March 13, 2012

South Portland debates Ocean Street parking changes

City councilors and residents also discuss altering the traffic flow after reconstruction work.

By Glenn Jordan
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After hearing residents and business owners from the Knightville peninsula discuss the pros and cons of parallel versus angled parking and one-way versus two-way traffic for nearly 90 minutes Monday night, Mayor Patti Smith took a deep breath.

click image to enlarge

Business owners on Ocean Street in South Portland say their customers prefer the current diagonal parking spaces.

2007 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

"Parking," she said, "is always going to be part of South Portland's debacle and challenge."

That was evident at a City Council workshop at the Community Center, where four dozen people showed up to discuss a compromise that would keep 12 of the 19 diagonal parking spaces along the west side of Ocean Street -- albeit angled in the opposite direction -- on the block that includes Smaha's Legion Square Market and several other businesses.

The compromise is tied to a reconstruction project to replace underground utility lines and separate stormwater and sewage drainage pipes, and make sidewalks wider and accessible to wheelchair users.

Originally, engineers drew up plans for parallel parking on both sides of Ocean Street -- the same arrangement as when Ocean Street was the one-way artery feeding traffic onto the Million Dollar Bridge, which was replaced in 1997 by the Casco Bay Bridge.

Business owners whose customers prefer the easy-in, easy-out diagonal spaces, which appeared after the new bridge opened and Ocean Street became two-way, objected to the return to parallel parking.

City Manager Jim Gailey huddled with engineers and came up with a compromise:

Allow only northbound traffic on two blocks of Ocean Street, coming out of the roundabout with Cottage Road and E Street.

Put 12 spaces -- angled at 45 degrees, instead of the 60 degrees called for in city regulations -- on the west side of Ocean Street's first block and six parallel spaces on the east side.

"I'm all for it," said Tom Smaha, owner of the Legion Square Market. "I think it's a great compromise."

There are now 19 angled spaces (all shorter than city and state standards) on the west side of the street and no spaces on the east side. Current construction plans call for nine parallel spaces on the west side and six on the east side.

Susanne Conley of Cape Elizabeth, who grew up on C Street and still owns her childhood home, said the one-way option would increase traffic on the connector streets, particularly C street, as drivers cut through to Waterman Drive.

"Nobody wants more traffic in their neighborhood," she said. "I can handle losing three (parking) spaces to not bring all that traffic down into that neighborhood."

Michael Drinan, who owns Drinan Properties, said it's not the number of spaces that concerns him, as much as the nature of angled versus parallel parking.

"The fact is, people like pulling in, getting their groceries, coffee, the lamp shop, whatever," he said. "They're in and they're out. That's what angled parking is conducive to. Parallel parking is not."

Councilors acknowledged the concerns on both sides of the issue. Tom Coward said he supports the compromise. Rosemarie De Angelis said she doesn't see a simple solution.

Eighteen people spoke, and were evenly divided on the issue.

Dan Riley, the engineer from Sebago Technics leading the project, explained the proposed changes and the reasons behind them. He said striping and signage are final pieces of the puzzle, and could be decided as late as this fall.

Or, the council could vote on the issue at its next meeting.

"Hopefully, we can maybe do a few tweaks to make it acceptable for most people," said Mayor Smith. "But I guess we've all seen we're not going to strike the perfect balance for everyone."

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:


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