Portland West End residents fight for Brackett Street crosswalk

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PORTLAND — Less than 1 percent of the city’s Consolidated Annual Action Plan – $40,000 – has become a focal point for West End residents and Reiche School parents.

The money is what acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian has proposed for improving a crosswalk on Brackett Street outside the School.

“This is a pretty essential thing,” Brackett Street resident Becky Tipper said April 22, a couple of hours before speaking to members of the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee.

Tipper was one of three people who appealed to the committee, chaired by Councilor Kevin Donoghue, to heed Hill-Christian’s funding suggestion, instead of a recommendation from the Community Development Block Grant Allocation Committee to provide no funding for crosswalks or street work.

“We’ve been pleading about this for years,” West End Neighborhood Association President Ian Jacob said April 23. “We need at least one crosswalk. If we had not been there to speak up, they might have passed it by.”

The entire spending plan will be reviewed again at a 5 p.m. City Council hearing on Monday, May 4. The council committee has asked city Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman to review what could be done for the $40,000 price tag, which is about a third of what city officials hoped to spend to make Brackett Street safer for pedestrians.

It is a case of demand outstripping dollars in the entire $4.28 million plan to spend a variety of federal grants and city funds for housing, public and mental health services and job training. The specific CDBG funding of $1.7 million was reduced by $24,000 this year, and a memo from Hill-Christian notes there were funding requests totaling $3.37 million.

The allocation committee recommended $460,000 for four projects, with $400,000 going to support small businesses and housing programs. The projects were scored in four categories and the Brackett Street project placed sixth. Hill-Christian has recommended cutting $90,000 from the housing and business assistance programs, while also increasing overall spending to $575,000.

Hyman said plans and discussions with neighbors and the Reiche Parent Teacher Organization to create safer crossings mid-block on Brackett Street between Spring and Pine streets predate his arrival in the city in 2010, but have been part of his work for about four years.

Last fall, the city created two crossing areas marked by signs, bollards and striping on Brackett Street, and upgraded signs on Brackett and surrounding streets. The drop-off and pick-up zones for parents was shifted to Clark Street, which runs parallel to Brackett.

Hyman and Jacob noted the length of Brackett Street and Reiche’s mid-block main entrance add a level of difficulty to any improvements.

“There just isn’t one of those obvious great solutions that leap out at you,” Hyman said.

Improvements made on Brackett Street barely made it through the winter. Bollards marking the small asphalt ramps leading from curbs fell victim to snow plows, and striping is barely visible.

The congestion could increase with new neighborhood development, Jacob and Tipper added, with the opening of West End Place at Pine and Brackett Street, and possible development of a city-owned parking lot next to Fresh Approach, the market across Bracket Street from the school.

Hyman said potential development across from the school will play into where a crosswalk will be placed.

“We wouldn’t want to spend money and have to undo something in the near term,” he said.

Tipper brings her son and daughter to play on the Reiche playground, and said drivers on Brackett Street are not necessarily careless or hazardous.

“People in general are quite good, but you don’t want to wait for it to get too bad,” she said.

Jacob wants action.

“The fact is, this has been discussed and studied for so long, it is high time it is attended to,” Jacob said. “If we can’t get $118,000 we should at least get $40,000.”

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

Sidebar Elements

Portland crossing guard Kathy Schmaling stops traffic Monday on Brackett Street in front of Reiche Elementary School. Neighbors and parents are urging City Councilors to spend $40,000 to upgrade at least one crosswalk in front of the school.

Portland residents Rick Gebhardt and granddaughter Ava Gebhardt, 3, cross Brackett Street on Monday from the Reiche Elementary School playground. City officials are re-evaluating how and where a crosswalk can be placed on Brackett Street outside the school using $40,000 of recommended funding.  

Signs marking crosswalks on Brackett Street outside Reiche Elementary School remain vibrant Monday, but the striping and bollards marking the street did not hold up through the winter.

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.