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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The Human Scale" plays tonight at Space Gallery

"The Human Scale," a documentary about Jan Gehl Architects (who were some of the key designers behind the transformations of New York City streets in the past decade) and their efforts to create safer, more human streets and public spaces in the world's cities,  will screen tonight at Space Gallery.

I had a chance to watch it last week and wrote up a review of the film for my day job over on MaineToday.com. Here's an excerpt:

The cinematography offers an engaging parade of street-level views of people and landscapes from various world cities. It’s like a 70-minute trip around some of the world’s best people-watching spots.

The screening at Space Gallery is being co-presented with the Portland Society of Architects, and viewers will probably be thinking about how the film’s ideas might apply here in our own city, where several high-profile urban design debates have been handed off for lawyers to decide.

Portland is no Chongqing, but we, too, are struggling to accommodate a significant surge of migrants — young artists, refugee families, job hunters, retired empty-nesters — who are all seeking a better life here.

In the abstract, most can agree that Portland should make room for more housing, more arts venues, and more car-free families. Yet every proposal to change the city’s skyline brings howls of protest from people who insist that we actually need more space for cars, or that new apartment buildings can’t be allowed to infringe on the ocean views of wealthy neighbors.

Unfortunately, “The Human Scale” doesn’t offer much insight on how to deal with such conflicts, and that underlies the film’s most serious shortcoming.

Read the rest, and watch the film's trailer, on MaineToday.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Will "The Forefront at Thompson's Point" scuttle a key link in Portland's Bikeway Network?

On the western edge of the Portland peninsula, the Mountain Division railway offers a scenic direct route between Portland and downtown Westbrook — and from there, on to Windham, Standish, and Fryeburg. The corridor (shown in red in the map below) has long been envisioned as a regional bike and pedestrian connector — a safe and scenic alternative to travel along the outer Congress Street bottleneck.

A 10-foot-wide shared use path (highlighted in green) already extends from the Portland Transportation Center, the easternmost point of the Mountain Division line, along the Fore River Parkway to Veterans Bridge and West Commercial Street, where another trail connection into downtown is in the works. The next link westward would go through the planned Thompson's Point development to the area behind the Westgate shopping center.

That development, called "The Forefront at Thompson's Point," has spent several years in limbo, but it's going back to the Planning Board yet again on Tuesday to seek approval of a scaled-back Master Development Plan.

And unfortunately, the developers' new Master Plan cuts the Mountain Division off in favor of a surface parking lot. A trail could be carved out from portions of a single row of parking stalls, but the developers say they can't sacrifice 12 or so parking spots in a development that's planning to construct 1,290 parking spaces in all.

The good news is that city staff are pressing the developers to be more creative and figure out a way to fit the trail in. It's helpful that the trail corridor is in the city's official Comprehensive Plan, as part of the "Planned Bikeway and Pedestrian Network" approved by the City Council in December 2012.

If you want a safe bike and pedestrian link between the Portland Transportation Center and the Stroudwater neighborhood (and eventually on to Westbrook), chime in now by sending an email to the city's Planning Board and the City Council.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bike lanes and a side path could be built this summer on West Commercial Street

The proposed expansion of the International Marine Terminal's cargo facilities on West Commercial Street (under the Casco Bay Bridge) might bring a big influx of state transportation funds to Portland this summer — and with those funds could come new bike and pedestrian routes along West Commercial Street.

In order to accommodate more activity and a new freight rail line in the area, the state is planning to rebuild sections of West Commercial Street between Veterans Bridge and the Casco Bay Bridge. This is a significant bike route, and there are already city-adopted plans to extend the Veterans Bridge off-street path eastward towards downtown. The International Marine Terminal project might turn those plans into a construction project as soon as this summer.

Right now, Commercial Street is a bumpy road with no sidewalks between Bernie's Clam Shack (near the Western Prom, where an asphalt path leads to Veterans Bridge) and the Star Match building on the eastern end near Beach Street. That asphalt sidewalk near Bernie's was designed to be an off-street shared-use path, and this project could extend that pathway all the way to Harbor View Park, under the Casco Bay Bridge. The rebuilt Commercial Street might also include new on-street bike lanes, plus an improved, traffic-calmed intersection at Beach Street.

Although the project is fast-tracked and could begin construction this summer, the actual plans are still up in the air. Bike/ped advocates are encouraged to weigh in at a public meeting this Wednesday, at 6 p.m. in City Hall's State of Maine room (that's upstairs, in the western wing of the building).