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

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Portland Peninsula Transit Study passes City Council Unanimously

Last night, Portland's City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Peninsula Transit Study into the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The City now has an action plan focused on reducing the need for parking lots and garages downtown and improving our transit, walking, and bicycling infrastructure. Here's a link to the list of priorities (PDF file).

Now that the Study is a part of the Comprehensive Plan, we also have a powerful legal barrier to Augusta's attempts to pave over our city with unneccessary highway lanes. The Study specifically states that Portland will better manage traffic in our city and ultimately reduce the number of cars coming downtown, because we simply can't afford to widen local streets and expand parking garages for more car commuters. Instead, we should be investing more money in better bus service, which is a fraction of the cost of new highway lanes.

This contradicts Augusta's rationale for building new lanes on I-295, Veterans Bridge, and elsewhere. Maine's Sensible Transportation Policy Act states that the Maine DOT's projects must be consistent with local comprehensive plans. Now that the Transit Study and its goals are part of Portland's Comprehensive Plan, we have a very strong legal argument for throwing cold water on Augusta's asphalt fantasies.

Will the Maine DOT, in its financially weakened state, risk an expensive lawsuit that will force it to divert more of its dwindling gas tax revenue towards better regional bus service, at the expense of its close friends in the sand and gravel lobby? I bet they will, and I'm looking forward to it!

Read last night's success story at the Maine League of Young Voters blog. The League was fantastic in orchestrating grassroots support for this, and I'm looking forward to working with them more as we get the Study's recommendations implemented.

The Council also heard the first (of two) reading of several zoning amendments that would reduce parking requirements and promote more walkable development in the city's off-peninsula neighborhood commercial zones, in places like Rosemont, Woodfords and Morrill's Corner, and North Deering. While not strictly a Transit Study recommendation, these changes are certainly in the spirit of the Transit Study, and they deserve to pass when the Council meets again.

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