Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Public Bike Forum - Jan. 9, 2010

I saw this on the Press Herald today...

"The city plans to hold a forum on Saturday, Jan. 9, to get public input on developing strategies to improve bicycling in the community.

One goal, according to a release put out this morning, is to help Portland become a Bicycle Friendly Community, as designated by the League of American Bicyclists.

This fall, the release said, the city was awarded an honorable mention for its application to be considered a bike-friendly community. The league suggested a number of ways Portland could improve “bikability,” the release said, including an expansion of Bike to Work Day, increasing the number of bike lines along major arterials, improving public education efforts for safety, and incorporating bicycling issues/needs in planning and large-scale development.

The forum will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at the Merrill Rehearsal Hall at City Hall. Members of the public are encouraged to pre-register at http://www.portlandmaine.gov/planning/conferenceregistrationbikes.asp."
Sign up!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Exit 6 Follow-Up

Allow me to share some information I received from Kathi Earley, in reference to this big post from May. Intrepid readers of this blog likely noticed that large sections of Forest Avenue were repaved and spruced up over the summer and fall. After waiting several months to see if there would be any changes to Forest Avenue where this interchange is and eventually realizing that it would be not touched, I sent an email voicing my concerns to city councilman Kevin Donoghue. Kevin forwarded my message to Kathi Earley, who along with Kevin and others serve on the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System committee.(http://www.pactsplan.org/).

Here are the main points, which leave me optimistic that some issues here will be addressed someday...

  • MDOT has developed conceptual plans for making improvements to this Exit, including realignment of each ramp to 'force' drivers to slow down as they enter and exit the Highway. The City has maintained it's position thruout this project's design phase that pedestrians and bicyclists MUST be properly accommodated when MDOT constructs this project.
  • The Transportation Committee recently established the intersection area of Forest/Marginal Way/State/Kennebec as the City's primary application for 2012/2013 PACTS funding for Intersections Improvements. While this project, if funded, would not directly focus on the Exit 6 ramps, it is intended to follow improvements we expect MDOT to make and also address the Bayside Trail's alignment to reach Deering Oaks.
As mentioned in my blog post, the lack of any lighting in this area is of concern. It is said that the street lighting was eliminated due to the operating budget. Lighting is likely to be addressed when (not anytime too soon though) when the MDOT next addresses this interchange. A point was made that placing pedestrian crossing signs is tricky with these types of cloverleaf interchanges, which I understand. Obviously a completely redesigned interchange would likely be built to more modern standards which would benefit pedestrian traffic, but the current interchange will likely remain for a long time coming. In regards to my other concern of the lack of crosswalks at the entrance/exit ramps, the MDOT owns the ramps and therefore there are certain laws and regulations I am not familiar with. Kathi also mentioned that i they were allowed to put down crosswalks, that it would have to wait until warmer weather.

So, there's some follow up for you all. Hope everyone is having a good holiday season, stay safe!


Monday, December 14, 2009

Adopt-a-Stop

Adopt-a-stop.org is an interesting opportunity for able bodied and public transportation minded individuals in the Portland area. The emphasis is on keeping the bus stops in Portland and South Portland clear and safe in the winter months.




Someone should urge me to sign up so I can remodel the post office bus stop. I imagine it working out like when Kramer adopted a mile of highway.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Pedestrian Flow (or lack of)

I came across this post on the World Streets blog today, and here is the text I want to breifly discuss:

"One of my great interests is time reallocation in an urban system. All I mean by this is that when I walk across parts of London which I do most weeks it is quite clear that the amount of time I stand still and do not move as traffic hurtles past is very large. I estimate it is about 50% of my journey time. That means that even in a congestion charge best practice world my time is being stolen to reward drivers with time savings. I want the theft halted and the system re-prioritised to reward pedestrians and cyclists."


- John Whitelegg, Editor, World Transport Policy and Practice



I find this to ring very true in not only here in Portland, but in every city that has automobile traffic that I've visited or heard of. At a 'standard' street intersection, a pedestrian is likely to wait an disproportionate amount of time to move in relation to the movement of vehicular traffic.

Before I get a ton of hate mail, I don't think that 'the equation' should be reversed to make it as difficult for cars as it currently is for pedestrians, but I think there is room for improvement in the daily flow of intersections.

