2013-02-01 / Front Page

Broadway traffic will always be issue

Turning lanes will alleviate some congestion, but officials warn that it will remain hub of city
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


South Portland city officials recently installed flashing lights at the pedestrian crossing sign at Preble Street and Broadway to make it easier for motorists to notice pedestrians in the street. The city’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee focuses on solutions around the city to make life easier for walkers, runners and bikers. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland city officials recently installed flashing lights at the pedestrian crossing sign at Preble Street and Broadway to make it easier for motorists to notice pedestrians in the street. The city’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee focuses on solutions around the city to make life easier for walkers, runners and bikers. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — City staff, residents, students, committee members, traffic engineers and officials in South Portland have put in months of work to try and find a solution to the city’s east Broadway traffic problem.

However, Mayor Tom Blake said no amount of work, from traffic studies to public forums to committee meetings, will ever make the traffic issues on the heavily traveled city artery go away. Rather, he said, city officials just have to do the best they can.

“We are not going to solve the problem,” Blake said at a council workshop on Monday, Jan. 29, but he believes the city can make changes to “accommodate” those who are most affected by the traffic issue.

Even if the Broadway traffic problem is an unsolvable riddle, the city plans to try a solution anyway. This summer, after the Maine Department of Transportation resurfaces a stretch of Broadway from the Cottage Road intersection to the Preble Street crossing, the road will be restriped to provide better traffic flow.

A third lane for left-turning cars will be inserted on Broadway to help traffic move past trouble points such as the Mussey Street and Sawyer Street intersections. The city has always wrestled with how to curb heavy traffic on Broadway, South Portland’s primary east-west road that also connects with the Casco Bay Bridge to Portland. In recent years, east Broadway has become even more problematic because of Southern Maine Community College’s consistent growth. SMCC’s total enrollment exceeded 7,000 students in 2012.

Officials hope the third lane will serve two purposes. First, it will allow cars to move more freely through the intersections and pass left-turning vehicles without any log jams building up. Second, it will allow those cars to pass vehicles in front of them without swerving into the breakdown lane, endangering bikers and walkers.

The city’s bike and pedestrian committee signed off on the plan, even though it doesn’t create a specially marked bike lane. Councilor Patti Smith, a member of the committee, said pedestrian safety would be “improved greatly by this plan.”

Blake disagreed. He argued that pushing traffic out to the periphery of Broadway would endanger pedestrians stepping off the curb.

“We need to work on the bigger picture of too many vehicles on the road in South Portland,” Blake said.

The bike and pedestrian committee held a public forum four nights before the council workshop, on Jan. 24, to hear from residents both about the Broadway problem and other issues around the city.

Gary Higginbottom, who lives in the Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood off east Broadway, said the walk to the Mill Creek shops and Knightville area is short in terms of distance, but many of his neighbors avoid that walk because Broadway presents “a psychological and physical barrier.”

Tex Haeuser is South Portland’s director of planning and development and a member of the bike and pedestrian committee. He said in an interview after the forum that while the east Broadway issue is important to many residents, the committee wants to hear from people all over South Portland.

Haeuser said one project the committee will look into on the west side of South Portland is a “complete streets” initiative to create space for bikers and pedestrians on the 1.5-mile stretch of Main Street from Cash Corner to the Scarborough town line.

That project will also line up with planned work from the Maine Department of Transportation, which has scheduled a sewer separation project in that area in 2014.

Despite fliers posted in the city and a notice on the city’s website, the bike and pedestrian committee was only able to attract roughly a dozen members of the public.

“It would have been more successful if more people had been able to come,” Haeuser said.

He hopes the committee’s continued work through the year to improve South Portland’s streets and trails will bring more attention to the work its members are performing.

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