2012-09-14 / Front Page

Lettered street residents say one-way street is bad idea

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — As construction to improve the Knightville area nears completion, the South Portland City Council is still working to strike a balance between residents and business owners in the mixed-use area.

The council recently decided to reverse course to accommodate Knightville business owners when it replaced a plan that called for parallel parking in the area with a plan that would keep angled parking.

The next question the council will attempt to answer is how traffic will flow in the area. At a council workshop on Monday, Sept. 10, the council decided to accept a recommendation from city staff and traffic engineers to create one-way traffic on Ocean Street between E and D streets.

Dan Riley, a senior project engineer from Sebago Technics of Westbrook, which has overseen the project, explained the reasoning behind the recommendation in a memo to City Manager Jim Gailey.

The plan “Will address the expressed needs of the local businesses on the block,” Riley wrote, by keeping the convenient spaces in front of businesses such as Smaha’s Legion Square Market and Verbena, and adding two additional spaces to the current setup.

Many residents who live on the lettered streets that cross Ocean Street in the Knightville area attended the workshop to express concern that the one-way traffic pattern would push vehicles into their residential neighborhoods.

“The lettered streets will likely see an increase in traffic due to vehicles exiting the one-way block,” Riley wrote in the memorandum.

But he added the traffic should be dispersed among the lettered streets enough that the impact will be minimal. D Street is the first cross-street that would allow drivers to turn around onto Waterman Drive, Riley said, but once drivers get to know the area better they will realize that C Street and B Street offer a shorter and more direct route.

Councilor Tom Blake supported the E Street to D Street one-way recommendation from engineers and staff. He said it was the best way to “maintain the safety of our citizens,” which, he said, should be the council’s first priority in every decision.

“I’m convinced this is going to be a quality product when we’re done,” Blake said.

But Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis called the council’s decision to move away from parallel parking and institute the one-way street “regressive,” and she criticized her fellow councilors for ignoring the original recommendation from engineers.

She called the councilors’ concern for residents at this stage of the process “just more bunk” and said it was a “stupid” decision to revert back to the angled parking arrangement under pressure from local business owners.

“It was not a smart choice to do what we did, and now we’ve got to figure out how to make it as good as we can,” De Angelis said.

Many of the audience members at the meeting shared De Angelis’ views, including Caroline Hendry, a B Street resident and member of the South Portland Planning Board.

“The engineers’ plan was perfect,” Hendry said, and she expressed her disappointment that the council changed direction based on the “picky problem” of the parking arrangement.

De Angelis was the only councilor who criticized the plan. Councilor Gerard Jalbert said the Knightville neighborhood has a unique quality of resident and business interaction, and he doesn’t think the council’s decision necessarily has to pit the two parties against each other. When the changes are finished, Jalbert said, he thinks the impact will be less than either side anticipated.

“I would say maybe that’s more perception than reality and let’s wait and see what happens afterwards,” Jalbert said.

Mayor Patti Smith called for a traffic study in the area to gather some hard data for the city to review in the future to “understand really what’s happening down in that part of our city.”

“We owe the residents and businesses some factual data to say this is how it impacted us,” Smith said.

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