The first intersection that comes to mind for improvement is one near my apartment, the intersection of Congress, High, and Free Streets (commonly referred to as Congress Square). High and Free Streets, both being one-way, tend to have an almost endless stream of traffic during busy times. A finer balance of 'walk' times and red lights would make this a more friendly area for pedestrians. There was an article awhile ago in the newspaper about the great art and entertainment scene that has been blossoming for the last several years on Congress Street, west of High Street. One of the owners of an art gallery in the State Theater building said something to the effect of "it's hard to attract the kind of foot traffic on this side of town that the Old Port and the rest of Congress Street attracts, it's like there's an invisible wall." Although they did not seem to make the connection, it is clear that this intersection is an obstruction to pedestrian movement on Congress Street and a few simple redesigns could make a positive difference.

I can not find it anywhere, but I'm pretty sure I saw an idea on Rights of Way a long time ago, in which there few pictures of a slightly redesigned intersection here that eliminated the merge lane from High Street onto Free Street. Simply turning that into a sidewalk and forcing cars going from High to Free Street to do so at the intersection created a great little space and made the intersection much more manageable. Inspiration for such a design can be found in the reclamation of space for pedestrians in New York's Times Square.

By allowing pedestrians some breathing room to cross streets, it would encourage car-free travels and also make city driving more efficient for drivers who currently become enraged the second that a light turns green and a pedestrian has a few feet left to go to to the nearest sidewalk. One thing I never understood about the pedestrian signals at intersections is that they don't have the standard green, yellow, and red signals that vehicles have. There are countless intersections around town that give the steady red stop/don't walk signal to pedestrians when there is clearly enough time to cross the road. At the risk of being arrested for jaywalking (does that happen in Portland? Also, it's sad that most streets are purely designed for the fastest-possible movement of cars even in dense pedestrian environments) I prefer to cross the road before the oncoming traffic's signal turns green in order to avoid waiting in the cold for 5 minutes while people in heated machines cruise by.

I could go on, but I will stop here before I start rambling too much!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Safe Place

Is Portland a safe place to walk, bike, run, etc?

For the most part (I'm looking at you, Franklin Arterial!) the peninsula is home to pretty calm streets that enable and encourage pedestrian usage year-round.

At the Maine Personal Injury Law Blog (run by local firm Joe Bornstein) they recently had a post about an update to pedestrian safety law.

Here's a snippet:

Pedestrians, by law, now have more room to run and walk when on the road. A new law protecting pedestrian safety states that drivers must leave at least three feet of clearance between their vehicle and a pedestrian when passing. The decree is a continuation of a similar law for passing bicyclists.


The new law went into effect on September 12th and is being considered by many as an awareness act. Known as “An Act To Improve the Health of Maine Citizens and Safety of Pedestrians," drivers must now be more cautious of their actions around pedestrians or they will be fined.

I applaud the effort, and although we all know that traffic calming and common sense are more effective tools to enhance pedestrian safety in Maine, the law certainly means well. Fortunately, most roads in downtown Portland have adequate sidewalks, and this law seems to be more focused on pedestrians utilizing roads without sidewalks.

And back to the issue of safety in Portland, I rarely hear of fatal incidents involving pedestrian/bicycles. Most of the areas that pedestrians have access to in downtown Portland are low(er) speed areas, compared to the high-speed roads that connect the suburbs and rural areas that are purely designed for automobile use. In turn you rarely have incidents on the higher speed roads outside of cities and town centers because they are rarely used by pedestrians since nothing is within reasonable walking distance.

In a broader sense, the streets of Portland are relatively safe as far as crime goes. Despite the occasional crime spree, most people would report experiencing few serious problems. Perhaps more on this topic in the future...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Prime Time

Folks, this is the perfect time of year as far as I am concerned.

If you are a reader of this blog, and you must be since you are reading this, I'm sure you also enjoy this time of year. Fall in Maine is colder than winter in some states but I have found that it is just right for my tastes. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy summer, winter, and spring a lot. But as far as good walking weather, fall is my pick.

Maybe I am extra excited since I just walked home from work for the first time in a while and the weather was gorgeous. The summer is too hot for me to make the ~4 mile trek without help from the bus along the way and the winter is a whole different story. Anyhow, it was a very nice fall day in Maine and I even saw a few bits of foliage.

I haven't been posting a lot lately, but I also except that a lot of people haven't been huddled in front of their computers to read local blogs lately. If you haven't, I advise you to step away from your desk or couch as soon as possible and enjoy the weather before it goes away.



Also..

Tomorrow night, September 29th, there is a Maine State Rail Plan meeting at the USM Portland library from 6-8pm. See you there, perhaps.








Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sidewalk Watch: Sidewalk Seating

Reader Mark S. recently brought to my attention a sidewalk issue playing out in the Old Port. He sent in the picture to the left of the sidewalk in front of the Salt Exchange restaurant, at 245 Commercial Street. As you can see, sidewalk seating has taken up more than half of the sidewalk, and left a couple of feet for people to pass through and dodge parking meters. In addition to creating a challenging environment for pedestrians, it is likely also against some sort of city regulation.

The seating will likely be gone soon, as the weather gets colder, but it was still set up this past weekend and I agreed that it was not a very good use of the sidewalk. This blog is not a place to complain about things or to be a whistle blower, but a place to bring these sorts of things to people attention, at which point people can form their own opinions and act accordingly. That being said, if I anyone can find any ordinances relating to this type of sidewalk use on the city website I would be impressed! (here is the city code site)

Does sidewalk seating work in some areas? Certainly. The picture to the left is from in front of Local 188 on Congress Street. This isn't a super-busy little stretch of sidewalk, though it's certainly not a dead zone, but the restaurant leaves enough unobstructed sidewalk to not cause any hassles for pedestrians. The restaurants in Monument Square with outside seating have plenty of room to spread out, also. The Empire Dine & Dance, on a pretty busy stretch of Congress Street at the corner with Forest Avenue has sidewalk seating installed, and it usually works fine except for really busy pedestrian times, such as first Fridays.

The title of this post, Sidewalk Seating, opens me up to exploring the topic of public seating on our sidewalks and in our parks. I'm all for places to sit and the only downside to the outside restaurant seating around town is you have to pay for a meal to sit there!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Out of Town: Pittsburgh

http://img10.imageshack.us/img10/1913/800pxpittsburghviewfrom.jpgFor the first edition of this new series, aptly called "Out of Town," I have chosen to shine a light upon the city of Pittsburgh. Located in the fine state of Pennsylvania at the confluence of some hard to pronounce rivers and the start of the Ohio River, Pittsburgh makes my list of most scenic cities in the country. I have never been there, but have always enjoyed pictures of the area and reading about the city's progress.

The city has a strong 'green' reputation, which is no small feat considering it rose to prominence as an industrial hub (notably steel) full of polluted rivers and smog. It is hosting a G-20 economic summit later this month which will put the city on the world stage for a few days. This website, aptly called Pittsburgh Green Story, chronicles the "...remarkable story of one of America’s oldest industrial cities. Pittsburgh, once declared "hell with the lid taken off," has undergone one of the most dramatic environmental transformations in American history and is now one of the greenest cities in the nation."

In addition to the overall green vibe, the city appears to have a pretty dense downtown and surrounding pre-war suburbs which make it a good place to explore without a car. There are not a lot of large American cities where you can literally start a hiking expedition from downtown.

That leads me to a selection of blogs and/or websites that have similar aspirations and mindsets to mine. (which is the basis of the 'out of town' series by the way)

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UrbanHike.Org

"Urban Hike is an informal, monthly-or-so walking tour of the Pittsburgh area. We learn a little history, take in some strange and beautiful sights, get some exercise, and wrap it all up with some delectable local cuisine."


The other day I was thinking that I would like to take up hiking, but to get to some mountainous terrain near Portland without a car proved to be a challenge. By the time I walk/bike/run to a mountain I would be to tired to do any hiking. Pittsburgh's urban hike group looks like some good wholesome fun and their website is very well done.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bike Pittsburgh
http://bike-pgh.org/

This is another great looking site. In addition to car-free Fridays and Bikefest, they seem to do a ton of advocacy on local biking issues, have a busy community calendar, and feature some very slick looking bicycle maps. Pittsburgh is a hilly city, and I am sure that riding your bike there is not only convenient but a great workout.


"Bike Pittsburgh is committed to making Pittsburgh increasingly safe, accessible, and friendly to bicycle transportation. The work we do is at the heart of urban environmentalism - raising awareness about oil dependency, pollution, congestion, safe streets, good urban design, and public health. We are partnering with local stakeholders to improve our streets, bridges, and trails in order to make riding to work, shopping, and exercising by bicycle safe and fun for everyone in Pittsburgh. "

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East Busway Blog
http://buswayblog.blogspot.com/

And last but not least, this blog provides some good insights into current transportation issues relating to the city. An interesting tidbit I learned about the author is that they currently commute via car to their job but look forward to the day that they would be able to have a viable public transportation option for their workplace or to live and work in a more mass-transit friendly environment. A snippet from the aforementioned post:


