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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bike lanes update

Following up on last week's news stories and blog post on the proposed bike lanes on Ocean and Washington Avenues:

The City Council's Transportation Committee punted on making a final decision pending the outcome of neighborhood meetings, one each for the Ocean and Washington Avenue projects, respectively. While Councilors Anton and Donoghue seem supportive, Councilor Leeman is clearly very opposed to removing on-street parking in her district.

However, TV news reporter Steve Minnick from Channel 8 reported that it was very difficult to find dissenting voices on Washington Avenue that day - "nobody parks on the street," was the common refrain, since virtually everyone who lives in the area has their own off-street parking.

I suspect that the neighborhood meetings won't turn out a lot of opposition - but it will be important for pedestrians and cyclists who support the bike network to turn out and voice their support. That means you! Watch this blog for an announcement soon.

The first meeting will address the Ocean Avenue bike lane project, between Woodfords and Lunts Corners (connecting Forest to Washington Avenue, passing Presumpscot School, Cheverus, and Payson Park along the way). This project opportunity cropped up because the street is scheduled to be paved anyhow later this summer, so the city will have to act within the next couple of months.

Washington Avenue is less pressing, since the city doesn't have the funding to do those bike lanes quite yet. I think there may be some opportunity to preserve some parking on Washington (especially near the street's churches, which are the only places where the street's parallel parking spots are ever utilized to any great extent) while also accommodating bike lanes and making the street safer to cross as a pedestrian. At last week's meeting, Councilor Leeman noted that the hazards of crossing Washington Avenue for the neighborhood's elderly and school kids was a much bigger issue than lack of parking. That's a piece of common ground we can work from, since bike lanes are also aimed at making Washington into a safer street.

Finally, the City is almost set to release construction bids for the summer's big bike infrastructure improvement: new bike lanes on Forest and Deering Avenues. The city is planning to stripe new bike lanes on Forest Avenue between Woodfords and Morrill's Corners, as well as on Deering Avenue between Deering Oaks Park and Woodford's Corner.

At the narrow intersections of Morrill's and Woodford's Corners, cyclists will be encouraged to "take the lane" - that is, ride in the middle of the lane - since traffic is relatively slow-moving in those locations, and many cyclists will want to change lanes in order to make turns. "Sharrow" stencils, like the one pictured above, will indicate bike routes through these locations.

The Forest Avenue project will create an on-street bike route that extends all the way from downtown Portland to the Westbrook town line, near Pride's Corner, via existing bike lanes in the Riverton neighborhood. We can expect this project to be finished sometime mid-August.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bike Coalition of Maine fundraiser tonight at Flatbread

Two news stories about the city's proposed bike lane project (which still has to survive two votes in the City Council - including one committee vote this evening):

Portland Press Herald: City may cut parking to add bike lanes
Portland Daily Sun: Bike lane proposal would eat up parking on Ocean, Washington Aves.

And as predicted, the first article interviews grumpy people who live on Washington Ave. and don't want to lose their taxpayer-subsidized on-street vehicle storage units. Luckily, there are thousands of unused parking spots on adjacent side streets - realistically, this shouldn't be a serious issue.

Anyway, after you're done telling the transportation committee of the City Council how important these bike lanes are (tonight, 5-7 PM in Room 209 of City Hall), head down to the waterfront for dinner at the Bike Coalition of Maine's annual fundraiser at Flatbread. Passing this on from BCM executive director Alison Vogt:
Don't forget to join the Bicycle Coalition of Maine at Flatbreads Pizza on Commercial Street tonight between 5 and 9pm. Bicycle enthusiasts from the Portland area are encouraged to come out and enjoy an evening of pizza and beer. BCM receives a donation for all pizza and beer sold tonight (takeout orders count too).

Monday, May 18, 2009

On Tuesday's Agenda: Will Portland Support Bike Lanes on Ocean, Washington Avenues?

Tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon at City Hall, the City Council's Transportation Committee will make a fairly important decision on whether to support or kill the city's bike lane network.

For a few years now, the city has had a few thousand dollars to establish new bike lanes and routes on some of the city's major arterials. A group of citizens and city staff involved in the city's Public Services department and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee have identified three high-priority routes: Congress and Park Streets between Stroudwater and downtown; Deering Street and Forest Avenue between Deering Oaks and Morrill's Corner; and Washington Avenue between North Deering and Tukey's Bridge. These three routes have been planned and engineered, and this summer, the city will fund "construction" (i.e., lane-striping and removal of some parking spaces) to build one of them.

