2016-06-10 / Front Page

Parking problems still plague Knightville neighborhood

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


The entire row of cars on Ocean Street in South Portland’s Knightville district is parked facing the wrong direction, an issue that many have made note of since the June 1 installation of parallel parking spots. (Micah Smith courtesy photo) The entire row of cars on Ocean Street in South Portland’s Knightville district is parked facing the wrong direction, an issue that many have made note of since the June 1 installation of parallel parking spots. (Micah Smith courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Sometimes, change takes a little getting used to. That’s why the South Portland Police Department is only issuing warnings to drivers parked illegally in the new parallel parking spaces created June 1 on Ocean Street, between D and E streets, in the heart of the city’s historic Knightville district.

However, drivers may soon return to their vehicles to find a little something extra attached to their windshields.

Parking tickets in South Portland generally range from $15 to $20, but can jump to between $50 and $300 if unpaid and sent to district court for resolution.

“It has only been a little less than a week since the changes in Knightville, so at this point the department is monitoring the traffic and parking conditions down there,” said department spokesman Lt. Frank Clark, on Tuesday. “The biggest thing we can all do at this point is to help spread the word about the changes in order to ensure visitors to that area are aware of the changes and of the restrictions.”

To that end, the police department has even taken to its Facebook page, posting photos showing the entire line of cars parked on one side of Ocean Street facing the wrong way and pointed toward oncoming traffic.

“Some northbound drivers on Ocean Street are apparently finding it easier to continue in that direction and pull across the street to parallel park,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, this is not only a violation but is a technique that is more likely to put them in conflict with both lanes of traffic both when entering and exiting the parking space.

“Given the changes are so recent, we are taking reasonable steps to help educate folks and seek voluntary compliance at this point,” Clark said. “Our officers and (Volunteers In Police Services) are monitoring that situation. We have warned a number of drivers and will begin to issue tickets in the weeks to come.”

“It doesn’t surprise me with the parking the wrong way. We have seen it here in front of city hall and the post office on occasion,” said City Manager Jim Gailey. “I think with the change in traffic circulation people are seeing spots on the left side and instead of turning around and parking, they are just pulling in backwards in the spot. Most cars come from the south entering the district (round-a-bout direction) and there are a few spots on the right side of the road as the left side has many more that may tend to be open.

“Hopefully in the coming weeks the parking circulation will be figured out and people will begin to have a plan on how to park in the new configuration,” Gailey said.

The rise in parking scofflaws is only the latest wrinkle in an ongoing traffic debate that has percolated across the Knightville district for the past few years.

When Ocean Street was rebuilt in 2011 following a $3.6 million sewer system upgrade, the original plan was to replace angled parking spots that had existed since the last street reconfiguration, when the new Casco Bay Bridge was opened in the mid-1990s, with parallel spots. However, business owners complained they had not been consulted on the parking change, and objected to the resulting loss of parking at the cluster of shops near Legion Square.

A 2012 compromise measure enacted by the city council retained the angled spots, but switched them to face the opposite way, while converting the block to one-way traffic. That, city staffers said, was because the newly reconfigured streetscape, with wider sidewalks and crossing bump-outs, coupled with state and federal recommendations for wider and more steeply angled parking spots, would not leave enough room on Ocean Street for both angled parking and two lanes of traffic.

However, residents complained the one-way flow fed traffic onto the side streets, disrupting the calm of their neighborhoods. Tipping the scales in their favor after more than three years of debate – discovery of an ordinance restriction, in effect since 1966, which actually bans angled parking on streets citywide in deference to the parallel configuration.

And so, in March, the city council reversed its earlier rulings, ordering a restoration of two-way traffic and conversion of the angled spots to parallel parking only.

Almost immediately, one downtown businessman, Curtis Bates, began circulating a petition designed to excise the parallel-only mandate from city ordinances, and restore angled parking to Knightville.

“I’ve lived here since 2005 and I’ve seen what’s going on,” he said at the launch of his signature drive last month. “I looked at what happened, with the complaints about the angled parking, as a few people concerned with their personal needs and not looking at the big picture of what’s good for the area and the residents and the businesses, as well as the entire community.”

Downtown business owners have repeatedly cited fears that, faced with parallel spots instead of the comparative ease of angled parking, customers will stay away in droves, as the saying goes.

Meanwhile, a new group has emerged with hopes of easing the tension that has percolated across the district for several years, setting residents against businesses, and neighbor against neighbor.

Called Bridging Knightville, the group held an inaugural meeting June 1, at Verbena on Ocean Street. Group co-founder Dan Hogan of E Street told about 30 attendees the intent is for the group to be “as much social” as anything else, using tools like a new bridgingknighville.org website to “bring the neighborhood back together.”

Meanwhile, other forms of social media continue to buzz about the new traffic and parking pattern. Of particular concern is the removal of the stop sign at the corner of Ocean and D streets, installed as a way to placate residents, concerned about commuters using their narrow, sleepy street as a quick cut across to bypass the one-way.

“We obviously want to make sure folks, especially those who may have become accustomed to the four-way stop, to be aware of that change,” Clark said.

But not everyone has received the message.

“Just now as I was coming home I was nearly T-boned by a car coming down Ocean,” wrote Peter Robbins in a June 1 post to the Knightville Mill Creek public group on Facebook.

“For three plus years, I’ve traveled down D Street to Ocean, looked for cars at the stop sign and continued across Ocean to go home. Today was no different, but there was a car coming down Ocean, I assumed it was going to stop at the stop sign, nope – no more stop sign.

“I contacted the city manager’s office and they said I’d have to get use to it,” Robbins wrote, adding that he requested installation of a temporary “new traffic pattern” sign, to no avail.

Robbins also said that he signed Bates’ petition. If that effort proves successful, it could result in yet another change on how drivers navigate Knigtville. Bates has said he favors extending the one-way pattern all the way from Legion Square to Thomas Knight Park, to go along with a return of angled parking.

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