SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland city councilors may be learning that you just can’t do a good turn when it comes to creating a one-way street.
In an effort to placate downtown business owners, who rose up last month to decry street-side parking changes planned for Ocean Street, city staff came up with a counter offer that retained angled parking by limiting traffic to a single lane of one-way, northbound flow between D and E streets.
Business owners in the historic Knightville district were almost unanimously in favor of the plan, which they preferred to the initial proposal that would have replaced the diagonal spots with parallel-parking spaces, keeping the number of spaces the same but spreading them out, with fewer directly in front of the Smaha and Bridgeway blocks.
But at a workshop session Monday evening at the community center, the City Council got an earful from the other side – Knightville residents who fear the one-way configuration would drive traffic off the main drag and onto their side streets.
“It’s going to be an incredible, crazy amount of traffic increase, and it’s crazy already as it is,” said E Street resident Donna Snow. “I don’t want to see anyone’s business go under, but it works both ways. There are residences here, too. It’s not just businesses.”
At issue is how to paint the parking spots once this summer’s $3.14 million sewer separation project, utility upgrade and street rebuild is complete. Faced with opposition from both sides, the City Council has not said when it will make a final decision. As debate on the topic wore on for more than 90 minutes Monday, Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis summed up the likely result: “Everyone [on the council] is going to be unpopular with someone,” she said.
De Angelis backed the first design opposed by the business community. She, too, said motorists would likely cut down side streets to get to Waterman Drive from Ocean Street, rather than continue to “the heel,” where the two streets meet at Thomas Knight Park.
She also pointed out that the initial plan “did not come out of nowhere.” The city’s outside engineering firm, Westbrook-based Sebago Technics, had meant to comply with guidelines of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which frowns on angled parking spaces in favor of parallel parking “whenever possible” was a way to reduce accidents.
“We can all Monday-morning quarterback and come up with ways we each think will work best for us,” said De Angelis. “But when all is said and done, we hire engineers for a reason – because they know a whole lot more about this that we do.”
Dan Riley, a senior project manager with Sebago Technics, pointed out that because Ocean Street remains a state-aid road – a holdover from its pre-1997 life as the major artery feeding the old Million Dollar Bridge gateway into Portland – any work on the road must comply with state and federal mandates. Failing to meet road design standards would cost South Portland $500,000 in grant money dedicated to this summer’s construction project.
“I can tell you, an 8-by-15 parking stall in an angled configuration doesn’t meet anyone’s current standards for a parking space,” Riley said, referring to the spots as they are painted now. “They would not be permitted when there are other options that could meet the standard.”
Any parking spots on Ocean Street must be wider and longer than they are now, said Riley, necessitating a switch from 60 degrees to 45 degrees for any angled spaces given space limitations. Even with the shallower angle, a planned widening of the sidewalks – to better accommodate snow removal equipment and to comply with Americans with Disability Act specs – means room would only remain for a single traffic lane if angled spots are part of the design.
Goudy Street resident Joyce Larou drew a smattering of laughter when she asked why the city couldn’t just buy a smaller sidewalk plow. City Manager Jim Gailey, who admitted that public works crews have “taken out” any number of trees and lamp posts through the years, said industrial machines don’t come any smaller than what the city uses now.
Still, while few seemed troubled by the wider sidewalks, there remained a resident/business owner split regarding the one-way proposal.
Planning Board Chairwoman Caroline Hendry, who lives on B Street, said that while her greatest concern is a potential loss of bus stops on any configuration that puts parking on both sides of Ocean Street, she is “definitely against” one-way traffic.
“As far as I’m concerned, the traffic flow in Knightville works great,” she said. “My take on this is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“The problem is, when they do the improvements and narrow the street, as far as we’re concerned, that does break it,” said Michael Drinan, owner of Drinan Properties on Ocean Street.
Drinan and others, including Tom Smaha, owner of Legion Square Market, have voiced fears that if only parallel parking spots are available on Ocean Street, shoppers will simply do their business at nearby malls and “big-box” stores with larger parking lots.
“This is not just about the number of parking spaces. I can’t stress that enough,” said Drinan. “It’s about the nature of parallel versus angled parking. It’s not that parallel parking is harder, although it is for some. It’s that people like pulling in – they’re in, they’re out – and that’s what angled parking is conducive to.”
“The fact is, there will not be enough room to have angled parking there with two lanes of traffic,” said Riley.
“It’s a matter of trying to pack a lot into a small space,” said Councilor Tom Coward, who parted ways with De Angelis on the expected impact of one-way traffic.
“There are not going to be more cars in Knightville because of this project, so it will not result in a net increase of traffic on the side streets,” he said. “Our goal is to satisfy the most needs of the most people in the cheapest possible way and still make this project go.”