A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Monday, September 15, 2014

10 bike parking spots inside 1 former car parking spot

This is cool: Portland's first on-street bike parking corral, located in front of Crema coffee shop and Rosemont Market on Commercial Street (a location that had suffered for lack of bike racks ever since the building was renovated a few years ago). It's also conveniently close to the end of the Eastern Prom trail.

The city has funds and equipment for one more of these, but has yet to locate a spot for it. Any local businesses interested in trading attracting lots of cyclists in exchange for a single car parking spot should get in touch with Bruce Hyman, the city's bike and pedestrian planner in the city's planning office (874-8719).

Monday, August 4, 2014

After over 16 years, Portland gets a sidewalk to its bus and train station

Back in the late 1990s, Concord Trailways moved its bus terminal out of Bayside to more spacious quarters on the edge of the central city, on Thompson's Point. That gave the bus company lots of room to grow, from a handful of daily roundtrips to Boston to the near-hourly, round-the-clock service we enjoy today. But there was one problem: there were no sidewalks on any of the streets leading to the bus station.

The problem got worse about 10 years ago, when the Amtrak Downeaster started running to the same station. Car-free arrivals from Boston and other points south found themselves stranded at the edge of a huge parking lot and a tangle of hostile freeway ramps.

It didn't feel like arriving in Portland – it felt like arriving in the strip malls of Falmouth, Scarborough, or Freeport.

In truth, though. it's only a 30 minute walk from the Portland Transportation Center to Longfellow Square, in the middle of the city. Back in 2008, the Portland Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee designated this area one of the city's top priorities for bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements – due largely to its significance as a destination for Portland's car-free travelers.

This summer, thanks to a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, street improvements in the area have finally created a few passable walking and biking routes to the city's busiest transportation hub. I took a bike ride down there this weekend, and here are some shots of the area's newly completed streets.

This new crosswalk across Fore River Parkway connects to Frederic Street, a dead-end for cars that will now serve as a nice bike/ped shortcut to and from Congress Street (there had been an informal goat path through a fence here before, but the new one is accessible to bikes and wheelchairs).


The new Thompson's Point Road now boasts sidewalks. It was also widened, from 2 to 3 lanes, but the center lane will be a "reversible" lane to be used only when events are happening at a still-unbuilt Thompson's Point arena.


Sewall Street (below) also received some new sidewalks, and remains cut off from Thompson's Point for motorized traffic. Sewall is the first built link in a planned and funded "neighborhood byway" connection that will run on quiet neighborhood streets from Thompson's Point to Deering Center, 1.5 miles north of here. 


Part of the new neighborhood byway includes safer crossings of the three busy streets that lie between Thompson's Point and Deering Center – Congress, Brighton, and Woodford. Here's what the corner of Congress and Sewall looked like a few weeks ago:


...and here's the same scene from this past weekend. Sewall Street has been narrowed down and the crosswalks have been improved with ADA-accessible ramps.



Finally, Fore River Parkway has gained a new separated shared-use path that runs from Thompson's Point Road to Congress Street. I understand that the bike lane on Park Avenue, which currently peters out into a freeway on-ramp, will be extended to flow into this new bike path. 


Fore River Parkway still lacks a sidewalk on its western shoulder – building one there will require the roadway to sacrifice a lane for car traffic, so we'll still have one good battle to fight. Still, it's a good start.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maine DOT goofs up, but publicity, bike/ped activism is making it right

Here's the good news: the Maine DOT is planning routine maintenance of the well-used Casco Bay Bridge sidewalk this summer, in a project starting next week. So kudos to them for keeping important infrastructure, used by hundreds of people every day, in good working condition.

Here's the bad news, though: our highway engineers in Augusta forgot that people actually rely on the sidewalk that they're repairing, and neglected to make any credible detour plans for the project.

As told in greater detail in yesterday's Portland Press Herald story, the state's transportation agency hadn't made any plans to create a temporary walkway as a detour on the main route between Portladn and South Portland for the 3-week period of construction. Instead, the construction plan apparently expected pedestrians, joggers, and wheelchair users to make their way across the bridge on the roadway's bike lanes – in close proximity to cars and trucks going 40 miles-per-hour.

When Portland's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee learned of this plan at our regular monthly meeting earlier this week — just one week before construction began — we immediately reached out to the City of South Portland's bike and pedestrian advocates, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and Portland Trails. The next day, the Press Herald story linked above ran on the front page with a dramatic photo — attracting a lot more attention to the problem.

