Archive for April, 2015

Walk With Me: Maine’s first USDOT Road Safety Audit

Anthony Foxx

USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx is sworn in – July 2013.

Anthony Foxx, the Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, reported he was hit by a car while jogging through an intersection a while back. Some say that’s part of why he announced a special bicycle and pedestrian safety initiative last September to do, among other things, road safety assessments in every state.

Photo by Wayne Emington

Photo by Wayne Emington

In early April, after much planning, a number of local and regional transportation and mobility experts conducted the state’s first ever Bicycle and Pedestrian Road Safety Audits (RSAs) – these ones along the Route 1 Corridor between Tukey’s Bridge in Portland and the intersection with Route 88 in Falmouth.

Photo by Sue Moreau

Photo by Sue Moreau

The corridor was chosen because of its importance linking communities and also because of several dicey bicycle and pedestrian segments.  These include:

  • Tukey’s Bridge bike-pedestrian limitations and connectivity concerns
  • the Veranda Street and Washington Avenue intersection
  • the I-295 on and off ramps in East Deering onto Veranda Street
  • integration of the existing Martin’s Point Bridge multi-use path with facilities on either end of the bridge
  • confusion and conflicts at the Route 88 intersection.

Bike RSA coverThe process was convened by Wayne Emington, a thoughtful transportation engineer with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) here in Maine and was led by Bill DeSantis, a bicycle & pedestrian engineering specialist at VHB – a firm I work with as on-call bike-pedestrian consultants to the Portland Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS – ah, the acronym soup). Bill helped created the federal Bicycle Road Safety Audit guide and has assisted other communities with conducting RSAs.

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Photo by Sue Moreau

I led one of the Pedestrian Audit walkabout groups from Tukey’s Bridge to the Martin’s Point Bridge, which included Veranda Street and, among other things, Safe Routes to School concerns for the Presumpscot School.  We had a great team consisting of Jill Johanning, an ADA and mobility expert from Alpha One/Access Design; Meredith Graham from VHB, a traffic engineer with special expertise in signage and traffic signals (great for the Veranda Street and Washington Avenue intersection); Sue Moreau, the the Director of Multimodal Planning with MaineDOT, and Paul Legozzo from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Photo by Wayne Emington

Photo by Wayne Emington

Patrick Adams, the MaineDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Manager led the other pedestrian group to assess the north end of the section we were looking at, from Martin’s Point Bridge to the Route 88 intersection.  And Nancy Grant of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine led the Bicycle Audit group along the entire length of the corridor.

It was a cold morning, although we were grateful the snow was mostly gone – and in the process we came up with a detailed list of needed improvements and also some targeted suggestions.  PACTS is working on a Martin’s Point Shared Use Path Feasibility Study which this work will inform as well.  It was also a great chance to build relationships with new folks and hear different perspectives (which is also part of the USDOT’s intention in conducting these RSAs).  You can see FHWA’s initial summary, details on who else participated, and more photos here.

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April 22, 2015 at 9:48 pm Leave a comment

Portland Pops a Wheelie: leveraging bike-ped improvements through development

Written for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine‘s Spring 2015 edition of Maine Cyclist.

Portland’s Sustainable Transportation Fund will support bicycle, pedestrian and other projects like the city’s first bike corral (much-needed bicycle parking in what was previously a car parking spot) in front of Rosemont Market and Arabica Coffee on Commercial Street.                                                    Photo above courtesy of Kristine Keeney; photo below courtesy of Rosemont Market & Bakery

Portland’s Sustainable Transportation Fund will support bicycle, pedestrian and other projects like the city’s first bike corral (much-needed bicycle parking in what was previously a car parking spot) in front of Rosemont Market and Arabica Coffee on Commercial Street.                                                          Photo above courtesy of Kristine Keeney

So many of us ask, “Where can we possibly find money for the _____ we need??” (Insert your bicycle or pedestrian project here: sidewalk, bicycle lane, streetscape beautification, off-road path, etc.)  For the past several years the City of Portland has been developing new sources of revenue on this front – specifically a Sustainable Transportation Fund and Transit Oriented Development Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Districts.

Portland’s Sustainable Transportation Fund (also known as Fee in Lieu of Parking) was established in 2010 to improve transportation choice, reduce the footprint of development that needs to be taken up by parking, and reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips on the Portland peninsula (Bayside, West End, East End and Downtown neighborhoods).

Additional bike corral photo courtesy of Rosemont Market & Bakery

Additional bike corral photo courtesy of Rosemont Market & Bakery

It offers an option to developers to build fewer parking spaces for residential or commercial projects if they pay a fee to the city per required parking space – at least $5,000 per spot (fee is adjusted annually) – where the case can be made that the particular uses will have less off-street parking demand.

Historically, in the case of residential property development, the city required developers to build two parking spaces per residential unit (this has since been reduced to 1 space for some zoning districts).  Car ownership data indicated this was more parking than necessary, devoted valuable real estate to parking, and added big costs to the price tag of each project (a major issue in a city facing tremendous affordable housing issues).  And conversely, the availability of two spaces then encouraged more vehicle ownership and single occupancy vehicle trips.

The city recently received its first payment into the Sustainable Transportation Fund; $83,700 bonded and available to pay for upcoming bicycle and pedestrian and other projects on the peninsula.  The funds must be used within 10 years or they will be refunded.  (They can also be used to pay for transit improvements, streetscape upgrades, bicycle and shared-use parking, and the city’s Transportation Demand Management Program.)

