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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Turnpike for the 21st Century

As you may already be aware, the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation will be holding a small press conference tomorrow morning, 10 a.m., at Portland's City Hall to announce a plan that would re-allocate a small portion of Maine Turnpike toll revenues towards better transit service along the Turnpike corridor, as an alternative to the Turnpike Authority's preferred plan for new highway widenings in Portland.

This plan isn't just about providing more transit options - although that's an important goal and we expect that it will reduce the region's parking subsidies, congestion costs, gasoline expenditures, and road maintenance bills considerably.

It's more about holding the Maine Turnpike Authority more accountable to our state's energy and fiscal responsibilities. That agency, which operates largely outside of the oversight of Maine's elected officials, plans to take out over $100 million in debt to finance a 9-mile widening in west Portland, on a stretch of road where traffic levels have been flat for the past decade.

As an alternative, we're proposing that the Turnpike spend less than one tenth of that amount to expand the successful ZOOM commuter bus service - which operates without any subsidies from state or local governments - to serve more communities with more frequent service, and move more commuters on the infrastructure we already have.

By buying relatively inexpensive buses, instead of costly new pavement, Maine's tollpayers could collectively save tens of millions of dollars every year. That savings could be spent on toll reductions or help contribute to regional road maintenance, instead of on debt service and upkeep on new pavement.

And commuters' savings in gasoline and parking costs could be spent on goods and services in Maine's economy, generating new income and sales tax revenue for the state, instead of being sent away to Texas oil companies.

No matter what happens in November, Maine's legislators and municipal leaders will be searching for ways to repair and maintain Maine's roads for less money. We're pitching this plan now because it makes so much sense in our age of fiscal austerity. Because commuter buses can postpone the need for a nine-figure highway widening, it's a way to expand transit and reduce our energy expenditures while also reducing the cost of government overall.

We hope that you'll consider the idea, and that its merits will eventually earn your support. If you'd like to learn more, please join us tomorrow at City Hall at 10 a.m. as we announce the "Turnpike for the 21st Century" plan to the press. Come join us for your morning coffee break - we'd love to see you there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Negligence on the Bayside Trail

Anyone who's been on the new Bayside Trail has probably noticed the hair-raising crossing of Franklin Street, where trail users are forced to detour to a new, but incomplete, crosswalk at the Marginal Way intersection (next to the Planet Dog store):

The Maine DOT installed the new crosswalk across Franklin this summer to help trail users get across. It's a fairly lousy design that forces a clunky detour from the trail's natural path, which is cut off by a fence that Maine DOT installed on the median strip of Franklin Street (the red line in the aerial view above).

The fence forces trail users onto the new crosswalk, but there they find a more substantial problem: there's no walk signal to cross Franklin, and if you try to cross with a green light, you'll be forced to contend with a lot of vehicles making left or right turns from Marginal Way onto Franklin Street.

Crossing pedestrians tend to be in the peripheral vision for turning cars, especially at such a busy intersection. Everyone would be safer if the trail crossed in the middle of the block, where cars are frequently stopped anyway to wait for red lights to change, and crossing pedestrians would be more visible in the front of drivers' windshields. But to deal with the Maine DOT's lousy design, a pedestrian crossing signal was supposed to be installed at the crosswalk, and let pedestrians cross only when the rest of the intersection's traffic is facing red lights.

Several months after the trail's opening, that pedestrian signal still isn't there. According to neighborhood activist Alex Landry, "The company that MaineDOT has contracted to do this has ordered the signal, and is now waiting on it; as we all are. But the responsibility lies with MaineDOT, for not having started studying the crosswalks seriously until about January of this year. Their failure to provide a signal in a timely manner is unconscionable."

It's not just unconscionable, it's criminally negligent - as another Committee pointed out, the Maine DOT would never open up a major intersection to traffic without a functioning traffic light.

If you know anyone who's been hit or injured by a turning vehicle at this intersection this summer, whether on foot or on a bicycle, they should pursue legal action against the Maine DOT and project engineer Ernie Martin, who need to be held responsible for their petulant and threatening treatment of non-motorists in this neighborhood. A number of neighbors (including me) would be willing to help cover interim legal expenses on their behalf. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email (c.neal.milneil at Google's email service) if you're interested in taking action. In the meantime, be careful out there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bruce Hyman in the News; Tea Party Reacts By Calling Cyclists "Nazis"

Portland's new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, a two-year position that's being funded from a federal public health grant, is profiled in today's Portland Press Herald, along with a brief outline of some of the Safe Routes to School projects for which he's been working to find funding.

Bruce Hyman and Sarah Cushman. Photo by John Ewing, Press Herald staff photographer.

There are some precious reader comments at the bottom of the story. There's a lot of whining about Hyman's $46,500 salary, but my favorite is from the wingnut who refers to "bike nazi initiatives".

So take heart, bicycle and pedestrian advocates. Your motorhead political adversaries are too stupid to frame their arguments in reasonable terms. In fact, it's doubtful they even have any arguments. Painting Hitler mustaches on pictures of people with whom they disagree isn't going to do anything to reduce their massive auto maintenance and gasoline bills - but that's their problem, not ours.