Freedom for all to ride or walk in the great outdoors

A version of this piece was published as the monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Max - Maine Adaptive - credit Sarah Cushman

Max Michaud takes a break from her training with Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation at the Back Cove Trail in Portland

Walking and biking are not just for the young, fit and able-bodied. And the benefits of these activities extend far beyond merely exercise or recreation – to enhancing the connection we have with our neighbors in our communities. Fortunately, Maine is home to several organizations and programs that help seniors and people with disabilities get outside for a walk or a ride. Before I tell you about a couple of these efforts, let me start with a story that illustrates why they’re so essential.

I met Bangor resident Annie King recently when I taught a MaineDOT-sponsored class in defensive walking (think what you were taught about defensive driving; now apply that idea to walking) at Miller Square on Harlow, a facility for seniors in Bangor where she lives. Annie rolled into the room in a motorized wheelchair and joked that I’d been brought in because of “the crazy adventure” she’d recently gone on with her friends.

Annie and her friends, Diane and Marcia, decided to visit the farmers market one Sunday in June. Annie and Diane use motorized wheelchairs, and Marcia is legally blind and uses a white cane. Annie also has to carry her oxygen tank. “We went down to the market, across from the library, and cruised around,” she said.

“It was a nice day, so we said, ‘Let’s go down the next street,’ ” Annie continued. They turned down Franklin and then stopped at a little park on Kenduskeag Stream, where they sat for a few minutes so Marcia could catch her breath.

“You know, I’ve never been to that bagel place. Let’s go there,” Annie suggested to her friends. They followed the stream to Central Street and, after a snack at Bagel Central, headed home.

Norumbega Parkway-Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor - 2

Norumbega Parkway along the Kenduskeag Stream in downtown Bangor, where Annie King and her friends took a break on their adventure.

“It started to rain on our way home, and we ducked under the portico of one of the buildings while it poured,” Annie said, laughing. They had gone less than a mile.

A full, rich mile.

“It was our little adventure, just being free to get out and be with the rest of the world and not having to answer to anyone,” Annie said. “I don’t think you’re ever too old for an adventure.”

How many times have you done a simple outing like that – to a nearby park or to see a friend or to your downtown or village area to run an errand – and it turned into something that gave you such pleasure?

Which brings me to two Maine programs that help people who need assistance go on their own everyday adventures.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Back Cove Trail in Portland with my dog Lola to talk with some folks from Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, among them Leo Albert. He greeted Lola warmly.

“I’m lucky to live near the Green Belt path in South Portland,” Leo said. “I can’t use this for long periods,” he said, pointing to the four-wheeled walker he was sitting on, “but I use my motorized wheelchair, and I know every dog. Every one of them. I bring treats, and they nuzzle around my chair for them.”

Leo started working with Maine Adaptive this summer to modify the recumbent tricycle he has barely used for the past 13 years, because of a painful leg length discrepancy.

He pointed to one of the tricycles parked nearby and said he was looking forward to riding it. “Riding will make a big difference for my leg circulation and relieve the pain in my legs and back. Plus it’s something I can do anytime from where I live.”

Maxine Michaud was pedaling on the cove, training for the Great Maine Getaway MS Ride on a Maine Adaptive tricycle. Max, as she calls herself, has multiple sclerosis and limited use of one of her legs. To get around, she uses the tricycle as well as an experimental, Maine-designed Afari, which helps her walk over uneven terrain.

“There is no such thing as being unable,” she told me. “It’s being differently abled. That’s all.”

She credited her involvement with Maine Adaptive (she got involved on a dare in 2012) with keeping her in her “happy place, doing everything I do. I don’t need any pain pills, I don’t need any anti-depressants. This is it. This keeps me above the clouds looking ahead. I soar.”

Another program, Portland Wheelers, also helps people get outside and connect, in their case, people who are physically or mentally unable to bike, even with adaptive equipment. The organization offers free recreational rides to people of any age who are living with a significant disability.

