SOUTH PORTLAND — Opponents of the City Council’s decision to change the flow of traffic on one block of Ocean Street have started a petition to overturn the action.
The petition, submitted by Alan Cardinal, owner of Smaha’s Legion Square Market at 101 Ocean St., calls for the continuation of one-way northbound travel on Ocean Street between E and D streets, and maintaining 15 diagonal parking spots on the west side of the street.
Petition gatherers must collect signatures from at least 944 registered voters, or 5 percent of the number of registered voters in the last election, to place a referendum question on the November general election ballot.
The single block of Ocean Street north of Legion Square has been one way since 2012. But The council voted 4-2 in early March, with Mayor Tom Blake and Councilor Linda Cohen dissenting, to return the street to two-way traffic, with fewer, all-parallel parking spaces.
Cardinal, other business owners, and many Knightville residents opposed the change. They argued it will reduce the nearby parking available to business customers, and make the area less safe and accessible for pedestrians.
Proponents of the switch argued that backing out of angled parking spaces is dangerous, that the one-way street has made the neighborhood confusing to navigate, and that it has forced too much traffic onto D Street.
Data from from parking and traffic monitoring studies conducted last year by the Police Department and Sebago Technics, however, showed traffic has increased only marginally on D Street, and that most vehicles monitored were going below the speed limit.
The studies also suggested that, with the exception of the immediate area surrounding the block in question, public parking in Knightville is under utilized.
Nonetheless, councilors were convinced to make the change, in part because the one-way configuration was only meant to be a trial – another point that some councilors and members of the public disputed.
Re-striping of the street was scheduled for the end of May. But City Manager Jim Gailey said that if a formal petition is filed, it would be his recommendation that the council delay the work until after the November election, rather than risk the possibility of having to do the work twice.
On Monday, however, in an unscheduled, brief discussion at the end of a City Council workshop, Gailey was told by Mayor Tom Blake that the plan to restripe should remain on schedule.
“The council made a decision, and government does not stop for something that may or may not happen,” Blake said.
Petitions must be returned to City Clerk Emily Carrington by July 15. She then has 20 days to determine if at least 944 of the signatures are valid. If so, the council has 60 days to formally approve, alter, or reject the appeal, Carrington said last Thursday.
If councilors approve the appeal it will become law, Carrington said. If the proposed language in the initiative is changed or rejected by the council, the appeal will continue and appear as a referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Curtis Bates, of 96 Ocean St., is leading the signature-gathering drive. On Wednesday he said there’s a lot of potential to grow Knightville in a healthy, vibrant way, and part of that growth means keeping the area accessible, which the one-way street promotes.
“I just think ultimately, big picture, it’s the best thing for the community,” he said.
With more than 25 people collecting signatures across the city, the goal is to comfortably exceed the required number of signatures, he said, and to do it as quickly as possible.
“The sooner I can get everything in to the city, the better, and say, ‘Listen, let’s stop this now and keep it (as is),'” Bates said.
In an email response to questions Monday, D Street resident Melanie Wiker, who led the campaign to end the one-way configuration, characterized the petition drive as “a private property owner … trying to have the city subsidize him, while risking the safety and welfare of those who use city streets and live in Knightville.”
The City Council and neighborhood have determined, she said, that “one-way traffic is the wrong way.”
Updated May 13, 2016, to include information from the May 9 City Council workshop.
Ocean Street in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood as seen Wednesday, May 11, from E Street. A petition challenges a City Council decision to end one-way traffic on the block.