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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The Human Scale" plays tonight at Space Gallery

"The Human Scale," a documentary about Jan Gehl Architects (who were some of the key designers behind the transformations of New York City streets in the past decade) and their efforts to create safer, more human streets and public spaces in the world's cities,  will screen tonight at Space Gallery.

I had a chance to watch it last week and wrote up a review of the film for my day job over on MaineToday.com. Here's an excerpt:

The cinematography offers an engaging parade of street-level views of people and landscapes from various world cities. It’s like a 70-minute trip around some of the world’s best people-watching spots.

The screening at Space Gallery is being co-presented with the Portland Society of Architects, and viewers will probably be thinking about how the film’s ideas might apply here in our own city, where several high-profile urban design debates have been handed off for lawyers to decide.

Portland is no Chongqing, but we, too, are struggling to accommodate a significant surge of migrants — young artists, refugee families, job hunters, retired empty-nesters — who are all seeking a better life here.

In the abstract, most can agree that Portland should make room for more housing, more arts venues, and more car-free families. Yet every proposal to change the city’s skyline brings howls of protest from people who insist that we actually need more space for cars, or that new apartment buildings can’t be allowed to infringe on the ocean views of wealthy neighbors.

Unfortunately, “The Human Scale” doesn’t offer much insight on how to deal with such conflicts, and that underlies the film’s most serious shortcoming.

Read the rest, and watch the film's trailer, on MaineToday.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Will "The Forefront at Thompson's Point" scuttle a key link in Portland's Bikeway Network?

On the western edge of the Portland peninsula, the Mountain Division railway offers a scenic direct route between Portland and downtown Westbrook — and from there, on to Windham, Standish, and Fryeburg. The corridor (shown in red in the map below) has long been envisioned as a regional bike and pedestrian connector — a safe and scenic alternative to travel along the outer Congress Street bottleneck.



A 10-foot-wide shared use path (highlighted in green) already extends from the Portland Transportation Center, the easternmost point of the Mountain Division line, along the Fore River Parkway to Veterans Bridge and West Commercial Street, where another trail connection into downtown is in the works. The next link westward would go through the planned Thompson's Point development to the area behind the Westgate shopping center.

That development, called "The Forefront at Thompson's Point," has spent several years in limbo, but it's going back to the Planning Board yet again on Tuesday to seek approval of a scaled-back Master Development Plan.

And unfortunately, the developers' new Master Plan cuts the Mountain Division off in favor of a surface parking lot. A trail could be carved out from portions of a single row of parking stalls, but the developers say they can't sacrifice 12 or so parking spots in a development that's planning to construct 1,290 parking spaces in all.

The good news is that city staff are pressing the developers to be more creative and figure out a way to fit the trail in. It's helpful that the trail corridor is in the city's official Comprehensive Plan, as part of the "Planned Bikeway and Pedestrian Network" approved by the City Council in December 2012.

If you want a safe bike and pedestrian link between the Portland Transportation Center and the Stroudwater neighborhood (and eventually on to Westbrook), chime in now by sending an email to the city's Planning Board and the City Council.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bike lanes and a side path could be built this summer on West Commercial Street

The proposed expansion of the International Marine Terminal's cargo facilities on West Commercial Street (under the Casco Bay Bridge) might bring a big influx of state transportation funds to Portland this summer — and with those funds could come new bike and pedestrian routes along West Commercial Street.

In order to accommodate more activity and a new freight rail line in the area, the state is planning to rebuild sections of West Commercial Street between Veterans Bridge and the Casco Bay Bridge. This is a significant bike route, and there are already city-adopted plans to extend the Veterans Bridge off-street path eastward towards downtown. The International Marine Terminal project might turn those plans into a construction project as soon as this summer.


Right now, Commercial Street is a bumpy road with no sidewalks between Bernie's Clam Shack (near the Western Prom, where an asphalt path leads to Veterans Bridge) and the Star Match building on the eastern end near Beach Street. That asphalt sidewalk near Bernie's was designed to be an off-street shared-use path, and this project could extend that pathway all the way to Harbor View Park, under the Casco Bay Bridge. The rebuilt Commercial Street might also include new on-street bike lanes, plus an improved, traffic-calmed intersection at Beach Street.

