PORTLAND — It’s a familiar pattern: With autumn here, snow is never far behind.
But this year, falling flakes will encounter something new when they hit the corner of Walnut and North streets.
The city recently added a fourth stop sign at the intersection, on the eastbound side of Walnut Street. But while the sign should enhance safety, city engineers were concerned the street’s uphill slope would make it difficult for vehicles to stop in snowy or icy conditions.
The 13 percent grade along that stretch of Walnut Street is one of the steepest in the city, according to Michael Bobinsky, director of the Department of Public Services.
After working on the dilemma since 2007, DPS recently found a solution – paving the street with a gritty coating that will provide enough “bite” for vehicles to stop safely when the hill is slippery.
The coating is a commercial, oil-based product that has been used successfully in New York and elsewhere, but never in Maine, consulting traffic engineer Tom Errico said at a Munjoy Hill neighborhood meeting in August.
Bobinsky said his department will plane the surface of the street and then lay down the pavement later this month.
“Our hope is that it lives up to the rigors of the season,” he said.
Meanwhile, DPS is gearing up for winter in other ways. Snowplows and other equipment are now being tuned up, and staff are preparing emergency plans in coordination with police and fire personnel, Bobinsky said. The city also is stocking up on more than 8,000 tons of road salt.
New this year will be a change in the city code requiring residents to remove snow and ice from neighboring sidewalks. The City Council recently approved a proposal requiring DPS to spell out exceptions to the requirements, and to create an appeal process for violators.
The revised requirements are due Oct. 29, and DPS plans to hold a public meeting to explain the exceptions, according to Bobinsky.
The city already clears more than 100 miles of public sidewalks, as well as 500 miles of streets, he said.
“We work 24 hours a day,” Bobinsky said. “When we get a snow event, we’re responding at the first flake.”
The city is basing its plans on estimates of eight major snow storms and 15 ice events this winter, which are about the same numbers as last year, he said.
This winter, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts “slightly more” precipitation than usual in the Northeast. Last year, the season’s first snowfall arrived in Portland Oct. 29 – less than four weeks from now.
A view of Walnut Street’s uphill approach to North Street, where the city plans to pave with a slip-resistant coating to help vehicles stop safely in winter conditions.