Opponents want South Portland to revisit Knightville traffic

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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.”

She said the information that was withheld could have changed the decision to keep the one-way block in place.

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.”

To determine what the parking and traffic situation was like in Knightville with the addition of the one-way block, a study was completed in August by Sebago Technics.
Knightville was found to have a reasonable amount of traffic, but not a shortage of parking.
The study reported nearly 350 public parking spaces in the neighborhood (plus nearly 870 if privately owned spaces are included), and maximum demand for public parking only reached 50 percent of capacity.
While there has been a general increase in traffic in Knightville, a notable increase was found on D Street. 
Each of the three days traffic volume was recorded on D Street in June by Sebago Technics, a similar number of vehicles was logged: approximately 1,200-1,400. At the peak around 2 p.m. around 120 cars drove down D Street, which is about two cars every minute.
Alan Cardinal, a member of the traffic and parking committee and owner of Legion Square Market, which sits on the one-way portion of Ocean Street, said other remediation is possible, rather than returning the block to two-way traffic. 
One solution could just be installing a sign that requires cars to continue straight down Ocean Street, he said, rather than turning left on D Street. 
“There’s nothing really broken here,” Cardinal said Tuesday afternoon. “I think, in general, everybody is well intentioned, but ultimately it falls down to what does the data support?” And the data, he said, shows that the one-way configuration is manageable.
“There’s more traffic, no doubt about it, but that was a goal,” Cardinal said, “to make it a more vibrant community. We should be doing all that we can to make sure the community stays vibrant.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

A car turns down the one-way portion of Ocean Street Tuesday evening in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.