Panel wants South Portland to reconfigure Ocean Street in Knightville

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SOUTH PORTLAND — An ad hoc city committee is proposing that Ocean Street be returned to two-way traffic between D and E streets in Knightville.

The Knightville Traffic and Parking Committee, made up of about a dozen residents and business owners from the neighborhood, reached the consensus at a Jan. 13 meeting, Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said.

The committee will present its recommendation – based on a show of hands without a formal vote tally, according to Reny – at a City Council workshop.

The committee was formed in August 2014 by former Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings after a $3 million neighborhood sidewalk improvement and sewer separation project was completed in 2012. The block of northbound-only traffic, with about a dozen angled parking spaces on one side of the street and parallel parking on the other, was part of the project.

But some committee members and other residents asked the city to re-examine the configuration. Many of their complaints involve the impact on D Street, which has experienced increased traffic from southbound vehicles forced to go around the one-way block.

Last November, Jack Reckitt, one of a group of committee members who oppose the one-way street, said the arrangement is inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“The Comprehensive Plan specifically discourages through-traffic in Knightville on the letter streets,” said Reckitt, who also owns Maine Sign & Display at the corner of B and Ocean streets.

“D Street has become a thoroughfare,” he said. “The traffic just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The committee also asked engineering consultants Sebago Technics to determine whether it would be possible to return the block to two-way traffic while maintaining the angled parking, Reny said Friday.

At the Jan. 13 meeting, Sebago Technics presented the committee with two possible alternatives.

The first was going back to the street’s prior design, with two-way traffic and parallel parking on both sides. The second, which was selected by the committee, would also create two-way traffic, but eliminate parallel parking on the east side of the street and convert the angled spaces into 23, 90-degree spaces on the west side.

“Because the street is relatively narrow for (the latter) type of arrangement, there would need to be substantial modifications made, (like) ripping out street lights, narrowing the sidewalk, and eliminating parallel parking on one side of the street,” Reny said.

Sebago Technics estimated the changes would cost at least $31,000, Reny said.

The potential loss of street lighting on one side of the block is also a significant factor to consider, he said, because it is an increasingly used by pedestrians.

“What does that mean for the business district?” Reny said.

Other complicating factors are requiring northbound drivers to cross traffic to park, and forcing drivers to back out of a parking spots into two-way traffic and the question of increased danger for pedestrians.

“It’s not a black-and-white issue,” Reny said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s going to be a difficult decision for the council to make.”

D Street resident and committee member Annette Holmes on Monday said “the plan is to really build up Knightville – get some new businesses, some more high-density residential areas. The problem lies with just one block between D and E streets.”

If the city wants Knightville to be prosperous and nothing is done, she said, traffic on D Street is only going to get worse.

“The bottom line is, (the recommendation) is making the best out of a bad situation,” Holmes said.

But Mike Drinan, who owns the Market Place building at the corner of Ocean and D streets and a three-unit apartment building on D Street, isn’t convinced there’s a problem, or that reconfiguration will solve anything.

“People are going to come into and exit this neighborhood no matter what the traffic pattern is,” Drinan said Wednesday morning. “I remain unconvinced that if you went two-way, who’s to say (drivers) are not going to come down D Street and take a right on Ocean Street going south? I’m not sure that it’s going to change the traffic flow (on D Street).”

Drinan said one-way traffic and angled parking wasn’t a “great solution” to begin with, but at the same time, with the general resurgence of the neighborhood, “this place has never looked so good.”

The attempt to offset the number of vehicles is futile, he said, because ultimately “it’s the cost of doing business here, and it’s a small price to pay.”

Knightville, Drinan said, is a “mixed-use neighborhood, and that’s what most people like about it.”

He said he’s not sure what will appease everyone, but tearing up sidewalk and adding 90-degree parking isn’t it.

“I think there are always some people who are not going to be happy with the outcome, but they’ve chosen to live in a mixed-use neighborhood,” Drinan said.

Melanie Wiker, of D Street, another member of the committee, said she hopes “the council will work with us, so we can be in harmony again with our neighborhood, and be a neighborhood again with no divisions.”

The City Council has not been presented with Sebago Technic’s plans or the findings from the Jan. 13 meeting, Reny said.

City Councilor Maxine Beecher, who was on the council when it approved angled parking spaces in 2012, said she would have to see the facts before forming an opinion.

“I would like to see why this is going to improve the flow, which is what I think we’re talking about,” Beecher said Monday afternoon.

“I’m not really sure that it is going to improve the flow, so I hesitate to say that I support it going forward,” she said. “I really want to see proof in the pudding.”

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

Traffic at the intersection of Ocean and D streets in South Portland. A committee is recommending the one-way block between D and E streets be returned to two-way-traffic, with 90-degree head-in parking on one side of the street and no parking on the other side. (Melanie Sochan / For The Forecaster)

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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.