PORTLAND — It will be at least two months before a recommendation is made on restoring two-way traffic to State and High streets, but the basis for comparison and evaluation was discussed at a March 4 workshop at the Portland Public Library.
“We think it will reduce speeds throughout the day,” said Tom Errico, a consulting engineer with T.Y. Lin in Falmouth, who has been leading the study on reversing the 43-year-old traffic pattern.
The workshop, attended by about 40 people, was the last before a committee releases its report on the change and whether it should be part of upgrades to the streets. The report is expected in late May.
The committee, which includes City Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall, Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System planner Carl Eppich, State Theater General Manager Lauren Wayne, and Kristen Levesque of the Portland Museum of Art, is expected to have more definitive cost estimates after it meets again next month, Errico said.
Reduced speeds and increased travel times across the peninsula from Deering Oaks Park to the Casco Bay Bridge were assessed as neutral for residents and business owners, but deemed a negative for commuters, in the six pages of pros and cons reviewed by Errico.
State and High streets were converted to one-way traffic in 1972. Some residents say the result is a continuous stream of drivers with little regard for the neighborhoods they pass through.
“The mentality of drivers is they are on the interstate. Enforcement is not going to solve the problem,” Cumberland Avenue resident Pat O’Donnell said.
The intent of the study is to determine if restoring two-way traffic will benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and pedestrians as part of a “complete streets” strategy.
Restoring two-way traffic would lead to an estimated loss of 9 percent of parking spaces on State and High streets, Errico said.
“We think there are opportunities to gain additional parking on other streets,” he said.
The lost spaces are spread throughout the stretches of High and State streets, and countered in some spots by more parking spaces becoming available if turn lanes are eliminated.
“I think we need to take a long, hard look at parking and how much parking will be lost,” committee member and former councilor and Mayor Anne Pringle said, asking if turn lanes are necessary if they are only needed during peak traffic times.
Errico said a benefit of restoring two-way traffic could be better access to streets on the West End, because State Street will also be open to northbound traffic coming from South Portland.
The committee also evaluated how restoring two-way traffic has worked in at least seven other cities, including Lowell, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, and Louisville, Kentucky.
Results appear inconclusive in a variety of categories, but accessibility was considered “increased” or “improved” in six of seven cities and crashes decreased by as much as 60 percent in Louisville from 2011, while property values increased by 39 percent.
The study is one of three regarding peninsula traffic patterns and accessibility.
Franklin Street from Commercial Street to Marginal Way is also under scrutiny for possible redevelopment, and the stretch of Spring Street between High and Temple and Union streets will undergo changes beginning this year.
Included in the Spring Street work is removal of center islands, widening sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and possibly reconnecting side streets blocked when Spring Street was redeveloped about 45 years ago.