"My goal is to at some point take a job in Pittsburgh that is more commuter friendly. For now I am stuck. Even if I wanted to move to a location closer to work, where I could take public transportation, I would have to get in my car anyway to run errands because the area is so rural.What's my point? Plan development intelligently. The office park I work in was created for people to drive to individually, access to public transit was not even an afterthought, it was NEVER considered. Now we're paying. From a completely practical perspective, gas won't be cheap forever (thank god my car is fuel efficient). At some point $50.00 a tank for a small car will become the norm again. This is not to mention the other effects (the least of which not being my sanity)."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So there you have it, some interesting stuff out of Pittsburgh. I very much hope to visit someday. What town should be next?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Texting around Portland

There was an interesting story about the (obvious) dangers of texting while driving on the CBS evening news tonight. I tried to find a link to it on their website, but there have been so many stories about the same exact topic over the last few years that I gave up on trying to find the most recent segment.

It was not mentioned in any of their reports, but texting while driving can be a hazard even to those of us who don't own cars. In fact, it can be more dangerous since we are not surrounded by the body-armor of a car even though we walk on sidewalks and crosswalks that are mere feet from vehicles with texting and chatting drivers. Bicyclists are equally at risk, as well as any person not in a car or well-built building.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a study come out someday that also incriminates pedestrians and bicyclists for texting while on the move. (Do you think I could make any money by publishing such a report?) It is as easy to be distracted while walking as it is to get distracted while driving. The real issue in all of this is, of course, not the act of texting or talking on the phone but is instead the issue of distraction. Someone trying to walk across a busy intersection while filling out a crossword puzzle is just as dangerous as someone driving a car who is trying to figure out their exact position on the map.

While it is a serious issue since people can and have been seriously injured and even killed due to distractions, it is interesting that it is blamed on different media throughout the ages. I've heard anecdotally that when they first started putting radios in cars that it was considered as dangerous as texting is today.

So, the moral of this rant is to pay attention to your surroundings, no matter when or where you are (especially in the future when people will be playing Playstation 4's while driving and installing holodecks on the in their minivans!)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Portland North Project

The Portland North Project has a very nice site over at Maine.Gov that may be of interest to readers of this blog and of enthusiasts of alternative transportation in and around Portland. Here's the blurb from the site:

"In this study, the Maine Department of Transportation is considering implementing either rail or Bus Rapid Transit service between Portland and destinations north of Portland. Bus service would be provided in the I-295 and I-95 corridors, and the following three rail corridors will be analyzed for potential funding... Portland to Yarmouth, Portland to Brunswick, and Portland to Auburn."

There is a wealth of information on the site, such as studies that have been completed, powerpoint presentations, and plenty of maps. I encourage you to spend some time looking around.


This map shows a couple of different options as far as rail service into Portland from the North. One option, using publicly owned land, would involve repairing the rail bridge that runs next to Tukey's bridge (which carries I-295) and would presumably have some impact on the Narrow Gauge Railroad attraction along the Eastern Prom. Another option would have trains coming in more from the northwest on rail that belongs to PanAm. Do note that the only currently existing train station in the map below is the Portland Transportation Center.


I don't have much to say about the project, except that I obviously support it and it sounds like they are on the right track (pun intended). While rail service (utilizing existing rails) would be my first choice, a bus rapid transit (BRT) system would have just as many benefits and would likely be easier to implement. I haven't read enough into it to determine how a rail service would work with the (eventual) extension of the Amtrak Downeaster to the north, but I'm sure that is somewhere in the notes. I would also be curious to know if there is any project like this for the southern side of Portland (currently served by a few shuttle buses and the Amtrak at Old Orchard Beach, Saco/Biddeford, and other points south).


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Elm Street Sidewalk

This is on Elm Street near the intersection with Marginal Way, in the Bayside neighborhood. I often wonder which came first; the sidewalk or the building?





Sunday, August 9, 2009

Parking Problem

I've been meaning to write up a post about parking issues in Portland and how they affect even the car-free among us. I came across this recently published article which makes a lot of the points I would make, except it is written better and draws on solid evidence. I will start drafting a Portland specific post about parking someday soon. In the meantime, please check this article out:


By Seth Zeren

A few highlights:

Who pays for [free parking]? Everyone. The cost of building all that parking is reflected in higher rents, more expensive shopping and dining, and higher costs of home-ownership. Those who don’t drive or own cars thus subsidize those who do.

Because [parking] surveys are often conducted in “pure” auto environments (malls or office buildings with free parking that are inaccessible by other modes), and because they measure the absolute peak of demand, these standards often result in an enormous abundance of parking. Malls, for example, are required to build sufficient parking for the busiest day each year – with the consequence that for the other 364 days, many parking spots stand empty, a poor capital investment...