Portland Wheelers - credit to Portland Wheelers

Portland Wheelers pilots pedal adaptive cycles for riders, also known as “wheelers”, along the Back Cove Trail in Portland. Photo courtesy of Portland Wheelers

I took a spin with Doug Malcolm, the group’s founder and director. I sat in the “wheeler” seat with Doug, the “pilot,” pedaling just behind me on one of the program’s tricycles, a setup that made for easy conversation. We rode along the Eastern Promenade, soaking up the view.

“We’re yakking all the time when we’re riding,” Doug said. “Wheelers and pilots both love it. As pilots, we get to hear wonderful life stories. And when we’re in a pod of two or three trikes, we’re often laughing it up, because someone always seems to be telling a joke.

“We know from Canadian research, and a study we’re involved in ourselves, that if you get people outside riding in groups on a regular basis, it can dramatically improve levels of depression, appetite, sleep patterns and a sense of connectedness,” he said.

As a sustainable transportation consultant, I’ve come across similar findings, and not surprisingly they always make me eager to get out and walk and bike more. Annie, Leo and Max offer me a glimpse of the future I can feel hopeful about stepping into.


  • If you don’t live in Greater Portland or one of the residential facilities served by Portland Wheelers, the nonprofit offers a Come to Us service. Preregister on their website,, for a Saturday ride time and get transportation to meet the group at Cyclemania in Portland.
  • Every summer, Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation offers its bicycling program in Portland and Bethel. On Sept. 23, Maine Adaptive teams up with Slipping Gears Cycling to hold an adaptive cycling day for people with disabilities ages 4 and up. Bangor City Forest, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Cycles of all types and sizes will be available or riders can bring their own. Preregistration required, email

August 28, 2017 at 8:36 am 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.”


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 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

Wheels in mind of new transportation columnist go ’round and ’round – usually sustainably

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

Denver’s 16th Street transit and pedestrian mall

“Mom, stop taking pictures of that crosswalk!” my 10-year-old daughter begs me as we ride the bus to the library. My phone overflows with photos of streets, sidewalks, trails, road signage, bus shelters and the people who use them. These shots may be embarrassing for my daughter, but they are helpful for my work as a transportation consultant to improve the quality of life for commuters and the livability of communities.

My photo archive is also confirmation of my certified Transportation Geek status – and it can drive my family a little crazy. There was the time my daughter and I visited my sisters in Colorado. When we returned to Maine, my husband asked to see photos. Oops. Instead of family pictures, or maybe mountain scenery, I had endless shots of Denver’s light rail and the city’s pedestrian mall. “Really, that was important to document!” I said in my own defense. “Can you say ‘transportation fetish?’ ” my husband retorted.

A transportation nerd conversation runs constantly in my head. For instance: I’m working on a pilot project with the Maine Department of Transportation to deliver walk safety presentations and high-visibility gear in Bangor and Brewer to especially vulnerable folks, such as seniors and people with disabilities. I am writing this from the Bangor Motel 6, in town to work on the project, and I just sprinted on foot across three lanes of busy U.S. Route 2 to the Shell station to pick up some toiletries.

Want to know what I was thinking about? “Wow, that Park & Ride lot over there is full. How great is all that carpooling! But check out this traffic. This road seems to be designed to encourage speed. Can vehicles even see me? No sidewalk and only a minimal shoulder, so I better walk facing the oncoming cars (it’s the law and statistically is the safest way to go). And could I even walk here this winter if there were snowbanks?”

More true confessions: I’m the kind of person who gets a thrill out of putting my bike on the Concord Coach bus, loaded with oversized exhibit materials, like I did last month to get from Portland to the Bangor Senior Expo. That was a treat, to catch up on email, nap and finish prepping a document while someone else drove. Then I could scoot around Bangor by bike, coming to know the city a little better by experiencing it at a slower speed – I loved the Webster Avenue walk and bike tunnel under Interstate-395!

My transportation heart and consulting work come from a melding of jobs and interests over the past 25 years. In high school, I signed up for the automotive program at the Bath Regional Vocational Center. The instructors were excellent and encouraging and, through our work on cars, physics came alive for me for the first time. My interest in people led me on to college and a degree in political science. Afterward, I spent five years as a community organizer in Maryland – amazing and intense work with groups and public planning and advocacy efforts.

When burnout hit, I pivoted to recuperate, working as an auto mechanic at a nearby garage in the heart of Baltimore. Over the next five years, as I fixed cars in Maryland and then back home in Maine, I slowly grew tired of how unprepared/unable many people are to spend the necessary money to maintain and fix vehicles and how many dirty cars I had to put back on the street – leaking fluids or exhaust or with check engine lights still on with an emissions failure. I started teaching fiscally and environmentally responsible car ownership through Portland Adult Education and encouraged my students and customers to consider how many vehicles they really needed. I asked them to explore other ways of getting around. My consulting work grew from there.

Let’s be clear, I’m no purist. My family has a car – it’s outside in the Motel 6 parking lot right now. And to be frank, if a second vehicle were available in our driveway, I’d be the first one to use it. I’m glad to be nudged – forced, really – to travel by bus, on foot, by bike, and sharing rides. Of course, we know these ways of moving around are good for us. They save us money, they’re better for the planet, they’re healthier for our overweight American bodies.

However, the things that motivate my work most are less tangible and somehow more powerful. They are the bits of Yankee ingenuity and magic involved when we walk, bike, take the bus and carpool. The world is simply more real – warts and beauty – all of it. For instance:

  • With some quick planning, you share a ride with friends to an event – catching up or maybe laughing so hard at some point that your face hurts.
  • I walk down the street headed to get groceries and smell the salty tang of fog. I smell the sewage treatment plant. I notice the first day lilies appearing in a neighbor’s yard.
  • After working inside all day, you stand at the bus stop and feel the late afternoon sun on your face for the first time. So good, that moment!
  • I jump on my bike on a cold, rainy day, moaning about how much it stinks that my husband has the car and I have to get to a meeting. And then within five minutes – I swear – I’m warmed up and grinning into the spray for the sheer joy of being outside and using my body and embracing the elements.

We are awake when these things happen. We connect – with people around us; with the tiny, unique details of the places in our community; and with the natural world that sustains our daily lives. We renew ourselves in these moments and at the same time knit our communities tighter together. That feeds me the most.

I look forward to learning and sharing more about the myriad ways we all get around. In the meantime, if you find yourself in desperate of need a photo of a Portland crosswalk, or Bangor’s bike/pedestrian tunnel, or Chicago’s bike share, you know where to find me.

July 3, 2017 at 7:14 am Leave a comment

Whether you’re a new or experienced cyclist, CyclingSavvy classes can teach you confidence

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

CyclingSavvy instructors help guide participants at the parking lot bike handling skills session.

With more drivers, and more distracted drivers than ever, riding a bicycle in traffic can be frightening. So here’s my plug: getting around town on a bike is possible in almost any setting, especially with good safety training. And there’s no better resource for building the confidence and skills of riders – both experienced and less-experienced – than CyclingSavvy, a three-part national course that’s offered in southern Maine during the warmer months.

I knew it was for me as soon as I read this on the website before my first class a few years ago:

I run into plenty of people, including experienced cyclists, who like to bike but only in locations that are almost or completely separated from cars, say mountain biking on rugged off-road trails, the early Sunday morning spandex crew racing along back roads before anyone else is up, or riders of all ages – seniors and their friends, families with children and young hipsters – who stick to a local bike path.

“Some people think of bicycling on roads as a kind of ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists. This is driven by stories of conflict that we all hear, and sometimes tell, both as cyclists and motorists, and it’s reinforced by media stories – leading to fear and alienation,” John Brooking, a nationally trained CyclingSavvy instructor who lives in Westbrook, told me recently.

CyclingSavvy can help cyclists overcome their fear of riding in traffic, so that they can be comfortable riding to all the vibrant places in their communities that require taking roads and streets to reach. For me, these are the ordinary but essential places like my daughter’s school, a meetup at a coffee shop across town, the park, the homes of friends, the hardware store, our Quaker meeting, Portland’s monthly First Friday Art Walks.

“At CyclingSavvy, we prefer the metaphor of riding in traffic as ‘a dance’ the bicyclist must lead,” Brooking said. “Driving any kind of vehicle in traffic involves negotiation, ideally according to consistent rules that everyone follows. Bicycling is basically safe, even in traffic; imagine how many crashes don’t happen every day despite bad bicyclist behavior. With legal and predictable cyclist behavior and communicating with motorists, it’s even safer.”

