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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Portland's Proposed New Bike and Pedestrian Plan: Public Hearing on March 1, 6:30 pm

Grade "A": Bedford Street in the USM campus is comfortable to walk and bike along, or to cross as a pedestrian, and would therefore be considered a street with a high "quality of service" for bikes and pedestrians...

Grade "D": Forest Avenue in the vicinity of Morrill's Corner, with its high volumes of speeding traffic and lack of safe crosswalks, would receive much lower grades.

Failure: Franklin Street, with its complete lack of crosswalks or sidewalks, would receive an "F."
Portland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (which I chair) has lately been working with city staff on a new chapter of the city's Comprehensive Plan that would be focused on improving the city's conditions for bikes and pedestrians.

The plan goes under the public's scrutiny for the first time at a public hearing on Thursday, March 1, at 6:30 pm in the Merrill Auditorium Rehearsal Hall (behind City Hall; entrance on Myrtle Street).

Pending its approval from the City Council, this plan would have a certain legal force under state laws like the Sensible Transportation Policy Act and the Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act.

On a practical basis, that means that future real estate developments and road projects would have to abide by the plan's recommendations. One of its more exciting elements (to me) is how it would implement new "quality of service" measures for walking and cycling in various neighborhoods across the city.

Streets would be graded according to the quality of their crosswalks, the speed of traffic, and other factors that affect how useable and safe they are for pedestrians and cyclists, with particular focus on vulnerable users like kids and the elderly (see the examples at right).

The city would also set targets for various districts to achieve certain ratings: a neighborhood center like Woodfords Corner or North Deering would be held to a higher standard than an industrial area like Warren Avenue. And as new development occurs, builders and road projects would be held to those aspirational standards.

So, even though the area around the Northgate shopping plaza in North Deering might currently rate a "C" or "D" in terms of pedestrian quality of service, new road and building projects in the neighborhood would be expected to add wider sidewalks, better crosswalks, trail connections, and other amenities to aim for an "A" rating.

One drawback of the Comprehensive Plan is that it will take a long time to implement, because by default, change will only happen incrementally, as new road projects and developments come along.

To get things going a bit faster, one idea kicking around is adding in a recommendation for a dedicated source of funding for new bike routes and pedestrian improvements, perhaps through a 25 cent surcharge on hourly rates at public parking meters and garages, so that the city wouldn't necessarily have to wait for development projects to come along in order to make improvements.

It's unlikely that city staff will make a recommendation like that on their own, but if enough members of the public speak out, it could be more realistic. And if it were included in the plan, then City Councilors would have a chance to vote on a new source of funding, along with the plan's other good ideas.

You can download a draft outline of the plan, plus a map of proposed official city bike routes, on the City's Transportation, Sustainability & Energy Committee webpage.

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