Why do Americans drive everywhere? Because everything’s far apart. Why’s it far apart? Often because there’s so much parking in between! In the end, creating bright green cities will require undoing the damage created by mandating free parking. But it won’t be easy. Urban form is path dependent. If municipalities just changed the zoning ordinances tomorrow, many drivers would raise political hell over their lost right to free parking, and many developers would go on providing free parking because that’s what the market expects. Fixing the problem will require not only a regulatory change, but also a behavioral change.

Once again, it's a very well written story and I highly recommend reading it. Amazing that so many resources are devoted to storing vehicles, which just sit around 90% of the time, while it's such a struggle making American cities more pedestrian friendly.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Groceries

When transitioning to a car-free life, I found that one of the biggest challenges was shopping for groceries. Of all the types of shopping one can do, getting groceries is probably the one that you do most often and the one that is most important to your survival.

Luckily for me, I live within walking distance of several food stores. I prefer Hannaford's, which is a pretty quick 3/4 of a mile each way from my apartment. Should I become desperate, Paul's Food Center is almost around the corner. Also nearby is the public market and several convenience stores should I need to pick up a basic food item on-the-go.

I talk mostly about walking for groceries, since that is what I do, but a lot of these issues are also faced by those who bike or take the bus to get food.

Some thoughts about groceries...


Buy only what you can carry - I really do sympathize with people who have a family to feed but don't own a car. I am fortunate to only have to feed myself, so I can usually carry two bags of groceries once a week with no problem. I suppose a few ways around that for people who need to feed more than one mouth is to borrow a car, carpool, carshare, or make more trips on foot so there is less to carry each time. Downtown Portland has quite a few places to get groceries, such as Shaw's, Hannaford, and Whole Foods so we are lucky there.

Beware of Weather - I was going to focus on the challenges of carrying groceries in the winter with the ice and snow, but it is certainly a challenge in the summer heat as well. In the winter it can be dangerous and quite the workout walking through a foot of snow before public works starts on clearing the sidewalks. I will certainly have some posts about the challenges of living car-free in the winter once that season arrives. In the summer, one way to go is to wait until later in the day when the sun is setting and the temperatures cool.


Healthier? - I would say that due to walking to the grocery store, I am a little healthier. Obviously, the walk provides some good exercise. It also makes me more picky about what I am buying (is it worth the extra weight I would have to carry?) and it causes me to make less trips to the store (that saves money, too).


Does anyone else have some thoughts about these topics? I don't plan on buying a car, but having one to get groceries would be a big selling point for me.



Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Walk It Off

Thanks to a recent report from the Center for Disesase control's first annual inagural Weight of the Nation conference, there has been increase in reports in the news and in print about the ever growing obesity problem in America. Here is a NBC news report on the conference. The report says that about $147 billion is spent on treating weight related illness such as diabetes and heart diseases annually.

Closer to home, it was recently reported at the
Bangor Daily News that Maine, although only the "35th most obese state in America," is the most obese in New England. From that article:


"...24.7 percent of Maine adults are clinically obese compared with
23.7 percent in last year’s report."


I have always had a hunch that people in urban areas and those don't drive cars
on a regular basis are generally in better health, and this associated
press article
backs me up. A few highlights:

"New research illustrates the health benefits of regular biking, walking or taking public transportation to work, school or shopping. Researchers found a link between "active transportation" and less obesity in 17 industrialized countries across Europe, North America and Australia."

"The authors say it's more than lifestyle choices that lead Americans to use their cars more. Europe's compact, dense layout and infrastructure are more conducive to getting around without a car."

So while this analysis doens't provide a scientic linlk betwene obesity and alternative transportation, it makes some good points that are hard to argue with. Keeping people in better shape, which benefits us all, is one of many reasons to invest in public transporation and carless or less-car dependant transportation in the Portland area.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Streets

Have you heard of New York City's Summer Streets?

NYC DOT and our partners are proud to present Summer Streets. We will temporarily close Park Avenue and connecting streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park to motor vehicles and open it up to people on three consecutive Saturdays in August (August 8, 15, & 22).

I first learned about this interesting event through streetfilms.org, check out a video about the Summer Streets here. Streetfilms is part of the excellent streetsblog network (which this blog is proudly part of).

Could Portland, Maine do something like this? There are currently a couple of events that close down roads here, including the Old Port Fest, which removes cars from most of the Old Port streets, and the Sidewalk Arts Festival, which makes Congress Street a pedestrian only area from Congress Square to Monument Square.

