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

Friday, December 19, 2008

A bridge over troubled traffic?

Portland Trails' Bayside Promenade Trail, which would extend through from Elm Street to the Eastern Prom, will soon be unveiling its final design. One of the biggest hang-ups involves how to cross Franklin Arterial:

Portland Trails and the trail designers have big hang-ups over crossing Franklin in the middle of the block, where the trail's natural course would be. The concept design (shown above) would detour bikes and pedestrians to Marginal Way, to cross at a new set of crosswalks there.

For me, this is a mildly annoying design, one that essentially says, "go ahead, car traffic, you're more important here." It also fails to accommodate bikes: what if I'm headed downhill on Franklin, and want to take a left onto the trail? This design would force me to do a u-turn at Marginal Way and ride a short distance, illegally, on a city sidewalk, instead of making a normal left turn.

This design is also more backwards-looking than forward looking. Franklin Street is in the midst of a redesign, and the community's vision statement calls for a "boulevard... that serves autos, existing and future transit, pedestrians and cyclists equally... and provide for human scale, pedestrian-oriented development." The future Franklin Street will include many more crosswalks and slower vehicle speeds. Why can't we start here?

And the design ignores reality. If there isn't a crosswalk, people will jaywalk. Even on a group walk a couple of weeks ago, when interested parties strolled along the proposed trail's length, nearly half of the participants scurried across mid-block to get to the other side, rather than detour to the intersection.

The desire paths that already cut across Franklin demonstrate what will happen without a proper crossing. Build a fence, and determined pedestrians will cut it down (it's happened numerous times next to the Noyes warehouse at the Oxford Street crossing, shown above). People will follow the shortest, most convenient path across to the other side, regardless of the designers' and planners' desires.

Still, the inconvenience of a detoured crossing pales in comparison to some peoples' desire: a long, high bridge over Franklin Street traffic. This, they argue, would eliminate the inconvenience of detouring to Marginal Way, and make people feel "safer" by separating them from traffic altogether.

But there's nothing convenient about having to climb a 20-foot hill on your bicycle. And there's nothing safe about streets where traffic is encouraged to speed and pay less attention because there's a bridge instead of a crosswalk.

A bridge would eat up a lot of real estate that could be better used as open park space. And with ramps that begin hundreds of feet away from the intersection, it would make it way more difficult for anyone to enter or exit the trail at Franklin Street. In fact, by making the crossing less convenient in so many ways, a bridge over Franklin would probably encourage even more jaywalking than the detoured-crosswalk alternative.

Finally, there's the cost consideration. A bridge would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to the trail's budget. For the price of a bridge, we could probably extend the trail westward all the way to Deering Oaks. I'm a minor supporter of Trust for Public Land, which is helping fundraise for this trail, and I've got to say that I have some serious problems with such a poor use of donor money.


John said...

Hi, Christian. I'm feeling particularly vehicular-cylist lately, so I don't mean to offend. I'd support whatever is most convenient for pedestrians, but for bikes, let them either use the road like other vehicles, or use whatever pedestrian facilities there are, slowly and carefully, preferably dismounting in crosswalks. Yes, I've gone downhill on Franklin and managed to turn left at Marginal. If others are not comfortable with that maneuver, then be a careful pedestrian, but I don't think that bikes need to be an additional consideration to this path's design. Just design it for peds, and cyclists will either use it or use the roads, according to their preference and comfort.

C Neal said...

I agree that vehicular cyclists should be more of a consideration, which is why the two proposed designs (the bridge, and the crossing at Marginal Way) don't cut it - they block cyclists' access, and they weaken the trail's relationship with Franklin Street.

The Bayside Promenade is trying to function as a new, car-free street for the neighborhood - businesses and buildings are being encouraged to put their entrances facing the pathway. But if it's designed to shut out vehicular cyclists like you and me, John, it won't be as successful as it could be, and I think that Franklin Street will also suffer.

Don said...

At the recent community workshop for the Bayside trail, the Franklin crossing was by far the most problematic, including how to handle maneuvering around the power station at the corner.

One person suggested, and I think this may be a good solution, to make the stop line for the northbound cars on Franklin right at the line where the trail would cross if it were continuing straight. That leaves the equivalent of a giant bike box ahead of it to Marginal. Proper signage and a right-only lane on Marginal eastbound would allow cars to queue before the trail. As it stands, turning traffic must yield to peds. This would actually give drivers time and the proper orientation to see pedestrians more easily. This may be workable and safe, and it makes the statement that the trail bends for no car.

I agree that it is vital to keep in mind the changes that will come to Franklin. Any good solution will be dealing with pedestrian crossings at many points along the trip across the peninsula. The Bayside Trail crossing could be considered a 'gateway' or introduction to the pedestrian-oriented crossings ahead.