Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Walking in a Winter Portland

Being a pedestrian in the winter months can be a challenge even for the most physically fit of people. This recent press release by the city has some good winter tips for pedestrians and drivers alike and includes the map, posted below, detailing sidewalks that the city clears for pedestrians:

Of course, all sidewalks, not just the ones highlighted below should be kept clear from snow, ice, and debris. A city ordinance, that is generally well enforced, requires property owners to clear sidewalks in front of their property. If you come upon a non-city-owned sidewalk that is chronically uncleared, the public works department can be contacted at 874-8793 and they will bring a snowshovel of justice to the offender.

Also, the adopt-a-stop program is still looking for able-bodied volunteers to help keep local bus stops clear.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pedestrian Detection System

Pictured below is a newly installed pedestrian detection system at the intersection of Commercial and Franklin Streets:

As highlighted in this press release by the city, these new cameras have been installed at the pedestrian crossings at Commercial Street/Franklin Street and Park Avenue/Deering Avenue.These cameras use infrared stereo LED cameras (kind of like the Microsoft Kinect?) to detect pedestrians and sync the pedestrian and vehicle signals. This technology is being developed by Migma Systems, out of Massachusetts, and more technical information on the product can be found here and here. The system isn't currently for sale, as it is in field testing and Portland was picked as one of six demonstration cities for the technology.

I look forward to seeing the results of this trial, and stopping by these intersections to see it in action (I don't think it was on when I took the above picture). To sum this up, here is a commendable comment in the city's press release by Michael Bobinsky, Portland Public Services Director:

"Portland has long been a leader in advancing pedestrian safety and accessibility and it was great news that the city was chosen by FHWA and the Maine Department of Transportation for the installation of this cutting edge technology as it will help us continue our efforts to make this city a safe place to get around, whether on foot, bike or car."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Diagonal Crosswalks

I came upon this video about diagonal crosswalks on the Streetsblog.org site recently, about the addition of some diagonal crosswalks in Los Angeles:

Diagonal crosswalks are pretty self explanatory: When created at a four-way intersection, they create one big crosswalk in the intersection instead of the standard four crosswalks at each side of the intersection. This type of crosswalk works well in areas with a lot of foot and bike traffic. In addition to decreasing travel times for pedestrians, the biggest advantage of diagonal crosswalks is that they eliminate turning traffic which makes things safer for everybody.

These types of crosswalks are seen in some bigger cities in America (New York, San Francisco, etc) and around the world (Tokyo comes to mind). Is there anywhere in little old Portland that would benefit from this type of crosswalk? I could definitely see it working at several intersections along Commercial Street, which is already a pedestrian friendly area. Congress Street would be another logical area, perhaps at Congress Square or Monument Square. Feel free to comment with your ideas.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bicycle Sharing

Portland currently has a car-sharing program, UCar Share, so could it also support a bike-sharing program?

There are several bike-sharing systems in place around the globe and dozens of companies that are specializing in this field. A notable new North American system is in Washington D.C. The U.S. capital's new bike-sharing system, Capital Bikeshare, recently debuted this month. 

The system works similar to car-sharing, in that you sign up for a membership and then have access to the bicycles which are parked at convenient locations throughout the city. According to the Capital Bikeshare website, their service in D.C. has started with 1,100 bikes at 114 stations. After signing up with the bike-share service, you then can take a bicycle from its station anytime, as long as there is indeed a bike there, and use it as you wish. 

The pricing for the service is interesting. You can use a bike for a day by paying $5, or pay for a 30 day or an annual membership. An annual membership is normally $75 but is currently discounted to $50 and I'm sure there will be promotions on the yearly membership throughout the year. Beyond the membership fee, there is a certain price depending on how long you use the bicycle. The first 30 minutes of each session are free, but beyond that the prices get a bit steep. They caution users on the website that if you are planning on using a bike for an extended amount of time, that you go through a bicycle rental facility. Currently, having a bike for 6.5 - 24 hours is a hefty $70.50. 

Clearly, an avid cyclist would be better off purchasing their own bicycle, and won't be getting rid of their current one in order to switch to bike-sharing. But for someone who only occasionally wants to use a bicycle or someone whose bike is temporarily out of service, bike-sharing seems like a good deal. Bike sharing might be comparable to standard bicycle rental prices in some cities, which would make it an option for tourists as well. It's an obvious point, but I will just mention that whereas car-sharing aims to reduce overall car usage, bike-sharing aims to increase bike use. So perhaps bike sharing would work better with a different approach than that of car sharing. Just a thought, I don't have any suggestions at this time in regards to a radical new approach.

