Spring Street plans get public preview

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PORTLAND — Correcting the course on “a 45-year-old mistake” will begin in early 2015 as Spring Street is narrowed to one lane in each direction, from High to Temple and Union streets.

But the ultimate scope of the redesign remains undetermined after being discussed at a two-hour Oct. 22 meeting, led by city Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator Bruce Hyman.

“A key goal of the redesign is to reknit Spring Street back into the urban fabric of the downtown,” Hyman said at the City Hall meeting.

Joined by consultants John Adams of Milone & MacBroom and Regina Leonard of Landscape Architecture and Design, Hyman said the $950,000 first phase to eliminate traffic lanes and center barriers on Spring Street is funded by the city’s capital improvements budget and expected to be done by next fall.

The lane reduction was supported by local architect Mark Johnson, who represented the Portland Society for Architecture. But the change was opposed by Peter Daigle, speaking on behalf of Holiday Inn by the Bay, on Spring Street.

Johnson, who used the “45-year-old mistake” phrase, and the society first initiated discussions on Spring Street about three years ago. He said the plans presented Oct. 22 were a step forward, since Spring Street “is absolutely dead right now.”

Daigle disagreed, saying the Holiday Inn and the nearby Cross Insurance Arena, formerly the Cumberland County Civic Center, are two of the largest venues north of Boston.

“It is really important to do traffic studies and to leave four lanes on the street,” he said. The reduction of lanes and a clear entrance to the hotel from westbound lanes might affect public safety as well as customer convenience, he added.

The target area of the redesign extends beyond the four street lanes conceived as an arterial road in 1967 to help speed traffic through Portland.

Reconnecting cross streets truncated by Spring Street and the development of parallel streets in the neighborhood will be tackled in subsequent phases of the project, now estimated to cost as much as $2.8 million.

Hyman said those phases could by funded through the capital improvements budget in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The Oct. 22 meeting was not the last the city will host, as Hyman said a presentation of the nearly complete plans will also be made.

The redesign features widened sidewalks and curbing that provides better access for pedestrians, a dedicated bike lane on the north side of Spring Street, and the elimination of dedicated turn lanes from Spring to Union and Temple streets. The turn lanes from Spring to Center streets will remain.

To ensure a smooth traffic flow from the Spring Street garage after an arena event, a second lane on westbound Spring Street will be available to High Street, and the traffic signal timing could be changed to allow a longer green light on Spring Street.

What remains half conceived is the appearance of the widened sidewalks, as well as how Oak, South and Cross streets might be better connected for pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

“Streetscape design is just being initiated now,” Leonard said as she discussed conceptual drawings of how Spring Street may look near Cotton Street, a block east of Center Street and the arena.

Leonard envisioned an esplanade with trees planted close to curbs on Spring Street, perhaps between wider sidewalks and broken up by park benches that would make the block more inviting to visitors and ultimately, smaller businesses built over existing parking lots.

Leonard said decisions on how to place planters still had to be made, as lower ones could also serve in treating the flow of storm water before it reached a combined sewer overflow below Spring Street.

Leonard’s sketches drew praise from Sally Oldham of Greater Portland Landmarks, who suggested making Spring Street “as narrow as possible.” But Westbrook resident Brian Peterson suggested the plans be viewed in a wider context.

As someone who commutes into Portland, Peterson said plans to alter Spring and Franklin streets, the proposed return of two-way traffic to High and State streets and funneling of more traffic to Commercial Street and the Fore River Parkway all add up.

“It is like shutting down an interior artery,” he said.

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

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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.