October 2011 report to City Council

Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee

Report to Portland City Council


[delivered October 18 2011]

Honorable Councilors,


The Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is an ad-hoc group of Portland-area residents working to make the city and region a better place to walk, bicycle, and wheel chair. We advocate and educate on bicycle, transit, and pedestrian issues, including handicap accessibility, with support from the city’s Healthy Portland office, and in collaboration with other offices and organizations including the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Portland Trails, PACTS, the Portland Maine Bike Commuters’ Meetup, and Portland’s Department of Public Services and the Planning Department. Several of our members also represent our Committee on other city committees, planning efforts, and in public transportation advocacy.


Our recent accomplishments include successful advocacy for a new bicycle and pedestrian path on the new Veterans Bridge to South Portland, for better crosswalks and better winter maintenance of sidewalks citywide, for a new bike parking ordinance in Portland’s zoning code, for parking de-regulations that will help promote more pedestrian-friendly redevelopment, and for pedestrian-friendly improvements to new developments through the city’s development review process.


Since 2006, our Committee has also undertaken a biennial assessment of what we, as a group, would like to prioritize as the top issues to improve walking and cycling conditions. In 2008, the Committee submitted these priorities to the City Council, PACTS, and city staff:


  1. Upgrade all of the peninsula’s sidewalks and crosswalks to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards [status: a PACTS-funded inventory was completed in 2008; sidewalk improvements since then have been effectively targeted at deficient locations]

  2. Implementation of the Franklin Street concept plan [status: a Phase II study has been delayed in Augusta, and could benefit from more active support from the City Council]

  3. Improve access to Tukey’s Bridge for bicycles and pedestrians [status: a study was completed in 2009 and some improvements are scheduled to be built this summer]

  4. Connect Franklin Street to the Back Cove Trail under Exit 7 in Bayside [status: crosswalks and the trail connection are scheduled to be built this fall]

  5. Improve pedestrian connections in the Exit 5 area to the Portland Transportation Center in Libbytown [status: the City built an initial sidewalk segment on Sewall Street in 2010, another sidewalk segment is due to be built along Fore River Pkwy. this summer].


The fact that many of these priorities are well on their way towards being addressed is a credit to the strong support they received from city staff, PACTS, and the City Council. We do request, though, that the City Council take a more active role in advancing the Franklin Street effort, and in expediently funding the city’s share of a Council-endorsed PACTS planning study for further improvements to the Exit 5 area of Libbytown.


Late in 2010, with many of our priority projects from 2008 well on their way towards fruition, the Committee brainstormed a fresh list of priorities to pursue (with the understanding that seeing through the older priorities to completion would remain an important focus). The ten Committee members present were each given five votes, which were distributed among a list of 21 issues. The top four vote recipients in this process were the following:


  1. Reconfigure Exit 6 at Forest Ave to allow safe access for bicycles and pedestrians between Deering Oaks, USM, Bayside, and Hannaford (9 votes).

  2. “Neighborhood Byway” Pilot Project: focus several traffic calming elements and new street connections to connect one or more disconnected neighborhoods with a convenient, low-traffic route for walking and cycling (9 votes).

  3. Road diets for Preble and Elm Streets, eliminate sidewalk "pinch point" behind EMS, and improve crosswalks across Preble and Elm to the new Bayside Trail (9 votes).

  4. Add "bikes may use full lane" signs on major arterials/bike routes (7 votes).


Two of these priorities - (2) and (4) - are scheduled for implementation within the next year, thanks to the initiative of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Bruce Hyman and to institutional support from the Department of Public Services. The Neighborhood Byway project has been particularly successful on a very frugal budget, and we request the Council’s support for funding extensions of the Byway network in other neighborhoods in next year’s Capital Improvements budget.


The other two projects - reconfigurations of Exit 6 and of Preble and Elm in Bayside - will require more extensive planning efforts before we’ll see any improvements on the ground. However, other opportunities exist to make improvements happen on these streets on a faster timeline.


The City’s recent sale of the former Union Branch Yards to Federated Cos. provides an ideal opportunity to pursue improvements to Preble and Elm in the vicinity of the Bayside Trail through a public-private partnership, on a faster timeframe than would be possible through a PACTS-sanctioned process. Our Committee is currently working to convene neighborhood leaders in a proactive, citizen-driven design process towards this goal.


Opportunities also exist for Exit 6, although we’re currently less optimistic about their outcomes. Augusta’s highway planners are currently planning modifications, largely without any input from Portland officials or citizens. An appropriate approach to this project would consider economic development opportunities and the potential real estate value of the roughly ten acres of inner-city land that Exit 6 occupies, and make a full evaluation of the more compact “diamond” configuration endorsed by Nelson/Nygaard in the Peninsula Transit Study. By all appearances, though, Augusta is not pursuing this approach, and is instead planning an expensive project that will fail to address most of the considerable safety issues and high-crash locations at the interchange. Failing to make a more comprehensive evaluation of this location would violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the state’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act, and could delay any improvements at Exit 6 for many years to come. Instead, the City of Portland’s elected officials need to take a stronger stand to set Augusta’s highway engineers on a more productive course for the Exit 6 project.


Finally, we’d like to call special attention to the value that Bruce Hyman has brought to Portland in his brief tenure as the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. Besides bringing partial relief to a short-staffed department, Bruce has more than recovered his salary in the amount of grant awards he has brought home to Portland, and in the value of innovative, low-cost improvements he has introduced. The Neighborhood Byway project in Deering Center is a great example of the value of Bruce’s work: the shoestring capital cost of this project belies the amount of time Bruce put into planning the project and conducting neighborhood outreach.


Bruce has a rare combination of skill in public outreach and in engineering, which has allowed the city to execute public works improvements frugally, effectively, and on quick schedules. The City of Portland would benefit from his continued employment after his grant-funded position expires.


The past two years have brought exciting and meaningful improvements to Portland’s streets, trails, and sidewalks. Thanks to the continuing support of the City Council and City Hall staff, we can make Portland an even better place to enjoy an active lifestyle with a thriving local economy, insulated from the high individual and social costs of automobile dependency.



Sincerely,


The Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee


Christian MilNeil, Chair




Addendum


Specific Committee requests for the City Council:


  • Actively assert the City’s fiscal and economic development interests in projects currently stalled in Augusta. We specifically request that the Council advocate for a better design for the Exit 6 interchange, with a full evaluation of alternative interchange configurations, and that the Council take an active role in advancing the Franklin Street Phase II study.

  • Pursue a public-private partnership to improve Preble and Elm Streets with the Federated Cos. and other Bayside developers.

  • Continue the city’s investments in sidewalks and crosswalks at locations that lack ADA-accessible facilities.

  • Reduce or eliminate zoning mandates that require developers to build automobile-focused infrastructure in new developments.

  • Finance low-cost expansions of the Neighborhood Byways network to new neighborhoods in the 2012 Capital Improvements Budget.

  • Finance the City’s local share of the PACTS-funded Libbytown streetscape study (endorsed by the Council Transportation Committee in spring 2011).

  • Add Bruce Hyman to the City’s permanent staff as the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator (possibly in partnership with PACTS and/or neighboring municipalities).

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