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

Monday, August 4, 2014

After over 16 years, Portland gets a sidewalk to its bus and train station

Back in the late 1990s, Concord Trailways moved its bus terminal out of Bayside to more spacious quarters on the edge of the central city, on Thompson's Point. That gave the bus company lots of room to grow, from a handful of daily roundtrips to Boston to the near-hourly, round-the-clock service we enjoy today. But there was one problem: there were no sidewalks on any of the streets leading to the bus station.

The problem got worse about 10 years ago, when the Amtrak Downeaster started running to the same station. Car-free arrivals from Boston and other points south found themselves stranded at the edge of a huge parking lot and a tangle of hostile freeway ramps.

It didn't feel like arriving in Portland – it felt like arriving in the strip malls of Falmouth, Scarborough, or Freeport.

In truth, though. it's only a 30 minute walk from the Portland Transportation Center to Longfellow Square, in the middle of the city. Back in 2008, the Portland Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee designated this area one of the city's top priorities for bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements – due largely to its significance as a destination for Portland's car-free travelers.

This summer, thanks to a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, street improvements in the area have finally created a few passable walking and biking routes to the city's busiest transportation hub. I took a bike ride down there this weekend, and here are some shots of the area's newly completed streets.

This new crosswalk across Fore River Parkway connects to Frederic Street, a dead-end for cars that will now serve as a nice bike/ped shortcut to and from Congress Street (there had been an informal goat path through a fence here before, but the new one is accessible to bikes and wheelchairs).

The new Thompson's Point Road now boasts sidewalks. It was also widened, from 2 to 3 lanes, but the center lane will be a "reversible" lane to be used only when events are happening at a still-unbuilt Thompson's Point arena.

Sewall Street (below) also received some new sidewalks, and remains cut off from Thompson's Point for motorized traffic. Sewall is the first built link in a planned and funded "neighborhood byway" connection that will run on quiet neighborhood streets from Thompson's Point to Deering Center, 1.5 miles north of here. 

Part of the new neighborhood byway includes safer crossings of the three busy streets that lie between Thompson's Point and Deering Center – Congress, Brighton, and Woodford. Here's what the corner of Congress and Sewall looked like a few weeks ago:

...and here's the same scene from this past weekend. Sewall Street has been narrowed down and the crosswalks have been improved with ADA-accessible ramps.

Finally, Fore River Parkway has gained a new separated shared-use path that runs from Thompson's Point Road to Congress Street. I understand that the bike lane on Park Avenue, which currently peters out into a freeway on-ramp, will be extended to flow into this new bike path. 

Fore River Parkway still lacks a sidewalk on its western shoulder – building one there will require the roadway to sacrifice a lane for car traffic, so we'll still have one good battle to fight. Still, it's a good start.