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

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 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 .

Monday, June 15, 2009

WalkScore Portland

Have you ever been to

WalkScore provides a 'walkability' index based on most any address you give it. From the creators:

Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle—not how pretty the area is for walking.

Here are my results:
97 out of 100! Not too shabby. I would agree with WalkScore in saying that the peninsula of Portland is a 'walker's paradise.'

Just to compare a few other local locations, Unum on outer Congress Street (where I work) earns a 32% and the Portland Transportation Center (where you catch the Amtrak and Concord Coach Bus) gets a 49%.

This is a great tool to use when checking out potential places to live or when writing blog posts about living car-free. It is not a perfect system, though. The WalkScore 'places' (the things you would walk to, such as grocery stores and schools) depend on Google map data and user input. Some of the listings may be out of date, but for the most part are accurate. As they state on the site, it measures the walkability and not 'how pretty the area is for walking.' Certainly a neighborhood could have a great WalkScore and also be in a crime-ridden arctic tundra where all of the buildings are built in the brutalist style. You can use your own judgement there.

For my own results, Paul's food mart on Congress Street is within easy walking distance but I chose to travel to Hannaford or Shaw's for my groceries. Still, it's a good system and I enjoy comparing different parts of the city to each other.

What's your WalkScore? Do you agree with the results? (You don't have to share a link, just the score).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Skateboards and Cobblestones

Tip of the hat to the Press Herald, which reported here about the public safety committee's authorization of a plan to put some cobblestone on Exchange Street.

The photo below is from this spring and shows cobblestone on Milk Street, which currently ends where Exchange Street crosses its path.

From what I've gathered, they are going to put patches of cobblestone down which will be even with the current surface. They say it will cost only $6,000 and take two days so I'm thinking the street will remain mostly asphalt.

The main reason for this action is to deter skateboarders from going down Exchange Street and 'scaring tourists.' I have mixed feelings about this, since skateboarding is a healthy and 'green' method of personal transport. The sidewalks will remain brick, and there is the chance that a lack of enforcement of a skateboarding ban on the street will push skateboarders onto the sidewalks. They will also start utilizing the next street over, Market Street, which is a one way which may be more dangerous than cruising down Exchange Street since it is a one way going up the incline.

I don't have anything against with the idea of skateboarding and in a perfect world skateboarders, bikes, and pedestrians could get get the roads and sidewalks all to themselves. The city deserves praise itself for its' (currently under construction?) skate park but it is located off the peninsula and would not attract the skateboarders that hang around down town (I would consider the people who use skate parks to be more 'sport' users than recreational or transportational). I think the fact that that 'the kids' with skateboards tend to hang around this area is also a reminder that there isn't much to do in this town on most nights for the under eighteen crowd. It's a tricky situation.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

U Car Share

On Tuesday I was brave enough to test out my membership with U Car Share, a car sharing program, similar to Zipcar, which is owned by the U-Haul Company. It was introduced to Portland not long ago and is currently only available in four (soon to be six) locations. I had a dentist appointment in the far-away land of Scarborough so I thought I would share some insights from my trip.

I know you're thinking 'why is a blog about the car-free life writing about cars?"

I will start by saying that Maine is one of the more auto-dependant states in the country and also that car sharing can be a great tool for those who choose not to own their own car and incur those costs associated with ownership. Some places, even in the greater Portland area, are practically unreachable by mass transit or are too long of a trip to make walking or biking (especially when it was raining like yesterday). Car sharing has obvious benefits as far as resource consumption and environmental impacts and is also a good choice for the wallet.

There are currently four of these U Car Share PT Cruisers located around Portland, with the two above on Elm Street and the other two on Commercial Street. The two on Elm Street are right across from the Metro Pulse station, which is a good neighbor for this type of transportation activity. I am not a big fan of the PT Cruisers but it was a nice ride and it had less than 5k miles on the odometer. It appears that zipcar has a wider selection of vehicles to choose from, and perhaps they will expand into Portland someday.

This car sharing system is based online, which would obviously be an issue for some low-income or elderly residents, but is very convenient for those who have access. You become a member by paying a small membership fee (or for free using the case-sensitive code 'MAINEMETRO2009' provided by the Metro) and then simply reserve a vehicle by the hour or by the day. It is roughly $9.50 an hour or $66.00 a day. You don't have to pay for gas, maintenance, or extra insurance (there is some sort of basic coverage provided) so it really is a good value for someone like myself who will only be using the service to make the occasional doctors appointment or to pick up a piece of furniture that I can't fit onto a bus.

The point of this post (I should probably start putting points at the beginning of posts) is that even if you choose to live a car-free lifestyle in Portland you have a (for all intensive purposes) environmentally friendlier and cost conscious alternative to owning a car.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Portland Greendrinks - June 2009

From the Greendrinks website:

Portland Greendrinks is part of the international Greendrinks network -- aninformal, volunteer-managed social networking group built around a common interest in the natural environment. It occurs on the second Tuesday of every month, starting around 5:30 pm. The goal of Greendrinks is pretty simple: good times shared among people working in, or interested in, environmental and sustainability issues.

This month's event is at Gorham Bike & Ski on Congress street and sounds like it will be a good time.

The event will be held Tuesday, June 9 from 5:30 - 8 PM at Gorham Bike &
's NEW LOCATION next to Local 188 right here on the peninsula at 693 Congress St. Be sure to ride your bike to celebrate the beautiful weather and take full advantage of the complimentary BIKE VALET SERVICE!!!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Moped Parking

Here is a view of the new Moped and Motorcycle parking spaces at the corner of Temple and Free Streets. According to this release from the city's website, there will soon be a total of 7 other Moped parking areas like this one spread around the peninsula, with anywhere from two to six spaces. These spaces offer up to 10 hours of free parking, which is a pretty good deal I say. I have certainly seen an increase in moped transportation over the last few years and applaud any efforts to city takes to make the streets more compatible with them.

Also from the article cited above:

Encouraging commuters to use a moped or motorcycles can reduce traffic congestion downtown and help in the city’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and avert greenhouse gas emission. Dedicating motorcycle and moped parking spaces is also a safe and legal way to ensure that two-wheeled vehicles are properly parked on the street.

“Improving access to the downtown for mopeds and motorcycles is a part of the city’s long term transportation strategy to promote different modes of transportation,” remarked City Councilor and Transportation Committee Chair Kevin Donoghue. “With rising fuels prices, more and more people are looking to mopeds and other low-impact, efficient modes of transportation. Adding these spaces is an economical way to maximize parking in the downtown and make the two-wheel option more attractive for residents and commuters.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bayside Trail Groundbreaking

The groundbreaking for the new Bayside Trail is being held this Saturday, June 6th, at the corner of Marginal Way and Franklin Arterial. It will run from 10am-2pm and looks like quite an event. Check it out on the Portland Regional Chambers website, here. (4th article down)

Here is their description of the trail, which will be a great asset to the city:

The trail, which converts a 13.2 acre former railroad property into a walking trail with pocket parks, gardens and public gathering areas, will become a focal point for cultural activities and community programs, contribute to the economic vitality of the city, and improve the quality of life for the tens of thousands of residents, workers, and visitors to Portland each day.

In addition to providing a safe alternative transportation corridor through the redeveloping neighborhood of Bayside, this ribbon of green will provide a new gateway for Maine's largest city.


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