divided over shared electric scooters, Boston University News, October 26, 2019

Paris Marx, Privately owned scooter companies don’t have a future, Catalyst (Brooklyn, NY), September 29, 2019

Bruce Brown, Walmart slashes prices on electric bikes and Razor e-scooters for Labor Day, Digital Trends (Portland, OR), August 31, 2019

Leslie M Kobayashi, Elliot Williams et al., The emerging epidemic of e-scooters, Trauma Surgery and Acute Care 4(1):1-5, BMJ Journals, August 29, 2019 (PDF file)

Aaron Short, Atlanta bans e-scooters at night after drivers kill four riders, StreetsBlog USA, August 12, 2019

James Temple, Scooters aren’t so climate-friendly after all, MIT Technology Review, August 2, 2019

Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah Johnson, The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters, Environmental Research Letters 14(8):1-10, August 2, 2019 (PDF file)

Ed Leefeldt, Electric scooters are igniting new laws and liability concerns, CBS News, July 2, 2019

Kate Clark, The scooter cash desert, Tech Crunch (Verizon Media), June 22, 2019

Cathy Bussewitz and Amanda Morris, Boom in electric scooters leads to more injuries and fatalities, Associated Press, June 6, 2019

Ryan Felton, Eight deaths now tied to e-scooters in U.S., Consumer Reports, June 3, 2019

Select Board contact information, Town of Brookline, MA, June, 2019

Andrew Hawkins, Electric scooters may not be around for long, The Verge, April 12, 2019

Isobel Asher Hamilton, Electric scooters were to blame for at least 1,500 injuries and deaths in the U.S. last year, Business Insider, February 6, 2019

Sean Keenan, Atlanta City Council OKs restrictions on dockless, shareable e-scooters and bikes, Curbed Atlanta, January 8, 2019

City of Atlanta’s scooter ordinance, Pedestrians Educating Driver Safety (PEDS, Atlanta, GA) January, 2019

Ranking all e-scooter startups by venture capital received, Travel and Mobility, December 8, 2018

Insurance requirements, dockless on-demand personal mobility permit, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, October 1, 2018 (See Section E, page 8 of 30)

Will Kubzansky, Secret life of teen scooter outlaws, The Verge, September 23, 2018

Todd Gill, Fayetteville passes scooter insurance requirement, Fayetteville (AR) Flyer, April 9, 2015

Pilgrim Nuclear plant closing: end of an error

To much relief for its South Shore neighbors, the Pilgrim Nuclear power-plant in Plymouth, MA shut down for the last time, without a disaster, around 5:30 Friday afternoon, May 31, 2019. For nuclear power in Massachusetts, it was the end of an error–beginning the necropsy of a failed design.

At closing, the Pilgrim plant was scheduled to be mothballed, although it may eventually be dismantled. A 47-year accumulation of spent fuel will be stored indefinitely in tall casks–located in the open at the plant site–until there is a federal repository for high-level nuclear waste that accepts it. The only such facility–at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada–was mothballed in 2010 before it opened, and there are no current plans to revive it or to design and build a different facility.

Pilgrim Nuclear spent-fuel storage casks, 2017

PilgrimNuclearWasteCasks2017

Source: Massachusetts Nuclear Decommissioning Panel

Risk-prone design: In the mid-1960s, when the Pilgrim plant was being planned, industry critics faulted the GE Mark I containment–a core feature of the plant–as a risk-prone design with poor resilience against major disturbances. However, like today’s counterparts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a politically motivated Atomic Energy Commission of the 1960s refused to intervene.

In 1975, a fire at the Browns Ferry Nuclear plant in Alabama confirmed that the design was unreliable. That plant has three Mark I reactors, the largest U.S. installation using the same base design as the Pilgrim plant. There are dozens of ways a nuclear power-plant might be threatened. The Browns Ferry plant came within about an hour of collapse from the fire, started by irresponsible activity during a safety inspection.

Alert citizens have known since 1975 that the base design for the Pilgrim plant was hazardous. So far, operators of Mark I plants in the U.S. were lucky. While no incident took the Pilgrim plant beyond its limits, in 1982 operator Boston Edison paid about a million in current dollars as fines for careless practices. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency closed Pilgrim during 1986-1989 for gross mismanagement.

Near-disaster and tragedy: Risk-prone as it has been, Pilgrim Nuclear ranked above the bottom of the list for nuclear safety. That dishonor probably applies best to the Davis-Besse Nuclear power-plant near Toledo, Ohio. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Davis–Besse has been the source of two of the five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the U.S. since the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown.

It took the March, 2011 tragedy at Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan to convince most of the world to abandon a nuclear dinosaur. Three reactors using the same base design as the Pilgrim plant failed and exploded, while the spent-fuel storage facility of a fourth reactor blew out its walls and roof. What remains in Massachusetts is to pack up high-level nuclear waste from decades of operation at the Pilgrim plant, until a repository suitable for at least 100,000 years of isolation accepts it.

In New England alone, high-level nuclear waste from closed reactors is already a long-term hazard at sites of the former Maine Yankee, Vermont Yankee, Connecticut Yankee, Yankee Rowe (MA) and Millstone 1 (CT). All have current storage of spent fuel near major water bodies, often located outdoors. Under such circumstances, commercial nuclear-waste storage casks have rated lifetimes of a few decades. At the glacial pace of progress toward a permanent, federal repository, the 40-year rated “design life” for a Holtec “HI-STORM” cask [Safety analysis, Sec. 3.4.12, p. 203 of 2,071] will prove to be too short.

