Stop Chicken Little: The Truth about Traffic Calming  in Portland, Maine



 Stevens Avenue

Stevens Summary



Public Concern

Air Quality

Curbs, Medians, Tables

Pedestrian Accidents

Vehicle Accidents



Muskie Institute

Legal Aspects


MDOT data

SAP Lies


Opponent Petition

ATC Brochure

 Kane letters

Deering Oaks

Brighton Avenue

Capisic  Street


Stop Signs

Alliance for Transportation Choice


ATC stood  for "Alliance for Transportation Choice" a non-profit that promotes alternative transportation modes, such as walking and bicycling--essentially any choice you want as long as it's not a car, and it's their choice.

The ATC office in 1998 was in the Portland Council of Governments building, right across the hall from the PACTS/MPO office. Cozy, I'll bet! Originally run by Jason Wentworth, he went on to laundromat management, passing the "torch" to Mark Chase, who ran the office into the new century, thence moving to Boston to fight the automobile there.

The EPA was actually funding groups like this one all over the U.S. until the summer of 1999 when Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia found out. He gave Carol Browner, Administrator of the EPA, a piece of his mind for her funding organizations that run counter to his road building philosophies and made her an offer she couldn't refuse: shape up or ship out. Shortly thereafter the ATC got chopped off at the financial knees, Ms. Browner citing a need for  " more balanced representation" in traffic and environmental regulation at all levels.

You can read all about that fiasco in the following article from TOLL ROADS newsletter, July/August 1999, no. 41. It is just amazing. What is great about this is Sen. Byrd's cramming  his wishes down the EPA's throat. Money talks.....or rather, the threat of losing all of your funding, and your job! It's amazing how fast government can move given the right motivation! Now, if only they'd do the same for us common folks!

Anyway, here is the ATC brochure that was put out to explain the ugly asphalt curbing, loss of parking, and alleged safety improvements to the Portland public:






My comments are in blue  (edited by Brian Peterson  1/6/99: some graphical elements have been removed for clarity. Text remains the same.

The Stevens Avenue Traffic Calming Pilot Project is the result of more than six years of work by the City of Portland, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Stevens Avenue Advisory Committee, aimed at addressing the roadway safety issues along this busy street. As construction of the temporary measures began, many residents have asked questions about the project-the way it looks and how it will work to actually improve roadway safety and the quality of life in the neighborhood. This booklet is intended to address some of the most common questions and concerns that have been raised in recent weeks.


Q  It's UGLY! Why is pavement being used instead of bricks, granite, cement, paint and vegetation?

        This project is designed to be a 9-12 month test to determine which traffic calming techniques work on Stevens Avenue and which ones don't. Pavement was chosen to keep the project cost down and make it possible to remove the material at the end of the test without doing damage to the existing street.

          The fiction being that the project was "temporary".

        Vegetation was considered and may yet be an option to make the changes look more aesthetically pleasing, but with the limited topsoil depth and poor drainage that the temporary measures afford, plantings will have a hard time surviving through the test period.

        Better pavement markings (paint) to designate travel lanes, bike lanes, crosswalks and islands are included as part of the test project and would be put down after all the physical measures are completed.

Q.   I've been told this project will cost over $1.3 million, is that true?

The original comprehensive design had an estimated cost of $1.3 million to construct permanent improvements to the best City standards, but the pilot project approved by the City Council has a total budget of $287,000. The temporary measures that are currently under construction will cost $113,000, about $100,000 is reserved for possible permanent installation of those elements that prove effective during the test phase and the remainder of the $287,000 is slated for engineering, education and removal of the temporary measures. Of the $287,000, 20% is funded by City taxes and  80% is funded by federal taxes.  

    Makes you feel like it's only going to cost $287,000 doesn't it? Look closely. That is the cost of the "temporary measures"--the "pilot project". The finished product would have cost the whole amount, $1.3 million. Luckily, some concerned citizens got this fiasco stopped.

Q.    Why doesn't the police department just increase enforcement to slow traffic on Stevens Avenue?

  Increased police enforcement is intended to be part of the traffic calming project on Stevens Avenue. However, the police budget does not have funding for any additional traffic control officers at this time so available officer time to dedicate to Stevens Avenue is very limited. If the city did decide to put an officer on Stevens Avenue for just 4 hours a day it would cost more than $30,000 annually. In contrast, effective traffic calming measures have a one time cost and then are "on duty" around the clock. Making financial matters worse, the City does not get any income from issuing traffic tickets; in fact, whenever a ticket is contested in court the City actually loses money.  

