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

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Candidates on Transit

This week's Forecaster includes a rundown of the mayoral candidates' positions on transportation and transit in Portland. Some highlights:

  • Dave Marshall continues beating the drum to build a streetcar along Forest Avenue to Woodford's Corner. While this is certainly a visionary idea, I'm curious to know how Dave plans to pay for a project like this one, which would easily cost upwards of $20 million. I'm concerned that too much of a fixation on trains could distract him (and divert scarce funding) from making more realistic improvements in the shorter term.

  • Jed Rathband countered with a proposal to bolster city bus service funded from savings in diminished spending on public parking lots and garages. That may be less sexy than a train, but a whole lot more realistic and would benefit more of the city more quickly.

  • Similarly, Markos Miller talked about revising the city's land use codes to support transit-oriented development instead of defaulting to our status quo of car-oriented development. Markos, of course, is also very involved in the efforts to reconfigure and redevelop Franklin Street, a project in which he'll play an important role whether or not he's elected.

  • John Eder endorsed ZOOM service to Lewiston/Auburn. He wasn't involved at all in last winter's Legislative efforts, though, which makes me doubt his passion on the subject - I suspect he's just singing from the League of Young Voters' choir-book.
Overall, I think that Markos Miller has the most experience and knowledge with respect to the city's land use and transportation issues, and having worked with him frequently in neighborhood and smart growth activism, I think he's the best candidate in that regard.

That said, I also admire Jed Rathband's approach. While he's been less directly involved in these issues, they do dovetail with his primary interests in promoting small businesses and additional growth in downtown Portland and in outlying neighborhood centers, where automotive parking costs and regulatory burdens are the major barrier to additional growth. His proposed policies to re-direct city investments and development requirements from a focus on parking lots to a focus on better transit services is a pragmatic, fiscally responsible no-brainer that more candidates should be talking about.

I'll also probably cast a vote for Dave Marshall, although he probably won't be my first choice, for the boldness of his vision for better transit service in the city. Even if it is mostly political razzle-dazzle with little substance, at least Marshall is demonstrating to the other candidates that better transit can be a galvanizing idea for a more sustainable city.

ADDENDUM - other papers are covering this story this morning (10/5), and coverage from both the Press Herald and the Portland Daily Sun included a dig against METRO from fringe candidate Charles Bragdon.

However, only one of those newspapers did any fact-checking to see if Bragdon's Tea Party-style* claims were actually true or not. So kudos to the Daily Sun for holding Bragdon accountable:
"[Bragdon] also said the 'average ridership is about six people per route, per day' on Metro buses. (Metro officials said average daily ridership is more than 4,000 people.)" - from reporter Casey Conley's story in the Daily Sun

*i.e., inflammatory and false.


Patrick Venne said...

I think the candidates are all right. The transit system needs to be fixed. However, I support the streetcar idea because this option will both fix the transit system and also promote economic development in the form of adding to our unique character (whereas a bus wouldn't, no matter its cost or lack thereof). In Maine, the primary industry is tourism. If we can sell an experience (historic charm) to the rest of the world, while simultaneously achieving better transit for residents, we should, in my opinion. A streetcar seems best able to do this. Moreover, the initial track line wouldn't cost $20 million, probably more along the lines of $2-$5 million (if other cities which have embarked upon this type of investment are used for comparison). Lastly, the national streetcar coalition indicates that in all cases where modern streetcars have been instituted, hundreds of millions in property development within 2-4 blocks of the line is the result. This would align perfectly with the city's current planning effort along Forest Ave, where development within this range is needed. One last thing, actually, is that Marshall, like all of the candidates, will only be a policy leader, trying to persuade the council that his idea is one worthy of examination and study, to lay the groundwork for an actual system, funding for which would need to be determined later. It has been done elsewhere, though, and should be possible here (especially since the city has already had such a system before). Moreover, the Fee in Lieu ordinance could perhaps be extended to cover the Forest Ave corridor, thereby extending the ability of the city to pay for sustainable transportation of this sort beyond the downtown.

Kevin Donoghue said...

While I agree that Fee in Lieu is a policy worth expanding, it is only likely to produce sporadic revenue, whereas a TIF is more predictable. Much of downtown is already TIFfed for other purposes, but I also hold more hope that that the Fee in Lieu will be employed more in downtown.

John Eder said...

You oddly left out what Charles Bragdon was bashing the Metro about and just why the Portland Sun was fact checking which is my idea to have high School Students ride the Metro rather than yellow buses in order to build good habits for the future, increase ridership and give a boost to our hobbled Metro. I know you were there when I said this on several occasions so it’s wierd you left it out since I would imagine a transportation activist would be interested in this idea. It's gotten a bit of coverage and a good deal of ethusiasm from voters and other candidates. Long before you came to town I have had deep history on this and other alternative transportation issues. I worked with colleagues on the school committee to make the bus free to high school students for a brief period a few years back before it was scuttled and changed to a reduced fair for students—that was my work along with Stephen Spring and others. Half price is not enough though and the little money Metro will lose is a wise investment for the future to get kids habituated to the bus. I've been saying this all along. Free public transportation is the holy grail for most activist so what gives with the flippant blow off on Zoom? You apparently don't even know me or my work. Check it out between ironic mustache waxings.

Green Guy said...

That's some wierd censorship dude. Here is what the Forecaster article said that you left out in the "highlights":

"Former state Rep. John Eder, a Green-Independent, said high school students should be able to ride METRO to and from school for free. He said that would get them in the habit of using public transportation, and increase future ridership and revenues. It would also save the school district money, he said."

I said it again here:

and here:

and here in a paper you write for:


Now, why would a so called transportation activist not get behind this idea, regardless if you like the messenger or not? Like the proposal itself or not, surely it merits some discussion on the blog of a activist covering this issue in a city of 65,000. You have to go out of your way to not mention it. Win or lose, I want to see this happen for our the good of our transportation future. Is somebody that much of a player hater? Geezum Crow!