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


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.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin