Posts filed under ‘Transportation Infrastucture Improvements’

Thompson’s Point Among Only Two Maine Businesses to Earn a Spot on the Best Workplaces for Commuters’ National Recognition List! 

Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC (CTC) is excited to share this press release from Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine – both as consultant to the Point on its TDM efforts and also as a Partner Organization of Best Workplaces for Commuters.

Released: 02/06/2019

Canadian visitors with their bikes (2)You know the adage touted by many Mainers old and new, “You can’t get there from here”. Well, because of forward thinking Maine companies such as Thompson’s Point, that paradigm is starting to shift.

Since the project began in 2009, Thompson’s Point has evolved from a derelict 30-acre former railyard into Portland’s dynamic new mixed-use neighborhood, bringing together a wide variety of great Maine companies and family-focused entertainment along with socially and environmentally minded smart growth urban development.

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As part of this thoughtful approach to development, the ownership and management teams have been working towards setting themselves apart as a destination that is leading the charge in reducing drive-alone transportation methods and encouraging the use of bikes, carpooling and public transportation by constructing a well laid Transportation Demand Management Plan.

best-workplaces-2019-web-250x250Turns out, this strategy has not only led to a more thoughtful approach to traffic in Southern Maine, but has also gained the company national recognition as Best Site with Best Workplaces for Commuters. This makes it one of the top places to visit, work and live for visitors and commuters, offering exceptional transportation options and benefits that meet the National Standard of Excellence criteria. Thompson’s Point is one of only two companies in the entire state of Maine to earn such recognition.

“Since we began the project in 2009, back before Uber and Lyft were verbs, we’ve been intrigued with the transit-oriented development possibilities that Thompson’s Point presents,” said Jed Troubh, an owner and principal with Thompson’s Point.

IMG_6944 (2)“With the Portland Transportation Center, METRO, Portland Trails, the Portland International Jetport, and I-295 all literally right next door, and with the prospect of water connectivity from the Point, we have just about every mode of transit available to us and our tenants and guests,” Troubh said. “It has been an exciting process to try and continue to be innovative with respect to building partnerships with all of our stakeholders and transit providers to help reduce single occupant vehicle use while making the experience of visiting the Point enjoyable and efficient.”

file-2Chris Thompson, co-owner and fellow principal with Thompson’s Point, notes that, “Transit oriented development at a multifaceted place like Thompson’s Point is an active listening and learning process. The way we use transit and our experience navigating the worlds of work and recreation are changing all the time — it has been an enlivening challenge for us to try and continue to serve the needs of all of the various patrons, partners, and visitors who make up our neighborhood. We owe a lot to our consultant, Sarah Cushman of Cushman Transportation Consulting LLC who has constantly challenged us, as Samuel Beckett said, to ‘fail, fail again, fail better’ and keep focused on how to continually rethink and try and improve our transit efforts at the Point.”

Cushman is a local sustainable transportation consultant and her firm is also a Partner Organization of the national Best Workplaces for Commuters program. “Thompson’s Point understands that the site will work best – and be most economically viable – if there are robust ways people can reach it,” Cushman said. “That applies to folks who are visiting, working there or living in one of the proposed residences.”

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“I’m excited about Thompson’s Point’s ongoing work to reduce traffic congestion and support diverse transportation options, “ Cushman said. “Plus I’m thrilled about these first-ever awards for organizations in the State of Maine.”

Way2GoLogo_FnlRebecca Grover, Program Coordinator for GO MAINE, the statewide commuter assistance program shared, “Having sites with Best Workplaces for Commuters status in Maine supports the work that GO MAINE does with carpool ridematching, rewarding green commuters and our annual business-to-business challenge Way 2 GO MAINE. So we say, ‘Way 2 GO Thompson’s Point, keep up the good work!’”

About Best Workplaces for Commuters

Originally launched by the National Center for Transit Research and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Best Workplaces for Commuters is the national authority on recognizing and assisting multi-use sites and workplaces to provide exceptional transportation options and commuter benefits. More than a recognition program, Best Workplaces for Commuters program provides support needed to create and sustain a commuter benefit program, including online assessment tools, advisory services, case studies, tool-kits, web-based tools, webinars and training. Best Workplaces for Commuters represents over 200 multi-use sites and workplaces with Best Workplaces for Commuters designation representing over 734,000 employees. The Best Workplaces for Commuters program is managed by the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR)  at the University of South Florida with support from the National Center for Transit Research (NCTR) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). For more information: http://www.bestworkplaces.org/

For more information on Thompson’s Point: www.thompsonspointmaine.com

February 7, 2019 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

MAP Front Page Article: Transportation Demand Management at Work in Maine

This article appears in the Maine Association of Planner’s November 2017 Front Page.

One rainy evening this past spring I was at a birthday party for a friend and a woman I’d just met at the seltzer cooler asked me what I do for work. I stumbled around trying to explain I’m a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) consultant and what that entails. This is not unusual; I often wish we could come up with an easier definition for TDM. Even when we spell the words out it still makes people scratch their heads, including for many of us in the planning world.

What the Heck is TDM Again?

So, quick review: Transportation Demand Management is an alternative to going through the time-consuming and exorbitantly expensive – not to mention environmentally degrading – process of widening roads or building new ones to deal with additional vehicle traffic, with the subsequent result of “induced demand” that fills up that new supply in very little time.

Instead, TDM practice employs a little Yankee frugality and ingenuity to fix and manage our existing roads better and reduce the demand on them in the first place.