        As they say, "Increased police enforcement is intended to be part of the TC effort..." and then they refute the first sentence with the second, so the upshot is that it isn't going to happen. I like the "one time cost" statement- A cost of $1.3 MILLION--oh yeah!

Q. Isn’t the street too narrow for emergency vehicles to get through without a problem?

 The police chief and fire chief have reviewed the project plans and determined that the changes will likely not create any undue delays. They also will document any incidents that occur during the test period and if one of the measures proves to be a safety problem the City will remove it immediately.

          The police and fire chiefs were wrong, as experience showed, especially with the medians on the North end of Stevens. The humps are currently slowing fire trucks 1-2 minutes! What that means is that instead of arriving within 1-3 minutes of an emergency call, response times will be 4-6 minutes.  Those people (e.g.) having a heart attack now have only a 15% chance of survival, versus 85% without the humps. Fire Department personnel (other than Chief Thomas, that is), hate them. Chief Thomas also felt that ambulance patient's stretchers falling to the floor after hitting a hump at 30 MPH  had "no negative impact".....Really?

By way of example, Congress Street is already narrower in some places than Stevens Avenue would be at its narrowest point if the temporary measures are completed. Like Stevens Avenue, Congress Street is a major emergency vehicle route - it connects three peninsula fire stations and has pedestrian and traffic volumes higher than those on Stevens. Even with these conditions, safety vehicles are able to make several runs each day on this busy downtown street with very few significant delay incidents.  

DUH!...because Congress doesn't have speed humps on it! It's also interesting that this brochure says that Stevens is an emergency vehicle route - those are specifically not to be traffic calmed according to the FHWA and the Institute For Transportation Engineers.  

Q. Why put curves in a perfectly straight street? (talking about chicanes)

Generally, the straighter the road, the safer it is to drive fast on it - Stevens Avenue "invites" speeding by its straight, wide, flat design. Drivers tend to go slow around curves-the sharper the corner, the slower the speed. Putting a gentle curve in Stevens Avenue is intended to create the same effect as corners, only less drastic-hopefully encouraging drivers to go the speed limit. 

        This is "disinformation"--most of them already were going the speed limit-- the 85th%ile was 34 MPH on a 30 MPH street! This does not constitute a speeding problem under any national standard. And, if the road is straight and safe, why change it?


Q    Why don't they just reduce the speed limit to 25 MPH ?

    The State Department of Transportation sets all the speed limits for roadways in Maine so the City has no authority in this area. The current speed limit of 30 MPH and 15 MPH in school zones are considered safe by the State if drivers actually obey these limits. The problem is most drivers on Stevens Avenue don't obey the current speed limits, so lowering it to 25 MPH is likely to have very little effect.  

        Except to increase accidents, according to Paula Craighead's original letter (page 2)! When it comes to city authority to set speed limits, the state has abrogated its authority in this matter : by humping the street, the city has defacto control of the speed limit, which is against state law, but the state doesn't seem to care. My question is: if the humps slowing traffic have made it so safe, then why have accidents gone up 58% since the projects installation?

Q   With the road being narrowed it looks like there's no safe place to bicycle anymore, what about bike lanes ?

        Until the lines are painted it is hard to visualize, but there will be a continuous 5 foot wide bike lane on both sides of Stevens Avenue from Forest Avenue to Pleasant Avenue; 5 feet is considered to be a safe width for one way bike travel. From Pleasant Avenue to Ludlow Street bicyclists will share the travel lane with traffic-this is necessary in order to build out the curbs in front of Longfellow School and Deering High to deter illegal parking and shorten the crosswalk length for the many pedestrians who cross in this area. If the 5 foot wide bike lanes were carried through this area, drivers would likely use it to park or stop as is done now, making the area more dangerous for people crossing the street and bicycling (emphasis mine- see below). The effectiveness of these two different designs would be monitored during the test phase.  

        Let's get this straight: the bikers are being forced into traffic ("sharing the travel lane") by the curbing in the Longfellow school zone to "increase their safety" because cars would otherwise use the bike lane to park in, thereby dangerously forcing the bikers into the travel lane?  Excuse me?

        If you think about it, what they are saying is :"We think cars in the bike lane for one half an hour in the morning and afternoon make the road too dangerous for bikers because the bikes get forced out into the travel lane during school let-in and let-out hours (a total of 1 hour a day, when there are no bikes there anyway), SO we are going to force them out into traffic 24 hours a day to make things safer."  Is this doublespeak or what? The old Communist Party couldn't do a better job of it!

