The Portland Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee's Priorities for 2024:
The Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee has identified the following priorities for 2024. These priorities will inform our own advocacy and we hope, will guide the Council in ensuring that all Portland’s residents and visitors can move around our city safely, efficiently and equitably.
Progress has been made since late 2022 when we released our priorities for 2023, including the application for a reconnecting communities program grant for the "Reconnecting Our Villages: Historic Libbytown" project (PBPAC’s letter in support), the closure of Exchange Street & Baxter Boulevard on Sundays, advocacy for local control of speed limits by Mayor Snyder and Portland’s City Council (sadly unsuccessful), improvements (though as yet untested) to Sidewalk Snow Clearing efficiency by the Parks Department and continued progress by Portland Trails to improve the connectivity and accessibility of Portland’s trail network, 3 collaborative projects with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine (not least of all the joint demonstration project at Gorham's Corner) but there is much more to be done.
The best way to achieve these goals is to ensure that the first two most important steps are implemented. Without the increased capacity and transformative policy framework afforded by these two critical steps, nearly all the other priorities would become nearly insurmountable challenges.
Re-Establish and Staff Bike/Ped Coordinator position in the Department of Public Works
While staff shortages challenge the city at every turn, this position was eliminated in 2015, not due to a shortage of staffing, but due to de-prioritizing bicycle, pedestrian and mobility device user safety. Existing staff within the Planning Department and the Department of Public Works do a great job of working bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into most projects; however, the city needs someone dedicated to this work in the Department of Public Works to ensure that every improvement and repair to our transportation infrastructure is made with the safety and convenience of all users as our highest priority and to ensure that plans such as the Better Bikeways Initiative can be accomplished on time. Without this position, projects flounder once they leave planning, as there’s simply too much for public works staff to do. There is unprecedented federal funding available right now for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvement projects, and reestablishing this position would allow Portland to capitalize on these opportunities.
Revise the Technical Manual to better incorporate the needs of vulnerable users
Portland’s Technical Manual governs how our streets, sidewalks and bike lanes are designed. Recently the Technical Manual was improved and simplified, but it needs further revision to suit the needs of bicycle and pedestrian users. In order to ensure that all of Portland has the best and safest infrastructure that it can have it should be updated to include standards that require:
Traffic calming measures where they are needed, not just where neighborhood groups succeed in advocating for them; an arduous, often fruitless, process that highlights community inequalities.
Standards for the dimensions of raised crosswalks – to ensure they’re effective at slowing cars to safe speed– and standards ensuring they’re placed where necessary to ensure drivers yield to pedestrians.
Requirements that arterial roads are designed with safe bicycle infrastructure, including safe intersection design.
Include strict daylighting standards: remove parking spaces which obscure the view of crosswalks and side streets.
The technical manual is currently entirely the responsibility of the Planning Board. If they are too busy to oversee the exhaustive edits we need, the council could appoint a temporary committee to take over the technical manual for a year to perform the research and public outreach needed to ensure that changes made to our transportation infrastructure are inclusive of all Portlanders.
Included below are other initiatives that should be completed to make the City of Portland a safer place for all. Note that without the above two priorities, much of what is below will flounder and take decades to realize.
Update process by which citizens can petition for traffic calming measures
The current Traffic Calming petition process put in place in 1999 should be streamlined so it can be more effective and expectations of residents, staff and councilors are clear. Staff are unable to make the deadlines mandated by the ordinance and it’s an arduous back and forth process which rarely produces satisfying results for those involved.
Prioritize support for multimodal transportation in every hiring decision at City Hall
Creating an effective, safe and sustainable transportation system requires involvement by all levels of city government and this starts with hiring staff who prioritize safety over the convenience of motor vehicle drivers.
Manage street parking to increase revenue and turnover, reducing the practice of cruising for parking
Previous studies have shown current policies under-leverage street parking as a resource. Policies that better reflect the value of land used for parking could reduce the burden on property taxpayers, raise revenue for public transportation or other programs and reduce frustrated drivers circling pedestrian-heavy downtown blocks searching for street parking. In April 2022, PBPAC published a policy proposal in partnership with the Urbanist Coalition of Portland that explored various ways to better manage parking in Portland.
Implement daylighting standards by removing parking spaces which obscure crosswalks
The increasing size of private automobiles makes it important to increase driver visibility at crosswalks and intersections in a process called daylighting. Removing on-street parking can currently only be done by the City Council; the rules could be changed so this can be addressed in the Technical Manual. It is an easy solution that the council could address as soon as possible. We must remove any parking spaces which decrease visibility and make walking, bicycling and even driving dangerous.
