Portland officials said Wednesday that they are taking steps to help Casco Bay islanders deal with summertime congestion and a lack of parking on the mainland.

The initiatives were announced a day before a key vote on plans for a large new ferry to Peaks Island, something many islanders fear will further strain their year-round communities.

To help address the lack of mainland parking, the city said it is designating 42 on-street parking spaces on the eastern side of Marginal Way as parking for island residents. Islanders with decals on their vehicles would be exempt from regular time limits, but wouldn’t have exclusive rights to those spots.

The parking spaces are about a mile across the peninsula from the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal, but the city also announced plans to purchase a new 14-passenger van to shuttle ferry passengers back and forth. City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said the frequency of the trips is being discussed, but the shuttle service is expected to run from June 15 to Sept. 30.

The city also said it will conduct a review of the area around the ferry landing on Peaks Island to try to improve safety and access and find ways to improve and expand the parking area.

Several islanders said Wednesday that they welcomed the city’s efforts to help. Others were more doubtful that the remote parking would be convenient.


Meg Connolly, 74, a part-time Peaks Island resident, said the shuttle could work if it provides consistent dependable service through the day. “If it doesn’t meet every boat, it would be close to useless,” Connolly said.

Gigi Guyton, a 57-year-old island resident, said the plan is not ideal, but she credits the city for trying. “That’s better than nothing, but the shuttle is just an extra step,” Guyton said.

Chelsea Henry, who grew up on Peaks and commutes to work on the mainland, wasn’t enthused by the parking solution. “That’s crazy,” she said. “That’s so far away.”

Islanders argue the ability to park their cars near the ferry terminal is vital to sustaining their isolated year-round communities. They also have urged the city to help address summer congestion as visitors flock to their neighborhoods, especially to Peaks, something they fear will only get worse if plans for a big new ferry are approved.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, whose district includes Peaks Island, said in a written statement Wednesday that the additional parking and shuttle service will provide much needed summertime relief to island residents, who have lost access to traditional mainland parking spots amid a development boom around the eastern waterfront.

“The parking and congestion issues faced by Portland’s island communities are unique and real,” Ray said. “The addition of 42 more spaces to the IR-zone with summer shuttle service will offer some relief as we continue to work with our partners at Casco Bay Lines and Metro to find longer-term solutions to the parking crunch.”


Steve Anderson, a member of the Peaks Island Council, welcomed the city’s efforts, noting that Peaks is only one square mile, but receives upwards of 800,000 visitors a year.

“I’m delighted to see the city take tangible steps to address the impact of Portland’s increasing development and the popularity of the Casco Bay islands, and of Peaks Island in particular,” he said. “It feels like we are getting loved to death.”

Randy Schaeffer, who chairs the Peaks council, also was encouraged and said that residents will be interested to see how convenient and reliable the new shuttle service will be. “We hope the pilot test is successful in demonstrating the efficacy, or lack thereof, of a remote lot and shuttle model,” he said.

The city recently decided to temporarily convert its dormant international ferry terminal into a parking lot. It sits near the island ferry terminal and has about 150 spaces that will be available at a rate of $15 a day. Grondin said the city is not offering free parking to islanders at the new lot because that space is temporary and the city needs to recover revenue being lost with the closure of a lot nearby on Thames Street.

Grondin did not know how much the van would cost, but said it would be paid for through a waterfront tax district, which allows the city to use taxes from new development for investment into waterfront infrastructure.

The public assurances from the city come a day before the Casco Bay Lines board of directors is expected to decide on the size of a new ferry to serve Peaks Island. The board has proposed building a new 600-passenger ferry to replace the 399-seat Machigonne II, which was put into service in 1987. The larger ferry has drawn intense opposition from island residents who worry that it will exacerbate crowding on the island, which lacks bathrooms and other amenities for visitors, and add to ecological impacts of people exploring the island and its beaches.


Hank Berg, general manager of Casco Bay Lines, has countered those concerns. He has said a larger ferry would not lead to more people going to the island, but will better accommodate islanders and those who already visit. He says the larger ferry would reduce the number of times other ferries have to be diverted from other islands to pick up passengers waiting to get from Peaks to the mainland.

The announcement that the city will study congestion issues on Peaks Island comes after City Manager Jon Jennings set aside $50,000 in this year’s budget to address a lack of parking there.

Jennings already had written a letter to Casco Bay Lines saying the city would work with the ferry operator and the Maine Department on Transportation to ensure that pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities or children, are protected from vehicle traffic while waiting to board the ferry.

“Since I became city manager in 2015, I have made many visits to Peaks Island at various times of the year, and have experienced and witnessed first-hand some of the congestion issues that islanders are referring to,” Jennings wrote. “The city of Portland is committed to making its public areas safe, accessible, and user friendly.”

Facing opposition and questions from island residents, the Casco Bay Lines board of directors voted in April to delay a decision on the capacity of the new ferry for 60 days. The board directed staff to look into a possible vehicle reservation system and to conduct an analysis of the financial viability of a larger vessel, especially in an economic downturn.

The new ferry is expected to cost about $10 million, with 85 percent of those costs being covered by federal funding, including a $6 million grant announced last year. Casco Bay Lines hopes to have it in service in 2021.

The Peaks ferry makes 16 roundtrips a day during the summer, departing every hour from Portland and arriving 15 minutes later on Peaks. The 1.2-square-mile island is a quiet neighborhood of fewer than 1,000 residents in the offseason, but becomes a bustling tourist destination when the boat fills up in the summer.

In 2018, more than 784,000 people took the ferry to Peaks Island and the ferry hit its capacity on 23 outbound trips and 45 inbound trips, according to ridership information provided by Casco Bay Lines. That’s a 10 percent increase in ridership over the roughly 712,800 people who took the ferry to Peaks in 2014. And the ferry hit its capacity more times in 2018 than in 2017.

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