Knightville residents seek return to 2-way traffic on Ocean Street in South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A committee of Knightville business owners and residents has wrapped up meetings on traffic and parking issues in the neighborhood, but some members have reached contrasting conclusions on what should be done.

Last week, committee member Melanie Wiker, of 71 D St., circulated an unsigned letter urging residents to ask City Councilors to return two-way traffic to Ocean Street for a one-year trial period.

The block-long stretch between D and E streets was converted to one way northbound in 2012.

Wiker did not respond to requests for comments, but was identified as the source of the letter by other committee members and neighbors. She also circulated a form letter for neighborhood residents to send to City Clerk Sue Mooney.

Mooney on Wednesday said she received about 35 letters, some of which included hand-written additional comments.

“Making that short section of Ocean Street one way was clearly a mistake. Please do the right thing and correct it,” wrote John Mezoian, a resident of 18 Ocean St.

Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings, who led the committee as it met through the fall, on Wednesday said he supports a more complete study of traffic, speeds and parking conditions in Knightville before any changes are made.

“I don’t know how we can come to any real conclusions without it,” Jennings said.

The committee, formed in August, included Alan Cardinal, owner of Legion Square Market on Ocean Street; Bill Dunnigan of Cia Cafe on Ocean Street; Fawn Dunphy, owner of Chiropractic Healing Arts Center on E Street, and Michael Drinan, owner of Drinan Properties on Ocean Street.

Neighborhood residents included Wiker, Planning Board member Caroline Hendry, Sarah Kirn, Linda Slater and Joe Walker.

Jennings said the committee recommendations are ready for City Council consideration, but have not been placed on an agenda because the council is preparing to seat Councilors-elect Claude Morgan and Brad Fox, re-elected Councilor Patti Smith, and Mayor-elect Councilor Linda Cohen.

Wiker’s appeal to neighbors is based in part on a 2013 traffic study compiled by Police Chief Edward Googins with raw data from traffic sensors, showing as many as 1,000 vehicles per day using D Street to get in or out of Knightville.

That is about five times the volume from before the switch to one-way traffic on Ocean Street, a move made in 2012 after Knightville underwent a $2.9 million sewer separation and utility upgrade project.

The Ocean Street business district, for many years the main route to Portland via the old “Million Dollar Bridge,” grew quieter after the Casco Bay Bridge opened in 1997. At that time, angled vehicle parking was introduced.

A proposal to return to parallel parking was criticized by business owners as the renovation project was completed and mixed-used development increased on Ocean Street.

Tom Smaha, the former owner of Legion Square Market, and Drinan said a return to parallel parking would drive customers from the neighborhood.

But a compromise, to retain angled parking while creating the one-way stretch of Ocean Street, drew protests from residents about increased use of the lettered side streets by drivers headed back to the Mill Creek area or the Casco Bay Bridge.

The City Council approved the one-way plan in October 2012 after Councilors Smith and Maxine Beecher, and former Councilor Tom Coward shifted from earlier support of a two-way traffic pattern with parallel parking.

Councilors also promised to evaluate the changes with a study a year later.

“The one-way section of Ocean Street was supposed to be a trial period for one year,” Wiker wrote in the cover letter. “It has been two years and we have all felt the effects of this.”

City tax records indicate Wiker bought her home near the west end of D Street in 2013. In her letter, she said increased and speeding traffic is a hazards for pedestrians and people using the playground at Legere Park on E Street.

Other neighbors have also complained about employees from area businesses parking on and clogging side streets during the day, which in part led to formation of the traffic committee.

Dunnigan, of Cia Cafe at 72 Ocean St., said business owners and the city have already made some small changes that could produce big results in alleviating problems without changing the traffic pattern on Ocean Street.

“It’s not broken, it really isn’t,” Dunnigan said.

Cia opened in March 2013, north of the one-way stretch of Ocean Street. The city has placed two-hour time limits on parking on Ocean Street from Legion Square north, and Dunnigan said making the intersection of Ocean and D streets a four-way stop has helped cut down on speeding vehicles.

“The four-way stop was huge; it makes people stop, look and think about what they have to do,” he said.

Jennings and Dunnigan also praised Cardinal for working with delivery truck drivers to ensure they use Ocean Street after exiting the store parking lot, rather than driving up D Street.

Jennings also said the recent addition of more than 30 long-term parking spaces on Waterman Drive, intended for use by employees of neighborhood businesses, should alleviate crowding on the lettered residential streets.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Some residents of South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood want the City Council to return this block of Ocean Street to two-way traffic, with parallel parking.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.