We can do that a number of ways but most boil down to three things:

  1. Reducing the number of drive-alone automobile trips to work and other destinations – for example, say co-workers Ben and Jeff carpool the 45 minutes each way every day from where they live in Hamden to where they work in Pittsfield
  2. Staggering trips over different time periods, to avoid peak driving times – e.g., Jennifer’s workplace offers flextime and so she takes an early morning ferry from the island where she lives and then drives to work, arriving at 7am
  3. State-of-the-art transportation system and operations management – for example:
    • the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s (PACTS) work with local municipalities to improve timing of traffic signals on high-traffic corridors (other regional planning organizations and municipalities are likely doing similar work across the state)
    • prioritizing traffic signals for public transit
    • sharing maintenance equipment between municipalities to speed up repairs, like traffic signal outages

These are key for enabling the safe and efficient movement of goods, services and people across the state and beyond. They also engage individual Mainers, businesses and local communities in strategies that make us more economically vibrant and sustainable for the long-term.

Most folks will just want the road widened, not knowing about induced demand. But with a never-ending backlog of many millions of dollars in current infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects and the climate-changing impacts of transportation emissions, Maine simply can’t afford to widen or build more roads. Through good dialogue with the people in our communities and by putting diverse practices to work locally and regionally, the fiscally conservative aspects of TDM have legs across the political spectrum.

Yeah, but… What Does That Really Look Like in Planning?

We do Transportation Demand Management work from various angles and many of you likely engage with it through local land use and transportation planning – including:

  • bicycle and pedestrian or transit plans and implementing infrastructure improvements for each
  • studying and implementing traffic system improvements
  • encouraging density and mixed-use development in village or downtown areas when updating local comprehensive plans or village master plans

Really, most planning processes somehow involve at least a hint of TDM. (It’s a little horrifying to admit but I worked in transportation planning and promotion for almost five years before I really understood the sister field of land use planning – and its impact on everything I was striving for in terms of TDM.)

The other examples of Transportation Demand Management-related land use and transportation planning I’d like to discuss here are:

  • Reducing or removing off-street parking minimums and creating parking maximums for new development or site renovations
  • Strategic management of public on-street and off-street parking resources
  • Required TDM Plans during the site review process for new development and commercial and institutional uses

Enabling Density Via Parking Reform – Bigger Picture TDM

As planners we are forward-thinking folks about this but just to be clear: the more densely we can develop the heart of our communities – including vibrant open spaces and gathering places – the friendlier and more viable it is for people to walk, bike and use current or future public transportation to reach local destinations. Reducing or removing requirements for off-street parking and introducing parking maximums are a significant strategy for permitting this needed density.

Density and reduced parking, in turn, lead to greater economic development returns. By ditching antiquated parking standards – and the poor revenue we get from land used for parking – our communities build wealth through more productive land uses like housing and businesses.

Parking often ends up being the linchpin for effective TDM work. I was speaking at the Maine Climate Conference recently and a member of the audience from a rural area asked for advice about ways to improve their local comprehensive plan. I suggested facilitating growth in village areas and removing parking minimums. Someone joked that parking isn’t really relevant to folks living out in the country. “I understand where you’re coming from,” I said. “But if I put a Dollar General in your community, will you require me to put in a standard number of spaces, even if they’re not really needed?”

To build local support to reduce or remove parking minimums and create parking maximums, we also have to be better at managing our current local parking resources – both on-street and off. Some examples are:

  • If you have on-street parking and it’s more than 85% full (one space open per block), starting to charge for parking or making adjustments to existing prices – and if the municipality is using intelligent meters, price can be changed based on time of day to ensure 85% capacity;
  • Encouraging and establishing shared parking agreements – e.g. a local company that leases some private residential parking for day-time use;
  • Providing wayfinding and real-time messaging about space availability on-street and online – to help visitors find local parking resources that might not be on principal streets.
  • Spending revenue from parking directly and visibly on improvements in our village or downtown areas – e.g., through beautification projects like flower planters that are also sidewalk furniture.

Planners Making Parking Reform Happen in Maine

The good news is that practitioners like you in communities across the state are on it. As Carol Eyerman, our NNECAPA Maine State Director and MAP President shared recently, “The Town of Topsham reduced its off-street parking minimums last year and also allows for an “alternative plan,” (standards here) permitting developers to do their own parking assessment and alternate plan for parking and defend it to the Planning Board.”

This is a great start. It still puts the burden on the developer, so a complete removal of parking requirements and the addition of parking maximums would be good next steps as the town becomes more comfortable with the results.

Ethan Croce, the Community Development Director for Falmouth, shared several pieces the town implemented a few years ago to reduce off-street parking and loading requirements. “Some of these are bolder than others,” Ethan reported, “but they include:

  • Reduced parking requirements for office and retail uses from 5 spaces to 2 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area;
  • Reduced parking requirements for attached dwelling units from 2.5 spaces to 1 space per dwelling unit;
  • Allowed the Planning Board to reduce off-street parking requirements for any use if the Board determines there is available on-street parking nearby;
  • Expanded the allowance for shared parking.  The ordinance formerly required shared parking lots to be within 100 feet of each establishment sharing parking.  That distance was expanded to allow shared parking lots within 1,300 feet of each establishment;
  • Removed the requirement to provide off-street loading berths associated with non-residential uses.  Instead, the Planning Board has the flexibility to determine where and how loading may occur.  This can include, without limitation, in an existing parking lot, drive aisle, on-street, etc.”

