SOUTH PORTLAND — A group of Knightville residents and business owners claims the city withheld information from an advisory committee before deciding to keep one-way traffic on part of Ocean Street.
The city changed the traffic pattern after completion of a $3 million sidewalk improvement and sewer separation project in 2012, making one block of Ocean Street one-way with about a dozen angled parking spaces between D and E streets.
After the one-way was established, the Knightville Traffic and Parking Committee was formed to study parking and traffic in the area.
Now, D Street resident Melanie Wiker and some other members of that panel, who call themselves the “Letter Street People,” say the city withheld formal written requests in 2014 from more than 50 business owners and residents who wanted the block returned to two-way traffic after a year.
The committee, formed in August 2014 under former Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings, was tasked with considering all aspects of traffic and parking in Knightville.
Wiker led a form-letter campaign against the one-way configuration last fall. She wrote and distributed fill-in-the-blank letters to business owners and residents seeking a year-long test of two-way traffic on Ocean Street.
The city committee, according to Wiker, was not provided any public feedback – pro or con.
“No letters, no anything was shared with us on the committee at all, even my letters,” she said Thursday morning. “Whether or not they were for or against it, the bigger point is that the businesses aren’t being heard.”
Wiker and the other Letter Street People want the decision revisited.
City Manager Jim Gailey, who assumed oversight of the committee in August when Jennings became City Manager in Portland, said Thursday morning that he didn’t know about the letters.
“I’ve never seen them,” Gailey said.
An important question to ask, Gailey added, is “Why is (Wiker) bringing this up now, at the 11th hour, when she knew she created this form letter? This is eight months later.”
Jennings did not return a call to his Portland office. Mayor Linda Cohen declined to discuss the issue.
Although she helped write and distribute the form letters, Wiker said she gained access to the signed letters received by the city only after submitting a Freedom of Access Act request earlier this month.
The Letter Street People say returning Ocean Street to two-way traffic will reduce traffic on nearby side streets. At the least, they want the city to prevent northbound drivers from turning left onto D Street from Ocean Street.
“There are issues here that are not surfacing,” said Jack Reckitt of B Street, who owns Maine Sign & Display at the corner of B and Ocean streets. Reckitt is also a member of the Letter Street People.
“The Comprehensive Plan specifically discourages through-traffic in Knightville on the letter streets,” he said. Since the one-way was installed, “D Street has become a thoroughfare. The traffic is just getting bigger and bigger.”
A car turns down the one-way portion of Ocean Street Tuesday evening in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood.