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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Franklin Street - Moving Forward

Above: The "urban boulevard" concept from the first Franklin Street study.

There's a public hearing tonight at the East End School to discuss the next step for the Franklin Street plan. You'll recall that "Phase 1" drew up three general concepts; this phase will narrow it down to a preferred, specific design for the new street, plus plans for new intersections for reconnected cross-streets, areas that will be made available for redevelopment, and pedestrian crossings and cross-town bike routes, among other things. The goal is to have a solid set of plans and cost estimates to prepare the new street for actual reconstruction.

The process has some good elements - there's an emphasis on a design that will encourage neighborhood vitality, economic development, and reducing dependency on oil. There's a good deal of concern, though, since Maine Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) engineers in Augusta are officially in charge, and they've inserted their own emphasis on moving more cars so they can collect more gas taxes.

Still, if they mess this up - what should be a high-visibility economic development and neighborhood revitalization effort - then Portland will be unlikely to put up any local money to make the project a reality, and MDOT will have an expensive, politically poisonous failure on their hands.

So this will be a high-profile case study for state leaders to decide whether or not Maine DOT is worth the money, or if, as many suspect, more local control over these project might be a better option. The whole Exit 7 fiasco, and Augusta's failure to plan for pedestrians in the first place, has already put their agency on the state's money-wasting shit list - so if they're smart, they'll try to redeem themselves.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
5:30 PM – 6:45 PM Franklin Street Feasibility Study Discussion
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM I-295 Exit 7 Discussion

Where: East End School Community Center
195 North Street, Portland

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Maine Turnpork Authority Gets Audited

The Maine Turnpork Authority, the high-rolling, quasi-private corporation that owns a lucrative monopoly on virtually all of Maine's interstate commerce, is being audited by a state oversight agency following its controversial plans to spend $50 million on a new tollbooth. From seacoastonline.com:

AUGUSTA — A government oversight office that scrutinizes the accountability and performance of state government agencies has begun a significant probe of the Maine Turnpike Authority...

Among the key concerns detailed in the preliminary report, OPEGA [the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability] determined the MTA has not provided any revenue to the state since the mid-1990s. Under the terms of the Sensible Transportation Act, which Ashcroft said was passed at that time, the MTA is to transfer to the Maine Department of Transportation annually any "operating surplus."

"There is a lack of clarity about why MTA no longer transfers any funds to MDOT annually despite the statutory requirement and whether the state even still expects to receive any surplus," the OPEGA staff wrote in the preliminary report.

The fact that the Turnpork Authority has been hoarding funds to capitalize new tollbooths in the midst of multi-billion dollar shortfalls in state government should raise serious concerns for legislators.

What's more important, schools or fast food service plazas?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Help Set Portland's Agenda for Better Cycling and Walking

The City of Portland's new Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator, Bruce Hyman, will be joining the Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee tonight for our monthly meeting tonight at 5:30 pm.

While we have him, I'm hoping we'll get an insight into what the City is working now, and bend his ear about what we'd like to focus on in the future. And it will also be a good time for our group to broadly review our top priorities and strategies - something we did last in 2008, when we met with Public Works to prioritize our "most-wanted" infrastructure projects.

I don't typically blog about bike/ped meetings here, although everyone is always welcome. But it would be especially useful for the group to hear from a broad range of voices tonight, as we set our agenda for the next year. We'll brainstorm our top priorities for City policy and for infrastructure improvements. Then, we'll vote as a group as to which initiatives and projects we'd like to focus on and implement in the next year. I hope you can make it - and if you can't, feel free to share ideas and priorities in the comments or by email.

Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee
5:30 pm, Room 209 of City Hall

Back in 2006 and 2008, the Committee held two other priorities-setting strategy sessions. Here's what we wanted to work on back then:

From 2006:
  1. lobby for policy change, incorporate bike/ped facilities into site plan standards [in progress: we've already added bike parking requirements, and reduced car parking requirements, to the city's rules for new development]
  2. restructure metro board [not sure if this has been done]
  3. bike/ped members on city committiees such as transporation, planning [accomplished with the election of two former committee members to City Council]
  4. formalize connection with outside groups [our collaborations with other groups aren't "formalized," but they are robust]
  5. power with city or away from city & budget [we've determined that we're better off as an independent, ad-hoc group associated with the city]
  6. staff person/time for bike/ped at city [accomplished: grant-funded position for Bruce Hyman as City Bike/Ped Coordinator]
  7. ADA sidewalk compliance [in progress: the city is making focused investments on filling in gaps in the city's sidewalk network]
And our top infrastructure priorities, from 2008:
  1. Peninsula Sidewalks should meet ADA standards like curb cuts, improved sidewalks, filling gaps, inventory [inventory completed in 2008, and improvements are in progress: the city is making focused investments on filling in gaps in the city's sidewalk network]
  2. Implementing Franklin Street Plan [in progress: preliminary engineering for the project could begin this summer]
  3. Tukey's Bridge: access & capacity for bikes [in progress: a plan has been completed for improved access, and construction of some improvements is expected later this summer]
  4. Connecting north end of Franklin St. w/ Back Cove Trail [killed by Maine DOT].
  5. Exit 5 improved trail & transit connections [slow progress: new Sewall Street sidewalk completed this spring].
Even though infrastructure projects are inherently slow-moving, it's pretty satisfying to see how much we've accomplished in the past few years. Let's keep it up!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bike to the Beach