“The Windham Town Council is in the midst of looking at draft ordinance language that removes all off street parking and loading bay requirements in town,” shared Town Planner Ben Smith. “The parking changes are part of a larger package of ordinance changes they are going to send to the Planning Board soon to implement the vision of the 21st Century Downtown Plan.”

“Rather than making an either/or decision that involves whether we adopt a Character/Form Based Code (FBC) [draft ordinance language here] or a more modest/incremental set of changes [draft alternate language here],” Smith reported, “the Town Council is leaning toward a 2-track approach with potential adoption of both the incremental changes and the FBC as options for developers to consider.  In this vision, a developer would have the ability to pick either set of rules to design to in the short term and then a after a year or so, the FBC would become the only set of rules going forward.”

“Either option leaves parking up to the developer – no minimums required,” Smith continued. “I hope that we’ll have these changes voted on by the Council before the end of the year.”

Every once in a while as planners, we run into a project where parking isn’t provided (or doesn’t end up getting built) where it might actually be useful. Jim Fischer, formerly of the Hancock County Regional Planning Commission and now working as an independent planning consultant at Jim Fisher Regional Population, Health and Planning reached out to share the following experience. “I worked on a local impact analysis for a proposed visitor center in Ellsworth, including provisions for some parking. The site also would have likely promoted bicycling and transit use.”” Fisher reported.

“The project never received funding to move forward and I wish it had. We have subsequently extended the Sunrise Trail to High Street, but not created any parking for it. As a result, the folks arriving by ATV and snowmobile are slipping into corners of other parking lots and hoping not to be a problem for the business owners.” (Note, the Bureau of Parks and Lands could seek formal shared parking agreements with local businesses that might ease the problem and encourage collaboration – and patronage – between ATV and snowmobile clubs and area commercial interests.)

However, it’s more common for us to build too much parking – sometimes even when removing parking minimums. This brings us to the value of parking maximums. Since developers generally don’t have the time or money to do their own parking analysis, they pull ready-made parking numbers from the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Parking Generation manual – which even ITE recognizes needs updates and additional data from rural, suburban and urban contexts. It’s the classic “the standard made me do it” situation. Of course, one size does not fit all and so we often end up with parking excess.

We may have a stellar example of a municipality that is using parking maximums out there in Maine and I just don’t know of it yet (please let MAP know if you do!) One modified example of a maximum can be found in the City of Portland. Portland has reduced some of its parking minimums, at least on the Peninsula, but still generally has off-street parking requirements. This proviso, however, is also part of its land use code: “Developments proposing to exceed minimum parking requirements by 10% or more must demonstrate through a parking analysis that the amount of parking is appropriate for the proposed use of the site.” City of Portland Code of Ordinances, Land Use Chapter 14, Sec. 14-526  

Specific Transportation Demand Management Plans

That’s enough parking discussion for now – let’s talk about site-specific Transportation Demand Management plans. Individual sites in a community don’t exist in a vacuum on their own but many people in the community might see them as just that. As planners, you are the heroes that see the full picture – the developers’ goals for a particular project and the broader community context and vision for growth.

In addition to other site planning considerations, such as architecture, location of the building on the site, and integration with the surrounding neighborhood, we can also request an applicant develop a vehicle trip-reduction or TDM plan to reduce the site’s traffic and parking impacts.

In the City of Portland, a Transportation Demand Management Plan and its subsequent implementation is required under the land use ordinance (see sidebar on next page) in order to reduce the impact of vehicle trips to sites of a particular size. As part of these plans, the applicant follows the city’s technical standards, establishing trip reduction targets and employing strategies to reach them, such as:

  • restricting parking, raising the cost of parking, offering preferential parking for carpools and/or offering parking cash-outs to encourage multi-modal trips
  • offering public transit, bicycling and car/vanpool subsidies and cash incentives
  • offering the federal public transit, vanpool and bicycle commuting fringe benefit
  • marketing TDM to relocated and new hires
  • offering a company account for use of the local car share for daytime trips
  • connecting employees with GO MAINE, the statewide commuter assistance program, and the Emergency Ride Home benefit
  • making on or near-site infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, crossings, bicycle and transit facilities to improve multi-modal access to the site

The ordinance is applied to diverse site uses. For example, in recent months I’ve worked on the TDM plan for the Baxter Academy of Science & Technology – a charter high school with 60 staff and growing to 400 students that is moving from its original location near the waterfront to the Bayside neighborhood. Another example is for a commercial office space, like the TDM plan for the WEX global headquarters I’m working on, to facilitate the company’s move from out near the mall in South Portland to the Portland eastern waterfront.

Similarly, it’s been a great experience helping update the TDM plan for the St. Lawrence Arts Center to build a new 400-seat addition without adding on-site parking, since it was originally built as a neighborhood church to which Munjoy Hill residents walked. The St. Lawrence is an excellent example of leveraging TDM efforts to help with transit expansion. Under the conditional rezoning agreement and TDM plan, the venue will pay the Greater Portland Transit District (METRO) $70,000 per year for extended bus service from downtown to the East End. This will serve both patrons and the larger community.

TDM planning is showing up elsewhere as well. PACTS and the City of South Portland developed a TDM plan for Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) to provide more transportation choice for commuting students and also to mitigate the impact of student driving and vehicles on South Portland’s East End. Among the key recommendations were a number regarding improving access to transit.  From all appearances current bus ridership is solid and this was echoed by Tex Hauser, Planning & Development Director of the City of South Portland.