Dianne Ballon, a sound artist who lives in Portland, can attest to the effectiveness of the course. “What I absolutely loved was the confidence CyclingSavvy gave me to ride in the city with lots of cars,” she said.

Ballon sold her bike when she moved from the Belgrade Lakes region to the city in 2012, thinking there was no way she could ride on busy urban streets. She missed riding though, so decided to check out CyclingSavvy.

Ballon said she appreciated the classroom session that used science and geometry to explain safe and legal ways to operate a bike in traffic and enjoyed the bike-handling skills session held in an empty parking lot. “I loved learning how to maneuver my own body and bike and think fast and handle things like potholes in the road,” Ballon said.

The third and final session, aimed at putting everything together, is called, a little tongue-in-cheek, the Tour de Portland. Instructors lead students on a bike tour of the city’s streets that intentionally includes challenges that typically intimidate cyclists, such as intersections, interchanges and bridges. The instructors and students ride as a group, stopping to look at each new stretch. After discussing the best strategy for safe, easy passage, the students ride through individually, then regroup with an instructor on the other side to review their experience.

“There was one point where we came to a really busy intersection,” Ballon said, “and I didn’t have the courage at the time to take the lane and make the turn myself. So one of the instructors came with me. That’s the beauty of it: they are thoughtful and will work with you so that you gain the confidence to be able to do this on your own.”

If you’re already biking on city streets without having taken the class, how much more can you really learn? After I finished my first session, I was amazed at how much it turned out I didn’t know, even though I’d taken another safety class some years before and I commute regularly by bike.

Portland resident Craig Bramley participated in the course with his two daughters, ages 16 and 12, at the beginning of last summer. “I was comfortable riding in traffic, and I also mountain bike, which is good bike-handling training,” Bramley said, “but the class definitely empowered me to take control of my own safety where I hadn’t before.”

All three Bramleys completed the parking lot practice session. “It was great for the girls,” Bramley said. “Clear instruction and an ability to work up to a higher level as the class progressed. They’ll use those techniques for a lifetime.”

Bramley and his older daughter also took the classroom portion. “As a high school student, she really got a sense for how cars and bikes should interact on the road, with clearer explanations of complex situations than I could come up with as a parent,” Bramley said.

After they’d finished the classes, Bramley and his older daughter rode together many times over the summer. “I was a lot more comfortable riding with her on the street, because we had done this,” he said. “She was, too.”

Not a cyclist? CyclingSavvy is useful for motorists, too. “As a driver I am much more aware of bicyclists now,” Ballon said, “and understand better what they are doing to operate legally and safely.” (And keep in mind that most cyclists also drive cars.)

That understanding goes both ways. “I work in Lewiston looking over Canal Street, which is one-way, and see cyclists riding against traffic,” Bramley said. “It’s terrifying.”

Everyone I interviewed for this story recommended that anyone who rides a bike should take the course. I’ve been doing my CyclingSavvy classes in installments and haven’t yet completed the city tour ride. Each session I’ve done has only improved my riding and made me feel safer out on the road. Now is my chance to graduate – I hope to see you in class.


PEOPLE come from all across New England to take these classes. It’s worth the trip.

JUNE 3: Truths & Techniques classroom session, 9 a.m.-noon, 34 Preble St., Portland. Train Your Bike parking lot session, 1-4 p.m., 150 Waterman St., South Portland.

JUNE 4: Tour, 1-4:30 p.m., 150 Waterman St., South Portland.

YOU MUST complete the classroom and parking lot sessions before you can take the final on-road session. The Train Your Bike and Tour classes require that you have both a bike and a helmet.

TO REGISTER go to “Northern New England” at


May 22, 2017 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

April 29, June 3 & 4: Your Chance to Feel Confident Riding a Bike in Traffic!

Cycling Savvy courses offered in Maine for riders of all abilities are NOT to be missed! Here are more on offerings this spring and early summer. The initial classroom session, Truths & Techniques of Traffic Riding, is scheduled for Saturday April 29, from 9 AM to Noon. The full course (all 3 sessions) is also scheduled for Saturday, June 3 and Sunday afternoon June 4. Register now.