The city will decide which route should be funded in conjunction with the Bike/Ped Advisory Committee in a special meeting on Friday morning. If you have a preference, join the Bike/Ped Committee's e-mail list or leave a comment at the end of this post (I now chair the committee, so I'll be sure to relay your thoughts and ideas).

In addition to these three routes, the city now also has an opportunity to stripe bike lanes on Ocean Avenue, between Woodford's Corner and Washington Avenue. This route has been identified as a future bike route, but a major roadworks project scheduled for this summer gives us the opportunity to install bike lanes sooner. The route would pass important destinations, including the new school at the Baxter School site, Payson Park, and Cheverus High School.

These projects, together, would roughly double the city's network of bike lanes and extend the bike route network to large swathes of the city that previously had no bike infrastructure. It could do a lot to get more people onto bikes.

Nevertheless, making it happen won't be easy. That's because these bike routes will require the city to remove dozens of on-street parking spaces. The Transportation Committee has its first say on the project tomorrow, and we can probably expect some gripes from people who think that the storage of their private vehicles is a more appropriate use for our tax dollars than supporting sustainable, affordable transportation. If we can get a few supporters to attend tomorrow's meeting in City Hall, it would be very helpful. The meeting will be in Room 209 of City Hall, from 5 to 7 pm.

Any decision to remove on-street parking will also have to go in front of the full City Council sometime soon, and when the time comes, we'll need to have a bigger turnout.

I plan to go to City Hall tomorrow and will report back when it's over.

For more information:
Map of the City's Bike Network Plan
Transportation Committee Bike Lanes memo

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's Commute Another Way Week!

With the nice weather this week, I've seen a lot more cyclists out on the streets on my daily commute - not only in Portland but along Routes 1 and 88 in Falmouth, Cumberland, and Yarmouth as well.

This week happens to be "Commute Another Way" week, organized by GoMaine. If this blog's regular readers take the name literally, it sounds like we're expected to drive for a change. But the idea is to get more Mainers to try sustainable modes of transportation, like biking, walking, and transit, in order to reduce costs, congestion, and air pollution. GoMaine tallied results from last year's Commute Another Way Week and found that the 5,000 participants prevented over three tons of air pollution and $76,000 in commuting costs in a single day.

And tomorrow is Bike to Work Day, which is being celebrated nationwide. It looks like the forecast is calling for some light rain showers overnight, but things will be clearing up by the morning commute.

If there's anyone out there who's curious about trying bike commuting for the first time tomorrow, but you're curious about the best route, e-mail me (christiannealmcneil at yahoo dot com) and I'll be happy to help you out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

MDOT's flowchart

I haven't been updating the blog very much recently, due to a number of obligations and involvement in some big transportation projects planned in the Portland area - namely the replacement of Veterans Bridge and a reconstruction of Exit 7 (the Franklin Arterial exit) on Interstate 295.

According to last year's I-295 corridor study, the most effective solution to traffic congestion in both of these locations is to create new bus or rail transit service to connect downtown Portland with communities to our north and south. Augusta's own studies confirmed that buses and trains would do more to reduce traffic, shorten commutes, and minimize parking problems downtown. To clinch the deal, transit would also cost millions of dollars less than highway widenings.

So guess what Augusta is proposing to do? Here's a hint, leaked from the Maine Department of Transportation's traffic engineers:

Actually, it came from Matt Yglesias.

But in Maine's case, it's true: in spite of the proven cost benefits of new transit services (to say nothing of health and air quality benefits), the Maine DOT - our own state employees - are charging ahead with widening plans we can't afford to pay for. And in the case of Exit 7 and the Veterans Bridge replacement, those highway widenings will come at the expense of pedestrian and bicycle access.

In short, they want to spend millions more of our tax dollars to make our commutes more expensive, while destroying mobility for the city's pedestrians and cyclists. Thanks, guys!

We'll take 'em to court if we need to, and we'll win, but damn, its frustrating to have such a rotten bureaucracy siphoning tax dollars away while the rest of the state grapples with a billion-dollar budget shortfall. Why can't we spend these clowns' salaries on teachers or social workers instead?