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

Friday, December 21, 2007

Great news for Franklin Street

Passing this news on from Markos Miller, Munjoy Hill neighborhood activist and founding member of the Franklin Reclamation Authority:

Today PACTS approved an allocation of $30,000 to continue the Revisioning Process of the Franklin Arterial. The Policy Committee was very supportive of this project. While the sum may be a shoestring budget, the important elements of land-use considerations will be included as part of this study. We've accomplished so much on a $300 budget, and I bet that with the dedication and focus of the community, we will be able to maximize the opportunity this study promises.

To think that just one year ago we were looking at the Traffic Study being adopted, and now we will be in the position to bring our vision to the Portland's Comprehensive Plan.
So Portland's well on its way towards banishing an urban freeway from its downtown and joining other successful cities like New York (which demolished its West Side Highway), San Francisco (the Embarcadero, with help from Loma Prieta), Toronto (Gardiner Expressway), and the other Portland (which demolished Harbor Drive along its waterfront and ended up with an iconic park). I'll be following up with details on how citizens can get involved in this redesign process, which ought to begin early this spring.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Highways and their Bureacracies are broken

The League of Young Voters sponsored a panel discussion on transportation issues last night, and it was very well attended for such a wonky topic. I'd guess at least 30 people were there, plus a number of journalists.

One of the panelists was East Deering state representative Boyd Marley, whom we're lucky to have representing us as the chair of the Legislature's transportation committee. A lot of questions zeroed in on him, since it's clear that a lot of the funding and design problems we experience in Portland originate at the state level.

As I've argued previously, Maine's Department of Transportation (MDOT) is in the middle of a funding crisis: it can't afford to maintain the infrastructure we have. Yet at the same time, the out-of-touch bureaucracies at MDOT and the independent Maine Turnpike Authority are engaged in planning new highways that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars we don't have, and these agencies have a time-warped internal culture that works in wholesale ignorance of the new realities of global warming and $3/gallon gasoline.

Whether you're an independent trucker in the north woods or a Main Street entrepreneur of the new creative class, Maine's inefficient, stone-age transportation bureaucracies are sandbagging our economic future by failing to acknowledge the new constraints and opportunities of the 21st century. This has got to change - but how?

Boyd referred to the problems of negotiating with rural legislators, who have a strong desire for highways (and strong connections to sand and gravel lobbyists).

But this funding crisis affects rural roads, too. The entire state, rural and urban, needs a solution, and part of that solution should provide alternative, more cost-efficient transportation solutions where they are appropriate. Rural Maine will always demand highways, but if MDOT continues to waste money on expensive and ineffective road expansions in greater Portland when alternatives are both feasible and strongly desired, rural Maine's highways and bridges will continue to be strapped for funding. The status quo is a lose-lose proposition.

The Governor has come up with one promising idea, even if his staff at MDOT and the Turnpike Authority are out-of-touch space cadets: consolidate the Turnpike Authority with MDOT so that there is one unified transportation agency for the state. This idea hasn't gained much traction so far, but it would carry much more political support if it also provided for the transportation alternatives that Mainers want and need. When we consolidate the Turnpike Authority, the Legislature should set aside a dedicated portion of Turnpike toll revenue to fund the DownEaster's operating shortfall and expanded commuter bus and vanpool services throughout the Turnpike corridor.

But Maine's transportation agencies need more than consolidation: they need to be gutted completely and built anew to reflect the new realities of the twenty-first century. Let's give our Legislators the strong grassroots support they need to move forward with a bold, long-term solution. Give them a call or an e-mail:

Senator Dennis Damon, Hancock County, co-chair of the Transportation Committee:
dsdamon {at} panax.com, 667-9629
Rep. Boyd Marley, Portland, co-chair:
abspmarley{at}verizon.net, 838-2450
Sen. Bill Diamond, Windham, member of the Trans. Committee:
diamondhollyd [at] aol.com, 892-8941
Rep. Ann Peoples, Westbrook, member of the Trans. Committee:
annpeoples116 [at] msn.com, 856-7264
Rep. George Hogan Sr., OOB, member of the Trans. Committee:
ghogan [at] gwi.net, 934-4292
Rep. Glenn Cummings, Portland, speaker of the House:
gcforleg at yahoo.com, 287-1300
Rep. Jon Hinck, Portland West End:
repjon.hinck [at]legislature.maine.gov, 874-7407
Rep. Anne Rand, Portland East End:
rndanne at aol.com, 773-8198
Rep. Anne Haskell, Stroudwater and Rosemont:
annehask[at] maine.rr.com, 871-5808
Sen. Ethan Strimling, Portland:
senstrimling [at] mainesenate.org, 775-0105

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Opportunity for the new Franklin Boulevard

Cumberland County is trying to strike a deal with the Boulos Company office brokers and developers to put what could become one of Portland's biggest office buildings next to Franklin Arterial and Lincoln Park. An early proposal is shown at right, and the project would occupy what is now a parking lot next to the existing courthouse (map below).