Yankee Rowe site in 1986 and 2006

YankeeRoweSite2006

Source: Vermont Public Service Board

Costs and consequences: Under the Price-Anderson Act [Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act of 1957, Public Law 85-256] the federal governemt has been assuming the great majority of risks from nuclear-power disasters. So far, U.S. taxpayers have largely been spared. Cleanup costs after the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 totaled around $760 million when closed out in 1993. The U.S. government was caught flat-footed; it managed to evade overt liabilities by entering into “research contracts” with the Three Mile Island plant owner.

Luck may not hold. Disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 are likely to produce worldwide, long-term losses and costs in the trillions of dollars–much of that as health issues and shortened lives of individuals. If the U.S. nuclear power operators were being charged realistic insurance premiums, they would be paying more than $100 billion a year–liabilities now being loaded onto U.S. taxpayers.

New England has two prior examples of dismantling nuclear power-plants: Yankee Rowe in Rowe, MA and Maine Yankee in Wiscasset, ME. At both, spent fuel was stored in casks outside former buildings, on concrete pads. Holtec “HI-STORM” casks currently installed and proposed at Pilgrim have been a poor choice for supporting ultimate removal of high-level nuclear waste to a federal repository. At 173 tons each, they are too heavy to transport on U.S. standard railroads, and they are too heavy and too wide to transport using flat-bed trucks on U.S. standard highways.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 31, 2019


Bob Salsberg, Associated Press, Pilgrim shutdown ends nuclear power era in Massachusetts, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 31, 2019

Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, Nuclear power plant workers prepare for shutdown after 47 years in Massachusetts, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 28, 2019

David Abel, Closure of Pilgrim nuclear plant is part of a shifting energy industry, Boston Globe, May 28, 2019

Joe DiFazio, Pilgrim to move nuclear waste to higher ground, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, October 26, 2018

Joseph R. Lynch (Entergy), Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station independent spent-fuel storage installation. Massachusetts Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, November 15, 2017 (PDF, 22 pp)

Katharine Q. Seelye, Staff overwhelmed at nuclear plant, but U.S. won’t shut it, New York Times, February 1, 2017

Safety analysis report, Holtec HI-STORM 100 cask system, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, March 31, 2016 (PDF, 2,071 pp)

Dave Lochbaum, Nuclear plant accidents: Browns Ferry fire, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Yukiya Amano, The Fukushima Dai-ichi accident, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2015 (PDF, 222 pp)

Pilgrim Nuclear plant chronology, Cape Cod Bay Watch, September, 2015

Tom Zeller, Jr., Experts had long criticized potential weakness in reactor design, New York Times, March 15, 2011

Victor Gilinsky, Near-accident at the Ohio nuclear plant, Washington Post, April 28, 2002

Three Mile Island: the financial fallout, Office of the Comptroller General, U.S. General Accounting Office, July 7, 1980

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, Nuclear news: a “cat-litter mystery,” Brookline Beacon, May 23, 2014

Scooting off the wall: a transportation fad

In the United States, small “electric scooters” became a personal transportation fad in 2018, after starting the previous year on the West Coast. While some units are being sold to individuals, the great majority are bought by “ride share” companies who rent them out. Based on data from Portland, OR, which has years of experience tracking personal transportation, the average electric-scooter rental is for a ride of a little over a mile and a few minutes. Electric-scooter ride-share companies include Bird, Spin, Lime, Lyft, Uber, Skip, Tier, Dott, Scoot, Jump, Wind, Bolt, Grin, Ride and Yellow.

Features: Models of electric scooters often found from “ride-share” companies–such as Xiaomi model MS365 and Segway model ES1–have motors rated at about 1/3 horsepower. Weight is about 25 lb, battery life is around an hour for 10 miles of typical travel, and full recharging time is around 4 hours. Usual speeds on level roads vary from about 3 to 12 miles per hour.

Prices for popular electric scooters sold to individuals range around $500, with others selling for about $200 to $800. At online forums, many purchasers rate reliability of popular electric scooters as poor, with up to a quarter finding major defects, severe wear or outright failure after less than a month of use. Reported problems include misaligned parts, stuck controls, loose frames and handlebars, rattling motors and brakes, battery fires, worn tires and poor customer service.

Stability: A typical electric scooter has two small, solid rubber tires–about 8-inch diameter on 33-inch axle spacing. The operator stands on a narrow shelf at axle height, about 4 inches off the road surface, with the center of gravity for a six-foot-tall standing operator about 40 inches above the axles and 1/3 the axle spacing behind the front axle.

By comparison, a bicycle provides a more stable ride with a rider normally seated. A lightweight has 26-inch diameter, air-filled tires on 40-inch axle spacing, with the center of gravity for a six-foot-tall seated rider about 30 inches above the axles and 2/3 the axle spacing behind the front axle. Both gyroscopic forces and stabilizing forces during turns are substantially greater for bicycles than for electric scooters, while the torsion moment from the center-of-gravity to the axle height is less.

