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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Welcome, Press Herald readers and MPBN listeners

This blog and its Oaks Parkway proposal got some press this morning on MPBN and from the Press Herald. If this is your first time here, welcome! This blog is a citizens' effort to bring Maine's transportation networks into the twenty-first century and shine some critical light on the hidebound bureaucracies that continue to lay pavement across the state, whether or not we want (or can afford) it.

To learn more about my Oaks Parkway proposal for downtown Portland, follow the links below:

  • Lost Sites: I-295 Overview maps of I-295, and its potential value as a smaller, more humane parkway. Redeveloping the land that I-295 occupies could add as many as 800 units of housing and office space for 2,000 new jobs in Portland's inner neighborhoods.
  • Lost Sites: I-295 at Deering Avenue and Oaks Parkway at Deering Avenue A side by side comparison of the freeway's existing conditions and how a redeveloped, narrower parkway could look.
  • Tour of the new Oaks Parkway A video tour of the I-295 corridor through Portland, including a virtual ride on the proposed Oaks Parkway bus rapid transitway.

Members of the press or the general public who'd like to learn more: please contact Christian McNeil at christiannealmcneil at yahoo.com or call 310-0728 for more information, or for high-resolution images for print. Our you could download and view the proposal as an annotated Google Earth overlay. I'll also be presenting a slide show of this proposal at tonight's City Hall meeting on MDOT's I-295 corridor study (7 PM, State of Maine room).

And here, because I couldn't have said it better myself, is Press Herald editorial writer Greg Kesich's column from today's paper:
I-295 too crowded? Why not get rid of the highway?

We all know what to do with a highway like Interstate 295 when it gets too congested, don't we?

You add lanes and beef up the exit ramps so more vehicles can get on and off faster. Right?

But what if you got rid of the ramps and made the highway part of the street grid?

What if you added stoplights and crosswalks that slowed traffic down? What if instead of widening the road, you made it more narrow?

What you would end up with would not be a highway, but it might be a lot better for Portland, according to Christian McNeil, an urban planning student and transportation activist who has drafted such a plan as an alternative to more conventional highway improvements that are being considered by the Maine Department of Transportation.

McNeil plans to present his ideas outside a public meeting with DOT engineers tonight at 7 in the State of Maine Room in Portland City Hall.

The concept plan he calls "Oaks Parkway" can also be seen on McNeil's blog, "Rights of Way" (www.rightsofway.blogspot.com), which offers a lively attack on the conventional wisdom surrounding transportation issues.

I-295 is one of the DOT's top priorities because it is the most used stretch of road in the state. On average, 80,000 vehicles cross Tukey's Bridge every day, and the traffic is expected to get heavier.

But McNeil says there are other concerns.

Under his plan, Portland could recover 60 acres of developable land by building a pedestrian-friendly boulevard in place of the 2-mile stretch of I-295 with its elaborate clover-leaf exits between outer Congress Street and Franklin Arterial.

The raw land would be worth $60 million, development could double its value and contribute hefty property tax revenues to the city. It would create 2,000 jobs and room for 800 units of downtown housing.

But wouldn't it also create a massive traffic jam?

McNeil says it would slow things down, but it might not be as bad as you'd think.

Lowering speeds would increase the road's capacity. Remember the "2-second rule" from Driver's Ed? A car going 60 miles per hour needs a lot more space around it than one going 25.

This would still be too slow for through traffic, and those drivers would probably avoid the new route to take the Maine Turnpike, which some now pass up to avoid paying tolls.

Which gets to McNeil's basic question: Why would we want to route regional freeway traffic through downtown Portland anyway?

It's not like widening I-295 won't cause traffic problems. When more vehicles come to Portland off the enhanced I-295, they will still get off the highway by the same three exits. Expect the increased volume on the highway to result in traffic backups on Franklin Arterial, Forest Avenue and Congress Street.

Deputy Transportation Commissioner Greg Nadeau said a projected "tsunami" of future traffic makes a plan like McNeil's unworkable.

Alternative transportation is part of the solution but it can only take up so much slack. "If we didn't need 295, we'd save a lot of money," he said.

McNeil doesn't expect DOT to embrace his plan and trash its own. He's just hoping to start a conversation that will break people out of the old ways of looking at road-building.

Local activists have already been able to scrap a plan to turn the Franklin Arterial into a six-lane behemoth that would sever downtown from the East End.

Instead, planners are working on a new design that will move cars, but also make space for pedestrians and cyclists.

This may sound overly idealistic, but it's not. Trends are moving in McNeil's direction, and the DOT knows it.

In the department's I-295 draft plan, it notes that oil is getting scarce and demand is increasing in China and India.

When today's middle-schoolers are in the work force, don't you think they will need some way to get to their jobs without having to gas up?

Today's transportation choices will also impact Maine's aging population. There comes a time for most people when dimming eyesight and slower reflexes cause them to give up driving. Without a car, they can't visit friends, go to church or pick up a few things at the store.

While Maine's elderly might not be cruising on the bike lanes that are part of McNeil's 295 vision, they might like to be able to walk to a bus stop on what now is a highway.

A lot of things are going to change in the next few decades that will have profound effects on how we get around.

The transportation activists are right to question if we are preparing for that day in the right way.

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be reached at 791-6481, or at:


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Now you have street cred