Alex Jaegerman has brought his TDM experience as Planning Director for the City of Portland to his work as the Director of Planning & Development in Yarmouth – requiring TDM plans as part of the site review process for Tyler Technologies’ expansion and the new Patriot Insurance location. “In practice it’s a soft requirement for now, but we’ve done it,” Jaegerman shared. “We’ll need to circle back around with them as part of the Certificate of Occupancy.”

Having the capacity to monitor the plans and insist on a good faith effort at implementing them is one of the trickier pieces for municipalities. Part of that has to do with the fact that the developer is required to submit the plan, but it’s the tenant who must implement it. Another issue is staff time and capacity for follow up. For a number of years the Department of Public Works monitored the plans in Portland and now they’ve moved to the Planning Division for more concerted oversight.

Senior Planner Nell Donaldson has been tasked with reviewing where existing plans stand and helping further their implementation. “The city has built a strong foundation and this is a good time for advancing the TDM Program and moving the ball forward. We’re seeing more and more development and people are more open to doing things a little differently. There’s also interest and support here at City Hall,” Donaldson said.

“However, at the heart of it, we still need to find time to dedicate staff resources to really make it work well.” Donaldson reports. “Ultimately a private-public partnership like a Transportation Management Association (TMA) would most likely serve all of us better – both on the city and the private sector side.” (Note: The Greater Portland Council of Governments is currently exploring the feasibility of a local TMA, which can act as a broker for services like implementation help for TDM plans, improved transit service, parking management and employer shuttles. TMAs also often work best if driven primarily by local businesses.)

Sharing the TDM Love

Another avenue for municipalities, planning organizations and private sector planners to show TDM leadership is via promotional efforts, like those of GO MAINE – the statewide commuter assistance program funded and administered by the Maine Turnpike Authority, with additional funding from the MaineDOT. GO MAINE recently threw down the marketing gauntlet with its pilot Way 2 GO MAINE Commuter Challenge, a three week build-a-new-habit campaign that ran this October 1st-21st. (Full disclosure: I was contracted to help develop and deliver the challenge.)

Organizations across the state pitted their workplace against others for how many of their employees carpooled, took the bus or train, or bicycled or walked to work over those twenty-one days. Team champions at employers offered simple encouragement to engage their co-workers and tracked their organization’s progress on the Way 2 GO MAINE leaderboard online. Participating employees joined GO MAINE if they weren’t members already (which also gives them access to the Emergency Ride Home benefit), logged their trips, received incentives and posted photos of their commutes on social media – competing for the most alternate transportation trips recorded, most new GO MAINE members and most team spirit.

 

A number of businesses jumped right in – for example, Tyler Technologies (required to do a TDM plan in Yarmouth as mentioned above) won 1st Place for Most Greener Trips for medium size organizations. However, municipalities and regional planning organizations also gave a great showing. The City of Portland won Most New Members in the large organization category and the Greater Portland Council of Governments was 2nd in New Members and 3rd in Greener Trips – plus it submitted an amazing video for Most Team Spirit.

“The City of Portland’s active participation in Way 2 GO MAINE helps us show the city is truly committed to our larger TDM work and that we’re walking the talk,” Nell Donaldson reported.

The Touchy-Feely Part to All This

This summer I finally decided to come up with an elevator speech to describe my TDM work. I did some writing and brainstorming and talking with folks and came up with, “I help people have happy commutes.” That sounds pretty sentimental for a technical field.

However, enabling happy commutes is at the heart of this work. It’s what I’ve loved about it for years and what feeds me most. As planners we have the chance to help people and businesses and communities navigate transportation choices, use their own creativity to make them work and watch them bask in the many benefits – financial savings, social connection, reduced environmental impacts and improved health.

November 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

Can fees at parks and on ferries in Maine be used to encourage cyclists and pedestrians?

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Our family just went to Peaks Island for a friend’s wedding. We pedaled down to the Casco Bay Ferry terminal and locked our bikes, deciding not to pay the extra $6.50 per adult bike and $3.25 per child to bring them with us. It raised the perennial questions I have about whether fees encourage or discourage efficiencies in our transportation system – efficiencies that could reduce the need for more space for cars and more and wider roads.

The ferry offers a valuable public service and every pound we add to the boat affects its fuel economy, so it makes sense to charge something for people to bring their bikes. It’s the fee ratio that seems a little off. The charge for any non-commercial vehicle under 6,000 pounds traveling to Peaks Island varies by day of the week during the summer – so I’ll use the middle-of-the-fee-structure example: $54.95 (that’s after subtracting the driver’s passenger ticket cost).

Arriving on the island, I watched a Chevy Suburban roll toward the ferry dock. A Suburban weighs 5,896 pounds. If cars were charged by weight (they aren’t), the driver would have paid less than one cent per pound to bring it to Peaks. The $6.50 adult bike fee isn’t by weight either. But if it were, my 25-pound bike – a fairly standard weight – would have cost twenty-six cents per pound. (Note: any passenger can purchase discounted weekly or monthly bike fares – and with an annual pass, the bike rides for free.)

That’s weight – what about space? For those headed to Vinalhaven on the State Ferry Service, a critical and valued link to the island with our largest year-round population, it costs $16.50 extra to bring a bike. It costs $49.50 extra for a car. The bicycle is one-third the cost of the vehicle but weighs a tiny fraction of the car and takes up only 1/10th the space.