Here’s more perspective on the 3-part course from the fabulous John Brooking:

Do you like the idea of biking more for transportation, but are scared of traffic? You’re not alone!

Many people would like to ride more, but cite traffic as their #1 concern. How can riding in traffic be safe?

CyclingSavvy is a course designed to help cyclists understand how to make safe riding possible. Through knowledge and guided practice, we can turn anyone who knows how to stay upright on a bike into a savvy bicyclist who can operate in any traffic situation with confidence.

Our classroom session includes:

  • The foundational principles of traffic movement
  • What the law allows and doesn’t allow for bicyclists
  • Common crash types and how to avoid them
  • Strategies for common and less common situations

All this in just 3 hours of classroom instruction, costing $45. No bike required.

Are your bike handling skills a little shaky?

Next, we progress to a parking-lot based session, where you can practice such skills as using your brakes and gears, “training your bike” to give you more confidence in its physical operation. This is a useful session even if you are only interesting in riding on off-road paths. You may take this session whether or not you’ve already taken the classroom.

This session is also 3 hours and $45.

Putting It All Together

Once you have taken both the classroom and skills sessions, we put everything together in a group bike Tour of Portland. You get to practice what you’ve learned in a series of real-world locations, with your instructor’s guidance, and your new friends cheering you on. It is not a test, there are no grades; just you proving to yourself that you got this!

If you sign up for all 3 sessions together — classroom, skills, and Tour — you get everything for $95, $40 savings from 3 individual sessions.

Questions? Send them to Register here.

April 21, 2017 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Thanks to Maine Cyclist for Feature on Family Bicycling Sabbatical

Many thanks to Frank Gallagher and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine crew for featuring our family cross-country bicycling sabbatical in the Spring 2017 edition of  Maine Cyclist magazine. Hard to believe we were just starting out this month a year ago! Actually, it still feels a bit surreal that we did it.

Just as the article shares, I still have such gratitude for the gift of those months on the bike. Physically imprinting our country’s landscapes and having the time to meet and talk with (and have our family cared for by) so many different people. Such a breadth of life and place in our country…

April 17, 2017 at 7:17 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.


• 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

April 26 – Co-Sponsoring FHWA Workshop for Greater Portland on Contemporary Approaches to TDM Planning

Register Here Now

We’re excited to offer a great opportunity for local municipalities and practitioners to learn more about contemporary Transportation Demand Management (TDM) planning and ways to increase the use of TDM measures in the Greater Portland region.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will be delivering this one day, no-cost workshop on April 26 at the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG)/Portland Area Comprehensive System (PACTS), 970 Baxter Boulevard, Suite 201, in Portland. Please save the date on your calendar and Register Here Now.

Those encouraged to attend are:

  • transportation planners
  • traffic management professionals
  • transit operations staff
  • transportation demand management (TDM) professionals
  • others interested in vehicle trip reduction planning

Key Workshop Takeaways – participants will:

  1. Identify opportunities to broaden the scope of demand management beyond traditional alternative commute mode programs and to address emerging issues, such as shared mobility.
  2. Identify how to build institutional capability to support effective demand management.
  3. Develop an action plan for improving integration of demand management into existing and future planning activities.

Agenda Overview

  • Introduction to the Workshop
  • Overview about Demand Management/Executive Summary
  • TDM and Planning Integration in the Region: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities
  • Emerging Approaches, Strategies, and New Directions for Demand Management: Shared Mobility and Integrating TDM and Traffic Operations

Lunch in the Neighborhood – purchase your own tasty take-out from nearby eateries and continue the conversation

  • TDM and Planning Assessment Exercise
  • Discussion: Opportunities to Integrate Additional Demand Management into the Planning Efforts in the Region
  • Action Plan Development
  • Wrap-Up

You can see more about the workshop in this FHWA flier. The workshop is co-sponsored by GPCOG, PACTS, the Maine Division of the Federal Highway Administration, and Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC.

Looking forward to it and hope you can join us!

February 1, 2017 at 1:09 pm 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

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