This is great news for the hundreds of Portlanders who would like to improve Franklin Arterial. While the developers haven't yet expressed any intention of implementing any of the public's desires for a better, more walkable streetscape, the existing public-private partnership between the County and the Boulos Company could - and should - be stretched to redesign and rebuild Franklin between Middle Street and Cumberland Avenue, and to restore the acre of Lincoln Park that was lost to urban "renewal" fifty years ago.

In order for this to happen, the city may have to make some concessions to the County and the developer. Reducing the site's parking requirements should be a no-brainer, since it will both make progress more economical and reduce the amount of traffic the site will generate.

But the City will also needs to raise the area's height restrictions substantially. This is the middle of downtown Portland, just a few blocks away from the city's tallest buildings, and if there's any neighborhood where tall buildings are appropriate, it's here. As far as height goes, my only caveat is that the building shouldn't cast a long shadow on Lincoln Park to the northwest: most of the building's height should therefore be concentrated on the southeastern end of the property, and a taller and skinnier tower will be preferable to a shorter, squatter building, like the one pictured.

Read more about the proposal in today's Press Herald. The public is invited to an informational meeting about this on Monday evening, 6:30 pm, in the existing courthouse building next door to the proposed development site. Let's get a big turnout there to advocate for a better building and some serious improvements to Franklin.

View Larger Map

Friday, December 7, 2007

Transit offends snotty rich kid's sensibilities

Against my better judgment, I found myself flipping through the Portland Phoenix yesterday evening, when I found a "news" "article" about Metro's free ride Fridays.

Author Dave Brady begins fairly enough, observing that Metro's routes are meandering and inconvenient. Then he takes this nauseating dive into condescending snark:

"A ride on the Metro can be confusing, smelly, and long, but occasionally you luck out and find a clean seat next to a fragrance-free passenger... and it can be a great place to people watch.

"On a recent bus ride into the Old Port I witnessed an endearing portrait of the mother-daughter dynamic. While the young mom paid the fare her little girl burst out of a stroller two sizes too small and fell flat on her face. The wee one screeched at the top of her lungs, of course. She looked like she could use a hug, but instead she got a hanky to wipe her tear-induced snots. Then she flicked the handkerchief locker-room style at her apathetic mother’s face.

"You don't get this kind of entertainment in your beat-up Volvo."

It's so true... you really don’t get that kind of entertainment in the old yuppie-mobile your suburban parents gave you to take to the small liberal arts college where you learned how to become a pretentious twit. This Dave Brady character certainly is a keen observer of the human condition.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Portland's League of Young Voters gets mobile.

Passing this along from the League...

Join us this December 11th at the REAL DEAL to discuss the state of Transportation in Portland!

Where: 415 Congress Street, Suite 202 (Portland Business Center)
When: 12/11/2007 at 5:30-7 pm
Panelists: Kevin Donohue (Chair of Portland's Transportation Committee); Boyd Marley (Chair of State's Transportation Committee); Eric Osborn (Chair of the Bike/Ped Committee); Julia Dawson (PACTS transportation planner)

The Feel of the Night
- Introduction of panelists
- What are Portland's Regional transportation goals?
- What are Portland's transportation goals?
- What is PACTS? How did PACTS' top 8 earmarks get developed?
- What is the bike/ped role in local transportation? What challenges are Portland bikers, walkers, and other pedestrians facing?
- How can Portland transit and Portland Regional transit studies get incorporated into the ear marks? What is the timing of the local earmarks?

Followed by questions from the audience.

Following this meeting will be a public meeting on the recommendations of the I-295 corridor study, which did lousy diligence in getting public input and concluded that widening the freeway through Portland would be a capital idea. Bring your elbow-length latex gloves so we can pull MDOT's head out of its ass.

Also, the deadline for letters to PACTS is effectively now. If you haven't sent anything yet, put together two sentences to let them know that widening I-295 and the Gorham Bypass are unacceptable wastes of our money in the face of challenges like global warming and $3/gallon gasoline (actually, that's one sentence - easy).

Send your message to duncan@gpcog.org, jdawson@gpcog.org, and copy your congressional representatives. More details and talking points are here.