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

Monday, March 31, 2008

New Haven plans to reclaim its own botched urban expressway

Like Portland, New Haven, Connecticut also bulldozed vibrant downtown neighborhoods to make way for a big expressway in the name of urban renewal. Now, local activists and the city government are making plans to reclaim the long-lost city blocks. From the Tri-State Transportation Campaign blog:

"The proposal, developed by local activists and the City of New Haven, would redevelop the Route 34 Connector into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of workforce housing, retail, and open space. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr.’s Future Framework 2008 plan proposes to tear down the Rt. 34 Connector, restore the long-lost street grid, and reconnect downtown to Union Station."

You can also learn more on the Greater Greater Washington blog.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Important action alert: Support railroad investments in Maine

The Legislature's transportation committee endorsed LD 2019, an act to invest in Maine's passenger and freight railways, with an "ought to pass" vote yesterday. This bill would dedicate 1/2 of the car rental tax in Maine to investments in our passenger railways, and make it possible for the successful Downeaster service to expand north to Freeport and Brunswick.

You can find out your legislators' contact information by using this lookup tool.
Consider calling the Governor and asking for his support as well.


-By passing this bill, Maine could have passenger train service to Brunswick by July 2010. From Brunswick, other state-owned rail lines make passenger service to Lewiston/Auburn and Rockland possible

-This funding wouldn't kick in until next year, so it doesn't affect the current budget shortfall. It would dedicate $2.5 million a year to paying back a low-interest loan for the Brunswick railroad expansion. To put that number into context, the state spends about $1 million on our roads every time there's a snowstorm.

-At the same time, transit-oriented economic development along the Downeaster route - including a new Maine Street station mixed-use project being planned in Brunswick - will more than repay the state's investment with future income and property tax revenue.

-Investing in rail service will be an important strategy for the region to avoid Clean Air Act violations and penalties, and to help the state reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

-With the rising costs of fuel, Maine's people and industries need more - and more efficient - transportation options.

-Rail moves people and goods more cheaply than highways. This is critical to bolstering our state's economy and protecting our citizens' pocketbooks in these lean times.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stevens Avenue

Hat tip to Erik Osborn for this photo of Stevens Avenue. Erik writes, "You've probably seen this elsewhere, but with the huge potholes the old city is emerging into view, trolley tracks and all. This spot on Stevens is especially large. Thought this might be an interesting topic for your blog, this reminder that for many years trolley was the way we got around town."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cars = Cigarettes

The following is cribbed from a Michael O'Hare essay on The Reality-Based Community. Check it out.

Conventional wisdom, fifty years ago:

  • Americans will never give up their cigarettes, it's impossible;
  • Do you know how important the tobacco industry is to the economy? Not smoking will impoverish the entire nation
  • It's my right as an American to smoke wherever I want
  • Smoking is actually good (remember the doctors in the Chesterfield ads?); the science on cigarettes' health effects is uncertain and alarmist.

Conventional wisdom, today:
  • "Americans will never give up their cars, it's impossible;
  • "Do you know how important the car industry, and road and home construction, are to the economy? Not living in car suburbs will impoverish the entire nation;
  • "It's my right as an American to drive wherever I want and park near the door when I get there;
  • "Sprawl and suburbs are actually good; the science on global warming is uncertain and alarmism."

Here's O'Hare's breakdown of how America de-smoked itself:

(1) Aggressive publicity for the scientific facts about the delayed costs.
(2) Extensive public education about the externalities of second-hand smoke.
(3) Regulations and constraints, putatively in the interest of non-smoking victims like airline flight attendants and restaurant waiters.
(4) Constant, steady price (tax) increases making the externalities internal and immediately visible.
(5) An education and social pressure campaign directed at Hollywood and TV to get the cigarettes out of its products.
(6) Publicly and charitably funded programs to help people quit.
(7) Legal action against the supplying industry to collect external costs in judgments.

In terms of dealing with cars, I'd say we're at step 2, and edging into step 3.

O'Hare writes, "Every one of these steps, especially (3), (4) and (5), proceeded in the face of confident assertions by people who should know that (i) smoking prohibitions could never be enforced, (ii) no-smoking restaurants would mean the complete collapse of the economy of one city after another, (iii) bleating about individual rights, (iv) pseudoscientific denialism."

In the case of Maine's Turnpike Authority and MDOT, I'd say that the problem isn't so much pseudoscientific denialism as pseudoeconomic denialism: the completely unsubstantiated belief that Portland's economy needs six-lane freeways so badly that we should spend a quarter billion dollars on pavement.

And so we'll proceed in the face of their confident assertions that car-addicted engineers know what's best for us, and we'll beat this addiction, too.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Coming soon: $4 a gallon

Image at left courtesy of the New York Times.

Gas prices are widely expected to reach $4 a gallon this spring, when refineries reformulate their products and supplies tighten in advance of the busy summer travel season, according to a report in last week's New York Times. Of course, this will further squeeze households' disposable income, and probably have severe macroeconomic consequences, since decades of hidebound state and federal highway "investments" have given gasoline suppliers an effective monopoly on American transportation.

The article generated some good letters:

"Would it not be a novel approach if Americans, instead of cutting back on other expenditures to compensate for the rising price of gas, made a serious effort to cut back on fuel consumption? ...this would be a win-win situation for the economy, the environment and the health (both physical and financial) of the average citizen and perhaps even decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

"No wonder no one in our dysfunctional, hand-wringing government has made the slightest move — much less offered any practical incentive — to encourage it.

"Louise T. Guinther, Forest Hills, Queens, Feb. 27, 2008"
"European countries have become accustomed to gasoline at $4 a gallon. In several countries it has been above $5 for years. These countries have long taxed motor vehicle fuel at a much higher rate than the United States does and used the revenue to build mass transit systems that really work.

"Gas will reach $4 and $5 a gallon here as well, but unless our politicians show more courage and foresight than they have in the past, we still will not have mass transit that works well enough to park or sell our cars.

"Lane Anderson, Marina Del Rey, Calif., Feb. 27, 2008"

Meanwhile, while gas is still relatively cheap, we're already beginning to witness the first gunpoint robberies committed by criminals who need to fill up their SUV tanks (seen on CarFree USA blog).