AVESTA Housing’s 409 Cumberland Avenue project offers potential bike-ped funding to the City of Portland both through the Sustainable Transportation Fund (reduced parking) and as an Affordable Housing Tax Increment Finance District.

AVESTA Housing’s 409 Cumberland Avenue project offers potential bike-ped funding to the City of Portland both through the Sustainable Transportation Fund (reduced parking) and as an Affordable Housing Tax Increment Finance District.

The key project that has contributed to this amount is AVESTA Housing’s soon-to-open 409 Cumberland Avenue project.  The complex includes fifty-seven affordable and market-rate apartments and a “healthy living center” with a community demonstration kitchen, health and wellness programming, and a rooftop garden and greenhouse – all located in walkable and bikeable downtown Portland.  409 Cumberland is also a TIF District (see more on TIFs below).

More funds will be coming soon – AVESTA is planning another housing development on the East End of Portland at 134 Washington Avenue, and this, too, will result in a contribution to the Sustainable Transportation Fund due to the reduction in on-site parking that will be provided.   “We need to get the approval of the Transportation, Sustainability & Energy Committee first,” shared Bruce Hyman, the city’s new Transportation Program Manager (formerly the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator) “but we have some great ideas for the use of these funds for projects that have been identified by the community as high priorities to correct existing pedestrian safety concerns.”

The Fund and TIFs can help pay for pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements like this one on Tukey Street at the I-295 exit onto Washington Avenue.”

The Fund and TIFs can help pay for pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements like this one on Tukey Street at the I-295 exit onto Washington Avenue.

The other tool Portland is using more is the Tax Increment Finance District (TIF).  TIFs allow communities to capture incremental growth in property tax revenue from new commercial or residential investment, over a period of time (up to 30 years), for reinvestment within the community.  TIF is an economic development program authorized under Maine state law and allows municipalities to use that captured revenue to provide financial assistance to local economic development projects and programs – from infrastructure, municipal economic development programs and staff, to business expansions.  “Infrastructure” is defined, but not limited to: traffic upgrades, public parking facilities, roadway improvements, lighting, sidewalks, water and sewer utilities, storm water management improvements and placing above ground overhead electric and telecommunications lines underground.

For those interested in more nit-gritty: TIFs allow municipalities to shelter the new value resulting from this private investment in their community – from what the state calculates the community should receive for education aid and revenue sharing and what it has to spend on county taxes. In other words, for the term of the TIF, the municipality experiences no reduction in state aid for education or municipal revenue sharing and no increase in county taxes.  As the Portland Economic Development Department shared in its 2014 annual TIF report, “This amount of “savings” is significant and one of the most important benefits of establishing TIF districts.”

Circus School at Thompson's Point

The Thompson’s Point Transit Oriented Development TIF will help fund improved transit and bike-pedestrian connections between the Portland Transportation Center, Jetport and Downtown. This historical brick building (photos above and below) will be part of the re-use on site – and is the new home of the U.S.’s only circus college.

In the case of Portland, there are a number of older project-specific TIF districts (like the Bayside student housing and Intermed buildings on Marginal Way, also visible from I-295).  More recently, the city has been moving to prioritize TIF district locations, explore more Affordable Housing TIFs, and consolidate to area-wide TIF districts.  It has also created a Downtown and a Transit Oriented Development TIF District (both of which are exempt from limitations on acreage and property value under state TIF law).  Specifically, the Thompson Point Transit Oriented Development TIF provides support for new or expanded transit services and improved transit and bike-pedestrian connections between the Portland Transportation Center, Jetport and Downtown.

Thompson's Point - Sarah CushmanBottom line, the Economic Development Committee reports in 2014 alone, the city created $3.5 million in revenue from the captured value of its collective TIFs – a portion of which can be used for bicycle and pedestrian and other infrastructure projects.  As Hyman noted, “The Sustainable Transportation Fund, the Thompson’s Point Transit TIF, the new Downtown TIF and the reconfigured Bayside TIF will be important tools for the city to diversify funding sources over the coming years to create more viable transportation choices in Portland.”

According to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, hundreds of Maine communities have TIF districts – from Caribou to Biddeford, Rumford to Machias.  However, not all of these are designed to provide funding for infrastructure projects.  Ask your town administrator, public works director, or road commissioner whether your municipality has a TIF district and if so, whether the funds can be utilized to make bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements.  Learn more about Maine’s TIF Program here.

Both the Fund and TIFs can also provide support for better pedestrian and bicyclist access to transit stops and amenities for those waiting, such as bus shelters.

Both the Fund and TIFs can also provide support for better pedestrian and bicyclist access to transit stops and amenities for those waiting, such as bus shelters.

One last note: Portland’s Sustainable Transportation Fund and the TIF districts are in addition to the usual suspects you may have heard of or utilized already to fund bicycle and pedestrian projects in your community – for example, your municipality’s Capital Improvements budget, Community Development Block Grants, and MaineDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program (formerly Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School, a.k.a. the Quality Community Program).  You may also be aware that municipalities that are part of Metropolitan Planning Organizations – those in the Portland, Bangor, Lewiston-Auburn, and Kittery regions – can apply for additional planning and construction funding.

While all funding is tight and sources are competitive, communities find ways every year to pay for bike-pedestrian improvements they need.  So look into all of these and keep the faith for your own local efforts!

April 8, 2015 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment


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