Lane changes on Washington Avenue in Portland take a detour

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PORTLAND — A plan to add bicycle lanes to a portion of Washington Avenue was temporarily halted June 6, but could move forward Monday, June 20.

“I’m going to ask to basically keep it as it is until we come up with a more thorough plan,” City Councilor Justin Costa said June 9, after successfully getting the council to postpone the order so he could work on the proposal with city staff.

Councilors were amenable to postponing the vote until their June 20 meeting, but comments from Councilors Jill Duson, Belinda Ray, Nick Mavodones Jr. and Spencer Thibodeau indicated support for adding bicycle lanes and eliminating about 55 parking spots on the street.

Councilors also approved eliminating parking along stretches of Forest Avenue from near Morrill’s Corner past the intersection with Walton Street.

At the June 6 meeting, city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman noted those spaces are used infrequently, in part because many homes along the stretch of Washington Avenue have off-street parking.

Still, the plan to add bicycle lanes to complete a July repaving project extending from Veranda Street to Ocean Avenue has been opposed by the East Deering Neighborhood Association and its leader, former Councilor Cheryl Leeman.

“(It) far outweighs any suggested benefits of this proposed plan, which are based on insufficient and inaccurate data,” Leeman said in May.

In postponing the order to allow the new lane configurations, Costa said he hopes to work with city staff and hold off any changes until there was a more “holistic” look at Washington Avenue.

“What I am going to put forward is pretty simple,” Costa said. “Keep what we have and flesh out the lines.”

His opposition to the changes has put Costa in a quandary, he said. As a former resident of Inverness Street, which intersects Washington Avenue, he understands how the busy street can be difficult for bicyclists.

“I wholeheartedly support making the city bike-friendly,” he said. “But this is only one isolated part of Washington Avenue we are going to address.”

In a memo to councilors, city Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator Kristine Keeney said 35 accidents involving bicycles on Washington Avenue between Veranda Street and Allen Avenue were reported from 2005 to 2015.

City Manager Jon Jennings said Monday the Washington and Forest avenue projects are in keeping with efforts to make “complete streets” better accessible to all forms of transportation and pedestrians.

“It is just a continuation of what we have been doing throughout the city,” he said.

The Forest Avenue order was approved as an emergency, but the parking spaces will not be eliminated until a $15,000 project to re-stripe the road begins. Jennings expects the work to be done over the next two months.

The re-striping project on Forest Avenue has been supported by local business owners concerned about visibility for drivers pulling out of parking lots. The Back Cove Neighborhood Association also endorsed the new alignments.

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

Traffic moves June 9 along Washington Avenue, where a paving project is expected to end in lane alterations that will remove the parking spaces in the foreground and replace them with bicycle lanes.

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