For another look at this, try looking at some
bikers in traffic , and the explanation of how this was going to work, in the Traffic Calming Installation section. If you think this is stupid, join the crowd, if you can find room!

Q. Why not put up more traffic lights to slow traffic, especially at Walton
      and Stevens ?

There is going to be a traffic light put in at Walton and Stevens sometime in the next year, but this was approved and funded by the State under a different program so it is not of the traffic calming project. The State has authority to decide where traffic lights get installed and it has strict criteria that must be met in order to warrant a new signal. None of the other intersections along Stevens meet those criteria so no additional traffic lights can be approved at this time. Traffic lights can have the unintended consequence of diverting traffic onto side streets where no signals exist so even if it were possible to install more, it may be inappropriate.  

    Speeding traffic wasn't the problem at Walton - it was the rush hour volume of traffic, preventing traffic from Walton from turning onto Stevens. That light has been installed, and while most of the day it doesn't do much, during rush hour it really helps the commuters coming off Walton. 

Speed humps divert traffic also. Actually, that is all traffic calming does - in this case 2,400 cars a day are going somewhere else. And, like more lights, humps are "inappropriate" for Stevens!            

Q. Won’t slowing traffic down on Stevens just divert cars onto the side streets?

     This was the most important concern the City Council had when it approved this project. They decided to authorize a temporary test because it is impossible to know in advance whether drivers actually will choose to avoid Stevens Avenue and take some of the side streets because of the changes designed to make them obey the speed limit and other traffic laws. Traffic volumes and speed were measured on the side streets adjacent to Stevens before construction began and would be carefully monitored during the test phase to see if traffic is diverted onto side streets.

     Yeah, well, traffic was diverted to Ludlow Street, according to residents there, and, according to the Portland DPW Final Monitoring Report, 2,400 cars a day went someplace, but they don't know where. 
      According to the City's CMAQ application this project was supposed to divert truck traffic to "less congested streets". Now, those can't be the arterials like Forest and Congress, as those are carrying twice the traffic Stevens is,  so it has to be that the city wanted to send all that traffic to the side streets, even though they say they didn't want to.
This is just more of the usual doublespeak: they supposedly wanted to "clean up the air" and reduce accidents too, and look at what we have now.                   

Q Why don't they put in more crosswalks and mark them with those
orange barrels

            More crosswalks, and repainting the existing ones, is part of the pilot project, including a new diagonal crosswalk in front of Lincoln Elementary School. The orange barrels were considered in the planning phase, but were rejected at the time for the following reasons: They have to be maintained and constantly moved in and out during snow storms and repositioned if hit by a vehicle; they can cause problems for emergency vehicles which sometimes have to travel in the middle of the road; the State Department of Transportation does not support them being used on roadways with the traffic volumes and 30 MPH speed limit that Stevens Avenue has; some people consider them to be as ugly as what has been constructed so far for temporary measures.  

        The barrels might have been rejected in the planning stage, but they were all over the place once the humps were installed. Once again, the city isn't listening to anybody, not even ATC...

Q  Why not just put in more raised crosswalks; they seem to work now that drivers are used to them ?

            The pilot project if completed, will have one more speed table (just like a raised crosswalk but not intended for pedestrian use) and a raised intersection at Pleasant Avenue that acts like a four-way raised crosswalk. Additional raised crosswalks are a possibility, but their effectiveness needs to be monitored before constructing more of them, which is part of the purpose of the test phase.  

I think that the rest of this whole site answers this question. The table under the light at Pleasant is the only one under a light in the United States! It's useless!--it cost $35,000 too!
"Raised crosswalks" are nothing more than speed humps with crosswalks painted on them, according to the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Q. Why is parking being eliminated in some areas, especially in front of Longfellow and Deering ?

An attempt was made to eliminate as little parking as possible and still accomplish the goals of the project. No parking was eliminated in the Central Square business district It was going to be eliminated, all 200 feet of it, until the merchants in Deering Center found out and complained to the Mayor. An adjustment was made to the plan to maintain parking at the Forest Avenue end of Stevens. They made the medians shorter.  Some other areas did lose parking and this will have to be addressed if the pilot project continues. In front of Deering and Longfellow schools it is illegal to-park or stop to unload passengers, but many drivers ignore the law. To deter this illegal and dangerous practice getting your kids out of a car onto the sidewalk is dangerous?, the curb line is moved out so that cars do not have a place to stop without holding up traffic - something that most drivers are not comfortable doing maybe because it's dangerous... . This went over like a lead balloon- the parents driving their kids to school would have to make their kids cross the allegedly dangerous street, or get into the fiasco in the school parking lot

Q Aren't all these obstacles going to be a nightmare for snow removal?