Here in Portland, it would be tough to make a strong argument for the necessity of a bike sharing program. It does seem to have some potential in larger cities, and I've heard that some sort of bicycle sharing system may be started a bit closer to home in Boston .Most people in Portland who would want to ride a bicycle around town probably already own one, and there are some great affordable options in the area for bike rentals. I'm not being paid to mention them (but I would be open to some sort of compensation!), but Gorham Bike & Ski on Congress Street rents bicycles starting at $25 a day or $125 a week. That price even includes a helmet and lock and choice of many different styles of bicycles for both genders. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still Around

I haven't posted recently, mostly due to being busy with moving, working, and part-time schooling. I recently moved a block over from my last apartment and am proud of my new location's grade of 100 on walkscore.com. I hope to come up with some more posts to share soon. In the meantime, if anyone has any ideas I am open to suggestions.

'Til next time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Welcome to Portland!

I might have posted about this before, maybe not. Anyhow, I travel to points South several times a year from the Portland Transportation Center. The PTC is home to Concord Trailways and is the current northern terminus for the Amtrak Downeaster (until it extends to Freeport and Brunswick in a couple years).

Here's a map showing the transportation center in relation to the rest of the city:

Until recently, there were no pedestrian connections to the transportation center. Proper sidewalks were recently completed on Sewall Street that make traveling to the station by foot a more pleasant trip when arriving from the North or West. 

For some reason, likely related to budgets, when the Fore River Parkway was built it was done so without any sidewalks or other helpful amenities to allow pedestrians coming from the East, downtown Portland, to reach the station from Congress Street. If you are a car-free visitor to Portland and you arrive to the city by bus or rail, you just might get a slightly negative impression of our infrastructure when you start your journey from the station to the city. As you can see, it's a pretty well traveled area by foot:

The other side of the road looks like it could have been designed with a sidewalk also, but instead a fence was put up right next to the guardrail (it can be hard to keep a car on the road when travelling at 25 MPH through a slight turn) and a few feet on the other side of the fence is a pretty deep gully between the road and the parking lots.

Whether you take the grassy side (or the snowbank side in the winter) or the guardrail side, you don't get much of a break from the passing vehicles. This intersection has no pedestrian crosswalks or crossing signals, despite the connection it provides pedestrians to the nice new trails near the new Mercy Hospital buildings just down the road:

The good news is that I have heard from a few different sources that this little stretch of road will be getting a sidewalk and presumably some crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signals in the future. I'm not sure when, but it's on somebody's to-do list. I'm still a bit unsure about why this was't designed for some level of pedestrian use since it connects the downtown to the mass transit hub, but it's never too late to correct these types of issues.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back Cove Block Party

As you can see from the post below (click to enlarge it), there will a block party on the cove next Sunday, August 8th. It is being put on by the Back Cove Neighborhood Association and the City if Portland. 

Part of the event includes closing Baxter Boulevard to automobile traffic from Vannah Avenue to Payson Park, roughly the route highlighted in the map below (PS - Google Earth recently updated the satellite images  for Portland, the images are now about 2 months old and look great!):

This will provide about a mile of car-free street for pedestrians, cyclists, and lots of other uses for a few hours. I like to think of this as a mini-Summer Streets event. Summer Streets in New York takes place a few  times a year in which Park Avenue and the connecting  streets are closed to motor vehicles from the Brooklyn  Bridge to Central Park. There are a few other cities that have similar events, and I am glad that Portland is allowing this to be tried here. Although Baxter Boulevard is usually a pretty calm street and has great pedestrian infrastructure lining it and suitable  bike lanes, allowing people  to venture into the street every now  and then can allow people to see the street in a different way and ponder the thought  that we don't have to build streets just for cars.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sidewalk Watch: Cumberland Ave

Not much to report here other than the sidewalks on the southern side of Cumberland Avenue, between Franklin Street and Washington Ave, are being rebuilt. I recall this sidewalk consisting of a lot of uneven brick so it will benefit from some new curbing and surfacing. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Go Car-Free on the 4th

Not only can you get some exercise, meet your neighbors, and be more environmentally friendly (among other benefits), you can also decrease your risk of being injured in an automobile on Sunday if you leave your car in the driveway.