For the past couple of weeks, Jess and I have been going to the beach a lot, frequently after work, and almost always on our bikes. Downtown Portland is within an easy hour's bike ride to no fewer than six beautiful public beaches on Casco Bay, and the bike routes are fairly scenic in their own right (especially if you can ignore the pretentious architectural turds that proliferated along cul-de-sacs in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough through the boom years of the 1990s). You'll cross through pleasant inner-suburb neighborhoods, farm fields, marshlands teeming with wildlife, and undeveloped woods. You'll avoid paying parking fees. And you can re-stock on calories at several excellent ice cream places.

Here's how to bike to the beaches:

View Bike to the Beaches in a larger map
  • KETTLE COVE and CRESCENT BEACH: 7.4 miles, about 45 minutes from downtown Portland (or 8.5 miles/50 min. via Shore Road): from downtown Portland, head down to York Street and across the Casco Bay Bridge. At the big intersection on the other side, cross diagonally onto the Greenbelt Trail, then take your first right onto Ocean Street/Route 77. From there it's a straight, 5 mile ride to Ocean House Road (right before Kettle Cove ice cream stand), which leads 1/2 a mile to the beaches. Crescent Beach is on your right, Kettle Cove is a little further on, to the left.

    Route 77 isn't the prettiest road, but you could also take the more scenic Shore Road, which is about a mile longer. To take that route, follow the Greenbelt one more block through Mill Creek Park to Cottage Road, then go straight, through Cape Cottage, past Fort Williams Park, and through the historic Delano Park suburb. At the end of Shore Road, in "downtown" Cape Elizabeth, take a left onto Ocean Street/Route 77 and continue on to Kettle Cove.

  • HIGGINS BEACH: 8.3 miles/50 minutes from downtown Portland via Highland Ave.: On the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge, take a right turn onto Broadway, then merge left before the traffic light to take the first left onto Anthoine Street (alternatively, take a right onto the Greenbelt Trail at the end of the bridge, follow the trail for a block, then cross straight across Broadway onto Anthoine at the light). Climb the hill on Anthoine and take a right on Highland. Follow Highland through the suburbs to the 4-way junction at Pleasant Hill in Scarborough, where there's a fire station on the opposite corner. Take a left there onto Pleasant Hill Road, pass a gorgeous old farm that's being hawked for more McMansion development, and take a right on Spurwink Road at the end. Spurwink Road is too narrow for a car to safely pass a bicycle in the same lane, so ride confidently in the center of the lane, where you're more likely to be seen on the curves, and force motorists to wait until there's a safe passing area. It's half a mile to the Higgins Beach Market, where you'll take a left turn and ride one more half mile to the beach itself. Note that the sucker motorists have to pay $10 to park here.

    Alternative route via Spurwink Ave., 9 miles/1 hour: We typically return this way, since it lets us stop at Willard Scoops on the way home for salty ice cream, and it's by far the most scenic route to or from the beaches, even though it's hilly. Coming back from the beach, go straight on Spurwink instead of turning left onto Pleasant Hill Road. You'll ride along the Spurwink River for about 1.5 miles, with its marshes on your right, before crossing the river and climbing a short hill to Riverside Cemetery and Spurwink Church. There, take a left onto Spurwink Avenue and ride through gorgeous open conservation lands along the Spurwink River's headwaters. Then the road enters the woods and goes over two hills before it gets to a light at Ocean Street/Route 77. Continue straight through the light and cross the town line into South Portland, where Spurwink Road becomes Sawyer Street. Sawyer ends at a traffic light on Cottage Road, across the street from Beal's Ice Cream. But the ice cream is better at Willard Scoops: take a right on Cottage Road, then a left onto Pillsbury Street to Willard Square.

  • WILLARD BEACH: 3.8 miles/20 minutes from downtown Portland: This isn't my favorite beach, since South Portlanders bring a hundred pet dogs there every evening and I don't care much for swimming in a place where half the beachgoers are carrying fecal matter around in plastic baggies. But it is close by. On the other side of the bridge, take the Greenbelt Trail to Breakwater Drive, then turn right and ride through the SMCC campus to the beach.

  • SCARBOROUGH BEACH STATE PARK, 10 miles/1 hour from downtown Portland: There's an entry fee for this one, even if you're not using the parking lot, but it's worth it. Follow the directions to Higgins Beach, above, but continue past the Higgins Beach Market for 1 more mile to an intersection. Take a left on Black Point Road, then ride one more mile to the Scarborough Beach State Park entrance [see Scott's comment below for a tip on how to get to the beach for free, by using another street to bypass the park entrance gate].

  • FERRY BEACH, 10.5 miles/65 minutes from downtown Portland: This beach sits at the mouth of the Scarborough Marsh, where the water's a bit warmer, and at the base of Prout's Neck. 1/2 a mile past Scarborough Beach State Park, take a right onto Ferry Road, then follow that street to the parking area at the end. Cars have to pay to park; cyclists don't.