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

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New stuff on the streets

Portland's public works department has been busy this summer with a number of projects that will make walking and cycling easier, safer, and more pleasant. Here's a quick and incomplete look at what's new:

Commercial Street between High Street and the Casco Bay Bridge was ripped up, repaved, and re-striped with narrower car lanes, better crosswalks, and bike lanes. The new bike lanes, coupled with wide outside shoulders on the outer portions of Commercial and the Fore River Parkway, give bikes a continuous safe route between the bus/train station and the Old Port.

On the other end of the waterfront, where ambitous condo plans have fizzled, a behemoth new publicly-subsidized parking garage now hulks over the neighborhood. The area now has more parking than any other time in Portland's history, but islanders continue to complain that it's not enough for them. But enough about the failures of socialized parking. This photo also shows the new Thames Street, which, besides being lined with even more parking, is a nice new waterfront connection to the Eastern Prom bike path. Also, Hancock Street has been re-connected through the neighborhood to the waterfront. Three cheers for restoring the historic street grid!

This is a still under-construction sidewalk on Pearl Street, next to a new mixed-income housing development. I thought it was photo worthy because it might be Portland's first example of in-street stormwater treatment. The gutter next to the curb might be used to collect rainwater and funnel it into the tree wells, instead of dumping it in the sewer. At least, that's how I think it ought to work. I may just be thinking wishfully, though.

Lower down in Bayside, Marginal Way is growing up with a new office building and a student housing complex that replaced a huge parking lot. Marginal has also been reduced from four lanes to three between Preble and Chestnut Streets, which leaves more room for wider, safer bike lanes and some on-street parking. 
Even though the ground floors of these new buildings are dedicated to tax-subsidized parking (for college students living a five minute walk from campus - seriously), a fair amount of ground-floor retail does a passable job of hiding the ugly parking garages. I've also noticed that the new bike racks on the sidewalk at the USM housing are usually overflowing.
Bedford Street, which runs through USM just on the other side of I-295, has had major improvements built this summer as part of a big campus expansion project. Above, new crosswalks, traffic-calming islands, and widened bike lanes, looking east towards Forest Ave. and the library.

What I called "campus expansion" above might more accurately be described as "campus creation." Before these construction projects, this neighborhood felt like a forgotten backwater, with old half-abandoned warehouses and huge parking lots. Now it actually feels like a safe and pleasant place to take a stroll. On the south side of Bedford, the University has built this beautiful wide esplanade between the street and the new campus buildings.
My favorite part about the new Bedford Street is how it buried a freeway-style slip lane at Forest Avenue under a new sidewalk. Before, the guy in the white shirt pictured above would have been road kill. Now he's got a safe place to wait and a shorter path to cross Forest Avenue to the supermarket or the Back Cove trail. Besides that, this area could well become a lively pedestrian plaza and gathering place for students once the library construction project is finished.

I've updated the new bike lanes in the Portland bike map in the sidebar as well.

1 comment:

Corey Templeton said...

Nice rundown. They also did some painting and addded a nice bike lane on Congress St. between the Hood Headquarters and I-295. Now they just need bike lanes going the rest of the way to the airport. I would try biking to work (from 180 high st. to Unum on outer congress) but I don't dare bike on Congress through the Stroudwater stretch for fear of being killed.