Wednesday, April 23, 2014
PORTLAND – Delayed nearly four years, the effort to choose a final design for a redesigned Franklin Street is under way.
IBI Group of Boston and Gorrill Palmer Consulting of Gray have been hired to lead a public advisory group in an effort to free up more land for development while making the road more welcoming to cyclists and pedestrians.
"It's a transportation project, but it should have economic benefits," said Markos Miller, who chairs the 19-member advisory group that's working with the consultants.
Franklin Street was made into an arterial in the late 1960s to move large volumes of traffic, wiping out neighborhoods and severing Newbury and Federal streets from the downtown.
But now, more residents are opting to walk or ride bikes, significantly reducing traffic along Franklin Street over the last decade.
The Maine Department of Transportation last counted traffic on Franklin Street in 2011. That year, an average of nearly 14,000 vehicles a day traveled from Somerset Street to Marginal Way, down from nearly 28,000 in 2001.
The same reductions can be seen along the one-mile stretch of road, with daily traffic between Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue dropping from 18,100 in 2002 to 8,000 in 2011.
Although traffic has decreased, the danger to pedestrians still exists.
This week, a 55-year-old Portland man was seriously injured when he was hit by vehicle in the Franklin-Congress Street intersection.
Jeremiah Bartlett, the city's transportation systems engineer, said the wide median causes problems at busy intersections.
"As a result of that (median), you have some convoluted and awkward intersections at Congress and Cumberland," he said.
The first phase of the Franklin Street redesign ended in 2009. Miller said the delay in starting the second phase was caused by uncertainty over who would lead the project. The city originally secured a $100,000 grant for the planning project, but transferred it to the state, which originally was overseeing the project.
The effort languished when Gov. Paul LePage pulled the plug on several transportation planning projects when he took office, Miller said.
The city persuaded the administration to release the funds, and additional funds, so the study could proceed, Miller said.
Bartlett said the $500,000 project will now include construction-grade plans to improve the section of Franklin Street from Somerset Street to Marginal Way.
A new vision for Franklin Street will not be finished until late next summer or early fall 2014, Bartlett said.
The focus will be on further examining three options laid out in 2009: building an urban street, an urban parkway or a multiway boulevard.
An urban street would be the most restrictive for vehicle access, with a speed limit of 25 mph. Two traffic lanes would run in each direction from Marginal Way to Congress Street, but only one lane would run in each direction down to Commercial Street.
A bike lane would be established on Franklin Street, and a bike boulevard could run along Boyd Street to provide a parallel route.
The plan envisions three- to four-story developments with parallel parking in front. Roundabouts would be possible at the Commercial Street and Marginal Way intersections.
The potential for roundabouts exists with the urban parkway concept, which would put more emphasis on green space, parks, recreation and bicycle transportation over redevelopment opportunities.
It would fully restore Lincoln Park, which was about 2.5 acres before a quarter of it was taken to build the Franklin Street arterial.
And the street median could be preserved for a fixed transit service, such as a trolley. Bike lanes and a parallel bike path would run the length of Franklin Street, where the speed limit would be 30 mph.
The multiway boulevard would provide the greatest redevelopment opportunity, allowing buildings five stories or taller, while preserving the street capacity for vehicles.
Through lanes for traffic would be in the middle of the roadway. A smaller, more neighborhood-oriented street would flank each of the throughways and be separated by trees. Cyclists would share the neighborhood road with vehicles.
Miller said the boulevard concept would have the largest roadway but it would allow for much taller buildings than the other options.
The three options will be the starting point for the process, Miller said, and the strongest elements of each plan could be incorporated into the final plan.
Bartlett said five meetings will be held with the consultants. The next meeting will likely be scheduled for late June.
A public hearing will be held on the refined alternatives and another public hearing will be held on the final plan, he said.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: