June 17, 2013

Maine Voices: Franklin Street redesign links transportation, development and quality of life

The process gives the city a chance to build on its strengths as it improves livability and mobility.

By MARKOS MILLER

PORTLAND - This month, the city of Portland will be embarking on Phase 2 of the Franklin Street redesign study. Building on the 2009 Phase 1 report, "Reclaiming Franklin Street," this will advance the vision of Franklin Street as a vibrant urban corridor that serves as both an attractive gateway to the city and connects neighborhoods, the waterfront and Interstate 295.

The future Franklin Street will better perform its transportation function, facilitating safe and efficient travel for motor vehicles, transit, bikes and pedestrians through integrated design solutions. The corridor will enhance the urban fabric of the city through the mixed-use development of residential, commercial and recreational space amid attractive streetscapes.

The redesigning of this urban-renewal arterial represents an ongoing partnership among the city, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System and diverse community stakeholders. The Phase 2 study will include a feasibility analysis and refinement of the range of design solutions presented in the three Phase 1 concept designs and other appropriate solutions derived during Phase 2.

These concept designs drew upon existing local policy, technical expertise and best practices to present a vision of an urban corridor that maximizes its potential as an asset for transportation, economic development and enhanced livability.

Underlying this work are key Phase 1 findings about the Franklin Street corridor and the complexities of urban roadways, which serve a wider range of needs and offer a wider range of opportunities than the traditional highway system. Among these are:

Traffic volumes along Franklin Street have been surprisingly stable the past 25 years, and the existing capacity, designed appropriately, will accommodate projected traffic growth over the next 25 years.

The maximum vehicular capacity of the existing number of travel lanes can be achieved through improved intersection design, synchronization of traffic lights and designing for slower travel speeds.

Travel speeds of 25 to 30 mph allow urban roadways to carry the maximum number of vehicles most efficiently.

Travel speeds of 25 to 30 mph also best balance mobility and safety for all users. Chances of serious injury and death increase exponentially with collisions at higher speeds.

High-quality road design allows cars, bikes and pedestrians to co-exist in urban corridors with traffic volumes similar to that of Franklin Street.

The current roadway takes up little more than half of the 15-acre corridor. This prime urban real estate can be put to better use for the community to generate increased tax revenue and provide vibrant public spaces. Housing, transit and businesses along Franklin Street will bring new life to blighted and underutilized assets, including Lincoln Park.

As a route to schools, shopping and employment, Franklin Street faces transportation demands across the corridor as well as along it.

Urban highways were built at a time when faster seemed better, and people were not fully aware of the impacts of cars on our cities. Cities now see that steady, predictable traffic flow creates a more efficient urban roadway, and that the street and the local context must relate.

Cities across the country are redesigning urban highway corridors to improve livability and mobility.

In so doing, they are strengthening transportation options by creating multimodal corridors and hubs and stimulating private investment. They have generated higher property values and a broader tax base, and they've enhanced public spaces for community enjoyment.

The removal of San Francisco's Central Freeway and Milwaukee's Park East Highway spurred millions of dollars in urban redevelopment, while closer to home, New Haven, Conn., and Buffalo, N.Y., are putting resources toward redesigning inner-city highways as urban streets or boulevards.

The Franklin Street Redesign will be guided by a context-sensitive solutions model, integrating transportation and land-use planning, complete streets and transit-oriented development principles, technical expertise and public involvement so that the preferred plan for Franklin Street serves our city's needs and reflects our values.

The final outcome, a design that may ultimately blend elements of various concepts, will guide future development along the corridor and put Portland in a position to pursue a range of funding options.

Portland is poised to grow as a residential center and an economic hub. The Franklin Street redesign process presents opportunities for our city to further build on strengths such as walkability, integrity of place and economic and environmental sustainability so that Portland continues to be recognized as a great place to live, work and play in the 21st century.

Markos Miller of Portland co-chairs the Public Advisory Committee on the Franklin Street Redesign Study.

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