South Portland street likely to go back to 2-way traffic

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Most city councilors expressed support Monday for returning Ocean Street between D and E streets in Knightville to two-way traffic, with parallel parking on both sides of the street.

A formal vote is scheduled for the March 7 City Council meeting.

Mayor Tom Blake and Councilors Claude Morgan, Eben Rose, Maxine Beecher and Patti Smith said they back the switch from the existing one-way traffic with angled parking on one side of the street.

Councilor Linda Cohen said she is less inclined to support the change, but acknowledged that leaving the traffic flow going one way won’t resolve complaints about parking and traffic from some neighborhood residents.

Councilor Brad Fox was absent.

The council’s consensus at Monday night’s workshop followed a request from the ad hoc Knightville Traffic and Parking Committee, whose members included residents and business owners. The cost would be $1,000 at the most, City Manager Jim Gailey said Tuesday morning, and would essentially require repainting parking spaces on the west side of the street.

The committee presented three options to the council: leave the configuration the way it is, switch to two-way with parallel parking, or move to two-way with 90-degree, nose-in parking on one side.

Assistant City Manager Josh Reny, in a memo to councilors, said city staff rejected the option of 90-degree parking because the design is “impractical and would create more problems than solutions,” and would pose a public safety risk.

The city instituted the one-way northbound pattern after completion of a $3 million sidewalk improvement and sewer separation project in 2012. It includes 15 angled parking spaces between D and E streets.

Supporters of the one-way block, including owners of businesses along the street, say the traffic flow is smoother and safer for pedestrians, and parking is easier to navigate. Opponents claim the traffic pattern is confusing and reroutes too much traffic down nearby residential streets, particularly D Street.

Councilors, after the traffic pattern was changed in 2012, promised they would revisit the decision in a year to see how it was working out. Meanwhile, the traffic and parking committee was formed in 2014 under former Assistant City Manager Jon Jennings as a way to get input from residents and business owners.

But the issue has not been revisited, and some councilors apologized Monday night for not sticking to their word.

Councilor Maxine Beecher, who voted in 2012 to change the two-way pattern to one-way, said, “we did say we would re-look at this in a year. We didn’t, and we were wrong.”

Beecher also said she finds the signs directing one-way traffic “really confusing.”

“For someone who’s here visiting, god help them,” she said.

The switch back to two-way would reduce the number of parking spaces along the west side of Ocean Street from 15 to nine, including one motorcycle space.

Gailey also apologized Monday night for the city’s failure to comply with ordinance language that prohibits angled parking. He said an opponent of the one-way configuration brought that conflict to the attention of the council over the weekend.

“As a manager, I need to apologize,” Gailey said, noting that the ordinance language should have been amended in 2013.

Susan Kramer, who has lived on D Street since 1996, told the council conditions on her street have become “extremely dangerous.”

“People do not adhere to speed limits, people fly down the street, people get lost,” she said. Switching back to two-way wouldn’t hurt the businesses on Ocean Street, Kramer said, or at least, “I would hope it wouldn’t.”

Caroline Hendry, a member of the ad hoc traffic and parking committee and resident of B Street, said the one-way block “does not add to the visual attractiveness” of Knightville, and the one-way signage creates a “psychological barrier” in the neighborhood.

Donna Snow, of E Street, said “traffic has increased dramatically” down the side streets. “Most of us feel it has doubled,” she told the council. “We know we aren’t living on a country lane, but our street shouldn’t feel like I-295.”

D Street resident Sarah Kirn said she, too, was concerned about traffic speed, but her concerns were laid to rest by a traffic study completed last summer.

The study revealed an abundance of available and underutilized parking in Knightville. Results also showed an increase of traffic down D Street, but not speeding vehicles. Essentially, the traffic flow is “not out of line with what you would expect in an area like this,” Kirn said.

Mike Drinan, who owns the Market Place building at the corner of D and Ocean streets, as well as a three-unit apartment building on D Street, agreed.

“It’s a mixed-use neighborhood; you’re going to have people, you’re going to have cars, you’re going to have trucks,” he said. Angled parking, Drinan said, supports the increased traffic because it “provides easy in and out access.”

Bill Dunnigan, co-owner of Cia Cafe on Ocean Street, suggested that an “easy cure” to alleviate traffic down D Street would be to prohibit northbound cars from turning left to travel down the residential street.

Councilor Linda Cohen said the issue is indicative that the city is “a victim of its own success.

“We, as a city, if we’re going to encourage businesses (to come to) the Knightville area, then we’re going to have to get creative in handling the parking situation,” she said.

Blake said he recognizes that there are difficulties with the way the block is arranged now, but “our trial period is up. We’re hearing from the public. I think this is the right way to go,” he said.

Councilor Claude Morgan reminded D Street residents that a loss of five spaces on Ocean Street will invariably mean more people will park on D Street.

“The consequence of losing those (five) parking spaces, and the eventual increased growth is that those residential roads are going to end up being parking places,” Morgan said. “… You need to understand that that’s coming around the bend. That’s a consequence of reducing the number of parking spaces in the formation that’s there now. So, it cuts both ways.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

A sign on D Street in South Portland shows support for returning Ocean Street in Knightville to two-way traffic. (Melanie Sochan / For The Forecaster)D Street resident Melanie Wiker, during a South Portland City Council workshop Monday, Feb. 22, uses a map of Knightville to show councilors why she believes they should restore two-way traffic on Ocean Street in Knightville. (Melanie Sochan / For The Forecaster)Knightville resident Gino Nalli urges the South Portland City Council on Monday to maintain one-way traffic on Ocean Street between D and E streets. (Melanie Sochan / For The Forecaster)South Portland City Councilor Patti Smith expresses her support for returning to two-way traffic on Ocean Street between D and E streets during a council workshop on Monday, Feb. 22. (Melanie Sochan / For The Forecaster)

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.