Although we have the utmost respect for our friends Peter and Pamela Plumb, authors of “Maine Voices: Don’t rush to re-establish two-way traffic flow on State, High streets” (Feb. 13), we disagree completely with their conclusions, and we believe that re-establishing two-way traffic on State and High streets is critical to Portland’s continuing evolution as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly city.

First, a little history:

State and High streets became one-way thoroughfares as the result of the partial implementation of the Victor Gruen Downtown Renewal Plan in the late 1960s. The point of this “renewal” plan was to “save the downtown” from the impact of the Maine Mall by getting cars onto and off the peninsula as quickly as possible – regardless of the consequences for its residents.

What were some of the results of that plan and associated urban renewal projects? The Franklin Street Arterial, which slashes across the peninsula and destroyed ethnic neighborhoods; the Spring Street Arterial, which destroyed historic buildings and created a pedestrian wasteland, and two one-way de facto arterials on State and High streets.

All were designed with little regard to pedestrian safety or the livability of the residential neighborhoods that they bisected and, in some cases, destroyed. In the process, to make matters worse, an estimated 2,800 housing units (which we have yet to replace) were destroyed.

Fortunately, the Gruen plan was not fully realized. The Spring Street Arterial was stopped short of its intended terminus by strong opposition, including from a fledgling Greater Portland Landmarks. And Cumberland Avenue – intended as a parallel arterial to the Spring Street Arterial – was never destroyed and widened as planned. But the other remnants of the failed Gruen plan remain, grim reminders of the age of the automobile.

Some 40 odd years later, however, Portland has changed dramatically. Many factors, including the creation of the Arts District, a working waterfront saved from destruction by high-end condos, a nationally recognized restaurant scene, a rich architectural heritage and a growing appreciation of the city’s livability and walkability for residents of all ages have all combined to make Portland increasingly vibrant and active.

And growing national recognition that cities should be designed for people, not cars, has led to ongoing efforts to undo the most destructive elements of the Gruen plan. As this is being written:

Efforts to redesign the Franklin Street Arterial are in the second phase of a multi-year community-based effort.

 Efforts to redesign the Spring Street Arterial are in the first phase of a community-based effort.

 The proposal to return State and High to two-way streets is in the second phase of an engineering analysis.

None of these projects is being “rushed” by any means. Potential impacts are being identified and evaluated, to balance the interests of all users of the streets – not just commuters and their cars.

The benefits of restoring State and High to two-way traffic, we believe, are many:

 Pedestrian safety will be increased. No longer will citizens have to fight cars racing across the peninsula at high speed. (Just recently one of us saw a near-accident on State Street, as three young men crossed the stopped right lane of traffic at an intersection with a safety “bump-out” and were nearly hit by a car racing along in the left lane. With two-way traffic, both drivers would have seen the pedestrians in the intersection.)

 Access between West End neighborhoods and the downtown will be far easier, making the entire area much more attractive for residents.

 The change will bring economic benefits to the city and will enhance small businesses as their visibility improves, as has happened in many other communities.

 Residents along the entire length of both streets will see their neighborhood livability restored and their property values increased.

 Through traffic will be encouraged to use the Fore River Parkway (designed at great expense for just this purpose) to connect Interstate 295, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland, rather than racing through the heart of residential neighborhoods on the peninsula.

The bottom line: In our view, it is time for Portland to build on the enormous strengths of its downtown as a place where people of all ages want to live because of its character, accessibility and walkability.

Replacing a focus on getting cars into and out of the city as quickly as possible, regardless of the consequences, with a focus on residents and pedestrian/bicycle safety and access is a key to Portland’s future. Returning High and State streets to two-way traffic, we believe, is a critical element of that 21st-century vision.