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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Planning Board Endorses Transit Study Recommendations and Parking Reductions

Unfortunately, last night's meeting went on way too late for me to stick around. But thanks in part to those of you who wrote in your comments, the Planning Board did decide to endorse the Peninsula Transit Study and sent it on to the full Council to incorporate it into the City's comprehensive plan. Hooray!

The Board also endorsed a few zoning amendments that will loosen and reduce the city's parking requirements in mixed-use business zones off the peninsula - mainly along major roads like Forest Avenue and Washington Ave. in North Deering. The previous zoning basically required huge parking lots to go along with any new development, which meant that we mostly got a bunch of new strip malls in those neighborhoods in the past 30 years. With any luck, these changes should open up those areas to more walkable infill development.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More City Hall business

Unfortunately I was unable to attend last night's meeting in South Portland. But from what I hear so far, it was a success: the airport and the state have agreed that an expanded runway and a bike/ped trail can coexist along the edge of Long Creek.

The city of South Portland has hired an engineering firm to draft a preliminary plan for connecting the new trail with the planned bike lanes and shared sidewalk that are slated to be built on the replacement Veterans Bridge. According to the Forecaster's report, that study could be finished in the next three weeks, which would give plenty of time for the designers of the new Veterans Bridge to adjust their plans accordingly.

In other news, there's going to be another important meeting this evening in Portland's City Hall, when the Planning Board holds a public hearing and a vote on whether to incorporate the new Peninsula Transit Study into the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The Public Hearing starts at 6:45 PM. They have to review prior decisions and one other contentious agenda item before they get to the transit study, probably around 7:30 or so.

Just to be clear, they're only voting tonight on whether to incorporate the study into the Comp Plan. Implementing specific recommendations, like unbundling parking costs from your rent, would come later. This vote just provides the city planning staff a go-ahead to start working on those specific ordinances. Here's an outline of what the study is proposing.

The Board is also going over some amendments to the city's zoning codes that would, among other things, reduce parking requirements in certain off-peninsula mixed-use zones (like the Forest Avenue corridor) to one parking space for every new unit of housing. Currently, new homes built off the peninsula require 2 new parking spaces - a requirement that makes the construction of new middle-class housing unfeasible in most cases. These amendments are the third item on the agenda, and here's a link to a summary of them.

It would be great to get a good turnout to demonstrate public support for the Transit Study and its recommendations, which would lower the cost of living significantly for those of us who don't drive all the time.

If you can't make it, you can send written comments to Barbara Barhydt, Development Review Services Manager: bab@portlandmaine.gov

Previously on Rights of Way:

Monday, July 13, 2009

TONIGHT: Come to South Portland to support a bike/ped connection across Long Creek

As regular readers should be aware, next year's reconstruction of Veterans' Memorial Bridge between the West End of Portland and the Ligonia neighborhood of South Portland will include a 12' wide shared sidewalk, plus a 6' wide shoulder for bicycles.

It's going to be a valuable new connection, but in terms of linking the huge employment areas of western South Portland to the Portland peninsula, there's still a missing link: there's still no safe way for bikes and pedestrians to cross Interstate 295 in South Portland (the Maine DOT's botched reconstruction of Exit 3 in South Portland two summers ago destroyed the only safe crossing point of I-295 for bikes and pedestrians: now, Redbank schoolchildren have to cross 12 high-speed freeway ramps and go under three dark underpasses on their way to elementary school. Thanks, Augusta).

Anyhow, South Portland activists have been working hard to create a new, safer connection across I-295 and Long Creek. The proposed Long Creek bike/ped bridge (mapped above) would connect the Redbank and Brickhill neighborhoods of South Portland directly to the new Veterans Bridge bicycle and pedestrian paths. By this routing, the bike trip between the Old Port and the Maine Mall would be transformed from a 6-mile trip along stressful streets like Outer Congress or Broadway, to a 5-mile trip along low-traffic neighborhood streets and dedicated bike paths.

It would also open up new access to employment and housing for car-free or one-car households on both sides of the harbor: National Semiconductor would become an hour's walk (about 3 miles) from the West End's affordable housing complexes, for instance. The new Mercy Hospital campus on the Fore River would become an easy, 2 mile bike ride from Brickhill and Redbank (which would be about a 20 minute ride at an easy, no-sweat pace).

The only obstacle to this happening is the publicly-owned Portland "International" Jetport, which is objecting to the new bike/ped connection due to its long-range plans to extend a runway nearby. However, it's not clear why a bike path along Long Creek couldn't coexist with a longer runway, especially since numerous other cities have roads or trails around their airports.

The South Portland City Council is holding an important meeting this evening to determine whether or not the Jetport should be allowed to expand without also providing this important bike/ped connection. Here's the announcement from Shay Bellas of the South Portland Land Trust:

The South Portland Land Trust is making our vision for bike/ped bridge over Long Creek a reality. But we can't achieve the dream without you. As you know, the proposed span has tremendous implications for improving our quality of life and commuting options.

Can it be done? — YES
Will it be done? — Perhaps
We NEED your support this Monday night, July 13
from 6:30 - 8:00 pm.

All the stakeholders involved are poised to embrace the vision.

The next step is up to you.

We need you to help us show the South Portland City Council how the bridge is, in the words of one urban planner, "a game changer" for the greater South Portland area. The best way to do that is for you, your colleagues, friends and neighbors to attend:

The South Portland City Council workshop
This Monday, July 13 from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.
South Portland Community Center
21 Nelson Rd

Here's a map to the meeting. If you plan to bike there, take the Highland Avenue bike route: from Portland, cross the Casco Bay Bridge, take a right at the end, then take the first left onto Anthoine St. next to the Public Safety building. At the end of Anthoine, turn right on Highland. The community center is behind the high school, just past the oil tanks.