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

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Daily Paper Double

Today's Portland Press Herald editorial page goes to bat twice in favor of transportation policy reform:

Portland is one of the rare urban centers where people can get around almost as well without a car as with one...

But that doesn't mean that the city has it all worked out. There are gaps in the system, where sidewalks and bike lanes suddenly disappear, leaving pedestrians and cyclists dangerously exposed. There are also gaps in the behavior of people, both on the street and behind the wheel, who break the rules of the road, creating unnecessary danger...

Everyone in the city has an interest in making this work. Walkers and cyclists reduce congestion, demand for parking and air pollution. Good facilities help people save money and promote healthy living.

But as gas prices climb, more people will leave their cars at home, so it's important to fill these gaps now.
This is in reference to Portland's new Complete Streets resolution, which the City Council passed earlier this week. Under guidance from Bruce Hyman, our Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator, the city is set to get to work to create an official Complete Streets policy, which will ensure that bikes and pedestrians are accommodated and made welcome in all of the City's future construction projects. This is a big deal, and I'll be writing more about this soon.

The second editorial deals with the disgraced Maine Turnpork Authority:

The resignation of longtime Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette has led to some fast-paced scrambling by the agency's board of directors...

In the end, public anger and calls for legislative action were not just about gift cards, but about what those expenditures represent, which is a political organization that has been allowed to exist outside the checks and balances of government.

Violette used to refer to his organization as a business, which it resembled when it borrowed money on Wall Street to finance projects. But at the same time, the Maine Turnpike provides an essential public service and manages a resource, in the form of tolls collected from tourists and trucking companies, in which the entire state has an interest.

Reshuffling the responsibilities of a board that meets one day a month for less than two hours at a time is not enough oversight for an organization that collects $99 million in toll revenue each year.

The fact that its revenue does not come directly from the taxpayers does not make the Maine Turnpike a private business. If the board has been lax in its oversight of staff expenditures, the same can be said of past Legislatures, which have not adequately asserted their duty to raise questions about how the MTA is run and how it fits with other state priorities.

Republican lawmakers have called for a top-to-bottom review of the MTA and raised fundamental questions about the management structure of the Maine Turnpike Authority and its recent inability to turn over any operating surplus to the state to defray other transportation costs.

The MTA board's scrambling is understandable and probably overdue. But it is not a substitute for a serious legislative inquiry.

The Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation (of which I'm a part) is working on promising legislation that would address a number of these issues, by requiring the Turnpike Authority to provide a regional commuter bus system and to help fund basic road maintenance and repair throughout the rest of the state, before it takes on any of its more expensive widening projects.

It's called LD 673, "An Act To Expand Fiscally Responsible Transportation through Increased ZOOM Bus Service," and here's how you can help get it passed. More on this, too, in a future blog post.

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