Hazards: A bicycle will ride over many obstacles, while a typical curb will stop an electric scooter stone cold–pitching the operator over the handle bars, likely to strike the ground face first. Reports are starting to accumulate. A majority of injuries with electric scooters come from collisions with obstacles, not with other vehicles or pedestrians. Face lacerations, concussions, and broken noses, jaws and arms are common in electric scooter crash reports.

As in several other places, Massachusetts laws require operators of electric scooters to wear helmets. While some places forbid electric scooters operating on sidewalks, Massachusetts laws do not. The state also requires electric scooters to have working stop and directional signals and does not allow operation after sunset and before sunrise. Surveys show poor compliance with such laws. Portland, OR, found only 10 percent of operators wearing helmets. Los Angeles found fewer than 5 percent. Electric scooters currently being rented in Brookline, MA, lack stop and directional signals required by state laws.

Injury rates from operating electric scooters are alarming. Portland, OR, the U.S. community with the longest and most extensive measurements, found a rate of 220 injuries per million passenger-miles. By comparison, the injury rate for public transit in the U.S. is around 0.2 injuries per million passenger-miles. For the same distance of travel, operating an electric scooter is around 1,000 times as dangerous as using public transit.

Environmental factors: When on duty, electric scooters are energy-efficient, using about 20 Watt-hours per mile. For comparison, a Tesla model S electric automobile uses about 330 Watt-hours per mile. During the after-duty hours, however, rental scooters are collected by contractors, taken to garages for charging, then trucked back to public locations. For each mile when on duty, a typical rental scooter spends another mile in a 4,000-pound, gasoline-powered pick-up truck. The efficiency when on duty is wiped out. It is more efficient and kinder to the environment to drive an ordinary car.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 8, 2019


Yasmin Khorram, CDC is studying the rise in e-scooter injuries, CNBC, March 8, 2019

Jonathan Maus, Scooter company reps scolded by Oregon legislators over helmet law proposal, Bike Portland (OR), February 20, 2019

Chuck Temple, Electric scooter safety report: Austin and Portland, Medium (San Francisco, CA), February 8, 2019

Ryan Felton, E-scooter ride-share industry leaves injuries and angered cities in its path, Consumer Reports, February 5, 2019

Sarah Holder, Electric scooters sent nearly 250 riders to Los Angeles emergency rooms last year, City Lab (New York, NY), January 29, 2019

Megan Rose Dickey, Electric scooter wars, Tech Crunch, December 23, 2018

Will Yakowicz, Bird scooter charging is one level up from collecting cans, Inc Magazine, December, 2018

Adam Podgorski et al., AG2800 life cycle assessment, Ninebot by Segway KickScooter ES2, KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden), December, 2018 (in English)

Ninebot ES1 electric scooter description and forum, Amazon, 2018

Ninebot ES1 electric scooter specifications, Segway, 2018

Rail transit safety data, U.S. Federal Transit Administration, December, 2016

David Noland, Life with Tesla model S, Green Car Reports (Denver, CO), March 10, 2014

A.L. Schwab and J.P. Meijaard, A review on bicycle dynamics and rider control, Vehicle System Dynamics 51(7):1059-1090, 2013

Motorized scooter operation regulations, Massachusetts General Laws C. 90, S. 1E

All that glitters: how Chump exploited people

For some people, the first public appearance of Chump–currently the President–was hustling applicants seeking to rent his dad’s apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. It was also his first close encounter with federal government. In 1973, the U.S. Department of Justice charged him and the family company with civil-rights violations for refusing to rent to African-Americans–contrary to the Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. [Public Law 90-284] That helped spark a lasting reputation as a commercial sleazebag.

There is strong synergy between Chump, as commercial sleazebag, and the late Sen. McCarthy of Wisconsin (1908-1957), as self-annointed prosecutor of leftists. The late lawyer Roy Cohn (1927-1986) was attack-dog for McCarthy during the viral phase of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, not long after which McCarthy died of alcohol abuse. Before dying of AIDS and liver cancer, Cohn was attack-dog for Chump, trying in the 1970s to countersue the government as a dodge around Fair Housing charges.

Cohn failed. The countersuit was dismissed, and Chump was forced into a consent agreement. It was a taste of what became usual Chump behavior: try to blame the victims, and call them insulting names. A reporter told it this way: “As [his] Hyatt [hotel] rose, so too did the hidden hand of his attorney Roy Cohn, always there to help with the shady tax abatements, the zoning variances, the sweetheart deals and the threats to those who might stand in the project’s way.”

Exploiting the rich: The Chump reputation from the early 1970s stuck through years of turning his dad’s real-estate fortune into glitzy Atlantic City casinos and resorts. Those businesses all failed under his clumsy and greedy management. As reported in the New York Times, he cheated hundreds of people and ran down his properties, while contriving to enrich himself. Quoted by the Times: “[the family] name does not connote high-quality amenities and first-class service.”

While his gambling businesses in Atlantic City were cratering during the 1990s, Chump stiffed investors, contractors and suppliers, and he turned to almost any source of ready cash. He shortchanged his family as well, borrowing “at least $413 million in today’s money…and never fully repaid his loans.” He drove his “businesses into bankruptcy by his mismanagement…[and] pillaging.”

Exploiting the poor: A problem gambler down on his luck at exploiting the rich turned to exploiting the poor. The main angle was a string of “get rich” games, feeding off notions that the chief card-shark was immensely rich–because of secret knowledge that he could impart, for a fee. Among the better-known games, “Chump University” and later “Chump Institute” were the glitzy upper-crust.

According to a New York Times report, the “secret knowledge” imparted at Chump Institute was actually handicraft of a lawyer and legal writer from Briarcliff Manor, NY. “She said she never spoke” to Chump but “drew on her own knowledge…and a speed-reading” of Chump’s ghost-written books. According to another report, Chump University charged students $1,495 or more a course and delivered “nothing” in return: “No certification. No keys to success. Just debt.”

Bottom-feeding Chump games are described in the recent complaint beginning a federal class-action lawsuit. Chump, three of his offspring and his ongoing business are charged with exploiting poor and middle-income people by vague promises aimed at suckering them into streams of fairly small payments–around $20 to $500–in hopes of future income. Chump and alleged conspirators are charged with federal RICO violations, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization provisions of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. [Public Law 91–452]

Chump suckered the public by pretending to be a self-made billionaire in a television series called The Apprentice, later The Celebrity Apprentice. According to the class-action complaint, “producers candidly acknowledged that their portrayal…was pure fiction.” [Class action complaint, page 23 of 164] Chump “has a long and storied history of wildly exaggerating his net worth.” [page 26 of 164] Chump’s “apparent wealth was largely an illusion.” [page 64 of 164]

Buyer beware: The main Chump games were recruiting lower-income people into becoming product resellers, particularly for a little-known outfit called American Communications Network (ACN). [Class action complaint, page 9 of 164]. On The Celebrity Apprentice, Chump displayed and touted ACN products. Offscreen, according to the complaint, he made “false and misleading statements indicating [he] was endorsing the company because he believed the ACN business opportunity offered a reasonable probability of commercial success.” [page 10 of 164]

Chump with business agents and conspirators, 2011

ChumpWithConspirators

Source: Class-action complaint, Jane Doe v. Trump Corp.

Hidden from viewers and recruitment targets was many millions of dollars paid by ACN to Chump and alleged conspirators, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. According to a gushing story in the Boston Globe, Chump also licensed his “brand” to a Massachusetts promoter of “diet plans, energy aids and skin care” products–using a similar game of recruiting lower-income resellers.

The class-action complaint in Jane Doe v. Trump Corp. asserts that the four individual complainants in the lawsuit who were suckered into becoming product resellers each lost hundreds to thousands of dollars to deceptive Chump games. Their occupations suggest this would not be money they could afford to lose.


“Jane Doe” — hospice caregiver
“Luke Loe” — mechanic and handyman
“Richard Roe” — fast-food sales clerk
“Mary Moe” — retail sales clerk

If the class action and the use of RICO sanctions are upheld in U.S. District Court, many other victims of Chump games stand to be identified, and punitive damages plus legal costs can be assessed. Chump and alleged conspirators might become exposed to criminal RICO sanctions, including fines and prison terms of up to 20 years.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 30, 2018


Maggie Haberman and Benjamin Weiser, Trump persuaded struggling people to invest in scams, lawsuit alleges, New York Times, October 29, 2018

Jonathan O’Connell, Trump defrauded investors in marketing scheme, lawsuit says, Washington Post, October 29, 2018

Class action complaint filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) provisions of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Jane Doe et al. v. Trump Corporation et al,, Case no. 1:18-cv-09936, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, October 29, 2018

Alexandra Hutzler, Bill Maher asks Stormy Daniels how she could ever sleep with ‘sleazebag’ Donald Trump, Newsweek, October 27, 2018

David Cay Johnston, New York Times exposed Trump’s tax fraud, Daily Beast, October 2, 2018

David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father, New York Times, October 2, 2018

Margaret Sullivan, After a stunning news conference, there’s a newly crucial job for the American press, Washington Post, July 16, 2018

David Lombardo, New York attorney general sues Trump Foundation, Albany (NY) Times Union, June 14, 2018

Joy Crane and Nick Tabor, 501 Days in Swampland, New York Magazine. April 2, 2018

Marie Brenner, How Donald Trump’s and Roy Cohn’s ruthless symbiosis changed America, Vanity Fair, June 28, 2017

Igor Bobic, Trump kicks out ‘sleazebag’ reporter for asking about sexual assault allegations, Huffington Post, October 13, 2016

Sam Levine, Michelle Obama explains exactly why Trump’s comments about women are so repulsive, Huffington Post, October 13, 2016

Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher, Trump Revealed, Scribner, August, 2016

Jonathan Martin, Trump Institute offered get-rich schemes with plagiarized lessons, New York Times, June 29, 2016

Peter Wehner, The indelible stain of Donald Trump, New York Times, June 12, 2016

Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli, How Donald Trump bankrupted his Atlantic City casinos but still earned millions, New York Times, June 11, 2016

Quiana Fulton, Trump University documents reveal Trump’s sleazebag marketing, Reverb Press, June 1, 2016

Charles Doyle, RICO: a brief sketch, Congressional Research Service, May 18, 2016

Ben Mathis-Lilley, Watch a cornered Donald Trump reveal himself for what he really is, a deceptive sleazebag, Slate, March 4, 2016

Oscar Michelen, NY appeals court rules Trump must stand trial for fraud, Courtroom Strategy (New York, NY), March 1, 2016

James V. Grimaldi and Mark Maremont, Donald Trump made millions from multilevel marketing firm, Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2015