Today, though, we're hearing that the DOT is floating new plans to keep most of the bridge's sidewalk open, with a much shorter sidewalk detour on the "lift span" part of the drawbridge where the actual work is taking place.

The whole episode has been embarrassing for the Maine DOT — and rightfully so. Just last month the agency was just boasting that it had adopted a "complete streets" policy, but this gaffe makes it clear that its old, motorists-first mentality persists in the bureaucracy.

Still, thanks to rapid and coordinated responses from Portland and South Portland advocates, the upcoming bridge project won't be nearly as disruptive or dangerous as it might have been.

Photo at left by John Brooking. 
These signs, as seen on July 17, are meant to notify pedestrians of the proposed bridge closure — but they're located far away from the sidewalk in the roadway's median, and have been overlooked by most of the bridge's pedestrian users. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You could fit most of the Old Port inside Portland's obsolete Exit 6 interchange



With debt to this post on Streetsblog, I was curious to see how much of the Old Port could potentially fit in the acres of downtown real estate occupied by the Exit 6 interchange on Interstate 295. Most of it, as it turns out. In the gif above, an aerial view of Exit 6 alternates with a rotated view of the Old Port at the same scale. That's the green-roofed City Hall at the western end of Exit 6 near the USM parking garage, and the Custom House is at the other end near Preble Street. Post Office Park occupies less space than the lawn of a single cloverleaf loop.

This cloverleaf intersection, by the way, is one of the most dangerous places to drive in the entire state — it's the home to several designated "high-crash locations" and has been described by state officials as having an "obsolete" design that whips cars into vortices of high-speed merges. But those are just lovable foibles! Our highway engineers literally can't think about getting rid of this adorable, city-eating monstrosity.

The Exit 6 interchange is a prime example of Governor Paul LePage's socialist land policy, whereby acres of extremely valuable real estate are wasted in extremely inefficient uses by the central-planning bureaucrats at the State Department of Transportation.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The new Martin's Point Bridge — open to (nonmotorized) traffic

As of this evening the new Martin's Point Bridge sidewalk — a wide multi-use path designed to be shared by bikes and pedestrians — is open to non-motorized traffic between Portland and Falmouth. I took a ride out there this afternoon after work and it's pretty nice, even though it's still very much in the middle of a heavy construction site.


Some notes:

  • Though it's a nice path to ride on, getting there from either side is still kind of a challenge — you'll need to thread your way through a lot of construction traffic and ride over some sandy, unpaved sections where the sidewalk hasn't been built yet.
  • In addition to this path on the east side of the bridge, the finished product will also include a (narrower) sidewalk on the west side plus on-street bike lanes. Like the approaches, though, all that stuff is also under construction.  
  • The project is also building out a sidewalk connection from the bridge to the Martin's Point Healthcare campus, and last summer, the town of Falmouth constructed a sidewalk and installed some additional traffic calming along Route 1 between the bridge and Route 88. That means it's now possible for the first time in decades — maybe ever? — to walk on sidewalks from Falmouth's town center to downtown Portland.  
  • Whereas the old bridge featured a fairly steep incline where it hit land in Portland, the new one rises gradually along its entire length, which is nice.
  • The old bridge had four lanes for cars and an unlit, dingy sidewalk for everyone else. This new bridge is just as wide, but with only two lanes for cars there's much more room for non-motorized transportation — and officials expect maintenance costs to be significantly lower as well. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Martins Point Bridge will open to bike and pedestrian traffic next Tuesday

Some exciting news from the Maine DOT, courtesy of a recent press release:


"As the first step to opening the new Martin’s Point Bridge to traffic, CPM Constructors will allow pedestrians and bicycles onto the new multi-use path around midday next Tuesday, June 3. The path will be open to pedestrians and bicyclists only. All motor vehicles will continue to travel over the old bridge."

The bridge between Portland and Falmouth is still under construction, so the car-free status is only temporary — enjoy it while you can!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Dinner and Bikes" coming to Portland June 9

My old college buddy Elly Blue, whose name you might recognize from her writings in places like Bicycling Magazine or Streetsblog, is making a stop in Portland Maine for her "Dinner and Bikes" tour in a couple weeks, on Monday June 9. She and her partner, a vegan chef, will be serving dinner with a few short films about bicycling and bike activism.

Because dinner is included they'll need to plan how much food to make, so buying tickets ahead of time is highly recommended. You can buy tickets and learn more about the details from Space Gallery's website:

http://www.space538.org/events/dinner-and-bikes

See you there!