CarBikePort Rack - Photo Credit to Cyclehoop (2)

Photo credit: Cyclehoop

Another fee structure that doesn’t encourage alternative transportation is that of our beautiful state parks. Our family is hoping to visit Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth soon. If we bike there, we’ll pay $12. If we drive there…we’ll pay $12.

Not everyone can get somewhere like Crescent Beach without a car, but shouldn’t we encourage those who can? And for those who need to drive, couldn’t we set our fees to inspire more of us to carpool? (The state tries to make it equitable by charging every Maine resident the same price. Also, an annual Maine State Parks vehicle pass allows all the occupants of up to a 17-passenger vehicle free day-use.)

Why should we care about this? In a word: parking. In another word: money. Where there are cars, there will be demand for parking. Since on average vehicles are in use only 5 percent of the time, according to three different analyses by transportation policy advisor Paul Barter they spend the rest of their lives parked. And parking costs money – big, big money.

It’s expensive to build a parking space – even in a dirt lot – and to maintain it. Think of excavation, fill, asphalt if it’s paved, sealing, and providing lighting and any curbing and sidewalks. But maintenance, really? Yes: grading for dirt lots, resurfacing every five to ten years for paving, snow removal and sanding, sweeping, landscaping, controlling access (e.g., entrance gates), fee collection, enforcement, insurance, etc.

There are roughly 735 parking spaces at Crescent Beach State Park. The average annual cost for a space in a paved suburban surface lot on “free” land, like that owned by the citizens of Maine at Crescent Beach, is $671. That price includes amortizing the construction cost over time ($326/year), plus annual maintenance ($345/year). This according to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization based in British Columbia that is dedicated to practical solutions for transportation problems. That totals $493,185 per year.

The lot was built in the 1960s, so one can question whether the initial cost has been paid off. Also, Crescent Beach’s lot isn’t plowed during the winter, and I’m not sure how often they’re able to sweep and maintain the pavement under all that sand. So let’s say it only costs us a quarter as much? That’s still $123,296. Now think of all the other lots we build and maintain across Maine.

We could price differently. I called nearby states to see what they charge for someone who gets to one of their parks on foot or by bike. Mark Steffen, Press Secretary for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, seemed a little surprised by my question. “If someone accesses one of your parks as a pedestrian or bicyclist, they are charged a fee?” he asked. “That’s the not case here. We charge a day-use parking fee for vehicles. All our state parks are free for walkers or bicyclists to enter for the day.” I discovered a few more states doing the same, including Montana. Or we could be like Nevada and charge a nominal fee for walkers and bicyclists: $1.

Of course, you may ask whether price actually changes behavior. With parking, the answer is yes.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Motorists tend to be particularly sensitive to parking price because it is such a direct charge. Compared with other out-of-pocket expenses, parking fees are found to have a greater effect on vehicle trips…For example, a $1 per trip parking charge is likely to cause the same reduction in vehicle travel as a fuel price increase averaging $1.50 to $2.00 per trip.”

None of our fees are easy to change, of course. In the case of Casco Bay Lines, “It can be done, it just requires a good bit of thoughtful public process,” General Manager Hank Berg explained in a recent call. “Then we still need to bring the results of that process to the Public Utilities Commission for vetting and permission to modify the fees.”

Here’s one timely opportunity for us to weigh in. Dwight Doughty, MaineDOT acting manager for the State Ferry Service, said in a telephone interview, “We are currently working with our Advisory Board to revamp rates for passengers, bikes, freight, etc.”

WEIGH IN

ARE THE CHARGES for bicyclists riding on Maine ferries equitable? Do the fees encourage Mainers and visitors to consider alternatives to cars? Weigh-in on the State Ferry fee structure now, while an advisory board is examining the fees. Email your input to rick.dubois@maine.gov by the end of August to have it included in the initial round of feedback.

July 31, 2017 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Southern Maine Transit Tracker seeking feedback on its tracking system

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

As a transportation professional, I’ve long understood the benefit of giving people access to real time bus arrival information. But until this past year, little did I know firsthand what a joy it would be for me, a regular bus rider, to use such a system myself.

Not quite one year into the launch of the new system in the Greater Portland area (the Southern Maine Transit Tracker (SMTT) got its start last June) I checked in with other riders as well as transportation officials about how they like it.

Metro Bus Stop Sign

The white and purple sign attached below this Metro bus stop sign gives the stop number and more info to access the Southern Maine Transit Tracker.

Waiting in a state of uncertainty, frustrated or anxious about when a bus is ever going to arrive, is hard on regular riders and can keep others from trying the bus altogether. Bus-tracking technology like the Transit Tracker, which uses GPS to accurately predict when a bus is coming, reduces that critical “time cost” for riders. In larger cities with frequent public transportation service, this information is less important because another bus or train is likely coming along in just a few minutes. In places like Maine, however, where the bus may only come every half-hour or even hour, the technology is especially important to support ridership.

“I love seeing if I have time to pop in a store before heading to catch the bus,” Metro rider Jeanine Bischoff said, “but mostly, it’s just nice to know where the bus is and when it will arrive when I’m standing there at a stop,” Bischoff, a Portland resident who rides the bus to work at the Sierra Club every day, checks the SMTT website from her phone.

Ben Donahue, who lives in South Portland, shares a car with his wife so he occasionally takes the Route 21 bus to his job at Portland law firm Hallett, Zerillo & Whipple. “I use the texting option to see how close the bus is before I head out,” he reported. “Overall, it works well for me. Sometimes the bus comes a couple minutes after the texted time, but that’s much better than too early.”