Justin Elliott, Donald Trump’s racial discrimination problem, Salon, April 28, 2011

Erin Ailworth, Firm’s new moniker may be its Trump card, Boston Globe, December 7, 2010

Marylin Bender, The empire and ego of Donald Trump, New York Times, August 7, 1983

Craig Bolon, Election aftermath: recovery starting, work pending, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 2 returns as anti-Semite, Brookline Beacon, July 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3, plain vanilla creep, Brookline Beacon, June 16, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3 sounds like No. 2, Brookline Beacon, June 11, 2016

Offshore wind-power in Massachusetts: a long sail

In 2017 and 2018, the Baker administration’s Department of Energy Resources solicited long-term proposals for Massachusetts offshore wind-power. They came in at much lower rates than ones in 2012 from the failed Cape Wind project, cancelled in 2015. Vineyard Wind, the contractor designated in May, 2018, would provide a significant share of the state’s electricity–around twice as much as Cape Wind.

Massachusetts has the largest offshore wind energy potential of any U.S. state, estimated by NREL at more than 1,000 TWh per year. Vineyard Wind of New Bedford, MA, plans to install about 100 turbines rated at 8 MW each–with blade tips reaching about 700 feet above the water–in an area of about 250 square miles commencing about 15 statute miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Water depths there span about 120 to 160 feet. Environmental disputes over interference with fishing and over routes for the main power cables continue.

Vineyard Wind estimates a capacity factor of at least 45 percent, which would yield at least 3.15 TWh per year–equivalent to about 6.5 percent of the electricity used by Massachusetts retail customers in 2015, the latest year in state reports. If operating today, the proposed project would be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

According to the agency, over 20 years Vineyard Wind would charge an average wholesale rate of $0.084 per kWh, adjusted to 2017 dollars. By way of comparison, ISO New England reported that the average wholesale rate for electricity delivered during 2017 to northeastern Massachusetts, including Boston, was $0.034 per kWh. According to 2012 agreements–now cancelled–Cape Wind would have charged $0.194 per kWh in 2017.

Wholesale electricity rates, actual and proposed

WholesaleElectricityRates2017

Sources: ISO New England and Massachusetts agencies

Analysis: Rather than tell what Massachusetts electricity customers have actually paid for wholesale electricity, the Department of Energy Resources offered a wordy argument about what they might pay during years of the proposed Vineyard Wind contracts. Most so-called “business reporters” parroted agency arguments and did not investigate them.

The agency claimed an average rate of $0.079 per kWh for other sources of electricity during the proposed 20 years, but it presented neither data nor methods to support the claim. Using net present value, the agency also estimated a different and lower rate for electricity from Vineyard Wind, but again it provided neither data nor methods to support the estimate.

New England electricity rates, 2003 thru 2017

NewEnglandWholesaleElectricity2003-2017

Sources: ISO New England and U.S. Commerce Dept.

Actual, inflation-adjusted average wholesale electricity rates, reported for the region by ISO New England, declined during 2003 through 2017. They fell from around 8 cents per kWh in the early years of that period to around 4 cents per kWh in the most recent years. The rate history provides no support for a claim by the state Department of Energy Resources that rates over subsequent years will again rise to average about 8 cents per kWh over 20 years.

The agency has not supported its claims with data and methods. Based on actual and recent data, Vineyard Wind’s output and pricing would raise Massachusetts wholesale electricity rates over 20 years by an average of about $0.0033 per kWh above the average rate for 2017 reported by ISO New England. Although it got lower rates for offshore wind-power from Vineyard Wind than proposed six years earlier by Cape Wind, the Baker administration did not achieve parity with recent wholesale electricity rates.

Background: For 2015, the latest year in published state reports, Massachusetts sites generated 2.65 TWh (43 percent) out of 6.23 TWh in total renewable energy supplied to Massachusetts retail customers. Within that total, 2.52 TWh came from wind (Massachusetts 18 percent), and 1.20 TWh came from solar (Massachusetts 94 percent). The rest, 2.51 TWh, mostly came from hydropower, landfill methane, waste burning and efficiencies of combined heat and power. During 2015, Massachusetts retail electricity customers used 48.0 TWh in all. About 13 percent of the state’s retail electricity came from renewable sources.

Massachusetts suppliers of retail electricity currently obtain so-called “Renewable Energy Credits” to satisfy six standards under state laws and regulations: Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I (2003), Class II (2009), Solar Carve-Out I (2010) and Solar Carve-Out II (2014), Waste Energy (2010) and Alternative Energy (2010). Federal reports on Massachusetts electricity measure only in-state generation and do not acknowledge some sources credited by the state, such as combined heat and power efficiencies.