As I saw on the Discovery Channel website, a study by the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies shows that the 4th of July is the most dangerous day of  the year to drive, in addition to the summer being to most dangerous season to be on the road. Some factors that make Independence Day especially dangerous include the amount of traffic (summer travel season and people going to cookouts I suppose) and the increased amount of drunk drivers (holidays tend to lead to a spike in drunk driving).

I'm not sure of any  exact statistics for the 4th of July, but according to one source there is an automobile fatality every 12 minutes and there are in excess of 40,000 fatalities every year. Such statistics are powerful and   knowing that one particular day had a disproportionate amount of traffic deaths is enough for me to say that the 4th is a good day to walk, bike, or use mass transit. Besides, the weather is great and Portland is a great place to not be in a car.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Congress Square Park

Some time ago I started writing a post about the park/public plaza in Congress Square. It is at the intersection of Congress and High Streets, right next to the Eastland hotel. Here's a map:

Not long after I began writing a post about some ideas for improving the park, which is somewhat under-utilized for it's prime location, a notice was posted on the city website about the creation of the Congress Square Redesign Study Group. The group's aim is to "...advise and guide the design and engineering process for the assessment of the best use and design of Congress Square Park." The group has only met once, back in May, and doesn't appear to have any future meetings scheduled. I was not able to attend the group's inaugural meeting due to time constraints. I don't see any minutes of exactly what was discussed at the meeting, but there is a link to a presentation on the group's website that has some really interesting photographs showing the history of the square. Long story short, the square was  home to various residential and commercial buildings until the 1980's when the current plaza design was installed (along with very positive improvements to the rest of Congress Square). Since it's creation, however, it seems that the plaza has struggled to create a real identity and usefulness and is often a place where homeless individuals congregate to ask for change. Every now and then a special event utilizes the space (such as the Tower of Song festival or the Sidewalk Art Festival, but the park is usually inactive.

So since there is a group already looking at ways to improve the park I decided not to dedicate a whole post to my thoughts on the matter, until I was passing by the other day and noticed that the concrete planting pots along Congress Street had been recently retrofitted with people-deterrents. As you can see in this photo, it appears that it would be uncomfortable to sit on these, but it is still possible:

There is a sunken plaza to the left of this photo with some steps suitable for sitting on and two or three (at the most) old benches in the middle of the park but I would think that if we are not allowing people to sit on these planters then perhaps a few more benches could be added in this area. As I said, I didn't get the chance to attend the redesign group's meeting and am not able to tell you what improvements they thought of, but I do hope that there are some more useful improvements planned other than attempting to keep people from sitting down for a bit.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Shopping Carts and Urban Living

As recently reported at TheCityFix.com, a site about sustainable urban mobility, the Sydney, Australia city council recently denied an urban supermarket the ability to provide it's customers with shopping carts (or as they call them: trolleys).

From this article from down under, the city council "...approved a development application last September for a small local supermarket with no trolleys, but six months later the developer wanted to change it to include trolleys." The city council denied this request and the market will remain trolley-free. Apparently part of what the city council was aiming for when they approved this urban supermarket was to provide a place to shop for city dwellers without increasing the amount of automobile traffic in the already congested area. Similar to how markets used to work in cities before cars, I believe the idea was that people would make a quick stop by the local market on foot a few times a week to pick up the goods they needed for just the next few days. Here's a quote from article:
"Labor councillor Dr Meredith Burgmann says the decision was based on maintaining traffic levels in the area.
She says she has never received so many emails and letters from residents concerned about the impact of trolleys.
"It does have to remain a local drop-in-as-you're-walking-along-the-street supermarket," she said."
The Sydney Morning Herald also reported on this, prior to the city council's decision upholding the trolley ban:
"The Friends of Erskineville [the village where the supermarket is] warns that trolleys are a gateway conveyance that will hook shoppers on the car habit. ''Without wanting to sound like the League of Gentlemen, no trolleys restricts the amount of people who will drive so it's only local people, on foot, not people driving to the site,'' the group's spokesman, Brett Mason, said."
These Friends of Erskineville seem to be a pretty dedicated bunch of individuals, interested in promoting livability and sustainability in their own neighborhood. The stance against shopping carts is rather interesting and I'm not sure if this issue has ever been discussed in America. I'm not advocating that shopping carts be banned or the use of them curtailed, but it's worthwhile to think about the connection between our current infrastructure and our lifestyle. Banning shopping carts at the IGA in Erskineville is a small act, but it is a solution that make sense and seems to be popular with the people it affects on a daily basis.