A key aspect to both NYC's Summer Streets and the two events in Portland mentioned above is that not only are the streets car-free, there is also 'stuff to do' besides walking down the middle of the road or not having to look both ways before crossing the street.

I think that Portland could handle a Summer Streets type event several times during the year on Exchange Street, which is a great example of a truly urban street that fits in perfectly with the character of the city. Of course, emergency vehicles and delivery trucks would be let through, but the overall harm of not allowing cars down Exchange Street for every Saturday in August would be minimal and it would be a benefit for the heavy pedestrian traffic in the area. It could even help open up a few people's minds about what new developments (think the Ocean Gateway area and Bayside districts) could be instead of big parking lots and buildings zoned for single uses.

Anyone else want to help me put up some barricades at the top of Exchange Street next Saturday? :-P





Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bus = Time saver?


"Walking isn't a lost art: one must, by some means, get to the garage."

- Evan Esar

Since this is a blog about the car-free "lifestyle," I will share a tidbit from my life.

Yesterday on the Maine Turnpike, just south of Portland, there was an accident which stalled traffic for hours. This morning, many people at work shared their 'horror stories" about how long it took to get home. One of the biggest complaints that I have about our local mass-transit options (the only option for me is the METRO bus) is that it usually takes much longer to get anywhere when compared to traveling in your own car. Although a bus is equally as susceptible to being delayed or being involved in a motor vehicle accident, I made it home in almost record time last night.

  1. Bus: 1
  2. Cars travelling south on the turnpike last night: 0.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Life in the bike lane: July 2009

Here's a run-down of some bicycle related links:

  • Formed in 1992, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine has some great resources available on their website. The group's aim is to "advocate bicycling safety, education, and access..." throughout the state. Be sure to check out the many events on their calendar.
  • The city has created a nice google map with locations of bike racks, check it out here.
  • A public meeting on the proposed Long Creek Bike/Ped bridge in South Portland will be held during the South Portland City Council Workshop on Monday, July 13th, 2009. FMI about the meeting. Check out the presentation on the project here (opens up a .pdf file). This connection would integrate with a new Bike/Ped route over a new Veteran's Bridge (connection between Portland and South Portland) which is in the works. Exciting stuff and a great opportunity.
  • Also, it was announced in June that you can park your bicycle inside the Spring Street parking garage (owned by the city) for free. I hope they start allowing this at all the other city garages, too.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fix This: Post Office Bus Stop

Welcome to the second installment "Fix This." I don't want this blog to have a negative tone so I consider this series to be more of a call to action than a complaint. That being said, pardon my complaints about this bus stop.

Let's start with some photographs:


Note the sign: "No drinking in shelter, violators will be arrested."


.Looking down Park Avenue (reminds you of New York, no?) and the Parkside Neighborhood.


This shelter resembles most of the bus shelters around the city. Some are newer, but have nearly identical floor plans and overall aesthetic appeal.



A few issues that jump out at me:

Lack of seating - The bench in the shelter is large enough to fit one person comfortably, or two strangers awkwardly. Not to mention, there is often someone passed out on this bench.


Overall Size - This stop is always busy when I go by it in the morning (I apologize for taking pictures of it when no one was around). A larger shelter would be good for keeping more people dry and might make the area a bit more attractive. This stop serves three bus lines according to this map from the Metro website, and would make a great 'hub':






Aesthetic value: This stop is on a corner in a neighborhood that could use a fresh coat of paint. Why not start with a new shelter? This is a lower-income area and it sounds silly to represent neighborhood pride with a bus stop, but it would be a start. It's right next to Deering Oaks Park and a shiny new shelter could invite people to the area and serve as an information gatheringg resource with local maps, guides, advertising, etc.


Signage: The stops could use much larger and better signage of the metro routes. The current Metro schedule isn't overly complex compared to most cities, but the small maps that are on the back of this shelter could use some enlarging and clearer language.


Revenue: This isn't a walkability issue, but why aren't there any advertisements on our bus stops? I know Maine doesn't allow billboard advertising (I still have mixed feeling on this) but I don't see any harm in having a McDonald's ad on the side of a bus stop. It would bring in a little bit of much desired revenue for the system. I've even heard of larger cities which sell advertising rights on bus stops to private corporations and in return the company is responsible for the upkeep of the structure.


Here's an example of a pretty nice bus shelter, on Congress Street. This photo was taken from the side so it doesn't fully do it justice.