The Baker and Patrick administrations have tried to develop new sources of renewable energy needed under laws enacted in 1997, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016–the middle three during the Patrick administration. The Patrick administration tended to focus on expanding capacity, while the Baker administration has tended to focus on holding down rates. Thus Baker’s agents strain to show that Vineyard Wind will somehow save money.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 28, 2018


Massachusetts offshore wind farm forecasts incredibly low rates, National Wind Watch (Eric Rosenbloom, Kirby, VT, and Rowe, MA), August 29, 2018

Kristen Young, Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA), Petition mobilizes opponents of Vineyard Wind power cable in Yarmouth, South Coast Today (Orleans, MA), August 29, 2018

Julia Pyper, First large U.S. offshore-wind project sets record-low price, Greentech Media (Boston, MA), August 1, 2018

Jim Efstathiou, Jr., First big U.S. offshore wind farm to charge 6.5 cents per kwh, Bloomberg News, August 1, 2018

Petitions for approval of proposed long-term contracts for offshore wind energy, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, August 1, 2018

Alex Kuffner, Vineyard Wind still at odds with Rhode Island fishermen over turbines, Providence (RI) Journal, July 29, 2018

Michael Kuser, Massachusetts and Rhode Island pick 1,200 MW in offshore wind bids, RTO Insider (Potomac, MD), May 23, 2018

Jon Chesto, Two big wind farms to rise off coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Boston Globe, May 23, 2018

Construction and operations plan, Vol. 1, Vineyard Wind, U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, March 15, 2018 (draft). Map, see Fig. 1.1-1 on p. 1-2. Capacity factor, see p. 1-7. Blade tip height, see p. 3-4.

New England’s wholesale electricity prices in 2017 were the second-lowest since 2003, ISO New England, March 6, 2018

Wholesale electricity rates for 2017, ISO New England, January, 2018 (CSV format)

Plans for Vineyard Wind, U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, December, 2017

David R. Borges et al., Vineyard Wind contribution to employment and economic development, 800 MW proposal, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth Public Policy Center, December, 2017

Compliance report for 2015, Massachusetts renewable and alternative energy portfolio standards, Department of Energy Resources, October 10, 2017

Requests for proposals, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, June 29, 2017

Pat Knight et al., An analysis of the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard, Northeast Clean Energy Council, 2017

Walter Musial et al., 2016 Offshore wind energy resource assessment for the United States, Report NREL-TP-5000-66599, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, September, 2016. Potential by states, Fig. ES-4, p. viii

Jim O’Sullivan, Two utilities opt out of Cape Wind, Boston Globe, January 7, 2015

Bob Salsberg and Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, Utilities agree to buy Cape Wind power in merger, Boston Globe, February 15, 2012

Massachusetts Clean Energy Act, St. 2018, C. 227

Massachusetts Energy Diversity Act, St. 2016, C. 188

Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Act, St. 2014, C. 251

Massachusetts Competitively Priced Electricity Act, St. 2012, C. 209

Massachusetts Green Communities Act, St. 2008, C. 168

Massachusetts Electricity Restructuring Act, St. 1997, C. 164

Craig Bolon, Wind energy: broken promises, Brookline Beacon, January 2, 2018

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Taking the low road: Alabama judge invites dismembering abortion rights

Judge Edward Earl Carnes of the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in Alabama, wrote up a “Kavanaugh case”–dripping with loaded words and clearly inviting the U.S. Supreme Court, once bulked up with Judge Kavanaugh, to overrule the Eleventh Circuit and ultimately to take apart, piece by piece, 45 years of abortion rights in the United States. Carnes has accumulated a highly controversial record on civil rights.

The Eleventh Circuit case concerns whether Alabama can so severely restrict use of a dilation and evacuation procedure, formerly called dilation and extraction, as to effectively ban it in second-trimester abortions. Citing precedents from the Supreme Court, the three judges from the Eleventh Circuit agreed with a district court decision that Alabama cannot do so.

The opinion written by Judge Carnes reeks with religious prejudice and vicious sarcasm. From the State of Alabama arguments, Carnes adopted the pejorative term “dismemberment abortion” instead of the medical term “dilation and evacuation procedure” and adopted the religiously prejudiced term “unborn child” instead of the medical term “fetus.”

Then Judge Carnes tried to ridicule prior decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, citing Stenberg v. Carhart [530 U.S. 914, 2000] and supposedly summarizing the recent, challenged Alabama law, he wrote on pages 3 and 4, “Killing an unborn child and then dismembering it is permitted; killing an unborn child by dismembering it is not.”

In citing the prior Supreme Court case, Judge Carnes quoted only from a dissent in the case, written by the late Justice Scalia, criticizing what Scalia called “the Court’s inclination to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.” Carnes is clearly charting a course for dismembering abortion rights, extending from Roe v. Wade [410 U.S. 113, 1973].

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 22, 2018


West Alabama Women’s Center et al. v. Williamson et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Case no. 17-15208, August 22, 2018

John Eidsmoe, Foundation condemns inhumanity of Eleventh Circuit decision striking down Alabama ban on intact D&E abortions, Foundation for Moral Law (Montgomery, AL), August 22, 2018

Stephanie Akin, Anti-abortion group doubles down on Kavanaugh after he told Susan Collins Roe is ‘settled law’, Roll Call (Washington, DC), August 21, 2018

Unattributed editorial, The red-state war on abortion rights, Boston Globe, April 23, 2018

Railroad to nowhere: another tunnel under Boston

Visions of sugarplums clog up public projects. Often they are promoted by gadflies who don’t have to make anything actually work–always to be paid with somebody else’s money. Lessons from childhood: “If it sounds to good to be true, then it isn’t true.”

Grand vision left disaster: In 1983, the second Dukakis administration, as led by a sometimes visionary Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci, claimed that highway tunnels under Boston to replace the Fitzgerald Expressway would cost $2.35 billion, with Massachusetts paying only 15 percent and with the federal government funding the rest. “If it sounds too good to be true, then it isn’t true.”

