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

Monday, February 18, 2013

The loyal opposition

Today's Press Herald has a story from my colleague Tom Bell about Westbrook resident Brian Peterson, who is very worked up about the city's efforts to update its unsustainably expensive, 1970s-era highway infrastructure for the 21st century. 

Peterson is grumpy about recent efforts to convert State and High Streets back into regular 2-way city streets, as they were before the mid-1970s.

I certainly don't agree with much of what Peterson says. But I think it's an excellent article that, in spite of its subject, ends up strongly supporting safer, smaller streets.

Because outside of Peterson's, all of the quotes — and all of the fact-based evidence presented in the story — supports the two-way conversion of State and High, and continued "road diets" elsewhere in the city. For instance, City Councilor Dave Marshall:

"Since the Fore River Parkway was completed in 2005, connecting Exit 5 of Interstate 295 with West Commercial Street, traffic volumes on High and State streets have declined, with traffic at some intersections dropping as much as 20 percent, said City Councilor David Marshall, who chairs the council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee." 

"By moving traffic to the Fore River Parkway, motorists no longer have to drive though the two densest urban neighborhoods in the state," Marshall said.
Peterson's arguments, on the other hand, are as follows (these are his quotes from the story):
  • "It's crazy."
  • "It will shut the city down."
  • "Portland constantly is being voted one of the most walkable cities in America. How walkable does it have to be?"
  • And finally, a 40-year-old Portland Press Herald article, from 1973, in which a state traffic engineer said that converting the streets to one-way streets will relieve "major safety and capacity problems across the Portland peninsula in the north-south direction" (modern computer models would refute this, but if all you're working with is a slide rule, conventional wisdom, and a paycheck from highway lobbyists, it probably made sense at the time). 
Compared to the reasonable points of Marshall and others, Peterson's "it's crazy" argument doesn't sound very sophisticated. He has a very long-winded website, if you've got three days to spare and want to read a lot more of the same.

But I've never seen this guy show up at any public meetings, and it's hard to see how he expects to be convincing to anyone who doesn't already agree with him.

I do wish that Bell had asked him whether he'd be willing to pay more to maintain wide roads, since the current fiscal climate, coupled with declining traffic in general, is what's really driving the trend of road diets. I wonder this guy would be willing to pay an extra $1 or $2 a gallon at the pump in order to help pay for the upkeep of his crumbling 1970s-era highway paradises?


Corey Templeton said...
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Corey Templeton said...

Good points! I got fired up by the name of the article and the quotes by Mr. Peterson, but the article itself is very reasonable. Whether the streets remain one-way or go back to two-way should be secondary in concern to whether the streets are serving their users to their fullest potential. I’m confident that whatever ends up being decided on by the transportation committees will be to the benefit of the people who live and work nearest these streets as opposed to people from other cities.