Donna Tippett, a transportation planner who helped start the program and still consults on the system for South Portland and Casco Bay Lines, reminds riders that it isn’t perfect. “You still should get to your stop 3 to 5 minutes before the predicted arrival time,” she said. “Given the ebb and flow of traffic and delays in data transmission, the system can never be 100 percent accurate.”

The tracker system isn’t just for riders. It’s also useful for staff. And for the most part, employees at South Portland and Metro are, like the riders I talked with, pleased. They point to its benefits for day-to-day operations and for improving efficiency.

“I use it all the time to keep tabs on our buses and make changes or add a bus when needed, even from home,” said Art Handman, director of the South Portland Bus Service. “It was sleeting this morning, and I checked at 5:30 to make sure there were no delays. Sure enough, there was the 24A, right on schedule.”

Naturally, there have been a few bumps in the road. For instance, the two new buses South Portland bought for its fleet this winter lacked a connector that allows them to link with transit tracker hardware. Until the manufacturer could send a technician to South Portland to install and test the equipment, the bus service used those vehicles only as a last resort. Also, although Casco Bay Lines are part of the network, the system for ferries has required additional tweaks so won’t officially launch for riders until early this summer.

The Portland area is not the first to introduce transit-tracking technology in Maine. The oldest – and the state standout – is Downeast Transportation’s Island Explorer bus service that serves Acadia National Park and the surrounding communities. The Explorer’s Tracking system was introduced a full 15 years ago and is actually just one part of a robust set of coordinated applications that use radio, landline and cellular technologies. For example, operators can also track electronically the number of passengers boarding at different locations in order to add buses to a route if needed.

“Good system design, quality service and convincing folks that transit is a better alternative than their car have been such a success over the years that we’ve more than tripled the number of our buses and quadrupled the number of riders,” said Paul Murphy, general manager of the Island Explorer. “We carried almost 600,000 passengers this past year.”

Still, it’s the Southern Maine Transit Tracker that public transportation officials across Maine are watching, with an eye to what they may want to do – and can afford – in their own regions. Bangor’s Community Connector is soon to put out what’s known in government lingo as an RFP, or Request for Proposals, for an assortment of GPS technology options. The idea is to roll out the system gradually, over several years, based on rider priorities and funding. In the meantime, providers like the Connector and Lewiston-Auburn’s CityLink diligently update their Twitter feeds with any bus delays.

Personally, I was thrilled to check my computer just now and see I had time to start a load of laundry before running out to catch my bus.

GET STARTED WITH THE TRANSIT TRACKER

• If you regularly ride a particular route at a particular time, create an account with Southern Maine Transit Tracker (SMTT) to receive service or route arrival updates.

• Experiment with the Estimated Arrivals and Real Time Map, which shows where the buses actually are.

• When out and about, text SMTT (look for the stop ID on the bus stop sign) 41411 for live-time information or pull up the SMTT website on your smart phone.

• Download and use one of three third-party apps – Transit App, Moovit or Google Maps (iOS or Android). Metro, South Portland and Casco Bay Lines all offer open access to their data in order to encourage innovation.

• Check the SMTT monitor posted at Portland’s Metro Pulse; monitors are scheduled to be installed soon for the South Portland Hub and the Casco Bay Ferry Terminal, as well.

April 4, 2017 at 5:24 pm Leave a comment

The Bus as Sanctuary: Riding Transit in the Winter

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

It’s during the cold, dark and mucky months that I most actively ride the bus in and around Greater Portland. My reasons range – from the practical to the social to the environmental.

When the weather is bad, the bus becomes sanctuary. It’s warm inside, and the driver welcomes me with a hello as I settle into my seat to let someone else drive me where I need to go. I’m harbored, at least temporarily, from the slush and ice.

Riding the bus in Maine’s winter lets me put off digging my car out and scraping off ice until a more convenient time. When I reach my destination, I don’t have to find parking in yet another snowbank; I don’t even have to think about parking. As an inveterate walker and biker, when I ride the bus, I can let go of worry that drivers won’t see me, especially at a time of year when dawn comes so late and dusk so early.

I don’t mind if the bus is crowded. Sometimes I even like it. On any given day all year long, there’s a camaraderie on the bus, even if I’m simply reading a book or eavesdropping on conversations around me. That sense of community seems heightened in the colder months, perhaps tinged by the adversity outside.

One arctic Saturday, I caught the bus home from outer Brighton Avenue. It was packed with people, seemingly workers and shoppers. An older woman waved me toward an empty seat, barely visible between her and another passenger. “Honey, there’s a spot here!” she called. I gratefully nestled between them, feeling comforted by their puffy winter coats on either side of me.

These days, thanks to a new technology local buses are using, I know when sanctuary will arrive down to the minute (or down to three minutes, anyhow). Since last June, Metro and South Portland riders have been able to access the Southern Maine Transit Tracker, which uses GPS to provide information on where the bus actually is. Often, I can stay tucked inside, warm and comfortable, and hustle out into the cold just a few minutes before the bus comes.

For practical purposes, catching the bus during the winter also means I save on gas money. Of course, I spend less on gas whenever I take the bus instead of driving. But the savings are even higher at frosty temperatures, when the fuel economy of cars drops for a host of reasons: engine oil thickness, cold and wet pavement drag, higher air density.