Dukakis and Salvucci got federal funding for the Big Dig–over a veto from former Pres. Reagan–by a margin of one vote in the Senate. They did not manage the construction. Republican state administrations that managed the Big Dig and its aftermath of repairs–from Bill Weld through Mitt Romney–lied to the public about rapidly growing costs. Massachusetts taxpayers have been hit with at least 45 times the costs claimed in 1983.

So far, including interest, the financial disaster is at least $24 billion and counting–over two-thirds being paid by Massachusetts. As of 2006, about 80 percent of the state Department of Transportation and its routine projects were being funded with money borrowed for the Big Dig. The Democratic administration of Gov. Patrick straightened out budgets. However, while state government returned to pay-as-you-go, Big Dig debts are not scheduled to be retired until 2038–55 years after efforts began.

Railroad to nowhere: Many historic, congested cities–including London, Paris and New York City–have long-distance railroad stations outside a central district, connected by transit lines. Boston’s MBTA provides transit similar to the London Underground, Paris Metro and New York City subways. There is no unique need to link Boston’s North Station and South Station via a long-distance railroad track. It would become a railroad to nowhere.

Proposals for a long-distance railroad tunnel under Boston have circulated since the 1920s, when there was an elevated transit railway–closed in 1938 after lack of use and scrapped in 1942 for steel needed during World War II. Likely costs always outweighed likely benefits. The surface Union Freight Railroad along Atlantic Avenue, built in the 1870s, was abandoned in the late 1960s for lack of use. The surface Grand Junction Railroad through Cambridge and Somerville still connects between the Boston railroad stations. It is now owned by the MBTA and is used occasionally to transfer equipment between the north-side and south-side commuter-rail lines.

Atlantic Avenue Elevated and Union Freight Railroad
near South Station in Boston, c. 1915

BostonAtlanticAvenueElevated1915

Source: Wikimedia, copyright expired

For some local visionaries, practical issues don’t seem to matter. Former Gov. Dukakis, now Prof. Dukakis, apparently learned little from the Big Dig financial disaster. In 2014, he was touting yet another tunnel under Boston: the would-be railroad to nowhere. It would cost “as little as $2 billion” he claimed. We have heard the same line before from Prof. Dukakis, when it proved wrong by more than a factor of ten. For a public works project, governments rarely seek out designs and costs from lawyers or academics.

Former Transportation Secretary Salvucci, a Boston Latin and MIT grad who trained as a civil engineer, was not on board the Dukakis train. As quoted in 1992, he said a long-distance rail tunnel under Boston faced “any number of problems, each of which was fatal.” Although veteran observer Stephen Kaiser has called Salvucci’s tactics with state projects “Machiavellian,” he shows a clear instinct for self preservation.

$18-33 billion boondoggles: On June 18, 2018, a state-sponsored engineering analysis, performed by Arup Group of London, attached price tags to several plans for the railroad to nowhere, Depending on the plan, the designs, construction and equipment alone would cost from $12 billion to $22 billion–in the spending range of the Big Dig–according to the initial report.

Arup Group initial estimates were projected to mid-completion in 2028 and include new rolling stock and “investments to support increased service.” They do not include any interest on state bonds. If interest costs were comparable to the Big Dig, they would add around 50 percent to construction and equipment costs, resulting in total costs to taxpayers of about $18 billion to $33 billion.

According to Bruce Mohl, writing in Commonwealth, the House chair of the General Court’s Transportation Committee said the results show “how expensive and unnecessary the project really is…beyond the reach of any conceivable financing plan.” Final shoes will drop with release of a completed Arup Group analysis this fall, but as of mid-summer, 2018, the railroad to nowhere looks headed for scrap.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 28, 2018


Bruce Mohl, North-south rail link to cost at least $12.3 billion, Commonwealth, June 18, 2018

Adam Vaccaro, North-south rail link would cost $12 billion, maybe more, Boston Globe, June 18, 2018

North-South Rail Link Feasibility Reassessment, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018 (See page 39 for combined estimates, excluding bond interest.)

Robert Huber, Michael Dukakis’s last stand, Boston Magazine, December 5, 2017

Mike Deehan, State House News, Dukakis teams with Weld to push rail link plan, Brookline (MA) Tab, November 10, 2014

Gil Propp, On and along the Grand Junction Railroad, Boston Streetcars, 2014

Eric Moskowitz, Add interest and Big Dig cost expected to top $24 billion, Boston Globe, July 11, 2012

Mark Bulger, Atlantic Avenue trains times two, Good Old Boston, December 12, 2011

John E. Petersen, The Big Bill, Governing, September 1, 2008

Sean P. Murphy, Big Dig’s red ink engulfs state, Boston Globe, July 17, 2008

Stephen H. Kaiser, History of transit policies and commitments relative to the Central Artery Project 1989-1992, Somerville (MA) Transportaton Equity Project, 2004 (See page 2 on Fred Salvucci abandoning a Boston rail tunnel.)

Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff, Mega-Projects, The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment, Brookings Institution Press, 2003 (See page 95, note 41, on Salvucci and the Boston “rail link” project.)

