Portland study group sees benefits in 2-way traffic on State, High streets

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PORTLAND — A study of restoring two-way traffic on High and State streets will continue with a consensus from group members that the change would be beneficial.

“I have seen and heard enough to think the benefits outweigh the negatives,” Carl Eppich, Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System transportation planner, said Tuesday.

The study group, including members of neighborhood associations, leaders of area businesses and nonprofits, and City Councilors David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue, met Jan. 7 and developed a matrix of pros and cons for returning two-way traffic to the streets.

Consultant Carol Morris on Monday said the group will work toward presenting recommendations at a public meeting in late February or March.

State and High streets became one-way streets in 1972. With infrastructure work projected in the future to accommodate traffic flow, the city commissioned the study of the area bounded by State, High and York streets and Forest Avenue to see how to handle traffic while increasing safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The study group is advised by a team including Steve Hewins of the Portland Downtown District, Planning Board Chairman Stuart O’Brien and METRO General Manager Greg Jordan.

The matrix envisions benefits for pedestrians and bicyclists because of reduced speeds on the one-lane, two-way streets, and safer crossings at intersections where there are no traffic signals.

While the conversion is expected to “slightly” increase travel time across the peninsula to and from the Casco Bay Bridge, Eppich said the effects would be offset by more travel choices and better access to side streets.

“I went into the study kind of open minded and skeptical of the ability to go two-way,” he said. “From what I know about grids, the more connections, the better the mobility.”

The study group will also look at ways to increase use of the Fore River Parkway as a route to and from the bridge.

The concept concerned State Theater General Manager Lauren Wayne, who noted in a July study group meeting the conversion to two-way traffic could be a problem for trucks that have to back into an alley behind the theater to unload performance gear.

Bruce Wennerstrom, general manager of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel on High Street, on Monday said he continues to have questions about how the change could affect parking and how the hotel valet service would mesh with rush-hour traffic reduced to a single northbound lane.

“We are doing all we can not to block traffic on High Street,” Wennerstrom said, noting guests routinely check in and out during peak traffic times. He said he has met with city officials to develop other solutions, and the hotel has on occasion paid meter fees for a day to create parking for quests.

The possible change also has a supporter in Kristin Levesque, Portland Museum of Art public relations director.

“It would offer a lot of possibilities in terms of wayfinding and visibility” for the museum, Levesque said, although she is also concerned about a loss of on-street parking.

But her concern is offset by the prospect of southbound traffic on High Street cresting the peninsula at Congress Square.

“The thing you would see is the Portland Museum,” she said. “We can finally showcase the front of the museum.”

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

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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.