Hopping on the bus also lets me minimize the number of times I drive my car at its dirtiest – and I’m not talking about the salt and grime streaking its exterior come winter. Colder months are when internal combustion engines take the longest to get out of “open loop” emissions. During open loop, the exhaust system’s catalytic converter isn’t hot enough to do its job to break up carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen into their separate, more innocuous molecules. The converter needs to be between 400 and 600 degrees F to start working and close the loop. It then operates normally at 1200 to 1600 degrees. Until it reaches these temperatures, the exhaust system dumps our engine’s output straight into our lovely Maine air. (If you drive an electric vehicle, you needn’t worry about this. But in Maine, less than 1 percent of vehicles are electric or plug-in hybrids.)

In the winter, it takes my car, and yours, a while to warm up and produce toasty heat. It’s tempting to let it idle and warm up until we’re ready to go. We need to resist that temptation! It’s wasteful for a car to idle for more than a minute, getting a big fat 0 miles to the gallon. On top of that, it’s bad for our cars. Remember – “warm it up before you drive it” is outdated advice from the carburetor era. Driving the car down the road gets it up to the proper temperature much faster and is better for all those moving engine parts. And fuel injection – which replaced the carburetor beginning in the early 1980s – senses and accounts for all variations in outside temperature.

Actually, I don’t have to resist temptation. Instead, I’ll ride the bus and be happy for the refuge. If you live near public transit and don’t use it, I encourage you to give it a try. I hope to see you on board!

February 28, 2017 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

National Grant Award for Demonstration Bus Stops at Casco Bay & PATHS High School Campus in Portland!

I’m excited to report our Public Health in Transportation Coalition (PHiT) has received one of only 22 Every Body Walk! nationwide Microgrants. The grant supports implementation of a student-led bus stop placemaking demonstration project and development of student recommendations for region-wide transit improvements. The Every Body Walk! Microgrant Program is sponsored by America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative – and in this instance, the grant was matched (and thus doubled) by partner organization TransitCenterThe micro grant program provides funds that support grassroots efforts aimed at getting communities walking and creating more safe, accessible and enjoyable places to walk and be physically active.

As local folks know, Portland is Maine’s largest and most diverse city – home to 66,000 people including a sizeable immigrant and refugee community. In 2015, the Portland Public Schools embarked on an exciting partnership with the local transit provider, Greater Portland METRO – switching high schoolers from yellow buses to public buses. Portland high school students receive a METRO transit pass for each school year, for unlimited trips throughout the city. While the partnership was partly motivated by fiscal goals, it also represents a commitment by the District to facilitate students’ independence and cultivate a new generation of transit users. In addition, Portland has also created a great opportunity for building relationships across demographics that typically do not interface. Because of the additional fare revenue and ridership, the METRO has increased frequency and made strategic improvements to its City loop bus route that have improved service for all riders.

nov-2015-kids-at-stop-at-duskThis project maximizes and sustains the benefits of student transit use by engaging youth as planners and construction leaders – with benefits to the whole community. The project involves students from two schools – Casco Bay High School (CBHS) and Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS – the regional vocational technical school) – as well as parents, staff, and the public. More than 200 students use the two stops where the demonstration project will take place, with as many as 60 students gathering at one time to wait. In addition, the stops service other METRO riders who live in the surrounding neighborhoods or work or attend programs at the school buildings. The current basic shelter can accommodate eight people comfortably, so students often wait in the rain, snow and dark (4pm in winter), simply standing at the edge of a busy arterial street.

The demonstration project uses placemaking approaches to allow students to design seating, shelter, lighting, and amenities that will make a better bus stop. Students will assess and prioritize other stops around the City and region with potential to replicate the design in those locations.

Altogether, the project involves four phases:

  1. April 2017: The PHiT workgroup will lead a week-long transit planning intensive for 20 CBHS students. With guidance from PHiT members and their teachers, the student group will conduct community engagement and hands-on site analysis. The week will culminate in development of a model (or charrette) and City-wide recommendations for the Greater Portland METRO Bus service.
  2. May 2017: Students from PATHS will implement the first phase of bus stop improvements, including landscaping, stonework and installation of rustic benches. PHiT members will work with the METRO, the School Facilities Department, and the City of Portland to finalize the practical design and confirm all permissions are in order. PHiT will also work with PATHS instructors to plan the implementation and construction of the design, engaging students in the landscaping, carpentry, construction, and welding programs.
  3. June 2017: Students from both schools will present project outcomes and recommendations to the district school committee and the METRO board.
  4. Sept 2017-June 2018: PHiT members will work with PATHS students in the construction and welding programs to build and install the final bus stop improvements.

phit-logoThe Public Health in Transportation (PHiT) Coalition brings together planners, public health practitioners and active transportation stakeholders in the Greater Portland region. PHiT works for public policy and investments that promote walking, bicycling and public transportation for mobility and health. As an active member, it was fun and inspiring for Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC to assist with drafting the grant application. Other members include the Greater Portland Council of Governments (PHiT’s fiscal sponsor), Portland Trails, the City of Portland Transportation Program, the metropolitan planning organization (PACTS), the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, and both the statewide and the City bicycle-pedestrian advocacy organizations. The lead grant writer and director for the project is Zoe Miller, the Chair of PHiT and a public health practitioner with a passion for integrating health into planning and community development.

January 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm Leave a comment

Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place in Vancouver Offers Real Inspiration!