Craig Bolon, Billion-dollar splurge: Connecticut expands Hartford commuter-rail service, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2018

Winds of change: limits on marijuana

At the federal and state election of November, 2016, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4 by a 54-46 percent margin, legalizing marijuana for all uses. Opposition concentrated in the middle and outer Boston suburbs and on Cape Cod. Otherwise support spread across the state. Majorities voted Yes in 260 cities and towns with combined population of 4.7 million (72 percent of state population according to the 2010 census). Majorities voted No in 91 communities with combined population of 1.8 million (28 percent).

Voting to legalize marijuana did not mean accepting marijuana as a local business. Over the next year and a half, 156 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 2.7 million (42 percent of state population) enacted moratoriums on marijuana shops. Some communities enacted outright bans, and some also banned or restricted other types of marijuana business. Most moratoriums were set to expire between June 30, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

Despite warnings from the state’s attorney general about enacting a moratorium extending into 2019, eight towns did so: Abington, Mansfield, Douglas, Rochester, Berlin, New Marlborough, New Braintree and Florida (listed by decreasing populations). Majorities in all but Mansfield had voted Yes on Question 4.

Bans on marijuana shops: As of late June, 2018, 76 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 1.4 million (22 percent of the state population) had enacted permanent bans on marijuana shops. Most were communities where majorities of voters had voted No on Question 4. In those communities, town meetings and city councils could enact bans. Elsewhere voters had to approve.

In 18 Massachusetts communities where majorities of voters in a state election had supported Question 4, voters in local elections banned marijuana shops: Milford, Stoughton, Concord, South Hadley, Southbridge, Bellingham, Auburn, Whitman, East Bridgewater, Holliston, Medway, Acushnet, Hull, Southwick, Freetown, Merrimac, Barre and Mount Washington (listed by decreasing populations).

Hazards: Although milder than those produced by cocaine, amphetamines and narcotics, addictions to marijuana are well known. Craving, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, adverse reactions, cognitive and behavioral impairments and mood disorders tend to increase with frequency and amount of marijuana use. A range of psychological dependence shades into addiction, similar in some ways to dependencies on alcohol and tobacco and to compulsive gambling.

Marijuana users who begin as teenagers or in early adulthood incur risks of lasting harm. As with other addictive regimes, some people are not attracted to marijuana, and some avoid addiction despite exposure. There is controversy over degrees of risk and amounts of harm, and there is currently no reliable way to predict individuals becoming addicted or suffering lasting harm.

Trends and publicity: Rejection of local marijuana business has been notably firm and fairly cohesive among Boston’s middle and outer suburbs. From Boxford and Chelmsford to the northwest, curving through Weston and Northborough to the west, Foxborough and Raynham to the southwest, and Braintree and Duxbury to the southeast, towns banned marijuana shops outright. Some banned all marijuana business.

Those are communities where many live who grew up in the founding high-tech surges. Most such workplaces were located in the suburbs spreading outward from Route 128, so those are also the communities where much of the workforce went. Family values remain strong and upwardly mobile. There is low tolerance for needless risk to sons and daughters from parents who reached success in their careers. As one speaker at a town meeting put it, “We are a community that builds ball fields and parks.”

In contrast, the Boston Globe–New England’s best known news medium–has been patronizing marijuana partisans, often focusing on interests seeking a faster pace of development. Reporter Dan Adams carved out a niche writing items favorable to marijuana interests that rarely mention other outlooks. While there is an occasional contrary view written by someone else, it tends to get lost in the parade for marijuana. Chasing profits instead of candor, Globe managers foster public and reader disservice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2018


Massachusetts city and town actions on marijuana shops, Brookline Beacon, July, 2018 (notes majorities voting to legalize marijuana or not, via Question 4 in 2016)

Ally Jarmanning and Daigo Fujiwara, Where marijuana stores can and can’t open in Massachusetts, WBUR (Boston, MA), June 28, 2018 (presents data through an interactive map)

Dan Adams, Attorney General Maura Healey’s ruling could slow Massachusetts marijuana industry, Boston Globe, June 25, 2018

Steven Hoffman, Which Massachusetts towns won’t allow marijuana sales?, WBZ (CBS Boston), June 22, 2018 (tabulates data from the Massachusetts Municipal Association)

Timothy Naimi, Why marijuana policies in Massachusetts aren’t strict enough, Boston Globe, June 20, 2018

Dan Adams and Margeaux Sippell, Recreational marijuana companies face bans, moratoriums in cities and towns, Boston Globe, March 17, 2018

Zoe Mathews, North Andover bans commercial marijuana, North Andover (MA) Eagle-Tribune, January 30, 2018

Massachusetts ballot question 4: legalize marijuana, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016 (includes interactive map showing voting by cities and towns)

Massachusetts marijuana legalization, Question 4, Encyclopedia of American Politics (Ballotpedia), November, 2016

Kevin Sabet, Madeline Meier responds to latest IQ and marijuana studies, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Alexandria, VA), January 19, 2016

Madeline H. Meier, Avshalom Caspi et al., Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife, Proceedings of the U.S. National Academies of Science 109(40):E2657-2664, 2012

Alain Dervaux, Cannabis use and dependence, Presse Médicale 41(12):1233-1240, 2012 (in French)

Alan J. Budney, Roger Roffman et al., Marijuana dependence and treatment, Addiction Science and Clinical Practice 4(1):4–16, 2007

Craig Bolon, Marijuana business: trends in Oregon, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2018

Craig Bolon, Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2018

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014