I think this shelter even features a heating component during the colder months. While it doesn't take care of several of my points I've mentioned, it does have plenty of seating and is large enough to serve the amount of people that use it. It also is unique and that counts for something. I don't want a clone made of this one, but it shows that Portland can have a proper bus stop away from the Pulse on Elm Street (the main hub).

And to finish with the Post Office bus stop... please fix it!

Friday, July 3, 2009

First Friday July 2009

This isn't a photo blog, but I wanted to share this picture from earlier today. Today is/was "First Friday" and it was a beautiful sunny day which helped bring a lot of people downtown. I wish Portland's sidewalks always looked this alive:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Contact the City

A few months ago the city manager's office set up a new "eContact" page on the city website. I have used it a couple of times and am glad to report that people do monitor the system and provide quick response times.

Their description of the system:

"Make a request or comment to the City of Portland. We want to hear from you! If you have a request, suggestion, question, or a comment, you can contact us any time that is convenient for you via this form. If you have a public safety emergency, please call 9-1-1."

There are many uses for the system, and several uses that relate to this site. A few basic examples:

  • Is there a sidewalk that needs repairing?
  • Should they repaint that crosswalk?
  • Do you want a bike rack outside your favorite coffee shop?
Just the other day, I had a 'suggestion' that Portland should have 'way-finding maps/signs' around the downtown area to aid both tourists and locals. (Something like this or this) I also mentioned that if a lot of thought was put into their designs, they could become (very) minor attractions themselves. I got a quick and positive response:

"Thank you for your suggestion! We are excited to tell you that way-finding signs are just around the corner for Portland. We have been planning this for quite some time and signs should begin to be put up this month!"

Do you have some suggestions for the city? If it's a really good idea that is related to this site, please share it with me and maybe we could organize a 'letter-writing campaign' of sorts.




Sunday, June 28, 2009

Portland Past: Street Trolleys

The only reminder left that Portland once had a streetcar/trolley network is found on Munjoy Hill, where a small patch Congress Street features exposed cobblestones and old rails.


I am having a hard time finding any information about the trolley network in Portland. The topic mentioned in a blog post here, and that the network was completely removed by the mid-1940's. I also checked for some information on the Seashore Trolley Museum's website but they didn't have any information specifically about Portland's trolleys.

Most small towns in Maine had a trolley system around the turn of the 20th century. I would love to see a map of Portland's network. What I do know is that there was a line that went up and down Congress Street and also a line that went to Riverton Trolley Park. Here is a website created by a USM student, which has a brief history of the trolleys of Portland. Here's an excerpt:

More trolley lines were added over the next forty years that include: “the Congress Street line that operated from Atlantic to Vaughan Street, in 1864 and the last one, the Saco and Old Orchard line in 1901-1902. The Deering line was electrified in 1891 and the city lines changed to electricity in 1895” (Portland Evening Express, 1941).
Here is a picture from the Maine Memory Network, showing a busy Congress Street in 1930. It's sad that Portland is no longer this 'bustling' but it does show that the city can perhaps support this type of acitivty again someday:


Many other countries have cities with popular, safe, and efficient light rail networks and even a few American cities have great modern networks. (see a list here)

I guess this post doesn't have much purpose other than to reminisce about the long-ago existence of what sounds like a great mass transit system. The removal of the system was most likely due in large part to the rise of the automobile and suburbia.

I attended the open house at the Maine Historical Society on Saturday and am considering joining in order to do some research about this trolley topic. I will keep you posted!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Portland Profiles: David Marshall

Welcome to the inaugural issue of 'Portland Profile," where you will find a brief but informative interview with Portland citizens that are living the car-free lifestyle that this blog promotes.

We begin this first profile by interviewing David Marshall. Dave is a member of the Portland city council and as you can see by the picture of him to the left, he is also a professional artist. He is well known around town as the chair of the energy and environmental sustainability committee and housing committee. A few other boards and committees he is involved in include, health and recreation, public art, Portland's Downtown District, Greater Portland Transit District, and the Creative Portland Corporation.

In addition to that, the fact that Dave Marshall lives a car-free life here in Portland makes him a perfect individual to profile on this site.

How long have you been living in Portland? How long have you been car-free?

During the summer of 1998 I moved to the West End of Portland and quickly learned that having a car was not necessary. Over the past 11 years I have been car-free for the vast majority of the time.

What are the biggest rewards and challenges, personally, to your car-free lifestyle?

Walking and biking everywhere has integrated exercise into my daily life. Extreme weather conditions can put a damper on your day, but that is one reason why we have buses and cabs.

Any ideas for quick fixes that would encourage people to get out of their cars and experience the city more?