Create pedestrian zones by permanently closing some streets to private automobiles Progress has been made by closing Exchange Street & Baxter Boulevard on Sundays over the summer, however, we should carefully examine the necessity of allowing private automobiles in pedestrian heavy areas and look at expanding these closures.
Fund the improvement and expansion of the city's off-road trail network
Portland should work to improve the accessibility of its off-road trail network through working with Portland Trails, private contractors and private landowners to expand and improve the city’s trail network. Often the safest way to navigate through the city is to avoid major thoroughfares, our trails already allow some to do this and more could with relatively small investments.
Support State Legislation to allow municipalities to set their own speed limits, such as LD 1634 (2021 proposal)
There have been efforts in the past to allow the government to work where it works best. It is inherently more logical for local governments to decide the speed limits that work best for a community. (See: LD 1634, An Act to Grant Municipalities the Authority to Set Certain Lower Motor Vehicle Speed Limits Without a Department of Transportation Speed Study, 131st Maine Legislature, 2021 Not passed)
High Priority Projects
Increase Parks Department capacity to clear sidewalks within 24 hours of snow events
Our 2022 letter outlining an incremental plan to address this issue can be found in our October 2022 policy statement. While for the first time in years, the Parks Department is fully staffed for winter operations, the current staffing model and equipment available sets the department up to complete the important task of clearing crucial walking routes in a longer time frame than is required of business owners. We should be holding the city routes to a higher standard and provide enough equipment and staffing to clear sidewalks as quickly as roads are cleared.
Implement the Better Bikeways Initiative
Funding to implement the project was allocated in the FY 2021, however progress has stalled on most of the proposed projects. The Better Bikeways initiative has the potential to provide quick safety improvements along major corridors while aiding the city in gathering data and feedback on effective bike lane design. The project should be set as a priority for this spring so that improvements can have the greatest effect and further permanent installations can be considered.
Support Safe Routes to School through investment and taking advantage of grant opportunities
The US Department of Transportation is allocating unprecedented amounts of grant funding to smaller-scale transportation projects (such as Safe Routes to School) through the Transportation Alternatives Program. Biking and walking to school has countless benefits and has been catching on in popularity in Portland as illustrated by an October 2023 piece in the Portland Press Herald. Portland should be allocating adequate staff time to apply for grant opportunities to allow all Portland students to safely walk or bike to school. This was identified as a priority for 2023, and elaborated in an April 2023 policy statement.
Support the Franklin Street redesign and update it to include best practices for urban street design.
We are delighted by the progress made in the last year on the redesign of Franklin Street, but we must ensure that any final designs are safe for all road users. PBPAC is eager and ready to work with the city and other groups supporting the redesign to ensure this crucial corridor is redesigned properly.
Create a plan for bike lane network inclusive of the arterials, including but not limited to:
Brighton Ave redesign.
Tukey's Bridge to the planned Roux Institute campus.
York Street between High Street and the Casco Bay Bridge.
Forest Ave from Morrill's Corner to the Westbrook city line.
Bicycle infrastructure on outer Congress Street from I-295 to the South Portland city line.
Re-evaluate one-way arterial streets, eg. State, High, Elm and Preble streets.
The projects above that reach to the city lines should be done in conjunction with the neighboring communities ensuring that they are implementing complementary infrastructure.
Implement the proposed, but not yet realized Metro route changes in 2024
Metro proposed several improvements to the greater Portland bus system that they presented to the public including making Route 8 bi–directional, moving airport bus service to Congress Street via the extension of Route 7 and turning Congress Street into a high-frequency corridor with 10 minute frequency. These changes were proposed but not implemented due to funding constraints and should be prioritized to boost ridership.
Expand transit frequency and time of service system wide.
The single most important step to both expand Metro’s ridership and serve its current ridership. We believe the City of Portland should allocate additional funding to METRO to provide the resources necessary to build the system into one which provides a feasible alternative to driving for all Portland residents.
Expand the sidewalk network to serve all METRO routes.
Some bus routes, such as the 5 and 9A/9B have segments of the route on the outskirts of the city that are lacking in pedestrian infrastructure and host bus stops that are no more than a private driveway or front yard. All transit users are pedestrians or bicyclists at some point in their trip. We believe a sidewalk network along all METRO routes provides a safe and dignified public transit experience for all users.