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

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hip and Relevant

  • It has just come to my attention that co-blogger Patrick Ian Banks was profiled in Monday's edition of the 'iHerald,' the old media's once-a-week effort to stay hip and relevant. And he managed to mention this blog twice, which propelled our daily visit counts well into the double digits! Well done, Patrick!

  • Today's hip-and-relevant edition of the Press Herald features an above-the-fold headline about sex among old people. BUT ALSO, there's an article publicizing Portland neighborhoods' visions for Franklin Arterial. Read all about it here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Public Waterfront for Sale?

The full City Council will hear public comment tonight (and only tonight) regarding the awful mess it's gotten us into with the Maine State Pier business.

Will the working waterfront succumb to five-star hotels, parking garages, sleazy developers, and cronyism? Christ, I hope not. See you tonight, 7 PM, City Hall.

Image: the cover of the Boston Globe Magazine, March 3, 2002.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Civic Center (From Hell) That Never Was

Hi. I'm Patrick Banks, and I'll be contributing to this blog from time to time. Thanks, Christian! Anyway, take a look at the picture below:
That's Deering Street, from the corner of State looking toward the Eastland Park Hotel. Thomas Brackett "Czar" Reed used to live right on this corner. A lovely chunk of Portland, is it not? Much lovelier than, say, the Cumberland County Civic Center. Amazingly enough, this neighborhood almost ended up becoming just that. 40 years ago urban renewal (actually removal) was the still the "new black" for urban planners all across the land. Portland's planners were no exception and they hired the firm of Victor Gruen (father of the modern suburban shopping mall) & Associates to draw up a plan for a new Portland.

Gruen's plan for Portland - titled Patterns for Progress - was pretty grim. Among other mad schemes, Gruen's firm envisioned a ring road around downtown, tunnels under Monument Square, a pedestrian mall along Congress Street, an orgy of demolition, and plenty of parking garages.

Then there was the civic center. Gruen and his minions actually wanted to plop a gigantic civic/convention center right on top of the blocks bounded by State, Congress, High, and Cumberland (and bisected by Deering). Not everything on that site would have been paved over - The State Theater and the Portlander Motor Hotel (today's USM dorm) would have been integrated into the complex, and the Baptist Church on the corner of High and Deering would have been allowed to stand as well. Everything else in this huge tract of land, however, would have been S.O.L. How on Earth did Gruen's minions come up with such a crappy idea? Crack cocaine wasn't invented until at least a decade later, so they couldn't have been smoking that. PCP, maybe? In any case, they were out of their friggin' minds.

Fortunately their version of the civic center never came to pass. (I'm not entirely sure why. I think it had something with Portland being totally broke. Yay poverty!) So next time you're in the neighborhood, give thanks to it's continued existence by eating dinner at Uncle Billy's, grabbing a 40 from Joe's, and heading over to a show at Geno's. Try doing anything like that on the median strip of the Franklin Arterial.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The public comment black hole and the Walk Score Olympiad

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue writes,

Your most recent blogpost unintentionally directs public comment into a black hole; I tested that thing out months ago my comment/question was, more or less: "how do residents know that their comments are not going into a blackhole?" I received neither an answer nor a copy of my inquiry in my packet. Please link people to the general Outlook link for email Council.
Zounds! A red-herring e-mail form that sends public comments into the ether, never to be heard from ever again... it's almost like testifying in person before Portland City Councilors Jim Cloutier and Jill Duson without any labor union connections!


For a less literal black hole, use these links to send e-mails directly to your Councilors:

Mayor Nick Mavodones: nmm@portlandmaine.gov
Dist. 1 Councilor Kevin Donoghue: kjdonoghue@portlandmaine.gov
Dist. 2 Councilor Dave Marshall: damarshall@portlandmaine.gov
Dist. 3 Councilor Donna Carr: dcarr@portlandmaine.gov
Dist. 4 Councilor Cheryl Leeman: cl@portlandmaine.gov
Dist. 5 Councilor James Cohen: jcohen@portlandmaine.gov
At Large Councilor Jill Duson: jduson@portlandmaine.gov
At Large Councilor Jim Cloutier: jcloutier@portlandmaine.gov
At Large Councilor Ed Suslovic: esuslovic@portlandmaine.gov

You can also find contact information at this web page, which is where Councilor Donoghue apparently got the home addresses for the Walk Score Olympiad.

As reported previously, Walk Score rates your home address according to how many shops and services are within a reasonable walking distance. In the Council, Kevin reports that Councilor Dave Marshall lives in the neighborhood with the highest walk score (91) while Councilor Jim Cohen finishes last with the unfortunate score of 25. Of course, everyone on the Council is trying hard to raise the score for the whole city... right?