A regional transit map will help people use transit by putting the schedules of the METRO, South Portland Bus Service, Casco Bay Lines, Amtrak, Cocord, Greyhound, and others on the same map. This a long awaited integration that will go public in September.

Another step that could promote more transit use is to get the regional transit providers integrated into Google Transit. This will allow customers to access all of the transit options through a lap top or a cell phone. The feature includes inter-modal connections and walking routes and times of travel. When I was visiting my brother in San Francisco I used Google Transit and it allowed me to navigate the BART, METRO, and bus services of several cities all with my cell phone. Check it out at
http://www.google.com/transit/.

If you have some knowledge about other similarly sized cities, how do they compare to Portland as far as alternative transportation options?

Portland has a number of transportation options that are unique for a city of our size: the PWM International Jet Port, International Marine Terminal, Casco Bay Ferry Service, the CAT, Amtrak, two intercity bus services, METRO, and others. Our next step is to integrate our passenger transit providers with the METRO Bus so you can go from Amtrak to the Casco Bay Ferry Lines or from the Jet Port to the CAT.

Another Portland, in Oregon, is known for its proactive land-use planning and transit-oriented development policies. The city is also known for its high percentage of bicycle commuters and overall ‘green friendly’ culture. Could more transit-oriented developments and similar land-use planning work well in our Portland, at a smaller scale of course?

Portland, Maine has many potential Transit Oriented Developments. Plans have been completed for Bayside and the Eastern Waterfront and underway for Franklin Arterial and Forest Avenue. Other potential TOD's are at Thompson's Point and the Western Waterfront.

Do you own a bicycle? If so, have you mastered the peninsula’s hilly terrain?

By biking around Portland almost everyday, I learned quickly what streets are best for climbing hills. Pick a low gear and keep a steady pace.

The Sustainable Portland Report, available on the city website, was published in 2007 and laid out some great action steps and areas of accountability for the committee. Has the committee had a successful start and any idea when the next report (if needed) will be published?

Sustainable Portland Task Force developed the Sustainable Portland final report, which was completed last year.

A couple of years ago the
Energy and Environmental Sustainablity Committee was created as a standing committee of the City Council. This year as it's chair, we initiated an energy service contract and now that an audit of over 50 city buildings is complete we are working with AMERESCO to develop an investment plan. Once our city buildings have efficient heating and cooling systems, more insulation and weather stripping, and renewable energy sources we will save energy and money while creating green jobs.

Also the EESC moved Green Building Codes for city buildings and developments receiving tax brakes or grants from the City, which passed with unanimous City Council support. Through the budget process this year we removed 25% of the streetlights in the City to reduce over-lighting on suburban arterials to save $225,000 per year.

Next on the agenda for the EESC is to work with
ICLEI on a Climate Resilient Communities program plan for the effects of climate change. See here to learn more.


Helpful David Marshall links:

Thanks for your time, David! This concludes this informative interview. Would you or someone you know like to be in the next Portland Profile? Contact coreytempleton@gmail.com for more information.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sidewalk Watch: Monument Street

"Sidewalk Watch" sounds like a good title for a reoccurring series, I'll see what I can do.

In the meantime, here is a shot of some beautiful new bricks on Monument Street, on Munjoy Hill. Brick sidewalks, as well as asphalt and concrete ones, are prone to become uneven due to the thawing of the soil every spring and the growth of tree roots.



Looks like public works will be finishing the intersections this week. You'll notice that the intersections with the street will meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act ) standards.


Rights of Way posted a great article about the peninsula traffic study's finding on the city's sidewalks earlier this year. It looks like the stretch of Monument Street currently being repaired had poor ramp conditions and several of the street's sidewalks were generally in 'poor' condition.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

WAP Profiles

I was thinking of doing a few 'profiles' of people living a car-free lifestyle here in Portland.

I do believe it would be educational and entertaining to share stories of these people (I know there must be some of you out there) with the blog's audience. Maybe it would inspire others to give the car-free commute a try every now and then and it would help people 'put a face' to the issue.

Volunteers (if I could afford to pay people for their time I would, maybe I can get you a cup of cofeee) should be open to answering a few basic interview questions and having a picture or two taken. The whole ordeal will take less than 15 minutes and A few easy sample questions would be:

  • How long have you been using mass transit in Portland?
  • What is the biggest challenge of living car-free in Maine?
  • Have you convinced anyone you know to get out of their car every now and then?

Any volunteers? If you or someone you know has any interest in participating, reply to this post with your contact information or send a note to coreytempleton@gmail.com .

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