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

                       Stevens Avenue Project :
               Portland DPW and the CMAQ Program

HOW does this stuff get funded? : By lying to the government.

            During August 1997 I started researching speed humps and traffic calming in general. I was interested in  how things were done on the federal level, and how other states implemented traffic calming.
             I started talking to people at the Federal Highway Administration in Washington , The National Transportation Safety Board Office of Highway Safety, The EPA in Washington, Boston, Region 1 in Albany, and people at the Maine Department of Transportation. Also, I spent hundreds of hours online, doing research on the Internet.

            I then had a meeting in September 1997 with Jane Lincoln, the deputy of MDOT, John Dority, the state traffic engineer, and Dean Lessard , the MDOT air quality engineer. I laid out all the political and engineering facts, and why this project should not have been put down. I had only 45 minutes to do it, so I raced through the material, but they took a lot of notes, and told me they would get back to me.

            Later, they determined they  were going to allow the project as it was now an "air quality" project. This was confusing, as I hadn't heard a WORD about this from anybody about this being a clean air project.

            What happened was that when Portland DPW was casting around for funding they discovered that the federal government had a program called Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ), which was part of the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which grew out of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

            There is lots of money available for "clean air" projects, so the project became one overnight, going from "safety" to "air quality" in the blink of an eye... that's what the City told the Feds at any rate. (Portland DPW CMAQ application is here.  An annotated version explaining the problems with that application is here.

            According to the EPA, the City used two arcane and inaccurate pieces of "data",  a few short paragraphs out of a 40-page Australian report  called "Winning Back The Cities".
It was used as the justification for saying that the air quality along Stevens Ave would be improved by the addition of speed humps to slow traffic from 30 MPH to 20 MPH.  That is not true.

            Going slower increases a number of pollutants, most notably NOX (Nitrogen Oxide) and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Speeds below 20 mph drastically increase pollution, by a factor of 2X and more, depending on the compound. 

  Buxtehude, Germany; Main street

The other source quoted in a rather vague way ("information from Germany") was wrong also, and probably not applicable to Deering Center in the first place. The "information" came from Buxtehude,  Germany, and basically said that it is more efficient to travel slowly in third gear, rather than quickly in second gear -- i.e. don't rev your engine. No kidding. There is a rather striking difference between the roads in  Deering Center and Buxtehude. It's laughable. (see here).


            When I first started talking to Mr. Severance, he was a bit perturbed by his departments situation. DEP had been booted off the MDOT federal oversight board by order of John Melrose, who had his own man, Mr. Dean Lessard, for the job. Severance didn't know what to do about that.

            I happened to mention this to the CMAQ director at the Federal Highway Administration, Mr. Michael Savonis. He said "They can't do that, it's against federal law". I told him that that might be the case, but that MDOT had in fact done so. He replied: "I want to know who signed off on this, and when." 

            A small investigation was started by Mr. Savonis, and he found out what was going on. He'd had a conference call with EPA Boston and MDOT, and had gotten the whole thing straightened out. He told me that everyone in Maine "was singing from the same page in the hymn book". They had gotten their story straight with each other before he called.

             MDOT head John Melrose had replaced Mr. Severance with Dean Lessard, for reasons of his own.  It was at this time Mr. Severance found out that his department HAD signed off on this project, as had EPA Boston, and people in both places were looking foolish. They all agreed that there was no air quality benefit, and hadn't bothered to look at the project deeply enough at the beginning. Mr. Severance got notably more circumspect on the phone after Mr. Savonis found out who had erroneously approved the project.

             In a conversation the day before Thanksgiving 1997, Savonis  told me that my "conclusions were correctly drawn" (I was contending that pollution was going to go through the roof from all the braking and acceleration), BUT, as "everyone meant well", and as the project was already down on the road, he would allow it as an "experiment", even though there would be no air quality benefit. He said that it would be monitored, and measures would be taken dependent upon the results. He was wrong.

            I had pointed out to Mr. Savonis that according to the City Council and Bill Bray, the whole thing was due to be taken off the streets in May 1998.   Savonis was unaware of this removal schedule. He questioned, as did Don Cook at Boston EPA  and Savonis at FHWA, how any air quality judgments could be made if done JUST  in a local area and if the program was taken off the road in May. I thought that was a good question too.

            Savonis stated that any air quality monitoring would have to be done on a citywide basis to take into account any diversion of traffic to other roads (congesting them), and that any air quality benefit would come from people in the neighborhood making fewer car trips in the area. Slowing and congesting traffic, he said, added to the even greater slowing at the humps and speeding up beyond them, was going to generate even more pollution overall.

            Unfortunately, at that time (DEC 1997), the EPAs Mobile 5A air quality standards did not take into account the slowing and acceleration of traffic through an area. The data is all based on steady speed along a road. Mobile 6 was issued the summer of 1999 but did not address the issue of speed humps either. Mobil 7, due out in 2000, might (As of Oct 2000, it didn't). 

        As of this writing in March 2011, the EPA has gone to a new more accurate system called MOVES, but people there are still learning it. so it's not quite "out" yet.  


here is : Pedestrian accidents

              Vehicle Accidents