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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Make middle-class housing legal

A lack of new housing in the walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods of the Portland peninsula is one of our biggest barriers to creating a more sustainable region. Thousands of households all over New England would love to live in a city like Portland where it's possible to live well without an automobile — and in spite of this demand, virtually no new middle-class housing has been built in the central city during the past decade.

Why should this be? I have a column in today's Portland Press Herald looking at some of the reasons our city's becoming increasingly unaffordable, and here's the short version: our current zoning laws make it mathematically impossible to build an affordable home in the city.

Go to any planning meeting and you’ll see that the people complaining about taller buildings and parking issues are almost always well-off. Unlike the working poor, they have the leisure time to attend long planning meetings and influence zoning policy. Our “public process” is inherently biased against progress and the people who need housing the most.

That’s why it’s so important for those of us who possess the privilege of being able to participate in these civic discussions (this means you, opinion page readers) to maintain some perspective about how our bourgeois desires in urban design weigh against the greater needs of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Shadows from taller buildings, or finding free storage for your four-wheeled private property – those are First World problems. Dozens of your neighbors living in the shelters for want of stable housing: That’s a real-world problem, and we need to work harder to solve it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Northwestern 'burbs get new express bus service

The Portland region just got its first new bus route in nearly ten years with the addition of the new Lakes Region Bus Service from RTP, the regional paratransit provider.

The service is modest, with only four round-trips per day and six stops along the route at town centers along Route 302. And with the possible exception of a stop at the end of Main Street in Raymond, most of the bus stops aren't in walkable locations.

Still, with a 30-mile span, the new bus could make a big difference in helping residents of Windham, Raymond, Casco and Naples drive less and save a lot of money in commuting costs.

The bus comes with some nice amenities, including free wifi and bike racks. For the rest of December, the service will be free; thereafter it will cost $3 for a one-way fare.

With only six stops, the bus will effectively offer express service into Portland at speeds comparable to driving. It resembles somewhat the existing ZOOM bus service from Portland to Biddeford, and I'd suggest that it might benefit from common branding with that service in the future.

Here's the route and schedule information. For detailed stop locations, visit rtprides.org/lake-region-bus/.