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

Friday, October 30, 2015

Suburban streets get complete

Two large-scale construction projects have delivered impressive "complete streets" transformations along parts of Route 1 in South Portland and Falmouth this summer.

To the south, a sewer upgrade project along Main Street in Thornton Heights slimmed down a four-lane road into a two-lane city street in the neighborhood's center, widened sidewalks, and added landscaped curb extensions that will also help filter stormwater before it flows into storm drains. Construction's not quite done, but some of the new sidewalks and curbing have been installed, along with some of the basic stormwater filtration gardens:

Thornton Heights is a classic streetcar suburb, but the neighborhood has had a hard half-century since it became the dumping ground for traffic from a nearby Maine Turnpike spur road.

Unfortunately, the new Main Street is still only an island of walkability – it remains cut off from surrounding neighborhoods, thanks to that previously-mentioned Turnpike stump at the neighborhood's southern edge and the inhospitable stretch of Route 1 that leads through the ugly Cash Corner intersection.

Also discouragingly, South Portland city councilors last year rejected a proposal to allow more walkable and transit-oriented zoning in the neighborhood. So, even with a more urban, walkable street, it's questionable whether neighborhood-oriented small businesses will follow, given that the status quo zoning favors auto-oriented strip mall development.

On the other end of Route 1, in Falmouth, they've just finished a very similar street project for that town's main drag. This one also includes new, wide sidewalks, lots of new street trees, lighting, bike lanes and several landscaped medians for safer crosswalks:

Unlike Thornton Heights, Route 1 in Falmouth is mostly surrounded by strip malls and parking lots – it's hard to tell there whether you're in Maine or in suburban Texas, so the town's nice new street feels pretty lonely.

But Falmouth is one step ahead of South Portland in one important respect: it's enacted some progressive zoning to encourage new walkable development along their new main street. That's been slow to come so far, but the new sidewalks and street trees should help encourage the hoped-for investment.