Although the project is fast-tracked and could begin construction this summer, the actual plans are still up in the air. Bike/ped advocates are encouraged to weigh in at a public meeting this Wednesday, at 6 p.m. in City Hall's State of Maine room (that's upstairs, in the western wing of the building).

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bike hit-and-run victim seeks witnesses

Via Craigslist:

My husband was riding his bicycle east on Park Ave on Wed at approximately 1:45pm when he was hit by a gold sedan that turned right from Park onto Deering Ave without using its blinker. He fell off of his bike and broke his back and the car never stopped. Any information at all is appreciated.

If you happened to be in the neighborhood, contact the poster by hitting the reply button on the Craigslist post.

And also: several vehicular cyclists have voiced their concern about the new bike lane at this location for directing bike traffic to the right of turning vehicles. The intersection design creates a right-turn lane to the left of a straight-traffic (bike) lane, which makes cyclists vulnerable to crashes like this one, especially when aggressive, negligent drivers are involved. A good rule of thumb is to treat every car as one that might turn right, and to ride in the center of the vehicle lane (where cars are certain to see you) through intersections like this one. Watch the video below from CyclingSavvy for more details.

Right Hook Prevention in Bike Lanes from Keri Caffrey on Vimeo.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A good read on Mother Jones: Pushing Poor People to the Suburbs Is Bad for the Environment.

An excerpt:

"For the urbanist movement to be worthy of its name, the end result has to be that a higher percentage of Americans are actually living in central cities, and that the residents of both cities and suburbs represent the full spectrum of American life."

Something to keep in mind as well-to-do West Enders try to sink a major housing proposal in Bayside.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Make middle-class housing legal

A lack of new housing in the walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods of the Portland peninsula is one of our biggest barriers to creating a more sustainable region. Thousands of households all over New England would love to live in a city like Portland where it's possible to live well without an automobile — and in spite of this demand, virtually no new middle-class housing has been built in the central city during the past decade.

Why should this be? I have a column in today's Portland Press Herald looking at some of the reasons our city's becoming increasingly unaffordable, and here's the short version: our current zoning laws make it mathematically impossible to build an affordable home in the city.


Go to any planning meeting and you’ll see that the people complaining about taller buildings and parking issues are almost always well-off. Unlike the working poor, they have the leisure time to attend long planning meetings and influence zoning policy. Our “public process” is inherently biased against progress and the people who need housing the most.

That’s why it’s so important for those of us who possess the privilege of being able to participate in these civic discussions (this means you, opinion page readers) to maintain some perspective about how our bourgeois desires in urban design weigh against the greater needs of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Shadows from taller buildings, or finding free storage for your four-wheeled private property – those are First World problems. Dozens of your neighbors living in the shelters for want of stable housing: That’s a real-world problem, and we need to work harder to solve it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Northwestern 'burbs get new express bus service

The Portland region just got its first new bus route in nearly ten years with the addition of the new Lakes Region Bus Service from RTP, the regional paratransit provider.

The service is modest, with only four round-trips per day and six stops along the route at town centers along Route 302. And with the possible exception of a stop at the end of Main Street in Raymond, most of the bus stops aren't in walkable locations.

Still, with a 30-mile span, the new bus could make a big difference in helping residents of Windham, Raymond, Casco and Naples drive less and save a lot of money in commuting costs.

The bus comes with some nice amenities, including free wifi and bike racks. For the rest of December, the service will be free; thereafter it will cost $3 for a one-way fare.

With only six stops, the bus will effectively offer express service into Portland at speeds comparable to driving. It resembles somewhat the existing ZOOM bus service from Portland to Biddeford, and I'd suggest that it might benefit from common branding with that service in the future.

Here's the route and schedule information. For detailed stop locations, visit rtprides.org/lake-region-bus/.