Monday, May 31, 2010

What's in a name? From Arterial to Street

I can't find the official documentation of this, but someday soon the signs saying Franklin Arterial will say Franklin Street. I'm sure this is a minor victory as far as the Franklin Reclamation Authority is concerned, but it's a step in the right direction by the city. As you know, where the Franklin Arterial (Oops, I mean Street) is was once an urban street and not the mini highway that it is today. A look at official city maps reveals that the actual name of the thoroughfare has actually always been Franklin Street, so it's interesting that it became to be known as Franklin Arterial and the street signs even said so. Either way, this is a good move and I look forward to further discussions concerning the future of this street.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fix This: Deering Oaks Benches

These benches along High Street have always baffled me. I have never once seen anyone using them, not even to sleep on. These pictures sum up the problem with this bench placement pretty well:

It would probably make more sense to put these benches somewhere with a scenic view, rather than a view of a somewhat high-speed one way street with a park somewhere beyond. The area right around the Deering Oaks Pond lacks benches, so I would propose a quick fix of moving some of these, if not all of them, over there.

*Update - Someone is seen sitting on one of these benches on Google streetview. What are the odds?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bayside Trail - April 2010

Here are a few shots of the Bayside Trail under construction as of last weekend. Coming along nicely!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

2010 Great Portland Bike-Swap

The annual bike swap at USM's Sullivan Gym is this Sunday, April 24th. It starts at 10am, so if you want to have a wide variety of purchasing choices, you should be sure to arrive a lot earlier than that. I attended last year, and it was an interesting event.

Some local bicycling related links:

Bike Maine

Portland Bike Commuting

Portland Green Streets

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vote MilNeil - District 119

If you live in Maine's District 119 (Bayside and Parkside neighborhoods of Portland), please consider supporting Christian MilNeil, author of Rights of Way and Vigorous North, in his bid for a seat in Maine's State House. The current representative is leaving, so it's a great opportunity to get some new blood in the system and Christian is a strong candidate and people who read this blog will agree with a lot of his views. Read more about his bid here, and donate to his clean election fund if you live in the district.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bridges over Waters

In the not-too-distant future Portland will have two new/reconstructed bridges on opposite sides of the peninsula. To the north, the Martin's Point Bridge that carries Route 1 traffic from Portland to Falmouth is to be reconstructed starting in 2014. To the south, the Veteran's Memorial Bridge which also carries Route 1 but from Portland to South Portland, will be rebuilt starting this summer.

I wasn't around when either of these bridges were built initially, but I doubt that there was as much public participation in the design and planning process back then as there is these days. There have been workshops for the public concerning the new Veteran's Memorial Bridge (I unfortunately wasn't able to attend due to work/school) and the city is looking for members of the public to join a committee for the Martin's Point Bridge reconstruction project.

The Martin's Point Bridge is currently the more pedestrian/bike friendly route, and both bridges promise to be much more accommodating to non-vehicular traffic when they are completed. Maybe it's just the optimistic spring weather getting to me, but I felt like writing a positive post today. I urge everyone to get involved with the design process of these and other infrastructure projects around town.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pedestrian Crossing When Flashing

I took this photo many months ago, but still think it's worth mentioning. It's located at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Bedford Street, next to the USM library.

Are there similar installations at other Portland intersections? I do not know. I do think it's a novel idea and it was the first time I have seen it in Portland. A 'no turn on red' sign would make this safer for pedestrians, but I think it does plenty and it is a million times better than the old intersection layout that had right-turning (from Bedford to Forest) traffic yielding/never stopping. Also, being an extension of USM, I'm sure the flashing sign works well during peak pedestrian times such as between classes.

I also like how this intersection had a median separating both sides of Forest Avenue, which provides a much needed (albeit very small) shelter from vehicles while crossing 4 lanes.


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