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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maine DOT goofs up, but publicity, bike/ped activism is making it right

Here's the good news: the Maine DOT is planning routine maintenance of the well-used Casco Bay Bridge sidewalk this summer, in a project starting next week. So kudos to them for keeping important infrastructure, used by hundreds of people every day, in good working condition.

Here's the bad news, though: our highway engineers in Augusta forgot that people actually rely on the sidewalk that they're repairing, and neglected to make any credible detour plans for the project.

As told in greater detail in yesterday's Portland Press Herald story, the state's transportation agency hadn't made any plans to create a temporary walkway as a detour on the main route between Portladn and South Portland for the 3-week period of construction. Instead, the construction plan apparently expected pedestrians, joggers, and wheelchair users to make their way across the bridge on the roadway's bike lanes – in close proximity to cars and trucks going 40 miles-per-hour.

When Portland's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee learned of this plan at our regular monthly meeting earlier this week — just one week before construction began — we immediately reached out to the City of South Portland's bike and pedestrian advocates, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and Portland Trails. The next day, the Press Herald story linked above ran on the front page with a dramatic photo — attracting a lot more attention to the problem.

Today, though, we're hearing that the DOT is floating new plans to keep most of the bridge's sidewalk open, with a much shorter sidewalk detour on the "lift span" part of the drawbridge where the actual work is taking place.

The whole episode has been embarrassing for the Maine DOT — and rightfully so. Just last month the agency was just boasting that it had adopted a "complete streets" policy, but this gaffe makes it clear that its old, motorists-first mentality persists in the bureaucracy.

Still, thanks to rapid and coordinated responses from Portland and South Portland advocates, the upcoming bridge project won't be nearly as disruptive or dangerous as it might have been.

Photo at left by John Brooking. 
These signs, as seen on July 17, are meant to notify pedestrians of the proposed bridge closure — but they're located far away from the sidewalk in the roadway's median, and have been overlooked by most of the bridge's pedestrian users. 

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