         The temporary measures, as constructed, will create a challenge for snow removal, but City crews are well trained to deal with the types of obstacles that this design creates.    In some cases where the curb line has been moved out there would actually be more room for snow storage from both the roadway and the sidewalk. Oh yeah-- right on top of the fire hydrants that the fire department is required to shovel out; an extra 8 feet of hardpack.  GREAT idea! A few residences would have more driveway to clear and this is a concern that the City needs to address. Bill Bray, head of DPW, said that city crews would help residents shovel, in their spare time of course, something which they must have lots of during heavy snowstorms The overall situation with snow removal is something that would be monitored during the test phase. Thankfully, by the time Winter rolled around, the curbing was gone.

    (mystery graphic : take me to your leader??)                                                      

Q. Why narrow the roadway? Doesn’t that make it more dangerous?

In general, wide roadways invite fast speeds, make crossing more difficult "Crossing problems" is not the answer to the question - wider roads are safer for traffic. If people don't know how to cross the street safely, maybe they should attend the kindergarten classes that supporters are allegedly funding with $15,000 of state money to teach the kids how to be safe and make it easier for drivers to do dangerous maneuvers like passing on the right without slowing down and we all know how legal that is!--oh please- this is not a problem; Narrow roadways tend to have the opposite effect, making them safer for all users no they do not- this is an amazingly stupid statement. If that was the case, interstates would be one lane in each direction, wouldn't they? Looks like supporters need a little reality chat with the Turnpike Authority! The TA spent hundreds of millions of dollars to widen the turnpike in  1998  just because they thought it was  unsafe. As an example, Downtown Congress Street is as narrow as 28 feet in some places, which is a contributing factor to the slow traffic speeds through this busy area all the lined-up, congested traffic and lights might have an effect too. Though Stevens Avenue is being narrowed in some sections  and screw the bike lanes!, the majority of the roadway will be 32 feet wide and there will be ample width for vehicle travel in both directions on the entire length of the street. I guess that somebody forgot to tell ATC that slowing and stopping traffic was causing all the accidents!

Q. Why put in all those bumpouts at intersections, they just make it harder to turn ?

The "bumpouts," which are featured on many roadways throughout Portland, have three primary safety benefits; First, they will require drivers to slow down when turning onto or off of Stevens Avenue; Second, they shorten crosswalk lengths at the intersections making it possible for pedestrians to cross from curb to curb more quickly; Third, they increase visibility for both pedestrians and drivers by assuring cars are not parked too close to the intersection and people waiting to cross are closer to the travel lane while still safely on the sidewalk. (What they did is force long-wheel-base vehicles and cars with trailers out into the opposite lane when trying to turn off the side streets onto Stevens- that's safe! The street entrance essentially became one way, as one car would fill the whole space between the bumpouts. Cars wanting to turn into the street had to wait. I also fail to see how getting people "closer to the travel lane" makes it safer for them.)

Q. Pedestrians who don't observe traffic laws cause some of the safety problems on Stevens, is anything being done to teach students about roadway safety ?

Yes, the pilot project includes safety education in the schools on Stevens Avenue. The Public Works Department and the Kids & Transportation Program at the Greater Portland Council of Governments will be working in the schools, starting this Fall, to educate students about pedestrian, bicycle and general roadway safety.  

(Which never happened- this was a sop to the public. Sounded good though. 75% of all pedestrian accidents and deaths are the fault of the pedestrian, not the driver. Amazing, but true....nonetheless, ATC wants to blame the driver as being the biggest culprit.)

Q.  All these changes are going to have an impact on property values, was that ever considered?

        Because this is a test project and will be removed at the end of 9-12 months (A big, big lie: naughty, naughty!), it is not likely to have any significant impact on property values. However, recent studies, such as one conducted in Eugene Oregon, show that the value of property along busy streets actually increases when traffic calming measures are implemented. (Nov. 2000: more recent studies by the ITE show no change at all) This has two apparent causes; first, few people enjoy living on busy streets with fast moving traffic and poor pedestrian conditions so residential property in these locations tends to be less valuable than on quieter side streets; second, most businesses are more likely to be patronized by pedestrians from the neighborhood and drivers who aren't just speeding through, if the street is safe and inviting, and traffic speeds are slow.

