South Portland to adopt goal of safer streets for all users

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city could have a Complete Streets Policy as soon as next week, adopting a plan one councilor called a “no-brainer” in an attempt to make the city’s streets and sidewalks safer.

The policy would require the city to follow guidelines that make streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, including standards for bike paths and reduced lane widths, which forces vehicles to slow down.

Although the policy doesn’t spell out specific guidelines, it affirms the city’s intention to use best practices when undertaking street and utility maintenance and construction.

Councilors reviewed the topic during a workshop Monday, Sept. 25, and were unanimous in their support, with the exception of Brad Fox, who was absent.

The policy is important for the “quality of our lives and the safety of our citizens,” Councilor Sue Henderson said.

Councilors had asked city staff come back with a proposal for Complete Streets at a Jan. 9 workshop. The Council is scheduled to vote on the order Oct. 2.

According to Assistant City Manager Joshua J. Reny, the policy has been reviewed and recommended by representatives from the Public Works, Water Resources Protection, Transportation, and Planning and Development departments, and the South Portland Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.

It was also reviewed by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, and the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee will play an advisory role in implantation.

“To put it in quite simple terms, Complete Streets make it easier to cross a busy street, walk to nearby shops and cafes, and bike to work,” City Manager Scott Morelli said in a memo to the council. “Complete Streets are generally defined as streets designed and built in such a way to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

According to Morelli, the policy could include better sidewalks and multi-use paths; bike lanes or wide-paved shoulders; convenient and accessible bus stops and street crossings; pedestrian signals, and “traffic calming” design features such as curb extensions.

“There is no standard Complete Streets design; every street requires its own prescription based on local context, including the physical characteristics of the transportation route, the community, neighborhoods, etc.,” Morelli said.

Language in the policy ensures ongoing collaboration between neighboring municipalities and transportation agencies, including the Maine Department of Transportation and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System.

Councilor Claude Morgan called the proposed policy a “no-brainer,” and agreed with George Corey, of Franklin Terrace, who said, “trouble spots” in the city should be identified.

Corey told the council that it would be helpful to find out which intersections or stretches of road are the most dangerous. The city could use year-end metrics to focus their attention on those areas.

Councilor Linda Cohen said she hopes the city would do a “comprehensive look at all our streets and sidewalks.”

“A complete inventory needs to be done along with the whole Complete Streets process,” Cohen said.

Cohen said she would like to see sidewalks continue whenever possible so pedestrians don’t have to criss-cross streets to access a sidewalk.

“I would love to be able to walk from one end of Highland Avenue to the other end of Highland Avenue,” she said. “You have to keep crossing back and forth.”

Councilor Maxine Beecher also supported doing a complete inventory, but cautioned it will take a long time to complete the policy and would not be simple.

Mayor Patti Smith said she hopes some of the language in the order could make it into an ordinance to give developers, communities  and citizens notice of where the city is trying to go, “that we care about lots of modes of transportation and not just the automobile.”

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.