New traffic restrictions coming to Portland’s Wharf Street

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PORTLAND — New traffic rules for a one-block section of Wharf Street are expected to be in place early next month.

On July 18, the City Council Sustainability & Transportation Committee endorsed a request to completely close Wharf Street between Dana and Union streets from 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. daily.

The committee also got another look at proposed regulations for bike sharing services expected to begin doing business in the city.

The Wharf Street change will be seasonal, extending from Memorial Day to Columbus Day each year. While the committee supported the change, it is one City Manager Jon Jennings said can be made by his office without further council approval.

The changes were requested by the nascent Wharf Street Tenants Association, led by Higher Grounds owner Mark Barnett.

In a letter earlier this month, the association said the restriction “would allow new businesses to expand their hours in the daytime, and make a positive impact on the walkability and experience of the street.”

Wharf Streets runs for two blocks from Union to Moulton streets, parallel to Fore and Commercial streets. Parking is already restricted to commercial vehicles making deliveries, and the street is closed to traffic from 6 p.m.-6 a.m.

Barnett said association members wanted to ensure businesses could get deliveries, but also felt the current restrictions are inadequate.

“Retail businesses and lunch-time food offerings have tried and repeatedly failed to work in this environment,” the association letter said.

When Wharf Street is closed, it is blocked by wooden gates at the intersections. Those too will be a thing of the past; Jennings said the city will install bollards that can be raised and lowered.

While unsure how much the bollards would cost, Jennings said they are a necessary security measure.

“Unfortunately, it is the way of the world today,” he said, noting incidents globally where people have driven vehicles into crowds of pedestrians.

Jennings said “interim steps” might be needed to prevent vehicle traffic when the street is closed. This year’s capital improvements budget has already allocated $100,000 for a long-term project to rehabilitate cobblestone streets, including Wharf Street.

Bike sharing

Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman said the bike sharing rules would govern pedal and electric assist bicycles including fee structures, insurance requirements, staffing rules and required maintenance plans.

Initial operator license fees for companies not using a fixed base for rentals and returns would be $1,500 for 250 or fewer bikes, and $2,500 for 251-500 bikes. The renewal fees would be $1,000 and $2,000, respectively.

Fixed-base operators would be charged $500 or $1,000 initially, and the same to renew licenses, and be required to have at least 50 percent as many docking points as bicycles available to rent.

At the same time, the higher initial fees could be moot with a rule limiting new operators to offering 200 bicycles for rent in their first year of operation.

“I felt very strongly it was important to go slow and to have a limited number of bikes in the beginning because you can always expand,” Jennings said.

Of concern are operators offering bicycles that can be left away from docking stations and locked and rented through phone apps.

“We are simply overloaded as it is. We don’t have a lot of time to go pick up bikes,” Jennings said.

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

Wharf Street between Moulton and Union streets in Portland will be seasonally closed to vehicle traffic from 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. beginning next month. It’s wooden traffic gates will eventually be replaced by bollards.

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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.