        (Obviously they didn't talk to the people living next to the hump at Longfellow--those poor people get to put up with "whump-whump" every time a vehicles hits  the hump, and get to pick up the pieces of their things that vibrate off the mantel and tables in the house onto the floor. Since when is increased pollution, noise, vibration, an asset to property values?
        Firstly, the traffic is not speeding, and secondly, if you don't like where you live, don't move there, or move out!  Paula did in June 1999!  Moving next to an airport and then complaining about the planes is specious.
        If people are going to stop at a business, they will do so no matter what the traffic; you just have to give them a reason to do so. 1,200,000 square feet of Maine Mall confirms this.)

      What's VERY interesting about this paragraph is that it mirrors what happened at the intersection of Deering Ave and Coyle St.: a guy at the intersection of Deering and Devonshire, by Temple Beth El, wanted to sell his house. He realized that if he could impede traffic on Deering , people would drive elsewhere. He petitioned the Council for the installation of a red blinking light at Deering and Coyle, to bump up his property value!

      That was installed at a cost of $50,000, whereupon it drove the people living AT the intersection crazy for 2 years or so. Red blink-blink-blink 24 / 7 / 365.  It was finally taken out after a local drive to do so succeeded. The guy sold his house too! Must have been nice to have a friend on the Council.

       This was delineated in an anecdotal fashion by Thomas Gorrill, at a meeting at King Middle School, when the Deering Oaks Plan was presented.   


Q.  If this is a test then how are we going to tell if it works or not?

Prior to construction of the temporary measures, several different types of data was collected in the test area-speed, traffic volumes on Stevens and many side streets, accident reports, pedestrian safety, through traffic and vehicle types were all recorded and analyzed (and the results ignored). During the test phase these same factors would be looked at again to see what kind of change takes place, if and all of those detrimental changes were ignored too!. Of particular concern will be the impact on reducing speed dropped 3-20 mph, creating huge amounts of air pollution, increasing pedestrian and bicycle safety safety didn't change - bike usage dropped, minimizing traffic diversion onto other streets a massive 2,400 cars a day got diverted decreasing both the number and severity of accidents accidents went up 58%, severe injuries increased 300% and the effect on emergency vehicles slowed them 1-3 minutes and snow removal. Equally as important, a survey of drivers, pedestrians and residents will be conducted to gather opinions on the effectiveness of the temporary measures. Most  think it's stupid, other than those mentioned in the survey handed out by the supporters to the people they wanted to get them.
        It might be mentioned that if any of our city officials or supporters had bothered to listen to any of the experiences of other cities with speed humps, then they would not be on the road now. No-one in the United States outside of Portland supports the project.

Q. Why not use paint to mark the changes instead of all the asphalt ?


Paint is sometimes used on a temporary basis to test the effectiveness of certain changes before they are installed permanently, such as the current project on Route One in Falmouth. This option was discussed in the planning phase but it was determined that paint would not give a true measure of effectiveness for things such as speed reduction, impact on emergency vehicles and snow removal, and traffic diversion, so it was not chosen for the pilot project.  

All of which is true: paint would have no effect on safety, diversion, emergency vehicle delay or speed reduction. Paint would have been a good idea, but then the supporters would have had nothing to look at.

The Route One project in Falmouth is contradictory too: Designed by the same people who did the Stevens Project,  it was started by a small neighborhood group in Falmouth who was worried about traffic being too close to the 8-foot breakdown/parking/bike lane where they and their children were walking and biking. Some moms were worried about their kids getting hurt. They petitioned the town of Falmouth to do something about this "dangerous situation".

Route One at the time was two lanes each way, with a 40 MPH speed limit, and was one of the most notorious speed traps in the area. Cars could pull away from the breakdown lane to the inside lane if needing to though, to get away from pedestrians and bicyclists. I was very familiar with the area because my girlfriend lived there, and I ran that section of road for exercise.

The road was narrowed to one lane, still with a 40 MPH speed limit, with a center turn lane in some areas, and prohibitory striping marking  previous travel lanes off limits in others. Medians were added here and there.

Now, all the traffic is bunched  up in one lane right against the breakdown/walking/ parking/bike lane, and this is somehow seen as being safer for the previously threatened pedestrians/bikers! Now there are hardly any walkers at all -- the moms shafted themselves.

It's mind's Traffic Calming! It's lies, ineptitude, misrepresentation, and lies.


Produced by the Alliance for Transportation Choice

P.O. Box 10625 Portland, ME 04104

August 1997