PORTLAND — It’s only March, but Peaks Island councilors are exploring ways to address summer parking and traffic woes.
The Peaks Island Traffic Committee will hold a public hearing on Thursday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m. in the Douglas E. MacVane Community Center to review the island’s Downfront Traffic Management Plan, which was approved in August 2006.
Meanwhile, island councilors have proposed changing the city’s taxi cab ordinance to allow an island cab company to charge $5 a trip. Current rules limit island cab fares to a maximum of $1.50, which some say is too low to support a business.
Any proposed changes to the taxi cab ordinance must be approved by the City Council. The Peaks Island Council does not have the authority to make ordinance changes.
Both initiatives attempt to address summer traffic congestion that occurs at Peak’s Landing, where the convergence of vehicles and pedestrians getting on and off the ferry creates chaotic and sometimes unsafe conditions.
“Last year was managed chaos,” said Councilor Lynne Richard, chairwoman of the Traffic Committee. “We’re trying to move it away from chaos.”
During the peak of summer, Richard said there can be as many as 48 cars waiting for the ferry to the mainland. At 12 vehicles per ferry, that’s four boatloads. Congestion not only blocks Island Avenue, but also access to local shops and the entrance to the Welch Street parking lot.
The current traffic management plan sought to limit the number of vehicles that could drive down Welch Street to pick up or drop off supplies or people. That policy, and its enforcement by the Police Department, has drawn the ire of some island residents.
“There is a perception out there that rules have been enforced inconsistently,” Richard said. “I think that’s an indication police don’t have clarity about the policy.”
Since ferry trips are on a first-come, first serve basis, traffic lines can clog the Island Avenue-Welch Street intersection for hours at time. Richards said she has noticed a rise in the level of angst among drivers who are only visiting the island, which is compounding tensions.
“People seem to be bringing their driving habits with them,” she said.
Island councilors are also looking into ways to reduce the number of vehicles being ferried to the island by relaxing the city’s taxi cab rules to make it a viable business. Richard said an island taxi currently cannot charge more than $1.50 per trip.
Peaks Island Council Chairman Michael Richards said the current regulations have forced islanders to rely on a volunteer taxi service. “It was supposed to run on a temporary basis,” he said, noting the service is seven years old.
Richards predicted that islanders would have to lobby city officials to also address mainland parking for island visitors, so they can feel comfortable leaving their vehicles behind.
“We have to reduce the number of cars coming to Peaks Island, he said.
Currently, the only factor limiting the number of vehicles on the island is the number of daily ferry trips.
Richards suggested that incentives like safe, reliable mainland parking and a reliable island taxi service are needed to reduce traffic, since the Casco Bay Island Transit District makes most of its money off vehicle trips to the island.
“Unfortunately, Casco Bay lines needs the cars to generate revenue,” he said.