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Many thanks to Mark Plotz, Vice President at PPS and Program Director of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking, who does the heavy lifting for the conference! He took my phone call when we still had half of Washington State to bike across and I wasn’t sure I’d make the event because of headwinds.

My family and I dipped our front wheels into Puget Sound at the end of our bicycle journey across the U.S., just in time for me to hop a bus from Seattle up to Vancouver for the 2016 Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place Conference and Placemaking Week, September 12-16.  It was an incredible treat – to experience Vancouver and also to participate in these events put on by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and other partners!

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View across the harbor from the Woodwards Building

By chance, I was able to stay with a lovely couple who are Warm Showers hosts living in the famous Woodwards Building in Gastown – a former department store that was the site of affordable housing protests against luxury redevelopment.  It has been re-made into mixed income housing with incredible views of the port. In a nod toward Vancouver’s typically rainy climate (this particular week was bright and sunny the entire time) the complex also has several indoor-outdoor communal spaces, as well as a neighborhood grocery and other services on the ground floor.

The very first afternoon I was able to jump on a Seabus Ferry with other conference participants to cross the harbor and engage in a mobile workshop put on by the City of North Vancouver and consultants from Nelson/Nygaard. Called (Un)Squaring the Square, the workshop invited practitioners and local stakeholders to walk through, sit down, and re-envision two underutilized public spaces. The session was engaging and well organized and also a grounding and connecting experience for many of us just arriving in Vancouver.

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Atrium public space at the Woodwards Building at night.

Despite the tremendous beauty of the City of Glass and its surrounding mountains, I appreciated how open local conference organizers were about Vancouver’s continued affordable housing and mental health crises, as well as other serious issues. The keynote, Charles Montgomery, local to Vancouver and author of Happy City: transforming our lives through urban designshared how important it is that we help people connect with one another through our transportation and placemaking work.  That everyone belongs and should be made to feel that way.  And how connecting people in public spaces and through walking, bicycling, taking transit, and carpooling is essential for our mental health and economic futures.  It affirmed all of the base motivations for the work I do and I look forward to reading more of the science associated with Charles’ work.

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Mobility walking workshop to see the various elements and changes that will result from the planned removal of two auto-centric viaducts downtown. Many thanks to City of Vancouver staff Holly Sovdi and Devon Fitch for this great session.

Vancouver has a great bike share, Mobi, which partnered with PPS for various parts of the conference. For this particular week, however, I was able to throw my bike on the bus up from Seattle and use my trusty steed for transportation. As a bicycle and pedestrian professional and advocate, it was incredible to get to use Vancouver’s extensive bike and sidewalk network – much of which has been built out in the past decade. It really was a delight to walk and ride around the city – both to and from the conference location downtown and for mobile walk and bike workshops.

Local folks shared it hasn’t been an easy transition to all of the separated bike facilities that now exist for miles along major downtown streets – and are filled with bicycle commuters. There are regular reports of conflicts with motorists.  And bike theft is such a crazy problem that it sounds worse than New York City.  I was happy to have secure inside bike parking at night and that the conference had contracted with local non-profit Better Environmentally Sound Transporation for Valet Bike Parking during the day.  B.E.S.T. told me they were asked to provide Bike Valet all summer, 7 days a week, for large employers on Granville Island – because bike theft has been so severe that folks refuse to bike there.  It was a great success and bicycling employees have been sad to see the program end with the fall.  Hopefully they find a way to sponsor it year-round. Side note: I love B.E.S.T. for their work and resource materials.  I was using them a decade ago for car ownership financial literacy work – so it was fun to meet them in person.

img_6160-2The city is doing some interesting public engagement and experiments with re-use of public space, too. For example, this block in the photo at right has been closed to car traffic in a central location downtown. In addition to the usual street furniture (nice to eat my lunch there!) and food trucks, they’ve used bright temporary paint to ask people for their input, with an information kiosk and suggestion cards available nearby.

On Thursday night, I volunteered for the Waterfront Redesign site that was part of Placemaking Week’s POPCrawl. Organized by the lovely Jackie Kanyuk, a local consultant and Volunteer Manager for the conference and Placemaking Week, this was a walking tour of various public spaces, potential redevelopments and public art installations.  Using old-school, simple materials, folks stopping by our site were invited to revision a proposed redevelopment of a parking lot adjacent to the port – not as luxury looming condos, but as mixed use space.  A local artist/architect was on hand to quickly visualize and post people’s input in vivid drawings.  Others wrote their ideas on I Would Like to See This Here stickers that were displayed in an ever-growing number on a big piece of cardboard.  Each attendee carried a passport we would stamp for visiting our site and the busy sidewalk pulled in lots of local Vancouverites to participate as well.  Local advocates will use this public feedback as part of their work with the city to alter the current design for the site.

 

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Arthur playing his favorite song on a public piano. There seemed to be public pianos all over town.

All week I had the chance to meet new folks from across the U.S. and Canada and farther afield (New Zealand, Brazil, etc.) – plus see a few New England faces from back home.  And I got to spend time with the fabulous Arthur Orsini of Urban Thinkers and Vancouver Coastal Health. In 2011, following the National Safe Routes to School Conference in Minneapolis, I was able to do a training with Arthur on facilitating authentic youth engagement in active transportation projects.  It was just amazing and inspired me to do some youth-led projects in my Safe Routes consulting work back in Maine.  He’s the real thing when it comes to not tokenizing young people and doing genuine facilitation – and it was so fun to get to hang out with him in his hometown!

September 19, 2016 at 9:11 am 2 comments

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