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

Monday, October 20, 2008

Anncouncing the Greater Portland Active Transportation Campaign

Sometime next year, a new Congress and a new President will have to get to work on a new federal transportation bill - one that reflects the incredible new realities of $4/gallon gasoline, collapsing suburban home values, the need for rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and a workforce that's less and less interested in wasting hours of every day behind a steering wheel.

By necessity, then, the next federal transportation bill will be a radical departure from the old highway-building pork bills of yore. Cost-unconscious highway engineers are in for a harsh lesson in basic economics: we can't afford what they're building anymore. At the same time, low-cost, high-benefit transportation projects that have languished for years simply because they weren't highways will finally have their chance to succeed.

In 2005, Congress funded a small "Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program" that awarded $25 million to four communities (Marin, CA, Minneapolis, Sheboygan, WI, and Columbia, MO) so that they could invest in bicycling and walking infrastructure and stimulate a significant increase in the proportion of nonmotorized travel in these communities. Building on the success of this program, the national Rails to Trails Conservancy is now working to make sure that the program will be expanded to include dozens more communities in 2010.

Portland, Maine is one of the communities that's been encouraged to join the program, and Portland Trails today has released its plan for the "Active Transportation Campaign."

The plan reflects the collaborative work of dozens of organizations, inside and outside of government, and hundreds of citizens of greater Portland. With an expected $50 million in active transportation funds, Portland Trails anticipates that it can connect disjointed trails, make streets safer, and double the number of people who walk or bike to work or school. As ancillary benefits, these investments would eliminate the need to widen I-295 through Portland (a project that would have cost twice as much money), revitalize neighborhoods like Bayside and the Maine Mall area, and reduce stormwater pollution from pavement runoff.

Here's a map of proposed infrastructure projects:

The plan places a high priority on encouraging better pedestrian access to transit, and revitalizing streetscapes in places like Forest Avenue and Congress Street near the Westgate strip mall. "Active transport centers" scattered throughout city neighborhoods will give pedestrians and cyclists a comfortable, sheltered place to wait for buses or park their bikes. New bike/ped bridges will provide vital links, like the one over Long Creek that will connect the Mall area and Redbank neighborhood with downtown Portland via a newly-accessible Veterans Bridge.

Note that, at $50 million, all of these projects will still be far less expensive than adding a single lane to either of Portland's freeways. Visit the Portland Trails website to read the entire plan.

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