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Maine State Pier: Onramp to the New Franklin Superhighway

The Peninsula Traffic Plan of 2005 recycled the 1960s-era concept of turning Franklin Arterial into a six-lane trench of freeway traffic. Unsurprisingly, the Plan failed to garner any popular support, and it remains in limbo.
The Peninsula Traffic Plan of 2005 was universally panned and consigned to the dusty files of City Hall's netherworld for its complete lack of consideration for anyone who might want to navigate downtown Portland without an automobile.

Written by suburban traffic engineers Gorrill-Palmer1, the Peninsula Traffic Plan envisions a few nightmare scenarios for downtown Portland: eight lanes of speeding traffic at the edge of Deering Oaks Park, a six-lane Franklin Arterial that runs through a trench through downtown, streets so dangerous that pedestrians need bridges in order to cross them, and numerous other wet dreams for anyone who yearns for the halcyon days when we wantonly bulldozed our cities to make way for more cars.

At the intersection of Marginal Way and Franklin, GP proposed nine lanes of traffic. The proposal would be so dangerous to pedestrians that a separated bridge (yellow dotted line) would be necessary in order to cross.
In spite of its shortcomings, certain foul elements of the Peninsula Traffic Plan refuse to die. Most recently, the idea of widening Franklin Arterial at Marginal Way has been revived, and traffic engineers are trying to link the idea to the mess on the Maine State Pier. A May 21 memo (see page 9) from MDOT engineer Stephen Landry to developer Ocean Properties states that
"...some off-site mitigation is expected to be required, including additional turn lanes or traffic signals and possibly some ramp widening at Franklin Street I-295 interchange...

It matters little that this memo was written for Ocean Properties; the other development team (Olympia) is also planning on building more off-site parking, which will still clog area roadways and justify widening projects in MDOT's worldview. Plus, Olympia's traffic engineers aren't exactly progressive urbanists: they happen to be the same Gorrill-Palmer firm that wrote the bankrupt Peninsula Traffic Plan of 2005.

So how can Portland citizens keep the development on the Maine State Pier from becoming an on-ramp to the dreaded Franklin Superhighway to Hell? Simple: write to your City Council (you can find the e-mail addresses above in the next post - avoid the "black hole" on the City's web page) and demand that a project of this size should be postponed until Portland completes its upcoming study of pedestrian, bicycle, and transit traffic downtown.

Unless that happens, we can count on more cars, more air pollution, more pavement, and more misery in general from these developers.

1Perhaps not coincidentally, Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers, Inc. operates in the village of Gray, Maine, a locale for which years of intense traffic from the nearby Maine Turnpike has driven the town to designate "blighted" status. In other words, years of traffic engineering prescriptions of the sort contained in the Peninsula Traffic Plan have made a literal slum of Gorrill-Palmer's own hometown.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

"The Process Stinks"

The above quote was repeated several times in last night's community meeting regarding the Maine State Pier's tortured quest for redevelopment.

A number of people in attendance - including this blogger - called for the entire process to be put out of its misery.

The City Council and prospective developers have given us plenty of reasons to start over: lousy public involvement, allegations of favortism, botched due diligence, name-calling, etcetera, etcetera. Citizens have lost a good deal of faith in our city government, and who knows how many legitimate developers will be frightened away from our city after this unholy spectacle.

The only way our Council can save face now is if it rejects both development proposals and begins again from the beginning with an open-source, public plan for this crucial resource in the city's working waterfront.

Starting with a public vision for the site would not only serve Portland better, it would also give developers more certainty as they proceed. As it stands now, the entire debate has been ruled by the increasingly unstable oligopoly of two development firms. Clearly, it's doomed to fail: let's start over and do it right, on our own terms.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Strike Three

Last Friday witnessed the Portland area's third violation of 8-hour ozone standards this summer. The graph below shows ozone levels measured at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth for the past 30 days, with the current federal limit shown as the horizontal black line at 80 parts per billion and the proposed new limit shown as the red line, at 70 ppb:

In addition to a violation in June, these latest violations put Portland on the verge of "nonattainment" under the Clean Air Act, which would cut federal funding for our infrastructure and also put new limitations on local industries. With the new limits proposed by the Bush administration, Portland would certainly receive punishment for nonattainment.

At this point, the fiscally responsible thing to do would be to invest seriously in transportation alternatives for commuters and tourists in Maine. Motor vehicles are the biggest sources of ozone pollution in the summer. Continuing multi-million dollar expenditures on parking lots and freeway lanes will not only lay waste to our lungs: under the provisions and penalties of the Clean Air Act, it will also lay waste to our tax dollars.