Portland taking steps to calm school-zone traffic on Cumberland Avenue

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PORTLAND — Facing increased pressure from parents and administrators at Portland High School, the city’s Public Services Department has agreed to install two flashing yellow lights on Cumberland Avenue.

The lights will indicate to drivers that they are about to enter a 15-mph school zone, Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky said. Although the locations are still being finalized, the lights will likely be mounted on sidewalk poles between Elm and Chestnut Streets, Bobinsky said.

To keep costs down, Bobinsky said the city is currently looking into using old equipment, possibly the old school zone signs from the former Baxter Elementary School. A new set of lights would cost the city nearly $10,000, he said.

Meanwhile, city and school officials will be exploring the possibility of painting a larger, more visible crosswalk directly in front of the school’s front steps. That would require the elimination of two parking spaces near the Boys & Girls Club of Portland, an action that must be approved by the City Council. 

School administrators and the PHS Parent Connections, a network of about 500 parents, have been increasing pressure on city officials to address their concerns about traffic at the inner-city school.

In 2008, two students conducted a traffic analysis for an advanced placement statistics class and found that 95 percent of drivers would have been speeding near the school, had there been a clearly marked school zone. 

Drivers, however, complain that students do not look before crossing the street and often meander across, rather than moving quickly. 

Police tried to address the drivers’ complaints a few years ago by ticketing jaywalking students, but now the city is looking at measures to slow traffic.  

PHS Principal Michael Johnson said he is pleased with the city’s response. 

“We are thrilled,” Johnson said. “It’s an issue we’ve been trying to solve for a long time.”

Parent William Wilson, who has communicated extensively with school and city officials about the issue, commended the city for taking a step in the right direction. But he said the traffic-calming measures planned at PHS still don’t follow the precedents set at other schools.

“I am thankful some steps have been taken, but remain baffled that obvious and well-proven other measures to minimize risk of injury there will still be missing,” Wilson said.

At the least, Wilson and other parents would still like to see a free-standing sign placed in the middle of the street indicating a pedestrian crossing. They’re also not giving up hope for raised speed tables like the ones on Stevens Avenue near Deering High School. 

But Bobinsky said the city can’t adopt those measures for Portland High School.

“We’re not in a position to go much beyond these elements,” he said, referring to the yellow lights and crosswalk.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net